Adobe Ruin Picture of the Week

Adobe Ruins - In the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, most of the remaining buildings are severely decayed.
Adobe Ruins – In the ghost town of Dos Cabezas, most of the remaining buildings are in a severe state of decay.

Roughly midway between Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument, the county highway’s speed limit drops to 45 mph. At first, there’s no clue about the slowdown until a small sign announces that you’re entering the town of Dos Cabezas. Only three of its dozen or so buildings are worthy of occupancy. The rest are in various states of decay. It’s only a city block long, and you soon return to an empty country road, where you can reset the cruise control.

After driving through Dos Cabezas three times, I insisted on stopping on our fourth pass. As regular readers know, I’m a sucker for historic buildings, whether they’re restored or about to be blown down by the wind. I’m glad that I did, and this week’s featured shot is one of several that I captured during that afternoon.

As with most Arizona ghost towns, Dos Cabezas’s history is a flash of glory followed by a long decay period. The town is located at the southeastern reach of the mountain range, which shares the same name. When word came out that prospectors discovered gold and silver on the mountain, miners swooped in like hungry vultures to feed on a carcass. The Feds opened a Post Office in 1878, which served a population of 300 that eventually swelled to over 4000. They found little gold in the Elma mine, but there were some copper deposits. Investment capital dried up when investors discovered that the mine was a scam and part of stock fraud. People left to find work elsewhere. As the town dwindled, the Post Office finally closed its branch in 1960. I guess that you could count today’s Dos Cabezas citizens on one of your hands.

In this picture that I call Adobe Ruin, you see the remains of a large building constructed using adobe bricks and stucco. The town once had a hotel, and these sections may be all that’s left of it. Adobe was a common building material throughout the old southwest because it was simple to make. All you need is to combine mud and straw and let it dry in the sun. The thick bricks provide plenty of protection from the desert heat and cold winters, but they quickly erode once water enters them.

I took several variations of the building, but I favored this one because I liked the mud stains streaking down the wall, and I liked the wall’s placement before the background’s two-headed mountain. The desert willow and hackberry show how soon nature reclaims her own. Ashes to ashes, as it were.

You can see a larger version of Adobe Ruin on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk down the street to look at another of the Dos Cabezas ruins. Come back then and have a look.

Till Next Time

Verde Limestone Picture of the Week

For centuries the Verde River Valley has been a peaceful home for many peoples. It makes sense because the Verde River flows year-round, even in times of drought—as we have now. The green waters of the Verde—Spanish for green—flow between the Black Hills (Mingus Mountain) on its south-west flank and the Mogollon Rim to the north-east. The river runs from Chino Valley to Fountain Hills—170 miles. It collects the runoff water from the rim via its tributaries like Sycamore Creek, Oak Creek, Beaver Creek, and West Clear Creek. Although the river bottom is a dense cottonwood forest, its flood plains are perfect for growing corn and squash.

There are many sites of early inhabitants along its length, but the best known is the pueblo of Tuzigoot—built by the Sinagua people in the 10th century. They only lived there for a couple of centuries before moving on. The next settlers to arrive were Apaches—Canadian migrants that were chased off the plains by the Sioux. The various bands of Apache established homes along the transition zones across Arizona and New Mexico. They weren’t aware that their new landlords were the Spanish, who were mostly interested in saving their souls and stealing their gold. For the next 300 years, life in the Verde River Valley was peaceful.

Then one day, in 1821, there was a knock on the door—er, teepee flap. It was a government man. He was there to inform one and all that they were Mexican citizens now and, by the way, do you have money to chip in for our new country?

After that, things began to happen fast, and life seemed to go downhill quickly. A mere 30 years went by when another man rode up on a horse, shook a bunch of hands, handed out flyers, and declared, “Welcome to America.” The very next year, Californians discovered gold, and easterners clogged up the trails rushing to get to it. Some got rich, but most of them didn’t get to the Golden State in time, so they made their way back and decided that our valley would be an excellent spot for a farm. There was a civil war going on back home anyway, so they moved into the neighborhood. The Apache’s homeland began to shrink.

In 1864, the Americans stuck a flag in the ground and called it Fort Whipple—the Arizona Territorial capital. The next year they moved the flag from Chino Valley to a mining camp on Granite Creek. The Army stationed cavalry troops to protect the miners, and that later became the town of Prescott.

Life was tense, but there was an uneasy truce between the tribes and the new settlers until those mangy miners started working the Verde Valley. They picked at the rocks, piled dirt everywhere, muddied the water, ate all the food, and drank all the whiskey. It was the straw that broke the Gila monster’s back, and the Apache tribes declared war—Yavapai War (1871-1875). That’s the precursor of General George Crook’s assignment to Fort Whipple and his trail to Fort Apache that we began exploring last week.

Verde Limestone - A limestone ledge in the Verde River Valley in the lovely light of the evening sun.
Verde Limestone – A limestone ledge in the Verde River Valley shines in the lovely light of the evening sun.

This week, we traveled east along the Verde River for a few miles and stopped near Dry Beaver Creek to photograph a limestone formation. They’re found throughout the valley and are most evident on the river’s north side. As you travel Interstate 17 towards Flagstaff, it’s the white layer between the Verde River and Sedona. Limestone forms in shallow seas from dead shells and bones. It’s a great place to look for fossils, and coincidently one of our planned stops was to be Fossil Creek, but it was closed due to COVID 19.

This week’s featured image—called Verde Limestone—shows a ledge exposed by years of erosion. For balance, I included the lower mound of the same compound shining in the lovely evening sunlight.

You can see a larger version of Verde Limestone on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week as we climb out of the Verde Valley and see what we found along the General Crook Trail.

Until next time — jw

Stamp Mill Picture of the Week

Everyone has heard the axiom, “All roads lead to Rome.” Well, not in Yavapai County, they don’t. Over the past couple of years of traveling Arizona’s back roads, I’ve found that they lead to mines, and with good reason. We all have a vision of a dusty prospector sneaking off with a couple of burros to a secret gold mine in the mountains—this is before he became the Arizona Lottery huckster. A man like Jacob Waltz may discover a vein of gold, but it takes a corporation to extract it effectively.

To make a ton of money, you have to move a thousand tons of ore. A couple of burlap sacks strapped to a burro’s back just won’t do. You have to move unrefined earth by wagon, truck, or railroad car. So part of The Company’s infrastructure is getting things to and from the mine site. That is the Phelps-Dodge and the Senator Mine story—and this month’s back road adventure.

While bouncing along the Senator Highway in R-Chee (according to his license plate that’s the correct spelling), Anne suddenly blurted, “There’s a large building down there.” Since my side wasn’t overlooking the cliff, I couldn’t see it, so I stopped the truck and walked back to see the steel skeleton of an old structure. “Cool,” I told her as I climbed back into the driver’s seat. “It’s too early, so we’ll stop on the way back when the light is better.”

Stamp Mill - The ruins of the Senator mine stamp mill are perched above the headwaters of the Hassayampa River.
Stamp Mill – The ruins of the Senator mine stamp mill perches above the headwaters of the Hassayampa River. The mill is visible on Google Earth if you zoom in to the Senator Highway where it crosses the Hassayampa River.

After some research, I found out that the building was a 10-unit stamp mill for the Senator mines. As rock came from one of the three parallel shafts, the miners hauled it to the mill, where the hammers pounded big boulders into small ones. As far as ghost towns go, we struck gold (I couldn’t resist the pun, sorry). Concrete foundations usually are all we find in these places, but since this frame was a steel and not timber, the skeleton survives and gives scale to its size. From the road, I could easily walk down the stairs and wander the four floors. Vandals have decorated the remaining vertical walls for Christmas with colorful graffiti everywhere, so I guessed that we weren’t the first people to find this place.

Kennecott Mine - The Kennecott mining town is preserved in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This should give you an idea of how a mill looked with the clapboard still intact.
Kennecott Mine – The National Park Service has preserved the Kennecott mining in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This photo should give you an idea of how a mill looked with the clapboard still intact.

In Alaska, I visited a similar mill at the Kennecott Mine in the Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. At this location, the Park Service keeps that building in an arrested state of decay, and it still has the red clapboard siding. I wanted to show you how the Senator stamp mill might have looked while it was running, so I’m including my Alaska photo.

For this week’s featured image—that I call Stamp Mill—I wanted to show the building and its environment, which is hard to do while standing inside of it. So, I took this shot from the far side of the Hassayampa River Canyon as the sun hung low in the western sky. I was lucky in that the remaining silver paint glowed in the afternoon sun, which makes the frame pop from the background.

You can see a larger version of Stamp Mill on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week when we present the final image from our drive on the Senator Highway.

Until next time — jw

Road Bend Picture of the Week

Although I’ve tried my best to hold back time, the season has changed,  and it’s summer again in the desert. Summer’s dog days are the worst time to be photographing our arid home. Except for the brief respite at either end of the day, the bright sun and ozone combine to wash the colors away. It’s like seeing the world through a 2% milk bottle—the glass ones, not the cartons. You need polarizing sunglasses to force the blue to show in the sky again.

We desert-rats are nothing if not adaptive. Like all of the other Sonoran critters, we hide in our holes during the day. For example, the Round-tailed Ground Squirrel escapes the day heat in his den by sleeping splayed-out on his back. I do the same thing, and I’d show you photographic evidence except I’d be banned forever from the Internet. The other thing we do is migrate. Even during this pandemic, Highway U.S. 93 was a parade of boats heading north towards the rivers and lakes on this holiday weekend.

When we were deciding on a project for July, Queen Anne and I followed a similar logic. We looked for someplace cooler—trust me, 90º is cooler than 110º. We scoured our maps for a place nearby in the mountains, a location that wouldn’t have crowds yet be accessible. We settled on the Senator Highway that runs from Prescott south into the Bradshaw Mountains.

Road Bend - Bright yellow-leaved deciduous trees obscure what's beyond the road on the Senator Highway south of Prescott, Arizona.
Road Bend – Bright yellow-leaved deciduous trees obscure what’s beyond the road on the Senator Highway south of Prescott, Arizona.

Until this month, I didn’t know why there was a dirt road called the Senator Highway. I imagined that it was a route that our state assemblymen traveled when Arizona’s capital swapped several times between Prescott and Phoenix—foolish me. Instead, it’s just another mine road that the miners built it to transport ore and supplies between the Senator Mine and Prescott. If you’re skilled at navigating the Bradshaws, you can technically get to Congress via the Senator Highway.

I find the pine-covered mountains, like the Bradshaw’s, hard to shoot. The trees get in the way. I mean, how many different ways can you get an image of ponderosa pine tree bark? I hunt for edges—splashes of color, an opening to the horizon, or building ruins. That’s what I’m showing in this week’s featured image. At a bend on the highway, I saw some trees (I believe Arizona Ash) with bright yellow-green leaves shinning in the sun against the duller blue-green evergreens. I liked how they obscured the path. My mind wants to find out what’s beyond. It’s a classic leading-line perspective trick, and I find the dappled shade on the road a bonus. I named the first image for our July project Road Bend because it’s a simple title for a simple photo.

You can see a larger version of Road Bend on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week when we present another image from the Senator Highway outside of Prescott.

Until next time — jw

Placerita Post Office Picture of the Week

It was lust for gold that lured men to the Weaver Mountains in southern Yavapai County. They heard stories of miners plucking nuggets from the ground and, in just a day, return to camp a wealthy man. The fever for gold outweighed the risks of hostile Indians, treacherous mountains, poisonous snakes, and oppressing heat from the relentless sun.

Prospectors discovered several veins of the precious mineral with Rich Hill at their center. Pauline Weaver’s party started the rush when they accidentally found placer gold on the hill’s top. Boomtowns sprung up surrounding Rich Hill. The camps in Stanton, Octave, and Yarnell all had ore-bearing mines. There were so many claims on the hill; it’s a wonder that prospectors didn’t dig into each other’s tunnels. But it only took 20 years for the gold to dry up, as a result, when Anson Wilbur Callen arrived in the 1880s, he decided to prospect somewhere else.

If you flew a small airplane due east of Yarnell, you’d see a geographic anomaly. Instead of the regular distribution of peaks and hills in the Weaver Range, there’s a 2-3 mile gash between Antelope Peak and Rich Hill. From Yarnell, it runs northeast, and it looks like a score on the top of a loaf of bread. It’s very evident on a topo map or Google Maps.

There’s a natural divide in the gap’s center, and Antelope Creek drains south along the east flank of Rich Hill. Arrastre Creek flows in the divide’s north side (Arrastre is the Spanish word for a drag, as used for mining). Anson set up his camp where Arrastre Creek flows out of the canyon.

By accounts, Anson Callen was a big man and weathered beyond his age. Locals called him Old Grizzly at the age of 40. When he set up camp, his initial task was to create a reliable source of water, so he dammed up the creek. As he dug a five-mile water ditch to his camp, he uncovered two pieces of gold that earned him $550. There are more stories of finding large gold nuggets in the area—one of which was four pounds that the assay office valued at $900 ($107,792 in today’s market). Before Anson knew what happened, the town of Placerita sprung up around his claim.

On Tuesday morning, I dragged my friend—Fred—out of bed, and at 5 a.m., we drove his Toyota FJ into the sunrise to find the ghost town of Placerita. As I’ve written, real ghost towns rarely have any remaining artifacts. Maybe there’s a pile of timber or a concrete slab, but never an intact building. My research showed that Placerita had a standing stone cabin, and I needed to photograph it.

Ruins in the Woods - From the roadside, we could see the remains of one of the town buildings, but we couldn't see an easy way to get to it.
Ruins in the Woods – From the roadside, we could see the remains of one of the town buildings, but we couldn’t see an easy way to get to it.

When we got to the area, we drove by a shed with a collapsed roof, but the brush was so thick that we couldn’t find a path to it. Instead, Fred drove down to the creek crossing and parked in an apparent campsite. We intended to hike up the creek, find the buildings, and photograph the ruins. Surely they were built along the banks. We soon discovered that walking in a dry creek bed wasn’t the best thing a couple of septuagenarians should do—especially a pair that has a hard time walking on carpets. We struggled for what seemed like a couple of miles, occasionally falling on the rocks and swatting at attacking insects.

Placerita Post Office - The 30 townspeople were served by this Post Office from 1896 to 1910, when the gold ran out.
Placerita Post Office – The 30 townspeople were served by this Post Office from 1896 to 1910 when the gold ran out.

Finally, we gave up and started back to the truck, but instead of the creek, we found a cattle track that had boot prints. We followed it to a clearing where—you guessed it—we found the collapsed building. We spent some time shooting photographs from different angles, including this week’s featured image called Placerita Post Office. About half the walls are standing, but the timbers were full of termites, and that caused the roof to collapse finally.

We never found the stone cabin—or at least we thought we hadn’t—but after I got home and did some further research, I found a photo caption that said, “It has been reported that the roof has collapsed since this picture was taken.” We did reach our goal, just ten years too late. I also found out that the stone building that we shot was the town’s Post Office—built in 1896 and closed in 1910. As a federal building, it was built more durable than the rickety shacks that the miners cobbled together. It makes sense that it outlasted the rest of the town.

You can see a larger version of the Placerita Post Office on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Come back next week to see the work that I’ve shot along the road to Placerita.

Until next time — jw

Tom Reed Mine and Elephant’s Tooth Picture of the Week

After publishing last week’s post, I lingered in my office a while with a nagging question. It was more of a puzzle than a burning issue, but it was going to persist until I solved it. My enigma was this: If Lt. Whipple completed his survey in 1854, and the railroads were already following his trail, why in 1926 did the Highway Department run Route 66 through a rugged mountain pass when they established the National Highway system? Wouldn’t it be faster and cheaper to follow the railroad tracks down to the Colorado River? I used up over half of my monthly Google query allotment, trying to understand their logic. After distilling some facts that I uncovered, and with some fantasy time travel, I concluded that the department wanted travelers to go through the shining city on the hill—Oatman. When the mines were still open, Oatman was a bustling city, with a good hotel, restaurants, bars, groceries, and gas stations.

Oatman Main Street 2020 - The crowds of tourists are gone, the stores are shuttered, and even the burros are social distancing.
Oatman Main Street 2020 – The crowds of tourists are gone, the stores are shuttered, and even the burros are social distancing.

Arizona has two types of ghost towns, and to badly paraphrase a line from Frank Zappa’s song Camarillo Brillo, there are real ghost towns, and there are Walmart ghost towns. Real ones are scattered throughout Arizona’s mountains and plains. Places like Cochran, Cherry, and Ruby. If you drive there in your Jeep, you’d be lucky to find a standing building, but—most of the time—only their crumbling foundations remain. As for the latter towns, they’re thriving communities. Arizona’s big four include Jerome, Tombstone, Bisbee, and Oatman. People still live there, and more importantly, tourists visit by the busload. They come to drink in the saloons, eat lunch in the bordellos, watch the fake gunfights, ride oar carts into the mine shafts, and feed the wild burros. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these towns generate more annual revenue today than the mines ever did.

Before my first Oatman visit, I already knew the image that I wanted to take. Ansel Adams—the photographer that most inspired me—had already made it. Mr. Adams must have had blackmail on God because he had Him move heaven and earth into compositions that no other mortal photographer ever saw. The photo that I’m referring to is in one of his books and is called Tom Reed mine, near Oatman, Arizona, and it shows a cluster of buildings on enormous wash tubs with a pinnacle in the background. When I was younger, I tried to visit the places he captured so I could see what motivated him. That was my way of learning from a master. But in all my visits, I never found those impressive mine structures.

When Queen Anne and I made our Route 66 journey last month, snapping pictures in Oatman was the last thing I wanted. We were avoiding people, so stopping in a crowded tourist trap was out of the question. But when we arrived, the streets were empty of people wearing funny hats, loud shirts, sandals with black socks, and speaking in foreign tongues. The merchants had shuttered the windows, and even the wild burros—the stars of the Oatman experience—were social distancing. I had to stop and document this weird moment—Oatman had turned into a real ghost town.

Tom Reed Mine and Elephants Tooth - The concrete foundations are all that remain of the magnificent structures that Ansel Adams photographed.
Tom Reed Mine and Elephants Tooth – The concrete foundations are all that remain of the magnificent structures that Ansel Adams photographed.

As we drove out of town through the south side, the sun was low in the sky and casting lots of color on the hills—including the pinnacle that Adams captured. I stopped in the road where some concrete foundations lined up below the white outcrop—that I now know is called Elephant’s Tooth—and took this week’s featured image. I call it Tom Reed Mine and Elephant’s Tooth. We spent less than 15 minutes at that location before driving on.

Since we’ve been home, I was curious about the Adams photo, so I got it down from the bookcase and searched for his rendition. I wanted to see again the buildings that he shot. I’ve never been able to find them no matter how much I scoured the town. Upon examining his image, I realized that he took that photo in 1952, and people have since torn down the structures. The only trace of their existence is the concrete terraces in my picture. When I took my photo, I stood within ten feet of where Ansel Adams worked his magic, and we were both inspired by the same subject. I was so close to being in the presence of greatness—I only missed him by 68 years. My life can go on now.

You can see a larger version of Tom Reed Mine and Elephant’s Tooth on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, we’ll pass by the Warm Springs Wilderness on our way to the Colorado River. I hope you’ll join us then.

Until next time — jw

Mount Tipton Wilderness Picture of the Week

Since our trip to Pearce Ferry, I’ve written about the Grand Wash Cliffs, and rightly so. Last week, I mentioned that they formed the western edge of the Colorado Plateau and that the great river bisects the cliffs. But the Hualapai Valley has another mountain range on its west flank, and they’re the Cerbat Mountains. They fill the 23 miles between Kingman and Dolan Springs. On the drive to Las Vegas on US 93, they’re to the east side of the highway as you travel north through the Detrital Valley.

There are some old mines located in the Cerbats; Cerbat, Mineral Park, and Chloride. Traveling north from Kingman, you first pass the ghost town of Cerbat, which is hidden at the end of a challenging (4wd) road. The next is Mineral Park, which is due east of Santa Clause (that’s another story unto itself). Finally, the biggest one is Chloride—whose tailings are visible from Highway 93. I think Chloride is still active, but I don’t know for what they’re digging.

Mt. Tipton Wilderness Area - The jagged peaks in the Mt. Tipton Wilderness Area are at the north end of the Cerbat Mountain Range.
Mt. Tipton Wilderness Area – The jagged peaks in the Mt. Tipton Wilderness Area is at the north end of the Cerbat Mountain Range.

More interesting to me is the Mount Tipton Wilderness Area, which is almost at the northern end of the Cerbat Range. At 7148 Mt. Tipton is the tallest peak, but the wilderness area also has some jagged peaks that made me stop to take this week’s featured image—even though the sun had gone behind the looming storm clouds. I named the photo Mt. Tipton Wilderness, and it shows dried grasses and creosote bush against the barren granite mountains.

On the whole, I enjoyed our drive to Pearce Ferry. There were a lot of beautiful sights found there, and I can see returning in the future to do more serious photography. That’s the downside of these trips. They’re to photography what Cliff Notes are to books. To get the best results, you need to study and understand the subject.

On the other hand, we’ve only begun to explore Arizona’s back roads, and there’s so much more to see. I feel like I wasted the first two-thirds of my adulthood working for a paycheck. However, I understand that I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. I hope I have enough time to finish it all.

You can see a larger version of Mt. Tipton Wilderness on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy seeing it. Next week I have a surprise for you. Something completely different, so I hope we’ll see you then.

Until next time — jw

%d bloggers like this: