Tulip Rock Picture of the Week

Tulip Rock - A formation that I passed on the Grotto Trail that looks like a tulip to me.
Tulip Rock – A formation I passed on the Grotto Trail that looks like a tulip to me.

One of my loyal readers commented that she couldn’t see the rock creatures like me. If you’re like her, that’s ok. Maybe your mind isn’t wound up like mine, or you’re not on the same prescriptions. Whatever the difference is, I’m simply trying to show you the world as I see it.

This week, I have another Rorschach test for you. It’s a picture of a second remarkable formation I found while hiking the Grotto Trail. I call it Tulip Rock because I think it looks like a flower. It could be a rosebud, a daisy, or a dew-covered morning poppy. Don’t see it? As long as you don’t see the Prince of Darkness who’s come to cast humanity into eternal damnation, you’re alright. If that were the case, I’d suggest you consider a change of meds.

When I composed this image, I wanted to show a couple of things. The first is that most of the hoodoos in Chiricahua don’t look like sculptures; they’re ordinary. That uniqueness makes the formations like this and last week even more special. I found two examples (there are more) on my short hike on the Grotto Trail. Imagine the images I’d have if I had visited the Chiricahuas as a younger man.

The other thing that I wanted to show is the background. The higher peaks of this range are along the horizon, including the 9700-foot Chiricahua Peak. As you can see in this image taken in late March, they are still snow-covered. They’re part of the Coronado National Forest—sometimes called the Sky Islands. The forest isn’t contiguous—it includes several southeastern ranges separated by broad basins. I’m not aware of another forest like it in the United States. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

You can see a larger version of Tulip Rock on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week when we finally make it to the Grotto—a four-pillar room with a rock roof.

Jeff Goggin

It’s painful to type these words. Jeff Goggin—the other half of the Ballast Brothers Racing Team—died Thursday a week ago (7 April 2022). He was the last surviving family member and lived alone in the family’s Scottsdale home. Jeff’s mother lost a long degenerative battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s still untreatable. Several years ago, he told me that he was starting to show the same symptoms. Being the insanely practical man we knew, he ended his life to spare himself further suffering while he could still make his own decisions. Jeff is survived by his estranged partner, Paula Hoff.

Jeff was a brilliant, caring, funny man who loved good music, sick jokes, fast cars, fine art, a good scotch, and pretty women. Queen Anne and I miss the jerk.

Till Next Time


The Big Clean Living With Royalty

When we returned from our Utah vacation, we unpacked and found a guest living in our house—a stealthy guest. We never saw him and only concluded that he was there because of his rude eating habits. Whenever he decided to have a snack, he chewed holes in food bags. He chewed through a bag of raisins, our pancake mix, and the last straw was a lemon Larabar that Queen Anne had brought home from the store the day before. We guessed that we had a rodent in our house and he had to go.

Monday morning we took action. Our first step was to tear apart the pantry to find and seal off all the exits. Anne emptied the shelves and I moved the freezer away from the wall. We got a flashlight and examined the back of the cabinets but never found the black half-circle hole cartoons lead you to expect. Instead, we found droppings—especially behind and in the freezer’s mechanics.

I made a bucket of detergent and bleach in hot water and began cleaning. The area behind the freezer came first and when that was done, I shoved the heavy white box back in its cubby, so I could start on the rest of the pantry floor. Before I started, I had to move all the crap that was in my way. That included the recycle bin, the can bin, the paper bin, a step stool, and two gallon-sized paint cans in plastic bags. Her Majesty had just finished painting the kitchen and hall and stored the leftover paint in the pantry for when she needed it for touch-ups. I grabbed the two bags of paint cans and moved them into the kitchen.

“Be careful carrying those cans like that,” she admonished.

As if it was the period to her sentence, one of the bags broke and the half-full can of paint slammed to the floor. It didn’t fall over, but—in a way that only a thick liquid can do when it rapidly accelerates then immediately stops—the can’s contents popped the lid and with a big gaaalooop the sand colored paint recoiled out of the can reaching the top of the white upper cabinet door. I saw the wave go past my nose and immediately remembered that I was wearing a brand new tee-shirt. I looked down, but it wasn’t covered with paint splatter, but the white cabinet, the black granite counter top, the stainless steel range, and the oak flooring were. I’m still amazed that so much of it got everywhere, but not one drop of paint landed on the wall of that color.

You know those moments when you know you’re going to die or be seriously injured? I didn’t have anything to say for myself because I already knew that I had just cocked a loaded gun and it was pointed at my head, so I did what any sensible man would do. I turned to her and with the most sincere voice that I could muster, just asked, “Why?”

It took another hour to clean up. It was lucky that I had a bucket of wash-water at hand. By keeping everything wet, we were able to keep the paint from setting. After getting it all up, I made a rinse bucket of vinegar and warm water and that cleared the remaining haze. The moral of this lesson is that you should listen to your wife … before she tells you what to do.

What about Mickey? Well … let’s just say that he’s moved on to that great magic kingdom in the sky. It serves him right—the little bastard started this.

Until next time—jw

Memorial Day Weekend The official start of summer in the desert.

This is the Memorial Day weekend and we get Monday off from work. Good, I need a break from my frantic retirement schedule. I’ll probably use the extra time to get some extra naps in over the holiday weekend. You just don’t know what kind of stress I go through having to decide each day whether to have breakfast on the front or back porch.

For our overseas friends, Memorial Day is the day in the U.S. that we honor and remember servicemen and women who have fallen in defense of our country.  There is some bunting and American flags hung in neighborhoods around the country, but most of the big ceremonies are held in national cemeteries. It’s not the joyous celebration like the 4th of July. It’s more somber.

Memorial Day is one of summer’s delineating pillars. America’s cultural summer officially begins this weekend and closes on Labor Day. The two holidays mark when public pools open and close, the beginning and end of grilling season—in places where that’s actually a thing, they frame when schools close, and the time span that it’s proper to wear white. It’s the first long weekend to get away with the family to the beach, the lake, Disneyland, or camping in a National Park. It marks the beginning of travel season—when the amateurs are loose on the roads. It’s the most dangerous weekend to be driving.

This year, we’ve had a mild May in Arizona but weather forecasts predict sustained triple digits beginning Monday. The Bee-line highway will be packed with valley traffic headed to Payson. I-17 will be crowded with even more people on their way to Prescott, Sedona, or Flagstaff, and the swells will be on I-8 for the San Diego beaches. Phoenix will be deserted. A good part of the exodus from the cities will be campers and it’s the wrong time to be in the woods. We haven’t had rain since January so the forests are bone dry. Rangers have prohibited campfires they have closed some of the choicest locations. Still, the woods are packed with people who know more, and next week, we’ll be watching stories about the new forest fires on the evening news. Camping will be much more fun after the summer monsoons hose down the forests.

Rush Hour
Rush Hour – North Ranch residents waiting for the security gate to open before escaping for the summer.

Queen Anne and I aren’t going anywhere. The streets in our little park are already quiet. The snowbirds have pulled out already and they won’t be back for months. Even the over-night spots up-front are empty with just a couple of stragglers remaining. I have the streets to myself while I’m on my bicycle ride in the cool mornings. You see, here at North Ranch, Memorial Day marks the season’s end. We’re 180º out of phase.

In college, one of my required courses was the natural history of the desert where they talked about how the flora and fauna have adapted to survive the harsh climate. I can tell you it’s true because after forty-five years I’ve learned some summer survival rules. I’ll share a few with you.

  • Pack all your sweaters away by April 15th.
  • Cover your windows with your heaviest curtains by May 1st.
  • Get your chores done by 10 am, then hide inside until the sun goes down.
  • Always find a shade tree to park under.
  • A cool drink of water does not come out of the tap.
  • Wear wide brim straw hats.
  • Pack an ice chest and shop at the Prescott Costco.
  • Never wear black unless you want a nice sear instead of a tan.
  • There is never enough sunscreen.
  • Forget about daylight savings time, the last thing we need is more daylight.
  • A green lawn is a money pit.
  • A person driving a car with all the windows down has the right of way—thanks to Bob Boze Bell.
  • You never need reservations for lunch at an outdoor café.
  • What’s a dinner jacket?

That’s a few that come to mind off the top of my head. I’m sure you can add to the list and I urge you to in the comments section. Maybe we can come up with enough to compile into a beginner’s guidebook. I’ll think about it while I sit on the front porch in my white shorts and shrunk wife-beater enjoying my morning coffee amidst the peace and quiet.

Until then — jw

Chicken S.O.S. – A He-Man’s Breakfast for Sissies Gourmet Photographer

With this recent cold spell passing through, it’s nice to have a change from the cold cereal that Queen Anne ‘cooks’ every morning.  I know that she tries to be creative, but sliced bananas and raisins only go so far. On days like these, I like something warm and hearty that sticks to the ribs. Since my brain isn’t up to speed at the crack of dawn, it needs to be simple to make. I came up with this concoction last year when our pantry was depleted and I liked it enough to keep it in my repertoire.

Campbells Cream of Chicken Soup
Cream of Chicken Soup – it makes a hearty breakfast too.

Back in my short military conscription days (yes kids, there was a time when they would come drag you from your home), breakfast was the meal that had the best choices of food. But between the steam pans of rubber scrambled eggs and fried hockey pucks, there was always a pot of gray gooey glop with bits of brown chunks in it. Its formal name was Chipped Beef on Toast, but it’s better known as S.O.S. (look it up). My dad liked it and even made it once. My sisters and I refused to eat it. We didn’t even taste it. Years later, my curiosity got the better of me when I saw some in a Stouffer’s box so I bought and tried it. Guess what! It was bad. I don’t know why because I like red-eye gravy on chicken fried steak and I’ll occasionally gag down an order of biscuits and gravy. It had to be the mystery-meat that was in it. So, in my recipe, I replaced it with known chicken parts and a better tasting gravy.


  • A 10 ½ ounce can of Cream of Chicken soup—like Campbell’s
  • ¼ cup of dry white wine—Vermouth, Sherry, Chardonnay it doesn’t matter.
  • ¼ cup of chicken broth
  • 8 ounces (about) of Costco Rotisserie Chicken meat (They sell yesterday’s leftovers in the deli which Anne freezes in 8-ounce portions).
  • A pinch of Poultry Seasoning or your own combination of celery flakes, sage, and thyme.
  • An English muffin for each serving.


The consistency is important. You don’t want to make soup, but you don’t want the kindergarten paste that comes out of the can either. The mixture should sit on the muffin and ooze off slowly. I find that thinning the base with a half can of liquid works best. The wine provides an acidic brightness that I like, but a half can is too much. You can blend the wine and chicken stock to get the taste that you like. I use a 1:1 ratio, but you can use all wine, all chicken stock, or all water if that’s all you have. It doesn’t matter; you’re not supposed to have to think about math in the morning. Combine all the liquids into a pot and heat on medium-high.

As the sauce begins to heat, split and toast your muffins. Chop the chicken meat into smaller chunks and add that to the sauce. Season the mixture with herbs. There’s enough salt in the soup and chicken that you don’t need more, but you can add your favorite pepper if you like some spice. When the sauce starts to boil, cover and simmer on a low heat for five to fifteen minutes—stirring occasionally—allowing the seasonings to blend. Arrange the split English muffins on a plate and glop the gravy on top, then you can garnish with more herbs and maybe a pinch of cayenne or paprika for color. There is enough sauce for two servings so you can share with your sweetie or—better yet—you can have seconds if they turn their nose up.


  • Can of soup has 300
  • 8 oz of chicken breast is 300
  • Herbs add nothing
  • Wine is less than 30
  • Chicken stock is 10
  • English Muffin is 130

The entire pot and a muffin add up to 770 calories and a serving is about half (or less), so each serving is 385 calories. That’s less than two Krispy Crème doughnuts. It’s a warm hearty breakfast that tastes good if not downright decadent. Give it a try sometime and let me know what you think.

Till next time—jw

On A Morning Walk Super Blue Blood Moon

Some would call me a brave man. Foolish; maybe, but I’m not brave. You see, Queen Anne asked me to wake her at 5:00 am so she could see the Super-Blue-Blood moon this morning. It was another 100-year event that she didn’t want to miss. It seems to me that these once-in-a-life things happen often.

Super-Blue-Blood Moon
Super-Blue-Blood Moon – Another once in a lifetime event that we enjoyed on our walk this morning.

At the stroke of five, I did my duty by cracking the bedroom door and tossing a shoe in. When I didn’t hear bear growling, I entered and announced, “It’s started,” then I returned to my computer. Almost immediately, she was at my office door with her jacket on. “A walk? You want to go for our walk now?” I asked.

“Sure. Didn’t you?”

I put on my shoes and grabbed my coat and flashlight and we set off for our morning lap around the park. Venus was high in the east and Scorpio was rising out of the glow of the Phoenix lights. By this time, the moon already had a good bite out of the top as it began to enter earth’s shadow. As we walked, we watched the illuminated section shrink. It takes us about forty-five minutes to complete the two-mile trip and in the dark, I would shine the light before us checking for vermin. It was interesting to see how much light pollution our little community added with many LED ropes placed under trailers being the biggest culprit. They’re supposed to keep rodents from chewing the trailer’s exposed wiring, but I think their effectiveness is suspect.

By the time we got home the moon was only a red glow in the black sky. Rightly named the blood moon, I can see how our ancestors would have feared its omen. Anne grabbed a couple of lap blankets and me, a cup of coffee from the house. We pulled chairs out to the edge of our rear deck and watched while listening to the hoot of a great horned owl coming from nearby trees. We wanted to watch the moon emerge from the shadow, but it lost a race with dawn and to soon disappeared into the trees along the horizon. After it disappeared, we went inside and made breakfast so we could see instant replays on the morning news. All in all, it wasn’t a shabby way to start the day.

Until next time — jw

Observations on a Winter’s Morning

After listening to the radio reports of sub-freezing nation-wide temperatures, I donned my blue light-weight jacket and straw hat as protection against the 48º (F) biting chill and left the house for my daily dawn walk around our compound. The sun was lurking behind the Weaver Range and it turned an overhead cloud into a streak of crimson. I couldn’t decide if it was the Arctic Blast or the red sky that stole my breath.

I’m of course telling you this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but it’s an Arizona law commanding us to brag about our winters just like our law that says we have to tell out-of-state relatives that we’re having Thanksgiving by the pool, regardless of having one. I’m just a law-abiding citizen.

On this morning’s walk, however, I did notice a couple of things that concerned me and another that brought joy. Unlike last year’s wet winter which brought snow to the mountains flanking our east, this winter has been warm and dry. The last measurable rain in Phoenix was August 23rd. That’s not good even though our RV Park is packed with northern people. Octogenarians partying in shorts and loud shirts late into the night dancing the Limbo next to a roaring campfire (do they know we don’t do that here?). All fun I guess, but winter rains are important for us. We count on them for spring wildflowers. More importantly, the mountain snowpack’s feed the streams and rivers where we keep the water Phoenix needs.

The first example I have is this brittlebush. It has flowers which is something that happens in early spring—not at the beginning of winter. In spring the daisy-like yellow flowers cover the brittlebush and they carpet the desert floor, then the heat sets in and the plants shrivel into dry sticks—hence the name.

Brittlebush in January
January Brittlebush – Brittlebush normally sends out daisy-like yellow flowers carpeting the desert floor in early spring.

At the south-east corner of the park, down by the water treatment plant is a large ash tree where our resident Cooper’s hawk nests in the spring. Ash trees in Arizona are always late to turn color, but this one is still green. I don’t know if something in the leach field keeps it green, or the unusually warm weather is affecting the leaves from turning. In either case, it’s not the norm.

Winter Ash
Winter Ash – Ash trees (background) are always late to turn color in Arizona, this one may have missed the bus.

When I got to our cactus park, I was glad to see that the warmth has not prevented the columnar cacti—the ones that look like pipes—from sprouting their winter bloom. This only happens during the coldest part of the year and the cup-like flower stay until the nights warm again. Since we haven’t had a freeze this year, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the flowers. Strangely, neighbors living near the park report hearing melodic noises during last night’s (super) full moon. They all said that they heard the soft chanting of “Whip-it, whip-it good” drifting across the night air.

Winter Blossoms
Winter Blossoms – Only on the coldest nights of winter do the columnar cactus sprout these cup-like white flowers.

Until next time — jw


I spent all day making this Christmas Card for you.

Candy Cane Remains
A plate full of candy cane crumbs is a sure sign that Santa was here.
Ginger Boy's Tragic Accident
Just because it’s the Holidays doesn’t mean you can ignore safety.
Perfect Dinner
Oh boy! I can’t wait for Christmas dinner because we’re having cranberry sauce molded in the shape of a can.

Until next time … jw