KofA Thunderhead Picture of the Week

KofA Thunderhead - An autumn thunderhead builds over the KofA Mountains in western Arizona.
KofA Thunderhead – An autumn thunderhead builds over the KofA Mountains in western Arizona.

Each time Queen Anne and I jump into the car; I pack a camera in the back seat. I don’t mean on local errands like a trip to the grocery store but on drives longer than an hour. Rarely do I stop to take a picture, but should one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments happens, I’m ready.

If I capture some unique photographs, they don’t fit our usual workflow. We usually pick a location as a month-long project and photograph enough shots for a month of articles (or even a book). My one-of-shots along the highway traditionally become forgotten orphans. No one gets to see them—until now.

For December, I decided to make this month’s project out of the non-project shots I collected this year. With these four pictures, a special moment made me pull over and stop the car. That’s pretty hard to do because once I have a destination set in my mind, I only stop for gas, a candy bar, and bladder relief.

Anne and I run to Mexico about four times a year. We go to Algodones to see our dentist and buy 90 days worth of prescriptions. We’re on Medicare, and we have a gap plan that pays for most of the pills we take, but some of the select drugs (hint: you see them advertised on TV) are so much cheaper in Mexico that it pays for the drive. If we don’t have to wait on the dentist, we can make a drug run in a day. We leave here at 8:00 am, walk two blocks across the border, stop at Mickey D’s for lunch, and get home by 5:00 pm.

That was our itinerary on September 22—the first fall day. As we drove home on Highway US 93, I watched a single thunderhead building thirty miles north over the KofA Mountains. I thought it unusual to have monsoon activity in autumn and a single storm cell develop so far west in Arizona. I spent the next half hour arguing with myself.

“That will be a great shot if the clouds hold together until we get there.”

“If we stop, we’ll get home after dark.”

“It’s an isolated cell, and it’s posing like a runway model.”

“It’s the wrong time of day, and the light is wrong.”

Just after passing the Border Patrol station that marks halfway between Yuma and Quartzsite, I noticed that the cloud was beginning to tear apart (the wispy part on the tower’s left side). It was time to stop the car. I reached back for my camera and hiked a few steps off the highway. I set the zoom-lens as wide as possible before framing and then snapping a couple of shots. I call this week’s featured image KofA Thunderhead.

The spot where I stopped was several miles away, and for perspective, the jagged KofA peaks rise a couple of thousand feet above the 500-foot high basin. That makes the billowing cumulus top nearly 40,000 feet in the air. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture any lightning strikes beneath the storm.

We returned to the road and continued the drive, watching the storm evolve. The upper winds blew the clouds apart by the time we were due east of it. That’s when we saw a funnel cloud drop below the ceiling. The tornado briefly touched the ground near Crystal Hill Road before it disappeared.

We weren’t done with it yet. After stopping for gas in Quartzsite, the storm ambushed us on the pass at Guadalupe Mountain. As it moved north over Interstate 10, it dumped rain so hard that the wipers couldn’t keep up, and traffic slowed to a crawl. We hoped we wouldn’t be surprised by a second tornado, but after a mile or so, we broke into the clear, and the deluge was only an image in the mirror.

You can see a larger version of KofA Thunderhead on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, I’ll drag out another orphan photo for show and tell. We’ll see you then.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Anne and I are negotiating next year’s schedule, so there will be a lot of yelling and screaming around here during the holidays. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains.

Lomaki Picuter of the Week

Lomaki - The crooked walls look as if the fierce Northern Arizona winds will blow them over.
Lomaki – The crooked walls look like the fierce Northern Arizona winds will blow them over.

In the half-century that I’ve called Arizona home, I can’t count the times that I’ve traveled thru Flagstaff and then north on Highway U.S. 89. I travel that route to get to the Grand Canyon, Lee’s Ferry, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Utah, or Colorado. My best guess would be once a year on average. Sometimes I even stop to take pictures along the way.

With that many trips, you’d think I’d pay no mind to the scenery, but that’s not true. There’s always something new. There’s one location that makes my jaw drop, no matter how many times I see it. I’m talking about the view at Sunset Crater Pass I wrote about last month. It’s an in-your-face example of something I learned in a college geography course: mountains affect climate.

The climate on the south side of the San Francisco Peaks is the polar opposite of that on the north. As you travel to Flagstaff from Phoenix, you climb into the pines, and the temperature can drop as much as 30° along the way. As fronts move north from the Gulf in the summer or west from the coast in winter, the mountains wring moisture from the air as it climbs the slopes. After passing over the mountains, the air is dry and picks up pressure on the way down. Dry air heats faster than humid air. The phenomenon creates a rain shadow on the mountain’s leeward side. The next time you travel north of Flagstaff, stop your car at the pass and take a look back—trees. Then turn to the north again—trees kept away.

Now that you know how mountains work, it’s easy to understand why the early Pueblo Tribes living at Wupatki lived in rock dwellings instead of log cabins. Amazingly, the Indians still used timbers to span the walls and hold up a roof. That means they had to drag lumber off the mountains by hand. They built their structures before the Spanish arrived, so they didn’t have horses.

This week we’re looking at one of the bigger pueblos in the National Monument—Lomaki. That’s a Hopi word that translates into English as “Beautiful House.” Anthropologists have partially restored its two-story walls. As you walk through the ruins, you begin to appreciate the ancient people’s masonry skills and tenacity. They must have had to rent scaffolding for walls that size at A-Z Rentals in town. It was either that or standing on one another’s shoulders. You’d do the same thing.

In this week’s picture, titled Lomaki, you get a good idea of the wall height. The windows are at eye level. A peculiar thing you notice in this shot is the walls are leaning. I’m not sure if the scientist put that feature in on purpose or if they weren’t as skilled as the original Pueblo builders. As a photographer, I have a thing about lines that aren’t level or square. Oceans don’t run downhill, so I wince whenever I see a seascape with a crooked horizon. On my first visit to Lomaki decades ago, its tilted walls jumped out at me. They look like a good wind will blow them over—and this area of Arizona is exceptionally windy. However, on this year’s visit, the walls were still standing and didn’t seem any worse, so maybe they’ll remain long after I’ve gone.

You can see a larger version of Lomaki on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk around Lomaki and see its details. Come back then and see what we find.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

The calendar cut-off day is Tuesday, so if you are interested, place your order.

Box Canyon Picture of the Week

A pair of Pueblo ruins adorn the cliff tops on either side of Box Canyon in Wupatki National Monument.
A pair of Pueblo ruins adorn the cliff tops on either side of Box Canyon in Wupatki National Monument.

It’s November already. Time passes so fast that the remaining hair on my head flutters behind me like a streamer in the wind. To make things worse, the landlord turned off the heat. Here in the foothills, we had a couple of mornings in the high 30s, and Queen Anne insisted on sleeping with the bedroom window open. When I got up, I was invisible, standing in front of the blue accent wall—nothing but a pair of whitey tighties and chattering teeth floating through space. This cold front is supposed to move out later this week, so I’ve resisted turning on the heater. Instead, we throw back the curtains, put on heavier sweaters, and shiver till noon.

With the new month, we started a new project and didn’t have to travel far to get to it. It’s the housing development across the street. The street is Highway U.S. 89, and the development is Wupatki National Monument. Wupatki shares the access road and visitor’s center with Sunset Crater National Monument—they’re conjoined twins. During this year’s fire season, the fires closed the 35-mile park road at the crater, but Wupatki remained open because it’s north and out of danger.

Wupatki is at the base of one of the Navajo’s four sacred mountains: Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks, Mount Taylor in New Mexico, Hesperus Mountain near Durango, and Blanca Peak outside of Alamosa. The Dine’ considers the area with these mountains their home. But, long before the tribe moved from central Canada, Pueblo Indians lived here. They left behind stone homes along the Colorado Plateau: from Wupatki to Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde south to Walnut Canyon.

Most Americans consider Mesa Verde National Park the most extensive collection of pueblo ruins, but Wupatki is its match. In some areas, our National Monument exceeds the Colorado Park in the number of dwellings per square mile. When you visit the monument, the maps direct you to displays unearthed and restored by archeologists that you can walk through and hear thousand-year-old ghosts. As you drive to these exhibits, keep your eyes peeled because you’ll see piles of rocks in the fields and on hilltops. These are not natural clumps of stones but more ruins that the scientists haven’t yet examined. These areas are set aside for future paleontologists to examine using more advanced tools.

There are so many ruins in Wupatki to enjoy I can’t cover them all in one month. For November, we’re only covering a half-mile hike called Box Canyon. In that short distance, you pass three ruins along the way to the main exhibit—Lomaki. This week’s picture is of a pair of stone buildings standing on the cliffs of Box Canyon. As I walked along the paved trail on a warm summer afternoon, I stopped at each ruin, photographing what I saw. The path led up a gentle slope from the parking area, past the first ruin. From there, I could see the second dwelling on the other side of the canyon, so I continued along the trail. I could have spent the rest of my time shooting these two, but when I reached this spot, I could see Lomaki, which is more prominent with even more rooms. I quickly framed this scene and moved on to the big show.

I chose this image to start this month’s project because it shows the proximity of the two ruins along the canyon walls and how they rise above the grasslands. I assume different families occupied them. There’s enough space for privacy, but they’re close enough to provide mutual protection and borrow the neighbor’s lawn mower.

You can see a larger version of Box Canyon on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk up to Lomaki and spend some time there. Come back then for another episode of This Old House. I’ll leave the light on for you.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

Don’t forget to get your calendar order in before the cut-off on the 15th.

Colton Crater Juniper Picture of the Week

Colton Crater Juniper - A lone juniper surrounded by lava bombs stands before Colton Crater topped with monsoon clouds.
Colton Crater Juniper – A lone juniper surrounded by lava bombs stands before Colton Crater, topped with whipped cream monsoon clouds.

I’m unsure where my head was last week when I wrote that today was the last Sunday in October. It wasn’t until the middle of the week that I realized I was wrong, and another weekend was ahead. Don’t worry; I have one more photo from the San Francisco Lava Field that I’d like to show you. You’re so lucky.

Queen Anne and I didn’t have to travel far from S.P. Crater to find this week’s scene. She didn’t move at all. She sat in the Jeep and continued to read her Kendal while I walked due south across the dirt road to a tree that I found interesting. I composed my shot as I walked toward the juniper. I wanted to include the monsoon clouds building over the San Francisco Peaks and some of the lava bombs surrounding the tree; otherwise, I would have moved closer to capture its twisted trunk. When I finally processed the photo this week, I realized that I had grabbed another volcanic crater—it’s a twofer. I’d rather be lucky than good—it takes up less time.

The cone in this week’s shot is Colton Crater. It looks like a fallen birthday cake. No amount of icing will cover that mess up. Compared to the mountain I featured last week, this one doesn’t seem impressive. It doesn’t look tall and well-formed like S.P. Crater. That’s only an optical conclusion. Colton has more height and width, and the caldera is deeper. And there is another smaller cone inside Colton’s caldera. You’ll have to look on Google Earth or hike its rough grade to see it. Incidentally, along the horizon, the small pyramid-shaped peak is Mt. Humphreys—Arizona’s highest mountain peak.

The reason that Colton looks old and saggy is the same as why I do; it’s an old fart. While S.P. Crater’s last eruption was only 55,000 years ago (a baby), Colton Crater hasn’t seen any action in 200k – 800k years. That’s plenty of time for gravity and erosion to bring a mountain to its knees. For example, the interior of Colton’s crater has been swept clean of residual ash and pumice from its eruption.

Scientists don’t name things very creatively. They tend to give out codes instead of names. For most of the time that geologist has been studying the San Francisco Peaks, this crater was called V160. It was the 160th volcanic flow in the lava field. See what I mean—where’s the romance in that? Dr. Harold Sellers Colton was the founder and director of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, and after he died in 1970, the local academia renamed Volcano 160 in his honor. That was nice.

You can see a larger version of Colton Crater Juniper on its Webpage by clicking here. Come back next week when we finish our tour of the San Francisco Lava Field with one last photo. This time I’m sure—I looked it up on my calendar. We’ll see you then.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

I have an old friend from my California racing days named Gary Wheeler. You might have read some of his comments in this journal. Since his retirement, he has been taking some fantastic bird photographs. I don’t know; maybe old racers turn to photography when they’re too old to do anything useful. After much urging, Gary has put his collection online for people to enjoy. If you enjoy birds, you should pay a visit at: https://gowheeler.smugmug.com/. Don’t worry; he didn’t pay me for this advertising.

S.P. Mountain Picture of the Week

S.P. Mountain - The cinder cone on the north flank of the San Francisco Peaks was named by C.J. Babbitt because it resembled a shit-pot.
S.P. Mountain – C.J. Babbitt named the cinder cone on the north flank of the San Francisco Peaks because it resembled a shit pot.

When Queen Anne and I visited the San Francisco Lava Fields this summer, we were there to photograph one cinder cone—S.P. Mountain. I watched several YouTube videos that featured the area, and I thought the cones would make an exciting journal project. I don’t see as many pictures from the lava field as I would expect, so maybe Ansel Adams left something for me, “Here’s a nickel, kid. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

The San Francisco Peaks is the taller of the two major Arizona volcanoes (the other being Mount Baldy/Mount Ord which are southeast in the White Mountains). The Peaks are the remnants of San Francisco Mountain—an active volcano that became dormant 400,000 years ago. Scientists have calculated the volcano was over 16,000 feet tall—4,000 feet above Mt. Humphreys, the highest remaining peak and Arizona’s high point.

Although the mountain has been dormant for a half-million years, there have been newer local eruptions. Geologists date the flow at S.P. Mountain to 55,000 years, and only a thousand years have passed since Sunset Crater erupted. That eruption caused the Sinagua Indians (the people we visited in August) to move 13miles south to Walnut Canyon because their Safeway was severely damaged.

Maybe one of the reasons the lava field doesn’t get more visitors is that much of it is on private land and doesn’t get much press. C. J. Babbitt is credited for the mountain’s name. If you’re young and ambitious, you can climb to the rim, and from that point of view, the crater resembles an overflowing chamber pot—or Shit Pot as he called them (and you thought those pretty flowered bowls and matching pitchers you see in museums was for washing your face). When the cartographers heard what the locals called the crater, they said, “Oh dear. We can’t put that on the maps. We’ll just use the initials.” If you’d like to see the view from the top without leaving your Lazy-Boy, I captured this Google Earth view.

When we drove out to the lava field, I wanted to video the cinder cone. Most of the time we spent at S.P. Crater was with the drone, and I didn’t get a still shot that I liked (if you’re interested in seeing the videos, here’s the Pond5 link). As we started to leave, I stopped to shoot last week’s photo of Split Top, and when I turned back, I saw this image of S.P. Mountain. The clouds were casting shadows on the cone, but a break in them let sunlight spill down on the grass and juniper trees. I’m pleased about how well this photo turned out. It’s only a couple of zebras short of being from an exotic African location. Naturally, I called this image S.P. Mountain because I didn’t want the Internet censors after me.

You can see a larger version of S.P. Mountain on its Webpage by clicking here. Come back next week when we finish our tour of the San Francisco Lava Field with one last photo. We’ll see you then.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

I’m working on my Website’s Arizona galleries to make them flow better. Unlike the other State groupings, I have too many shots from Arizona to have a single page. So, I have subcategories for deserts, farms, towns, mountains, etc. This week I posted a second Arizona Index page that allows visitors to switch between a slideshow view and a thumbnail view with a button click. Some people like the traditional thumbnail view, while others prefer to see slides. Here’s the link to the page. What do you think?

Beer Can Picture of the Week

Beer Can - An uncouth visitor left an empty beer can near a cattle tank on the Babbitt Ranch.
Beer Can – An uncouth visitor left an empty beer can near a cattle tank on the Babbitt Ranch in Northern Arizona.

If you drive north on US Route 89 from Flagstaff, you get to see one of the best scenic views in the country. To get there, we need to get around the San Francisco Peaks—the remains of an ancient volcano, and they rise over 12,000 feet—Arizona’s high point. Route 89 is on the east flank of the peaks and winds through Flagstaff suburbs that suffered fire and flood damage this spring. As the road climbs a gentle grade, the scenery changes from open meadows full of new homes to a ponderosa forest. There was substantial fire scaring, but many tall, red-barked trees survived.

At the top of the hill, the four-lane highway briefly flattens before you reach the Sunset Crater National Monument entrance road and the 7288-foot elevation marker. A mile further, the road suddenly drops from its mountain elevation to the Little Colorado River Bridge, 3100 feet below and 35 miles away. On an exceptionally clear day, you can see into Utah—I swear.

This vista encompasses every rainbow color. On the left, the dark green pine trees grow down the mountain slope until they make way for lighter green junipers and then the yellow grass-covered cinder cones on the Babbitt Cattle Ranch. The twenty-one miles of perfectly straight blacktop divides the east side from the west. On the east side, patches of black lava flow give way to the distant Painted Desert colored in hues of reds, whites, greys, and purples. Above everything, the deepest blue skies—a color they don’t make anymore—tie the canvas together.

Every time I see this scene through my windshield, I have a smile on my face. My joy is probably because I’m on my way to someplace fun, like Lake Powell, Lee’s Ferry, the Grand Canyon, or (shudder) Utah. As I drive down the mountainside, I habitually switch my dash view to see if I can recover my gas mileage before I hit the bridge. It keeps my mind occupied for the next half hour. As you all know, I’m easily amused.

Except for a few visits to Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments, I’m usually passing through this wonderland. But, during our July visit to Flagstaff, Queen Anne and I came to the mountain’s north side to photograph the cinder cones in the San Francisco Lava Field. They’re technically on the private ranch owned by the Babbitt family. The Arizona pioneers that have been successful ranchers, merchants, and politicians.

Before we drove out to the ranch, I checked in at their store in town to see if we needed a hall pass. “No, if the gate is open, you can enter as long as you’re respectful and drive on the roads.” Taking the caution to heart, I was surprised when we reached the old trading post that there wasn’t even a gate to open. The dirt road was so smooth that we didn’t tax our Jeep’s capabilities—not even its four-wheel drive. It’s only a couple of miles to the lava field, but before we got there, we drove by a cattle tank where some uncouth slob left an old beer can. I was so upset that I stopped to document what the thoughtless cretin had done. The picture came out so well that I made it this week’s featured image. I call it Beer Can.

As you might have figured out already, it’s not actually a beer can but graffiti that some vandal painted on the side of one of the ranch’s metal water tanks. They’re used to hold water for the cattle during the dry season. Indeed, the lettering is still vandalism, but one that appeals to my perverted sense of humor. Besides the tank, I don’t know what the trash can lid is. Perhaps it’s a cache to store surplus hay for when a herd is in the area.

An unnamed volcanic cone appears in the background, and it doesn’t seem very high until you try climbing it. Neither Anne nor I tried scaling anything on this trip because there weren’t any stairs for me to bitch about, so as usual, Anne stayed in the Jeep reading her Kindle while I ran around taking pictures.

You can view my Web version of Beer Can on its page by clicking here. We have a month’s worth of photos from the lava field, so we’ll be spending October here. I hope you enjoy this week’s pictures and come back next week when we present more. Be sure to join us then.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

We recently discussed making a Route 66 photo trip and producing a large coffee-table book from the new photos. After burning down my calculator, we’ve put off any such trip until later. We’ll wait and see what happens next year.

Dos Cabezas Mountains Picture of the Week

Dos Cabezas Mountains - The 'two head' mountain range is a prominent landmark in southeast Arizona.
Dos Cabezas Mountains – The ‘two head’ mountain range is a prominent landmark in southeast Arizona.

Memorial Day has snuck up on us already. The unofficial summer season begins today. Back east, our friends and family have opened swimming pools, drug their Webber grills out of the garage, and finally put on shorts—with white belts and black socks. Meanwhile, here in the desert, we’re beginning to think of clever ways to stay cool for the next three months. This year, Queen Anne and I have come up with some new places to visit, but we have to stop buying food to have gas money.

Before worrying about surviving June and its 110º temperatures, we need to finish May. So, let’s return to our Cochise County Road 186 project, jump into the car, and find one last shot. Then we can drive into Willcox, where I know of a decent Mexican restaurant for dinner.

With the ghost town of Dos Cabezas in the rearview mirror, the county road begins to drop from the foothills into the Sulphur Springs Valley. All of the time, the ‘two-headed’ mountain range looms in the east. The south head blocks its northern twin brother from town, so we will drive several miles until both outcrops are visible. That turned out to be a spot where I could hike past a ranch gate and get this week’s picture.

At first glance, the range resembles a two-headed giant with 15-mile broad shoulders that I’ve seen in cartoons. The twin heads are weathered granite, and the highest one (the south) is 8,354 feet in elevation. That’s not as impressive as it sounds because the valley floor has an average height of 4,000 feet above sea level, but Interstate 10 still detours several miles north of the left shoulder to get around the range. A dirt road on the range’s south side divides the Dos Cabezas and Chiricahua ranges. That road goes to the historic site of Fort Bowie through the ominous Apache Pass. Since that road served as the main trail from New Mexico into Southern Arizona, the Cavalry built the old fort to quell the frequent ambushes by renegade Apaches.

I call this photo Dos Cabezas Mountains because I have a vivid imagination. The sky looked clear and blue, but a few clouds to the south cast shadows over the range. Fortunately, that saved this image from being flat and lifeless. The dark-green patches near the mountain top are tall ponderosa pines. In this picture, the land traverses three climate zones, and that’s an example of why the patches of Coronado National Forest are called Sky Islands. Finally, the San Simon Valley and New Mexico are on the other side of these mountains.

You can see a larger version of Dos Cabezas Mountain on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we begin searching for summer refuges, but before we load the Jeep, I will return to a previous location as promised earlier this year. Be sure to come back and see what I’m talking about.

Till Next Time
jw

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