Dragon Backs Picture of the Week

Dragon Backs - A pair of peaks in the Dome Rock Mountains that look like spiny back dragons.
Dragon Backs – A pair of peaks in the Dome Rock Mountains that look like spiny back dragons.

The drive between Quartzsite and Yuma on Highway US 95 has two parts. Driving in either direction, it’s thirty miles of gentle uphill grade and then downhill for the other thirty. The mid-point is at Stone Cabin (now an empty building shell), where the Border Patrol checkpoint is.

From Quartzsite, the road is dead straight, and your line of sight is limited only by the whoop-de-woos (wash dips) and the earth’s curvature. The 800-foot climb is barely noticeable, and the road is flanked on the east by the KofA Mountains (named for the King of Arizona mine), and to the west are the Dome Rock Mountains (the dome you see west of downtown Quartzsite).

The south half of the trip has a steeper grade—most of which is in the first mile, where the highway drops off a hill. The scenery changes too. There’s a different mountain range far off to the east—the Castle Dome Mountains, but you’re surrounded by the Yuma Proving Grounds, where the military plays with its new toys. Instead of a pleasant drive through the wilderness, you begin searching for things like the down-looking radar dirigible, a Bradley tank using your car for target practice, or the C-130 that just took off and climbed to 10,000 feet before troopers shove something big out of the back—I sure hope that chute opens.

Whenever Queen Anne and I travel this road, I look for these landmarks to help pass the time. I’d rather have a stimulating conversation about physics with her, but she usually has her head pressed against the headrest, her eyes closed, and her mouth open. She stays that way until one of her snorts wakes her.

On the drive home, one of the landmarks I look for is a pair of unnamed mountains in the Dome Rock Range. When I pass them, we’re nearing the Quartzsite city limits. The twin peaks look like a pair of dragons sunning themselves on a rock. I’ve often thought I’d like to get their portrait, but no matter how much map scouring I do, I’m unable to find a way to get closer—short of hiking two and a half miles across the open Mohave Desert.

The spiny back of the dragons climbs from the desert to their west-facing heads—where they watch the Colorado River flow south. As with last week’s shot, we always drive by them right after lunch. That’s the absolute worst light in the desert. I keep swearing on a stack of Ansel Adams books that I will shoot them when the light is correct, but it’s yet to happen.

On our last drug run—when last week’s photo was taken—clouds were gathering over the Dome Rock Range, so instead of a uniform blue sky, there was texture over the mountains. After I took the KofA Thunderhead shot, I walked across the highway and pointed my camera at the dragons. This time I twisted the zoom to telephoto and framed the monsoon clouds. The result is this week’s featured image, which I call Dragon Backs.

You can see a larger version of Dragon Backs on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, I have pictures to show from a different place for show-and-tell. I hope you can take a break from your Christmas shopping and take a look. We’ll see you then.

Till next time


Flagstaff Book - A collection of photographs and musings from our summer trip to Flagstaff.
Flagstaff Book – A collection of photographs and musings from our summer trip to Flagstaff.

Oops, I Did It Again (Britney Spears song written by Richard Thompson). I published another book. This one covers all of the places we visited in and around Flagstaff. As usual, it’s available in two versions. You can see and buy the hardback on Blurb.com—which you won’t do because it’s too expensive—and the free PDF version you can download, view, and print from your computer. There are additional photos in each of the four chapters, so I’m hoping you take a look. You can get to its Web Page by clicking here.

Eagletail Mountains Picture of the Week


Eagletail Mountains - The Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area is an hour west of Phoenix, and south of Interstate 10. Since you have to hike to see the good stuff, it's challenging for me to photograph properly.
Eagletail Mountains – The Eagletail Mountain Wilderness Area is west of Phoenix and south of Interstate 10. Since you have to hike to see the good stuff, it’s challenging to photograph correctly.

I find some places where it is difficult to photograph properly. Most of those are wilderness areas. Because they’re not accessible by road, you have to hike to get to the good stuff; that’s exciting visually. You know by now how I feel about hiking—I’m vehemently against it. However, sometimes you have to do things that make you uncomfortable.

The Eagletail Mountains are one of those places. Plenty of old jeep trails are running through the area, but since it was declared a wilderness and set aside in 1990, you can’t drive on them. Instead, you have to hike anywhere within its boundaries.

I last visited the Eagletails in 2003—when I first created my Website. Since I routinely update the site with newer and better photos, I discarded those shots long ago. I needed a new project, so I decided to revisit the Eagletail Wilderness and try my luck again.

There are two mountain ranges in the Eagletail Wilderness. Foremost is the Eagletail Range that runs north-south. If it were a hand on a clock, they would be in the 11:00 position. The other range is Cemetery Ridge (hmm, there’s got to be a story behind that name), a line of mountains that run northwest-southeast, or 9:30-10:00. Most of this wilderness fits within this triangle between the two ranges. That’s the justification that Congress used to preserve it. It is a complete example of two mountain ranges separated by a flat Sonoran Desert basin.

This week’s picture is of the western slope of the Eagletails. It’s an aerial shot taken with my drone. Since I can’t fly into a wilderness, it’s as close as I could get from the east side. It shows the jagged ridgeline with Eagletail Peak—the high point—at center-right. If you got closer, you’d see its top has several granite spires resembling feathers—so its name is descriptive.

The trouble is that the interesting geologic formations and petroglyphs are on the other side. For February, my challenge is to see how far I can walk in and show you what’s there. It’s been several years since I last twisted my ankle, so I’m about due.

You can see a larger version of Eagletail Mountains on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we move south and get a shot, including Cemetery Ridge. I promise to see how it got that name. Come back then and see what we found.

Until next time — jw

New Water Black Mesa Picture of the Week

My first Phoenix visit was during the summer of my high school junior year. It wasn’t much of a visit. Dave and Edith—my mom’s niece and her husband lived here. They moved here from Michigan, and he hadn’t been able to find steady work as a mechanic, so my dad offered him a job maintaining his debilitated fleet of Corvair vans. They accepted and immediately packed up to move to the coast. Since I was on summer vacation and my wallet had that new-drivers-license smell, dad volunteered me to drive one of their trucks.

My father put me on an early flight out of the tiny Burbank Airport, and I arrived at an even smaller terminal where Dave met me. Parked at the curb outside was his white El Camino. I don’t remember the year, but it was loaded with toolboxes and the rest of his shop equipment. I didn’t question if it was overloaded because that was above my pay grade and comprehension at the time. I was only impressed that it had a four-on-the-floor, and it made a rumble when he started it.

We drove straight to their home, where a moving van was packed and ready for the trip. The only things that I got to see in Phoenix were the airport, the freeway, his house, and the biggest Goodyear Tire sign in the world. Even Hollywood didn’t have a sign that big and bright. I do remember that it was only mid-morning, and it was already hot. Automotive air conditioning was an exotic thing back then, so we drove with the windows down.

We didn’t spend much time at the house because everything was packed and ready. I was assigned to drive the El Camino, and he would follow in the U-Haul (or whatever brand he had rented). Both vehicles were packed to the gills, but Dave still had loads of unpacked clothes and threw them on my passenger seat before heading west on Highway 60.

Not many cars had air conditioning in 1963, but they all had wind-wings, little adjustable windows at the front of the door windows. They were useful for defogging the windshield, sucking out cigarette smoke, and when driving across the desert, they would divert the scorching wind from your face. By noon we were driving across the open desert west of Wickenburg, and my wind-wings were wide open.

Cars also had temperature gauges then because they frequently overheated. Nothing was broken; they just did that. While you drove, you watched your speed, the gas gauge, and the water temperature. You planned your stops by what the gauges said. As the day grew hotter, and the overloaded little El Camino began to run hot, and I pulled over to let Dave know. We began stopping at gas stations in each of the little towns we passed in an abundance of caution. There we would hose down the truck’s radiator and then continue on our way.

That was until we stopped at a place in the middle of nowhere. As I looked around, all I could see was the barren desert surrounded by dry, jagged mountains. The water spigot had a lock on it and a sign that read, “Water 1.00 a gallon.” That was five times the price of his gas; it was outrageous. The man behind the cash register justified the cost by saying, “Look around you, kid. Do you see any water? I have to pay to have this trucked in.” We gave in and bought a couple of gallons and slowly poured it over the gurgling radiator.

We drove another 200 miles without another incident, all the while the expensive water ate at my brain. Once we reached the cooler air in San Bernardino, the little truck behaved itself. As we drove the two-lane road crossing the lower Mohave Desert, we saw hundreds of freeway miles under construction off to the right. Interstate 10 was finished from L.A. to the Colorado River when I moved to Phoenix a decade later. In Arizona, it stopped at a place they called The Brenda Cutoff. For years I wondered who Brenda was. After moving to Congress, I realized that Brenda was the town where that infamous gas station was, and I finally put two and two together.

New Water Black Mesa - The early morning sun highlights the cliffs of Black Mesa overlooking Interstate 10 in western Arizona.
New Water Black Mesa – The early morning sun highlights Black Mesa’s cliffs overlooking Interstate 10 in western Arizona.

Last Tuesday, I pointed out the old station’s ruins and told Fred this story—well, an abridged version—as we drove back from our photo-shoot. We went there to photograph this week’s featured image of the Black Mesa in the New Water Wilderness Area. The Ramsey Mine Road approaches the wilderness, and it starts in Brenda. The lava-rock covered mesa cliffs are another of my favorite Interstate 10 landmarks. When I see them on the south side, I know that we’re almost to Quartzite, and the Colorado River is soon after. I’ve admired these formations each time I pass under them, and it’s taken me decades to figure out how to get closer. I called this shot New Water Black Mesa because there are dozens of Black Mesas throughout Arizona, so I have to start including which mesa I’m talking about.

You can see a larger version of New Water Black Mesa on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we start a new monthly project as well as a new year. Queen Anne and I will still need to keep close to home, so come back next week and see what subject we chose.

Until next time — jw

Big Horn Tank Picture of the Week

We’re down to the final month of this gawd awful year. For one, I will be happy to get my vaccination and venture back out into the world again—well, right after you get yours, and I see that you don’t get sick and die from it. I’m afraid that it’ll be months before it’s my turn because I’m too young and pretty. So, because it’s a short month, and Queen Anne has abandoned me, we’re going to explore a road that’s both close by but too expansive to cover in one day.

This month’s focus will be on a road, unlike what we’ve covered on this platform before. It’s not even dirt. It’s a road that stretches from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California. It’s also the longest possible way to cross Texas. When Anne and I visited Deb and Fred in Austin several years ago, I was dismayed to see a highway sign that said our destination was further off than the two states through which we’d already driven. I’m, of course, talking about Interstate 10.

Calm down, we’re not going to do the whole thing in one month, and I’m not ready for a lifetime commitment (ask Anne). For December, we’re going to point out the landmarks that I enjoy seeing between Phoenix and the Colorado River. Even with that limitation, there are too many to fit into four Sundays. We’re not even heading in a particular direction; we’ll talk about each place as I get to it.

If you’re like me, you loath driving cross country on the Interstates, but they are the most efficient route when your time is limited. I’ve made countless trips between Los Angeles and Phoenix since moving here a half-century ago, and the flat desert always was the worst grind—river, flat, mountain, flat, mountain, flat, town. After I learned some about the mountain ranges, it was more enjoyable to know that Courthouse Rock was coming up on the south side or that I could spot the abandoned solar observatory on top of Harquahala Mountain. It was like saying, “Hi” to old friends as we passed.

This week’s featured image was taken in the Tonopah area. From east to west, you’ll pass the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, stop at Tonopah Joe’s for gas and heartburn, then on the north side of the highway—where Salome Road crosses—there’s a prominent horn mountain, called Big Horn Mountain. It’s the centerpiece of a wilderness area that’s the same name. Actually, there are two wilderness areas separated by a dirt road that I’ve yet to discover. These are the Big Horn Mountains Wilderness and the Hummingbird Springs Wilderness across the street. You can do backflips across the road from one to the other.

On the plains south of Big Horn Mountain Wilderness Area, is a rusty tank meant to provide water to cattle on the open range.
Big Horn Tank – On the plains south of Big Horn Mountain Wilderness Area is a rusty tank meant to provide water to cattle on the open range.

This week’s featured image that I called Big Horn Tank was taken from the Harquahala Plain off of the Salome Road. There on the open range, I found a rusty water tank for an interesting foreground. I think that rust is a photographer’s favorite color, and I like how the white PVC pipe accents the tank. The other thing I see is how little vegetation cattle have for grazing. They don’t eat creosote (would you), so they only munch on the yellow grass.

You can see a larger version of Big Horn Tank on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week for another roadside landmark from Interstate 10. Tomorrow, I have to phone the Queen to see where I’m allowed to go. Wait till I tell her what happened to me as I was leaving Algodones yesterday—she’ll never let me out of the house again.

Until next time — jw

What Happened to You Picture of the Week

Arizona has a reputation for being hot—deservedly so. Especially here in the Sonoran Desert. We frequently make the weather news for hosting the highest temperature of the day—a contest in which Gila Bend and Bullhead City are always locked in battle. For some people, any press is good press.

But as I explore the back roads of our state, I’ve come to the conclusion that the heat here had to be way worse many millennia ago. I came to this conclusion because you can’t walk more than ten steps before you step in a puddle of cooled lava—basalt (cooled quickly on the surface), andesite (mixed cooling), and granite (cooled slowly beneath the surface). Not all of this volcanic activity happened at the same time of, course. Millions of years separated eras of activity. What I’m saying is that, at times, Arizona’s ground heat far exceeded our summer temperatures. It’s probably a good thing that we’re living in this era.

The reason I’m hopped-up on geology this morning is because of the next stop that Queen Anne and I made on our one lap of Harquahala Mountain trip. Near where the Eagle Eye Road intersects with the Salome Highway, a series of volcanic hills line the south side of the road. After getting out and clambering all over them, I decided that they didn’t have star power. They’re interesting, but not that interesting. During my investigation, however, I found this poor little weird saguaro. It had eight new arms growing around it’s lopped off the top—sort of like last month’s headless version. As I got closer, I saw that the new arms were growing from other truncated arms—at least a dozen of them. It was—much like a cat eats grass to settle its stomach—like a T-Rex chomped off its top, so the saguaro put out new shoots. I remember thinking, “What the hell happened to you?” Was this caused by freezing, disease, or repeated lightning strikes? I don’t know, I’ve never seen a saguaro like this.

What Happened to You-a poor little saguaro has arms growing out of damaged arms. What caused this to happen?
What Happened to You -A poor little saguaro has arms growing out of damaged arms. What caused this to happen?

I decided to capture its portrait, and, as I framed it, the hills came in play. I lined up my shot so that the sunlit saguaro was centered on the dark rocks on the outcrop. I was so impressed with how clever I was, I also shot a dead tree and palo verde in the same way, but they didn’t come out as well. I titled this shot What Happened to You, and it’s this week’s featured image.

You can see a larger version of What Happened to You on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing it. Join us next week as we finish up our trip around the Harquahala Mountains.

Until next time — jw

BTW: Queen Anne and I wish you and your loved ones Bah Humbug—and similar salutations of the season.

Desert Broom and Windmill Picture of the Week

I’ve spent a lot of time in the desert recently. I’m less likely to run into snakes now that the weather is colder. But, there’s still a lot to be wary of when you’re out in the wild. There’s the cactus, especially the Jumping Cholla, the barbed wire, and all the illegal garbage scattered along the trail. One of the most frequent things I have to avoid is all of those cow pies. As I move, my eyes are on the ground; then, I stop to look up to get my bearings. There may not be a cow within miles, but their droppings are everywhere. I Googled it and found a state agricultural Website that said, “Grazing fields account for 73% of total land use in the state and 98% of its agricultural landholdings.” That’s a lot of free-range lands.

Desert Broom and Windmill-The picturesque windmills don't provide an efficient supply of water to cattle as water tables drop
Desert Broom and Windmill-The picturesque windmills don’t provide an efficient supply of water to cattle as water tables drop

You can tell ranching in Arizona is a big deal by the number of windmills and clumps of green trees you see as you drive down the highway. The green areas are usually associated with stock-tanks—the ranchers plow low dams on washes to retain the run-off, and the windmills pump groundwater into large metal tubs from which the herd gets a drink.

Not many of these windmills actually spin these days, regardless of how much the wind is blowing. Some of that is because the water table is dropping. There has been an ongoing drought here, and we’ve pumped enormous amounts of water out of the ground over the years. Instead of drilling the wells deeper, ranchers disable the windmills and truck water in to fill the tanks.

On our “One Lap of the Harquahala Mountains” tour that Queen Anne and I did last month, I was challenged with either shooting the mountain repeatedly, or finding interesting things that broke the monotonous sea of creosote, so when I saw this windmill off in the distance, I hiked in for a shot. When I got there, I liked the shiny metal fan against the sky, but I wasn’t impressed with its doughboy style galvanized tank. It looked as if thirsty bovine stampeded over it. Luckily there was some desert broom nearby that helped in a couple of ways. The green plants were in bloom—that’s as close as you get to fall color in the Sonoran Desert, and they camouflage the damaged tank.

I named this week’s featured image Desert Broom and Windmill. I like how the light was beginning to come in and how Harquahala Mountain shows in the background. I’m also partial to the high cirrus clouds, so I was pleased that they frame the windmill’s blades.

You can see a larger version of Desert Broom and Windmill on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing it. Join us next week as we continue along our trip around the Harquahala Mountains.

Until next time — jw

False Cave Picture of the Week

This week’s featured photo concludes our May adventure to Alamo Lake’s mud cliffs. I have another couple of detail shots that would fit nicely into this grouping, but I’ve run out of weeks this month and we have other places to go. I suppose I could put together a set of six and make up a folio like Santa Lucia Fog, or maybe I’ll go back and shoot enough images to complete a portfolio. I’ll have to think about that—what do you think?

False Cave
False Cave – This appears to be the opening of a shallow cave, but it’s not that simple.

May’s final image looks like I shot the mouth of a shallow cave with—if you squint and let your imagination go wild—a pair of cherub heads as keystones, and that’s exactly what it looks like when you approach this structure in the field. But there’s something in the photo that gives a clue that this isn’t a cave. It’s the light shining on the floor past the opening. If you crawled into the cave where that light area is, you could stand up—or you could just walk around the pile of mud to the left, and come back down the stream bed. This is actually a low arch that is torso high. If I had a model, her legs would show in the lower opening while her head and shoulders would be visible on top. It would make a unique open shower design—like you would have poolside.

In all honesty, I wasn’t creative enough to come up with that idea. The woman in spring’s photo class, whose images inspired me to visit this place, came here with a group, and one of her friends posed behind the arch. Except he was a guy and he wasn’t naked. When I walked up to this spot, I wasn’t sure it was the same because it’s so well camouflaged. If I do go back for a reshoot, I’ll need to have a model join me. What are the odds of that happening: me—a toothless old geezer—convincing an attractive woman to go with me to this barren wasteland so that we could shoot that picture? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

You can see a larger version of False Cave on its Web page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing my newest entry and join Queen Anne and I as we present new photos from a different location—this time in Yavapai County.

Until next time — jw