Gateway to the Past: Valley of Fire’s Petroglyph Canyon Trail Picture of the Week - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

A towering red sandstone rock formation standing prominently against a clear blue sky in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.
Gateway to the Past – Standing tall amidst the Valley of Fire’s arid expanse, this sandstone sentinel bears the marks of time, its iron-rich facade a testament to nature’s artistry under the desert sun.

Welcome back to our Valley of Fire saga. After last week’s detour to a reemerged St. Thomas, we’re back on track, diving into the heart of the park’s ancient artistry. Ready for a journey through time? Buckle up; it’s not your average road trip.

Our Valley of Fire expedition began with a grand tour, taking in the vistas from the comfort of our trusty steed—the Turd. As usual, we took a lap around the park to set our bearings. The main road offered plenty of photo ops, but the real treasure lay off the beaten path—Petroglyph Canyon Trail. Here, amidst the whispers of history, we encountered the park’s silent storytellers: ancient petroglyphs.

In the middle of Lake Mead’s east-west reach is a lake section that ventures north into the Moapa Valley, where the Muddy and Virgin Rivers flow into the Colorado. This part of the lake is the Overton Arm. Nestled along the Overton Arm lies a canvas of ancient cultures. From the Anasazi to the Paiute, this valley served as a crossroads for tribes, traders, and travelers.

This week’s image is a scene that I shot along the Petroglyph trail. If you look closely, you’ll see the multitude of visitor footprints in the sand, and fortunately, there are several trail markers to guide the way. Without them, I’m sure I would have ‘taken the path less traveled’ and still be trying to find my way back to the parking lot. Several petroglyph panels are along the canyon’s nooks and crannies, including the one in this week’s second photo depicting several individuals dancing around the campfire. Possibly, they’re celebrating breaking par on one of the area’s nearby golf courses.

These petroglyphs, more than mere marks on stone, are the enduring legacy of the valley’s first inhabitants, capturing moments of joy, symbols of identity, and, perhaps, the earliest known complaints about traffic.

A detailed petroglyph panel featuring historical figures and animals, carved into desert varnish on red sandstone at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.
Ancient Petroglyphs on Red Sandstone – Valley of Fire – Whispers of the Ancient Winds: This petroglyph panel in Valley of Fire State Park offers a silent narrative of life long ago, etched into the canvas of time by the park’s earliest inhabitants.

As we stood before these ancient murals, it struck us: these were the original social media posts. Without a single hashtag, these images connected communities, shared stories, and even guided travelers. It makes one wonder what tales we would etch into stone for future generations to ponder. How can we guide those who follow if they can’t get reception?

Our trek through Petroglyph Canyon reminded us that some stories transcend time, etched in stone and the heart of the land itself. Have you encountered these timeless tales on your travels? Please share your stories in the comments and join us next week as we conclude our Valley of Fire adventure. If you’re curious, I have larger versions of this week’s photo on my Website < Jim’s Link> and my Fine Art America Page <FAA Link>.

Until next time, keep your spirits high and your humor dry.
jw

Techniques: Bringing out details using local contrast.

Sometimes, you’ve got to do a little tweaking to make your subject stand out. A case in point this week is the petroglyphs carved into the rock face seen in Ancient Petroglyphs on Red Sandstone. The red and black sandstone figures were flat and lifeless when I processed this image. In the old days, I would be stuck because there wasn’t a way to dodge or bun such a tight area without leaving a halo without making a contrast mask—a tedious process at best. In today’s Photoshop, there’s an easy way to lighten tight areas like the dancing figures on the wall.

This process takes a couple of steps. I first made a copy of the background layer and made it active; then, from the top menu, I chose Select>Color Range, which creates a mask from the color selection. Then, make a new Exposure layer and copy the mask to the new layer. The exposure layer’s properties lighten the masked areas from .05 to .25.

The second step is to choose a new Levels layer and copy the mask. Select the properties of your new mask and choose Invert. The mask should swap the black and whites. Next, select the properties icon (the graph) and darken the mid-tones by moving the middle slider until the middle-value box reads 0.95. Voalia, the figures now pop from the wall.

Twilight’s Ember: The Last Rays on Valley of Fire’s Red Rocks Picture of the Week - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

A towering red sandstone formation illuminated by the golden light of the sun, set against the clear blue sky in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.
Twilight’s Ember – A Natural Sculpture Carved by Time – Witness the interplay of light and shadow on the ancient red sandstone, highlighting the peak as if it were aflame in the heart of Valley of Fire State Park.

Last week, I shared a whimsical thought sparked by our visit to the once-submerged town of St. Thomas along Lake Meade’s shores. The idea? A short video starring our unwitting adventurers in an underwater exploration gone awry. With anything SCUBA, my thoughts invariably turn to the Poteets—Fred being a certified diving instructor. My idea instantly became a classic case of good and bad news. Deb quickly noted the absence of wetsuits in their wardrobe, while Fred, ever the sport, proposed renting them for our aquatic escapade. Thus, I spent the week crafting an epic screenplay for our faux underwater archaeology saga, ready for your enjoyment.


Not Quite a Fathom by Jim Witkowski

EXTERIOR SCENE. ZODIAC DIVING BOAT—DAY

The scene opens with FRED and DEB POTEET, waist up, sitting on the edge of a Zodiac diving boat. Clad in wetsuits, they finalize their snorkeling gear setup. Fred delivers the pre-dive briefing with a hint of solemnity.

FRED
(fiddling with a weight belt)
Remember, St. Thomas has been a memory under Lake Mead’s waters since 1938, untouched by time. The condition of the buildings is unknown, so let’s avoid the timbers.

The camera cuts to a tight shot of Deb; her concern is visible even behind the mask.

DEB
I hope we don’t stumble upon any forgotten skeletons.

Cutting back to Fred, his assurance is firm.

FRED
Fear not. Hugh Lord, the town’s final farewell, waved as the waters embraced his home in ’38. All were safe.

With a final gear check, Fred signals readiness.

FRED (continues)
Ready?

Both poised on the Zodiac’s brink, a countdown commences.

FRED
On three. One… two… three…

On three, Fred leans back and rolls off the Zodiac into the water, followed immediately by Deb.

Cut to a drone camera, tight on Fred’s shocked face.

As Deb turns to Fred, her expression seems to ask, “WTF?” The drone camera slowly pulls up, revealing they are lying face-up on the dry lakebed, their legs still resting on the side of the Zodiac.

The drone camera pulls back further, exposing the dry town site’s barren concrete foundations and pads. As it gets altitude, Fred and Deb stand up, now tiny figures in the vast, dry landscape, including the Muddy River bed.

The camera ascends, eventually dissolving into a Google Earth Studio shot of the Lake Mead Overton arm, zooming out until the entire planet fills the frame.

FADE TO BLACK.


It’s a masterpiece if I do say so myself. Now, about those props—does anyone have a Zodiac lying around? Or perhaps other treasures hidden in your garage that could bring our production to life? Share your ideas in the comments! But let’s pivot from our playful banter to the awe-inspiring beauty captured in this week’s photographs.

This week’s highlight is a breathtaking sandstone formation, its pinnacle bathed in the sunset’s final embrace. The iron oxide-rich layers glow, a fiery testament to Valley of Fire’s geological wonders.

The uplift and erosion revealing such splendor speak to the Basin and Range Province’s dynamic history. Here, the forces of nature sculpt masterpieces: holes carved by chemical reactions with rainwater, alcoves shaped by the relentless wind, and striations etched by the journey of rainwater.

Thank you for joining us on this adventure. As the Superbowl looms, I wish your team luck and, perhaps more importantly, that this year’s commercials bring us joy. Next week promises more marvels from Valley of Fire. Don’t miss it.

Till then, keep your camera at the ready and your humor dry.
jw

A towering formation of layered Navajo sandstone, named 'whiteGibraltar', stands under a clear blue sky in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.
White Gibraltar – The Navajo Sandstone Giant of Valley of Fire – A Vision in Sandstone – Rising from the Valley of Fire’s rugged landscape, this pale monolith echoes the grandeur of its namesake, standing as a silent sentinel in the desert sun.

Techniques: Exposing for the Highlight

I spotted the Aztec Sandstone formation while returning to the Turd on a trail hike at the end of the day. My eye was drawn to the very tip of the pinnacle, still glowing in the sun like the flame on the Statue of Liberty or ET’s finger. I knew that if I exposed the shady part of the sandstone, the finger would wash out the nice red color. So, to retain that glow, I pointed my camera at the sky above the finger, half-pressed the shutter to freeze the exposure reading, and slowly lowered the camera to include the rest of the scene.

The raw image looked too dark, and I almost rejected it. However, in post-processing, I could mask off the bright areas and increase the shadows by almost two F-stops. That was enough to bring out the erosion holes and keep the glow on ET’s finger.

Nature’s Palette: Exploring the Red Sandstone Masterpiece at Valley of Fire Picture of the Week - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Red sandstone formations at Valley of Fire State Park, symbolizing the beauty of geologic processes over millennia.
Red Dune Wall in Valley of Fire—A Study in Erosion and Time – The ‘Red Dune Wall’ is a testament to nature’s artistic hand, sculpting the Valley of Fire State Park landscape through the relentless forces of wind and water.

Greetings from the Nevada desert, where Queen Anne (aka Lefty) and I embarked on a wild escapade, armed with nothing but our cameras and a sense of adventure that’s as robust as my morning coffee—deceptively strong and slightly bitter.

It all began in a Mexican restaurant in November, where we had planned to wrestle with the wilds of Gold Butte National Monument. But as we surveyed our gear, we realized we were about as prepared as a fish on a bicycle. With a sigh that echoed off the terracotta walls, we decided to pivot faster than a gambler on a losing streak.

So there we were, poring over maps and munching on nachos when the Valley of Fire State Park flickered onto our radar like a beacon of salvation—or at least a beacon of cell service and paved roads. It was a unanimous decision, fueled by the promise of not getting stuck and the allure of a good story to tell.

After a hearty debate over hash browns and highway maps at Peggy Sue’s Diner the following day, we plotted a less ‘Oregon Trail’ course and more ‘Sunday drive.’ We planned to loop through Overton, graze the shores of Lake Mead, and enter the Valley of Fire from the east, with a sunset deadline to beat the buffet back in Mesquite.

On a whim, we decided to pay our respects to the submerged ghost town of St. Thomas, which was now high and dry thanks to the ever-thirsty sun. The remains were intriguing, but we passed on the hike, preferring to keep our boots dust-free. Instead, I hatched a master plan to lure our friends—the Poteets—into a Jacques Cousteau-style watery charade involving wetsuits and mock-panicked flailing for a film I’d tentatively titled The Great St. Thomas Aquatic Caper.

A towering rock formation known as Silica Dome against the clear blue sky in Valley of Fire State Park.
Silica Dome—The Sentinel of Valley of Fire’s Rocky Landscape – Experience the ‘Silica Dome’ grandeur at Valley of Fire State Park through this captivating image, highlighting the intricate layers and history etched in stone.

As the day wore on, we wandered among the storied stones of the early Jurassic Era. Like Whitney Pocket, these rocks were part of a grander narrative, a to-be-continued tale of petrified dunes stretching from Zion to the Grand Staircase and beyond. The Valley of Fire’s chapters were penned in red Aztec sandstone hues and crowned with white Navajo crests, a chronicle of time written in Earth’s hand.

This week’s photographic heroes are a testament to this fiery anthology. The main photo—a regal formation of red Entrada sandstone—is the park’s namesake, standing proudly amidst the Mojave’s scrappy flora. The supporting act, Silica Dome, wears a coat of Navajo Sandstone, pale and majestic against the desert sky. Together, they tell a story of a sea that once was and dunes that danced in the wind before time turned them to stone.
So, dear readers, come for the photos, stay for the tales, and return next week for another chapter in our desert saga. Will the Poteets make a splash in their wetsuits? Will Queen Anne ever forgive me for the early morning escapades? Find out in the next installment of our arid adventures.

Until then, keep your lenses clean and your humor dry.
jw

Techniques Unveiled: A Tale of Two Sandstones

In the photographer’s toolbox, contrast isn’t just about light and shadow—it’s the story of elements, epochs, and the Earth’s grand design. This week, I set out to capture a tale of two sandstones, a narrative etched into the very landscape of Valley of Fire State Park.

Our lead image, Nature’s Palette, is a canvas painted with iron-rich sandstone, a souvenir from the mid-Jurassic era. Here, the dunes are frozen in an eternal dance, caught mid-twirl by the relentless grip of pressure and heat, akin to the timeless beauty of Canyon de Chelly and the famed arches of Moab. Look closely, and you’ll see the canvas of the ancients—the water-stained varnish that once served as a blackboard for the Fremont and early Pueblo people to etch their indelible art.

The supporting act, Silica Dome, steps onto the stage from a later act in Earth’s drama under the watchful gaze of T-Rex and company. It’s a piece of the past where the climate was as dry as a prohibition-era bar, and vast sandy beaches fringed an ancient inland sea. In this shot, we confront a dune face-to-face, observing its neighbors’ retreat under the onslaught of time, exposing it to the elements that now conspire to return it to its granular beginnings.

I’ve served up larger versions of these geological delicacies online for those hungry for more than just a visual snack. You can feast your eyes on them via the links on my website—< Jim’s Web Page>—and their respective galleries on Fine Art America—<FAA Link>. Or click on the images peppered throughout this article for an instant teleportation to their online abodes.

Your thoughts are the garnish to our digital dish, so please sprinkle liberally in the comments section below. What stories do these ancient stones whisper to you?

BTW:
Last Tuesday, I released another video in my portfolio series on YouTube. This vignette is about the beauty of Arizona’s Farmlands. The five-ish-minute-long video is now online, and you can use this link to see it: <YouTube Link>.

WPA Legacy: The Historic Cattle Dam of Gold Butte Picture of the Week - Mesquite, Nevada

WPA-built stone dam between rock formations in Gold Butte National Monument, captured by Jim Witkowski.
WPA Legacy: The Historic Cattle Dam of Gold Butte – Stepping Through Time: This WPA-constructed dam at Gold Butte stands as a rugged monument to past endeavors, harmonizing with the arid beauty that surrounds it. A silent witness to history, its stones speak of a bygone era of hope and hard work.

Victorious in my quest to capture the ancient whispers etched into stone, I returned to our trusty steed, the Turd. There, amidst the dust and echoes of bygone civilizations, sat Queen Anne; her latest book–escape, concluded. Her gaze met mine, an unspoken dialogue of adventure’s end, punctuated by a brief, ‘Can we go now?’ Her tone carried the weight of a royal decree, yet I knew the kingdom’s treasury of wonders still had one gem left to unveil.

At the end of the infamous paved road, you can turn south towards the abandoned town of Gold Butte or go straight towards the Arizona border and the Grand Canyon—Parashant National Monument. Both roads are equally evil to drive on, but I wanted to find another relic of history—a WPA-era dam, so I started east. We didn’t travel far because I spotted a cistern on the left as soon as we drove through the first dry wash. I pulled the truck over and grabbed my camera.

The cistern looked like a dry concrete bathtub, and a rusty pipe beckoned from the cistern to a narrow canyon on the right. A couple of creosote bushes blocked the view (and the path), so I brushed them back with my arm and saw the dam. It looked like a scale model of the Hoover Dam 50 miles downstream. Although it was built in the 30s and no longer maintained, it looked like it would still hold water if you closed the gate and valves. It is another testament to those folks’ work during the Great Depression.

After getting some shots, I wanted to see how deep the backside was, which meant climbing the stairs. In my younger days, I would have said, “Nothing to it,” and jogged up the stairs. But there’s no handrail, and my balance isn’t the same, so I did it the hard way—backing up one step at a time while sitting on my butt. I got my dose of vertigo and started back down the stairs when three outdoorsmen walked through the slot. My face turned red, and I apologized, “Sorry guys, this is how we geezers climb stairs these days.” One of them quipped, “We understand—Mister Girly-Boy.”

An erosion-formed window in a sandstone canyon wall, illuminated by sunlight at Gold Butte, photographed by Jim Witkowski.
Nature’s Art Frame: The Erosion Window of Gold Butte -Carved by the patient hands of time and elements, this erosion window in Gold Butte’s canyon wall frames a story millions of years in the making—each layer a verse in earth’s grand narrative.

This week’s other photo is of a natural erosion window along the canyon’s narrow. Unless you’re the stature of our friend and frequent commenter, Deb Poteet, you can frame your face with it by standing on your toes. As usual, Anne wouldn’t get out of the car, so I had to settle for shooting the opening without her pretty face. Still, it’s pretty cool.

In the mirror

Queen Anne and I covered a lot of ground this year. We visited two California Wine regions without being tossed out on our ears. We followed some of our favorite trails and got reacquainted with the charming cities of Bisbee, Tombstone, and Douglas. We explored the Beeline Highway and the Mazatzal Mountains, shot wildflowers in the spring, got caught in a monsoon storm at sunset, and discovered some fantasy shapes in Prescott’s Granite Dells City Park. With pandemic restrictions lifted, we did a decent job of broadening our range and bringing you more diversity with this year’s photos and stories.

This has been a year of growing for us. I’ve tried to improve my writing skills. I completed a couple of online creative writing courses. You’d think it would make my work more manageable, but it didn’t. What I used to knock out on a Sunday morning now takes me three days of writing, editing, and revising before I’m ready to publish. I also invested in a grammar checker that—hopefully—gets most of the commas in the right places.

I’ve been tinkering with my photo processes by watching online photographers. I picked up some new tips and tricks, which I’ve tried to pass along to you in the Techniques section. I think you found them helpful because I’ve received positive feedback from you. Finally, to attract new subscribers, we started producing monthly YouTube videos. In each of the last few months, I converted one of my static portfolios into a five-ish-minute video with music and voice-overs. With these new videos, we’re blending the old-world charm of static images with the zippy excitement of moving pictures—without the smell of darkroom chemicals. It seems to be working because my web traffic is on the rise.

Through the windshield

I have an Arizona wall map on our laundry room wall with colored dots indicating the places we’ve visited in the last couple of years. Instead of being evenly distributed, two empty spots glare at me from the map. The first is along the southern border between Nogales and Yuma. Since that’s restricted chiefly to military ranges, there’s not a lot I can photograph without starring in my impromptu sequel to North by Northwest. The other section is the northeast corner of Arizona—the Navajo and Hopi reservations. I intend to paste a dot or two in that corner next year. Maybe you could suggest some locations.

There’s more to discover at Gold Butte National Monument. I plan to return this spring if the Turd’s crummy tires ever wear out. Getting stuck out there without communication is a genuine concern for us. Some sights we missed this year include Devil’s Throat, the remains of Gold Butte’s ghost town, and Little Finland.

Finally, next year’s wine region adventure will be in Northern California. Will it be Napa, Sonoma, or the Russian River? Let us know where your favorite California wine comes from. We haven’t picked a winner yet, but the trip will be in August. As Samuel Clements once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Some dispute that the quote is genuine, but for us desert dwellers, it’s a challenge.

Queen Anne and I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year. We hope you’ll continue joining us on our escapades and maybe invite some friends. We’re always delighted to see you in the back seat. Feel free to share your New Year’s adventure plans in the comments below. They give us ideas for which roads we take.

Till next time, keep your spirits high and your humor dry.
jw

BTW:

Last week, I released my latest YouTube video based on my portfolio of pictures of California. It’s five minutes of eye candy, and I invite you to see it by using this link: [https://youtu.be/cgXAHPyzQ5Y]

Geologic Puzzle: Unearthing Whitney Pocket’s Sandstone Secrets Picture of the Week - Mesquite, Nevada

Brown layered Navajo Sandstone uplifted and eroded by fault activity in Whitney Pocket, with unusual rounded edges and color variation.
Geologic Puzzle: Unearthing Whitney Pocket’s Sandstone Secrets – Nature’s Tilt: Witnessing the Story of Uplift and Erosion in Whitney Pocket’s Sandstone Layers.

Arriving at a new location like Gold Butte ignites a whirlwind of excitement in me, and my initial instinct is to capture everything in sight. This flurry of photography is more about immersion than precision, leading to a digital pile-up that I inevitably sift through, discarding the excess like chaff. Unlike the costly days of film, where each shot was a precious commodity, the digital age allows me to indulge in this initial creative outburst, knowing it’s part of reaching the true gems.

Once the initial rush subsides, I transition from capturing to contemplating, delving into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the landscape before me. It’s here that Shawn Willsey’s geology videos come into play. As a professor at the College of Southern Idaho, Shawn has a gift for demystifying the complexities of earth science, guiding even the uninitiated through geological wonders. His explanations, particularly his Random Roadcuts segments, clarify unusual layering and erosion and bring a new depth to my photographs, transforming them from mere images to stories set in stone.

From a distance, the formation in the picture above looked like the blades of a turbine engine embedded in the Navajo Sandstone. For all I know, there is a 747 out there with the guts missing from one of its engine cowlings. The brown color, multi-layers, with rounded edges, stood out like the red marks on one of my term papers. How can I tell you about it when I haven’t a clue? So, I emailed Professor Willsey and asked if he’d look at my photo—and he accepted. He answered, “The feature in question is not a vein but appears to be an upturned section of Aztec (Navajo) sandstone. The near vertical layering is the cross beds deposited on the dune field’s backside (downwind) side. Some faults and other structures in this region of NV are likely the culprits that have tilted the rock layers. Very cool.” Then, he returned to hosting his live coverage of this week’s Iceland eruptions. Now, don’t you feel smarter?

A butte in Whitney Pocket with layered Navajo and Entrada sandstone, with the red end facing south, creating a 'Neapolitan ice cream' effect in the desert.
Neapolitan Earth: Unraveling Whitney Pocket’s Colorful Geology – Stratified Delight: The Neapolitan Butte of Whitney Pocket, where Geology Meets Gastronomy.

There’s a question in this week’s other picture as well. It’s an image of a sandstone formation that looks like a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream after Queen Anne was done with it. I say that because Queen Anne always eats the chocolate and turns her nose up at the rest. The issue is that the red section appears on the white layer. From all I’ve read, the Entrada era—with its rust-colored sandstones—came before the white dunes. My best guess is that the forces that lifted the Virgin Mountain Range over a mile in the air also jumbled the natural order in this basin. What are your thoughts?

I have posted larger versions of Geologic Puzzle on my website < Jim’s Web> and my Fine Art America page <FAA Link> should you want to examine the layers closer. Next week, we wrap our foray into Gold Butte National Monument with one of the rare evidentiary remnants that anyone preceded us. It’s like unearthing the Spinx. Join us then, won’t you?

Until next time, keep your spirits high and your humor dry.
jw

BTW:

As we gather to celebrate the holiday season, Queen Anne and I would like to extend a hearty Seasons Greetings to all of you. Whether you’re out there chasing the perfect light or cozening up at home with loved ones, may your days be merry, bright, and filled with the joy of discovery. Here’s to capturing more beauty, sharing more stories, and creating unforgettable memories in the year ahead.

Sculpted by Time: Whitney Pocket’s Sandstone Wonders Picture of the Week - Mesquite, Nevada

White sandstone rock formation at Whitney Pocket, similar to Zion National Park, in the Gold Butte area of Nevada.
Sculpted by Time: Whitney Pocket’s Sandstone Wonders – Amidst the rugged beauty of Whitney Pocket, this layered sandstone formation stands as a silent witness to the artful touch of natural forces, its contours and colors a desert echo of the famed cliffs of Zion.

Before we even packed the Turd for our Nevada trip, I studied all of the Whitney Pocket YouTube videos I could find like they were a final exam. Packing the Turd for the trip felt a bit like preparing a stubborn mule for a mountain trek—full of hope but expecting surprises. When the morning of our exciting adventure finally came, I had my checklist ready. After a hardy breakfast at Peggy Sue’s Diner, we topped off the gas tank and checked the tires. Part of these exercises was taking precautions and waiting for the visitor’s center to open so that we could buy maps and get free first-hand advice.

The people who answered our questions and the Friends of Gold Butte group volunteers were constructive. With a lack of park rangers, they’ve stepped in to fill that role. After reassurance that my SUV would be capable of the drive, the guide offered one last bit of advice. “Be sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. No cell phone coverage exists, and you could be alone out there.” Anne and I glanced at each other, wondering who we could call—we were alone in Mesquite and didn’t know anyone in town. We decided to call her sister—Jane— in North Carolina and panic her, “If you don’t hear from us by 6:00 pm, call the police.”

After the long drive on the awful road I complained about last week, we made it to the end of the pavement—Whitney Pocket. When I first got out of the truck, I felt disappointed. With our backs to Virgin Peak, we scanned the southern horizon, which went on forever in the clear, dry Mohave Desert air. Except for a few lumps of sandstone close by, there was just a sea of yucca and creosote running endlessly downhill to a thin line of blue, which we identified as Lake Mead. Where were all the majestic sandstone formations in the videos I watched?

We were here, and I would make the best of it. Our map showed a petroglyph site three miles down a side road that we passed, so I drove a quarter mile back and started down what I jokingly call a road. The road was passable, but only if I kept the speed under ten mph. The Turd’s front sub-chassis sounded like it was about to fall off as we dodged the football-sized pavement rocks. In comparison, the entrance road was a freshly paved Interstate.

As promised, there was a parking area with a kiosk and pictures at the three-mile mark. Go to the right and see the Falling Man petroglyph, but there would be a large panel of petroglyphs if I went in the other direction. The guide told us that the Falling Man was a longer hike and tricky to find, so I set off toward the easy shot while Anne and her Kindel kept each other company.

After a half hour of scouring the rocks for rock art, I realized I had missed the trail, was lost, and needed to find my way back to the truck. The trail had been pronounced, so I don’t know how I messed up. I started the hike back using my old tried and true method: ” This looks familiar.” I noticed the rock colors and layers as I searched for the trail. They’re more subtle and muted than you find in Bryce or Zion—almost a pastel quality. Then, I crossed over the surface stone patch and found my trail. I stopped, looked around, and discovered that the trail zigged right while I went left. Ah, the old let’s lose the geezer on the hardscrabble trick.

Water or ice erosion exposing red sandstone layers beneath the surface in Whitney Pocket, Gold Butte area.
The Art of Erosion: Exposing Whitney Pocket’s Hidden Hues – Nature’s artistry on display: The intricate dance of erosion carves through time, uncovering the fiery red heart of sandstone beneath the desert’s sunlit canvas.

Now that I was un-lost, I started taking pictures of the stones and capturing the muted colors washed out with the early afternoon sun. My trip back to Anne and the truck was more deliberate as I spent more time shooting and exploring along the way. As we drove away on the rock road, I turned to Anne and said, “I don’t think we should risk running the Turd down these roads until we get new shoes for him.” Anne’s ‘Oh, thank God’ was laced with so much relief that I suspected she might start a Thanksgiving parade there.

While the grand formations played hide and seek with our expectations, the true majesty of Whitney Pocket revealed itself in a serendipitous encounter. This week’s photo—Sculpted by Time—captures a lone formation made from the same limestone that capped Virgin Peak (last week’s shot), one that almost seemed to beckon for attention amidst the vast desert. Its white, streaked face looks unremarkable at first, but if you look closely at the lower-right corner of the image, you’ll see a joint (not that kind, you stoners). This is where a layer of the Navajo Sandstone is popping its head from the ground. These are the same petrified dunes seen in Zion National Park, and we showed you in Utah’s Snow Canyon State Park last year. This shot was a dance of light and texture, a moment where time stood still, and the story of the earth was told in a single frame of layered rock.

Here is evidence of rising ancient seas and covering the dunes up. Over eons, the skeletons of shellfish collected on the seabed and covered the dunes with a layer of their own. I think that’s cool, not to mention that I like the natural window in the upper center, too.

Next week, we’ll return to Whitney Pocket, but our focus will shift to the ‘Dance of Light and Shadow’ this time. We’ll explore how the changing sunlight angles transform the sandstone from mere rocks into a canvas of nature’s art. Expect tales of how the sun brings out different personalities in the stones. If you’d like to examine the rock layering closer, you can stop by my Web Page < Jim’s Page> or my post on Fine Art America <FAA Link>.

Till then, keep your spirits high and your humor dry.
jw

Union Pass  Picture of the Week

Queen Anne, my darling wife, flew east last month to join her sisters for a week in New England. Supposedly it was an Autumn-Leaves tour, but they went to Salem in October during a full moon. I’m no math whiz, but I know what you get when you put four and ten together. That’s right—witches!

I’m a big boy, so I wasn’t about to spend my time alone sulking and drowning my sorrows in a tub of Cherry Garcia—I intended to treat myself to a night on the town—another town—in another state. Laughlin, Nevada is an easy three-hour drive from here via Kingman, across Golden Valley, through the Black Mountains, and down to the river. I booked a cheap casino hotel room for Wednesday night and set off determined to lose some money on a craps table.

The downside of weekdays in Laughlin is that it’s mostly closed. The big weekend crowds are working, so the remaining patrons are retirees like me. Half of the restaurants are dark, and some of the casinos don’t open the gambling tables. You have to search for a place to eat and find some action, so that’s how I ended up at the Riverside Casino. They had a couple of working Blackjack tables and one craps table. I think the staff outnumbered the players when I joined. Two people were on the right of the stickman, so I claimed an open spot on the left.

Trying to get a feel for the player’s moods, I looked at the faces around the table. Because masks were mandatory, it was hard to tell who was doing well. A woman across from me wasn’t even a whole face at all—only a pair of brown eyes behind jewel-rimed glasses and silver-blue hairdo peering over the table’s edge. Just like my mom, her short hair had enough hairspray to keep it in place between weekly salon visits. She had a few chips on the rail pushed to one side so they wouldn’t block her view of the playing field.

I placed my bet; someone threw the dice a couple of times and lost. Then we all took a turn bouncing the dice off of the far wall when the silver-haired lady stood up. Until then, I didn’t realize she was sitting. Even when she stood, she wasn’t much taller. She scooped up her remaining chips into a clutch. I thought she was leaving. Instead, she began pushing a walker towards my side of the stickman.

As she maneuvered her tricked-out lavender walker behind the dealer, I saw that she had dressed to party. She had on a very sparkly silver lame top and black spandex pants—which, quite frankly, bagged a bit. Weirdly, as I watched her, I suddenly heard Lenard Cohen singing his tune—Closing Timein my head:

“…And the place is dead as Heaven on a Saturday night
And my very close companion
Gets me fumbling gets me laughing
She’s a hundred but she’s wearing
Something tight…”

When she got close, she spoke through her mask in a voice that comes from years of smoking Chesterfields, “Hey, big boy. You need a good luck charm.”

“Hi,” I smiled (a useless gesture behind my mask) and introduced myself, “I’m Jim.”

“Nat-ly,” she replied.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Natalie.”

“No. I’m from Flatbush. It’s Nat-ly,” she corrected with furrowed eyebrows.

“Sorry. What kind of good luck charm are you talking about?”

She explained, “Well, every high roller knows it’s good luck to have an attractive woman beside him while he rolls the dice. You’re alone, and I’m the best-looking dame in the joint.”

Just a glance around the room was enough to confirm to me that she was right. “What’s in it for you?”

“Well, you tip me each time I blow good luck on your dice.”

I was curious, “Do you do this for everyone?”

“Na,” she blushed and went on, “The girls and me spotted you the minute you came through the door.”

“That was because of my dashing good looks and natty fashion sense, I bet.”

“No. You’re the only man in the casino standing upright without a cane. You know how cougars are; we like ’em young and stupid.”

With that, Nat-ly positioned her seat to my right and plopped herself down. On my roll, she blew on my dice for luck. I even made my point once, so her luck wasn’t all bad. “You’d do even better if I hung off your shoulder,” she offered, “It’s only $20 bucks.”

I couldn’t imagine how she could reach that high given her stature, so my curiosity bettered me. I handed her a couple of chips. She reached down and pulled a cane from the tool rack attached to the walker’s side. Then she raised it and hung the crook over my shoulder and began gently stroking it back and forth. I almost burst out laughing, but she was so adept that it felt alright.

The next thing she said was, “For $5 more, I’ll play with your ear.” When I turned, she was holding one of those trash-grabbers for me to examine. I declined, so she slipped it back into its rack spot.

The night passed, the dice went clockwise around the table twice while we talked. She worked at the Mustang Ranch until the Feds seized it, and she retired. Since the Treasury Department was managing the business, she got a federal employee pension. After she quit, she moved south from Reno for a warmer climate and affordable housing. Now, she spends her free time watching the tanned muscle boys ride jet skis up and down the river.

I managed to hold onto my bankroll an hour and a half before it ran out. As I packed my things, I looked down and saw Nat-ly slumped over—asleep. I knew that the dealers wouldn’t let her stay at the table alone, and I didn’t want to wake her. So, I pushed her to the nearest quarter slot machine and parked her in front of it. I reached into my pocket and threw all but one of my quarters into the tray. The last, I stuck in the coin slot. I knew that security wouldn’t bother her as long as there was a bet on the table. With that, I left and went to my room. Tomorrow I have pictures to shoot, so the day will begin early.

Union Pass - To cross from Kingman to the river, you drive through Union Pass. Here we see layers of Tuff - volcanic ash - that was broken and tossed in the air when the Black Mountains were formed.
Union Pass – To cross from Kingman to the river, you drive through Union Pass. Here we see layers of Tuff – volcanic ash – broken and tossed in the air when the Black Mountains formed.

The last time I crossed through Mohave County’s Black Mountain Range was last year on our Oatman trip. I always find something new every time I travel through, which was the same on this excursion. As I drove through Union Pass, I made a mental note that I should get up early and shoot while the light was good. When the morning alarm went off, I got dressed in the dark, packed the truck, and headed to Denney’s for coffee and breakfast. I was determined to stop on the hilltop and photograph the beautiful rugged terrain. on the drive home

This week’s featured image is a part of my morning’s work. I call this photo Union Pass because that’s where I pulled to the roadside and walked up and down the highway shooting as quickly as I could. A thin gauze of clouds filtered the morning light, which is why the shadows are soft in this shot. That’s good because it shows the rock’s layer details. I believe they’re the Tuff that we learned about from Organ Pipe N.M. Tuff is volcanic ash that covers the ground in layers. Here we can see those layers have been broken and thrust into the air when the Black Mountains formed.

You can see a larger version of Union Pass on its Web Page by clicking here. When you come back next week, I’ll show another picture of my time hanging out in Union Pass.

Until next time
jw