Vintage Red Crown Gas Pumps: Oatman’s Route 66 Treasures Pictrure of the Week - Oatman, Arizona

Vintage Red Crown gas pumps in Oatman, Arizona, along the famed Route 66, evoking the golden era of American road travel.
Time-Standing Still: Vintage Gas Pumps of Oatman – Step back in time with these meticulously preserved ‘Red Crown’ gasoline pumps, a vibrant reminder of Route 66’s golden era, now standing proudly outside Oatman’s antique store — a treasure trove awaiting its next collector.

Let’s talk about a little thing called ROI, or return on investment. In layperson’s terms, it’s like this: if your piggy bank’s diet consists more of withdrawals than deposits, it’s time to put that cash-chewing pastime on a strict no-spend regimen. It’s a handy rule of thumb for deciding whether that avocado toast obsession is a splurge too far and for the bigwigs running the corporate circus. They don’t just steer the company ship; they’re the jugglers, tightrope walkers, and lion tamers tasked with keeping the ROI roaring so the shareholders don’t start looking for a tamer’s head to put in the lion’s mouth.

In the harsh and unforgiving world of mining towns like Oatman, hitting the ROI redline means ‘game over’ for the local economy. The investors pack up their checkbooks, the mines shutter faster than a camera at a ghost sighting, and the workers scatter like tumbleweeds in a dust storm. The town’s pulse slows, and those left behind are like the band on the Titanic—playing on bravely, knowing the finale is nigh.

The tale of Oatman follows a script as predictable as the instructions on a shampoo bottle—minus the rejuvenating wash. It’s a cycle as old as time: boom, bust, and echo. The brightest stars eventually fizzle out, and Oatman’s star, once a beacon of the Gold Rush, was no exception. And just like a one-two punch in a heavyweight bout, Oatman’s knockout came swiftly. First, the mines dried up, and then Route 66 got a face-lift that sidestepped the town altogether. Modern progress, they said, but for Oatman, it was more like a step into obscurity.

The new road followed the railroad’s less adventurous path, leaving Oatman off the beaten path and out of the family vacation route. From the Clampetts to the Griswolds, no one was clamoring to visit an old shanty town at that time—and the Department of Transportation—forgot. Oatman became the town overlooking Mohave Valley with a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hung on its door.

As the rest of the world hurtled forward into the mid-20th century, Oatman seemed to hit the pause button. The once frenetic streets, echoing with the din of prosperity, fell silent, leaving only the whispering desert winds to tell their tales. For the few who chose to stay, life became a study of survival and simplicity. Oatman’s dwindling population, a patchwork of tenacious old-timers and resourceful souls, found a way to eke out a living from the sparse offerings of a town that had given its all to the golden days of yore.

The rustic sign of Judy's Saloon and Pool Hall under a wall-mounted American flag on the historic Main Street of Oatman, Arizona.
Judy’s Saloon: Echoes of Oatman’s Vibrant Past – Under Oatman’s azure skies, the worn sign of Judy’s Saloon points the way, juxtaposed with a rustic American flag, to a place where the spirit of the West is not just remembered but still lives on.

The rhythm of life here was no longer dictated by the pulsing promise of gold but by the sun’s arc across the sky. The remaining residents turned to the land, coaxing modest gardens from the arid soil, trading with neighbors, and gathering at Judy’s Saloon for some, reliving the glory days in stories told and retold like cherished family heirlooms. They adapted, repurposing old mining tools for mundane tasks and transforming abandoned structures into homes and makeshift businesses that catered to the occasional traveler, lost or adventurous enough to stray from the new Route 66.

In this era, Oatman’s heartbeat was a subtle one, felt rather than heard, in the stoic persistence of its people and the silent dignity of its weathered buildings. The community’s fabric was tightly knit, each person a thread bound to the other by shared history and collective tenacity. Life in Oatman wasn’t about thriving; it was about enduring, about preserving the essence of a town too proud to fade away.

The gasoline pumps featured in this week’s picture tell a story that’s as much about progress as it is about preservation. Red Crown gas, a blend marketed by Standard Oil (now Chevron), was the fuel of choice during the era these pumps would have served. Picture this: classic cars now wear the badge of ‘vintage’ had a dial for drivers to adjust the timing advance. A tank full of high-octane Red Crown meant more zip without the dreaded engine knock. Nowadays, that’s a job delegated to the computers in our cars.

But take a closer look at these gravity-feed pumps. Their pristine condition raises a question—have they stood the test of time, or are they beautifully restored pieces of history? It’s a bit of a mystery, much like the stories they hold. And for my eagle-eyed followers, yes, you’ve already noticed the white roof of the Diner Car peeking out on the left.

I hope you enjoyed this stroll down the quieter lanes of Oatman’s history, but don’t pack away your walking shoes just yet. Next week, we’re dusting off the fairy tale books for Oatman’s own Cinderella story—a happy ending sure to sparkle. If your curiosity about those Red Crown pumps is ticking like a Geiger counter in a gold mine, here’s your treasure map: links to my web page < Jim’s Site> and the Fine Art America page <FAA Link>. And hey, if you find yourself meandering through Oatman in the next few months, pop into that antique store and snoop around for the price tag on those pumps. Don’t forget to spill the beans in the comments below—I think they’d make a lovely gate for the end of my driveway.

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

Techniques: Mastering the Art of Symmetrical Composition

This week’s photo ventures into symmetrical composition, a method that, admittedly, I usually give a wide berth. Symmetry in photography is all about balance, akin to placing two candles at either end of a mantle for that classic, mirror-image elegance. But who says rules can’t be bent for a bit of creative flair?

Regarding the Red Crown gas pumps, symmetry was the starting point, not the destination. I aimed to capture both pumps in a single frame, spaced evenly from the frame’s edges to create a sense of balance. However, I opted for a slight twist rather than a straight-on, textbook symmetric shot. By shifting my position to the right, the pumps became natural frames for the ‘Antiques’ sign in the background, adding layers and depth to the image. It’s like setting those candles at different heights on the mantle; it catches the eye, creates tension, and makes you look twice.

The result? A photo that adheres to symmetry principles while stepping out of the conventional bounds, making for a more intriguing and dynamic composition. Sometimes, bending the rules just a little can lead to a more compelling story being told through the lens. What’s your take on it? Traditional symmetry or a dash of asymmetrical intrigue?

Hidden Americana: Oatman’s Retro Diner Discovery Picture of the Week - Oatman, Arizona

Vintage red and white diner trailer tucked away in an alley of Oatman, Arizona, along historic Route 66.
Retro Diner Charm in Oatman’s Alley – Discover the charm of a hidden vintage diner trailer in Oatman, AZ, a nostalgic slice of Americana nestled in the heart of historic Route 66.

Let’s embark on a journey back to school for a moment. Picture yourself seated in an Arizona grade-school classroom, pencil in hand and a fresh sheet of paper on your desk. Today’s lesson begins with a pop quiz, a staple of any Arizona curriculum. The question: What are the ‘5 Cs’ of Arizona? If you’re rattling off Copper, Cotton, Cattle, Citrus, and Climate, you’ve hit the nail on the head. But let’s add a twist for the history buffs among us. How about substituting with these: Cactus, Canyons, Crackpots, Computer-Chips, Construction, or Canadians?

The original five Cs were, of course, the most significant revenue producers in the state. But that was so 1950s. Although they still bring substantial money into Arizona, they’re a fraction of their past in the new millennium. For example, when I moved to Phoenix in 1972, the Valley of the Sun was wall-to-wall orange groves. Today, they’ve been replaced by tract homes with a token grapefruit tree in the backyard. The cotton fields stretching from Tolleson to Buckeye have suffered the same fate. The stockyards that fowled the air at the east end of Sky Harbor’s runways are now a parade of gleaming corporate offices.

That leaves climate as the surviving C-word, which brings in the Canadians, and we need to build something to keep them occupied while we crackpots are hard at work making computer chips and constructing new houses. This shift from the agricultural and raw materials of yesteryears to the high-tech and tourist-oriented economy of today mirrors the transformational stories of many Arizona towns. Among these tales of change, one town stands out as a vivid illustration of the state’s rich history and relentless march into the future: Oatman.

This once-thriving gold rush town, nestled in the Black Mountains of Arizona, is a relic of an era that defined the state and the American West. The story of Oatman begins with glittering prospects and dreams of fortune as miners flocked to its hills spurred by the promise of gold. The narrative takes us through the wild roller coaster of economic booms and crushing busts. It paints a picture of the indomitable spirit that characterizes so much of Arizona’s history.

As we dive into the tale of Oatman, we find not just a story of a mining town but a reflection of the more extensive American experience—one marked by hope, struggle, and resilience. So, let’s leave the modern suburbs of Phoenix behind for a moment and journey back to when gold was the C-word that captured everyone’s imagination and set the wheels of destiny in motion for places like Oatman.

In the early 20th century, Oatman was awakened from its sleepy existence by a glint of gold, setting the stage for transforming into one of Arizona’s most prosperous boom towns. It all began with prospector Johnny Moss, who first mined the area in the 1860s, staking claims to two mines, one of which bore his name and the other named after Olive Oatman, a young girl with a dramatic story of survival in the Wild West. However, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that Oatman’s destiny as a gold rush town was firmly sealed. The Vivian Mining Company started operations around 1904, and the discovery of significant gold deposits at the Tom Reed Mine in 1908 led to a frenzy of activity. By 1909, the once modest mining camp officially adopted the name Oatman, and the town was on its way to becoming a symbol of the American dream.

Oatman’s heyday spanned the 1910s and 1920s, marked by bustling streets, saloons filled with hopeful miners, and the constant clatter of activity. The town’s population swelled, and the promise of fortune lured people from all walks of life. The construction of Route 66 through Sitgreaves Pass in 1926 further cemented Oatman’s status. The new highway brought a steady stream of travelers, enhancing the town’s prosperity. During these golden years, Oatman was more than a mere mining town; it was a community brimming with hope and vibrancy, where the American spirit of adventure and pursuit of fortune shone brightest. But as with many boom towns, this period of prosperity would not last, setting the stage for the eventual decline that would transform Oatman into a poignant symbol of the transient nature of boom and bust cycles.

An abandoned house with broken windows, standing desolate along Route 66, symbolizing the unfulfilled dreams of past migrants.
Deserted Dreams: The Abandoned Houses of Route 66 – Amidst the whispers of the desert wind, this abandoned homestead on Route 66 stands as a stark reminder that not all journeys along the famed road lead to a promised land.

Each visit to a town steeped in history like Oatman becomes a treasure hunt for me, a quest for the extraordinary hidden amidst the ordinary. It’s not the overt that catches my eye—the comical store signs and typical tourist fare—but rather the subtle whispers of history that resonate most. This penchant for the historically authentic led me down an unassuming alley in Oatman, where the unexpected sight of a diner trailer captured my curiosity. At first glance, its vintage charm made it resemble a repurposed streetcar, but the presence of a hitch told a different story.

This intriguing relic was shrouded in mystery, nestled quietly away from the main thoroughfare. Questions swirled in my mind: When had this diner seen its heyday? Was it a festive cornerstone during Oatman’s booming past, rolled out for special occasions to serve hungry miners and travelers? Or perhaps it’s a more recent addition, a nostalgic nod to the town’s storied history? And who were the faces behind its service window? I could only hope this article might reach someone holding the keys to its past, someone who could unravel the tales this diner trailer has to tell.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting this week. If your curiosity has the better of you (and you’re not a cat), I have larger versions on my site < Jim’s Web Page> and a page on Fine Art America <FAA Link> for closer examination. We’d love your comments about the dinner or other Oatman experiences in the section below. Come back next week when we discuss what happens at the end of good times.

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

Techniques: The Wide-Angle Lens or How to Save a Marriage

Picture this: there I am in Oatman, trying to frame the perfect shot of the diner, and suddenly, I’m playing a game of sardines with my camera. I’m backed up as far as I can go without turning into a human pretzel, and still, the ‘Diner’ sign is playing hard to get with my lens. At that moment, I realized that my lens wasn’t just wide; it was a regular Houdini, adept at escaping tight spots. However, even Houdini met his match, and so did my lens.

Here’s a secret between us (and please, if you ever meet Anne, mum’s the word): I’ve got my eye on a new-to-me wide-zoom lens. How, you ask? Let’s say I’ve recently saved someone from the clutches of the Maytag Man’s bill. My heroic washing machine repair has earned me some unspoken brownie points, which I intend to cash in for a shiny, used lens. My plan? To casually drop hints about this fantastic eBay find, nudging Anne into believing it’s her brilliant idea for my birthday gift. Genius, right?

With this new addition, my camera bag will boast a triumphant trio of lenses stretching from 16 to 200 millimeters, ready to tackle anything from ant-sized armadillos to gargantuan giraffes. So, stay tuned for my next eBay adventure, where I’ll be the stealthy bidder in the shadows, armed with a pocketful of washing machine savings and a dream.

Cool Springs Route 66: Relics and Flags Picture of the Week - Oatman, Arizona

Vintage cars parked under a waving American flag at Cool Springs Station on Route 66, Oatman, Arizona.
Cool Springs Route 66: Relics and Flags – Echoes of the Past: Vintage cars sit silently under the vibrant hues of the American flag at Cool Springs Station, capturing the enduring spirit of Route 66.

The things you do for love. We don’t often get company, but when we do, Queen Anne transforms into a machine as she attempts to disinfect the house from top to bottom. My best chance of staying out of the trash bin or sucked into one of her vacuums is to lock myself in my office. That’s what happened the first week of December. Anne’s sisters came out for a long weekend visit, meaning that she spent the entire month of November scrubbing the walls. She only put down her Comet can for our traditional Thanksgiving dinner at Denny’s.

Before leaving to pick them up from the airport, imagine my surprise when she handed me a crisp $20.00 bill and told me, “Find someplace to spend the night.” It was predictable because we haven’t had enough beds for multiple guests since we sold our Casita (don’t remind me). I decided to drive over to the river and lose my newfound wealth on the Craps table. Since I was going in that direction, I thought I could get some Route 66 shots. And there, my friend is the story of how Oatman became January’s photo project.

In Arizona, there are two long stretches of the original Mother Road. The first and longest is the Seligman – Peach Springs – Kingman section. The other runs from Kingman, through Sitgraves Pass, to Oatman, and then the old bridge crossing the Colorado River. Since I have very few photos of Oatman, I took this route on my way home from Laughlin. I’m glad I did.

The only other time I drove this section of Old Route 66 was during the pandemic. At the time, we were avoiding people, so we didn’t stop to shoot any roadside attractions. However, the Cool Springs Station burned a hole in my lens, so it was a required stop on this trip.

Cool Springs Station and vintage gas pumps along Route 66 with Thimble Mountain in the background in Oatman, Arizona.
Cool Springs: Route 66’s Desert Jewel – Stepping back in time at Cool Springs Station, an iconic stop along Arizona’s stretch of Route 66, nestled against the majestic backdrop of Thimble Mountain.

You’ve likely seen pictures of this place in books or videos about Route 66. With its classic shiny red Mobil gas pumps (there’s a rusty one, too), it’s a perfect backdrop for motorheads to snap a portrait of their car. It hasn’t always been this gleaming jewel on the Mohave Desert floor. It has a history.

Nestled against the rugged backdrop of the Black Mountains, Cool Springs Station has stood as a silent witness to the ebb and flow of Route 66’s storied past. Established in the mid-1920s, Cool Springs was built to serve the burgeoning car culture of America, providing fuel, refreshments, and a welcome respite to weary travelers making their way through the Sitgreaves Pass. Its distinctive stone façade and gleaming gas pumps quickly became a symbol of the optimism and adventure spirit embodied by the Mother Road.

However, the passage of time and the shifting sands of progress were not always kind to Cool Springs. In the late 1960s, as the new interstate system redirected traffic away from Route 66, the station saw a decline, eventually falling into disrepair and was nearly forgotten. It wasn’t until 2001 that Ned Leuchtner, a Route 66 enthusiast, recognized the cultural and historical importance of Cool Springs. He undertook the painstaking task of reconstructing the station, using vintage photos as his guide to ensure authenticity. Today, the station has been restored to its former glory, complete with those classic red Mobil gas pumps and the original stone masonry, standing as a tribute to the enduring legacy of Route 66.

My picture of the month isn’t of the station but the yard art off to the side. The image is a trio of old car shells clustered under an American flag, with the Black Mountains as a background. Although these vehicles are historic, if they had any value, some collectors would have snatched them long ago.

The thing that made me choose this week’s photo is the flapping flag. I shot this midday with lighting that blends the cars and mountains into a bland porridge. The flag becomes the image’s star. It’s almost like the flags that fly over our national cemeteries. The picture says, “These are the fallen heroes of the long Route 66 history.”

We’re tickled that you started this year by spending time with us. If you want to see a larger version of this month’s photo, they are online on my website < Jim’s Page> and Fine Art America <FAA Link>. If you want to buy the Chevy Truck, you can contact Uncle Jim’s Cherry, One Owner, Used Car Emporium by leaving a comment below.

We look forward to your comments, so don’t be bashful. We’ll return with more Oatman and Route 66 photos next week, so don’t touch that dial.

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

Techniques: Waiting for the decisive moment.

You might think snapping a flag is a breeze, but let me tell you, it’s more like herding cats on a windy day. I aimed for a balance—not too limp and not overly taut—to convey a sense of movement and life. This required patience and timing, like capturing the peak moment in sports photography. With the wind’s whims as my conductor, I played a game of red and green light, waiting for Mother Nature’s perfect cue—talk about being at the mercy of the elements. In retrospect, a tripod would have saved me from the armache of holding steady through the breezes.

For the technically curious, this was a dance of light and speed. I shot in Aperture Priority mode with an f-stop of 6.1, relying on the bright midday sun to provide a fast enough shutter speed. My main concern was keeping the truck headlights and the flag’s stars and stripes in sharp focus. Choosing the correct f-stop or waiting for the wind is like deciding on the right spice for a stew or the right socks for sandals—not always obvious, but oh-so-important!

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.

Cliffside Chronicles: The Fremont Petroglyphs of Whitney Pocket Picture of the Week - Mesquite, Nevada

Intricate Fremont People petroglyphs on a high cliff face at Whitney Pocket, challenging understanding of their creation.
Cliffside Chronicles: The Fremont Petroglyphs of Whitney Pocket – Against the canvas of time: The enigmatic petroglyphs of the Fremont People, etched high up on the cliff faces of Whitney Pocket, invite wonder at their ancient origins and the stories they hold.

When we left last week’s adventure, I had found my way back to the main trail. So, with the panic behind us for the moment, I could bide my time and closely examine the surrounding formations for exciting shots. Lest we forget, I was in the process of hunting down the ‘easy to find’ Petroglyphs.

With each step, the downhill trail heading toward Lake Mead took me back hundreds of thousands of years in geologic time. As shown in last week’s photos, we journeyed from the white Navajo Sandstone era to its contact with the iron-rich red Entrada Sandstone – another silica formation having more iron-oxide (rust) content.

As the trail continued, I was surrounded by red sandstone outcrops covered in the same streaked varnish pervasive in the Lake Powell area. This was a good sign because the black streaking was a common medium for Pueblo Tribes to carve images into. I had been focusing my search at eye level because that’s the height I expected to see the wall art. But, after rounding a bend, I had to step back because I finally found my prize.

There I was, neck craned, eyes skyward, when I finally spotted the petroglyphs. I half expected a Fremont elevator to whoosh down and offer me a ride up for a closer look. Alas, no such luck—I had to settle for the zoom on my camera. With one mystery solved, another popped up. How in the world did these people scratch those images into the rock? Did they build scaffolds, dangle from ropes, or stand on each other’s shoulders? Maybe they were aliens and had invented the anti-gravity hover-walker I longed for. Who knows?

The Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan (often known as Anasazi) Peoples were two distinct cultures that flourished in the American Southwest, leaving behind a rich legacy of rock art that continues to intrigue us today.

The Fremont People, inhabiting parts of modern-day Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada from roughly 300 to 1300 AD, are noted for their distinctive rock art. Fremont petroglyphs often depict trapezoidal human figures adorned with elaborate decorations, such as headdresses, earrings, and necklaces. These figures are sometimes accompanied by animals, hunting scenes, and abstract symbols. Their rock art, etched in cliff walls and boulders, speaks to a culture deeply connected to its natural environment and spiritual beliefs.

In contrast, the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi), primarily located in the Four Corners region (where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet), thrived from approximately the 12th century BCE to the 16th century AD. Their petroglyphs and pictographs differ from those of the Fremont. Ancestral Puebloan art frequently features geometric shapes, spirals, bighorn sheep, and handprints with a more abstract quality. Their artwork often reflects cosmological concepts, clan symbols, and records of celestial events.

Both cultures’ art provides valuable insights into their lives, beliefs, and interactions with the landscape. At the same time, Fremont’s art tends to be more symbolic and detailed in depicting figures; the Ancestral Puebloans lean towards the figurative and abstract. These differences highlight the diversity of expression in ancient rock art and illustrate the unique ways each culture related to its surroundings and spiritual life.

The struggle in photographing relics of ancient civilizations is finding them—and finding them undamaged. When you’re standing in front of them, the best that you can do is to frame them in a logical composition. What do you include or leave out of the frame? At this point, creativity goes out the window, and you become a record keeper; your work is indistinguishable from that of a geologist or archaeologist. That’s the mental process that I had when I snapped Cliffside Chronicles. As I aimed the camera, it was thinking, “Hold the camera straight, get as much artwork in as possible, and frame the image tight.” The rock art is impressive enough, and I don’t presume to think I can improve the artists’ work. These shots are my way of collecting these precious works of art and preserving a record of their existence should they be destroyed by vandals.

Red oxidized Entrada Sandstone formations at Whitney Pockets, illustrating the geological upthrust in the Mojave Desert landscape.
Red Rocks Rising: Whitney Pockets’ Monumental Sandstone – Nature’s upheaval captured in stone: The vibrant red layers of Entrada Sandstone at Whitney Pockets stand testament to the dramatic upthrusts that have sculpted this desert spectacle.

I hope you enjoyed our hike out to the petroglyphs. If your curiosity has bettered you, there are always larger versions of Cliffside Chronicles for you to examine on my website < Jim’s Website> and the Fine Art America page <FAA Link>. We encourage you to return next week when we look at a geological mystery I found.

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

Techniques: The Magic of Polarizing Filters

Sometime in the last century, when I was a lad still wet behind the ears (what does that actually mean?), I bought a polarizing filter for my first camera. I was less than impressed when I used it in the Los Angeles suburbs. It didn’t seem to do much in the smoggy, hazy atmosphere along the coast. But on a trip to Lake Mead—where my dad kept his boat—boy, howdy, that thing did miracles. That’s the exact general location that we’re featuring in this month’s project, and there is something about the glare of the Mohave Desert that makes one of these filters a must in your camera bag.

A polarizing filter is essential in the bright landscape of Gold Butte, where the white Navajo sandstone reflects the sun’s glare. This tool helps mitigate the glare, allowing the camera to capture the vivid hues and intricate details often masked by the harsh light. By filtering polarized light, the polarizer enhances the natural color saturation of the rocks and the sky, bringing out a richness that the naked eye might miss.

Using a polarizing filter requires a bit of finesse, as it’s most effective when the sun is at a 60-degree angle to the lens. It can darken the blue sky to a dramatic effect and increase the contrast between the sky and clouds, giving your images a more dynamic range. However, be mindful of exposure adjustments since a polarizer reduces the light entering your lens, often necessitating a slower shutter speed or wider aperture. With practice, a polarizing filter will cut through glare and transform your landscapes into deeply textured, color-rich images.

Don’t let the desert’s glare wash out the nuances of its beauty; make sure a quality polarizing filter is part of your photography kit. Remember, like any lens, the quality of a polarizer matters – a cheap one may distort your image and alter true colors. However, consider that polarizers absorb light; they’re fantastic under the brilliant sun but can leave your photos underexposed in dimmer conditions. A polarizing filter in low light is like sunglasses at midnight – you will miss the stars and probably trip over the campfire. It is best to keep it tucked away when the sun takes its siesta.

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