Clouds Over Craters Picture of the Week

Clouds Over Craters - Monsoon clouds fill the sky over a pair of volcanic craters at the San Francisco Lava Field in northern Arizona.
Clouds Over Craters – Monsoon clouds fill the sky over a pair of volcanic craters at the San Francisco Lava Field in northern Arizona.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and the east coast has already had its first dusting of snow. Only last week, I had to switch from my daily summer uniform (t-shirt and shorts) into my winter outfit (t-shirt and jeans). I only wear long pants because my feet get cold with poor blood circulation. Otherwise, I’d wear shorts throughout the year—as men do in New Zealand. The last time we went to their islands, we saw road crews dressed in down parkas, shorts, and flip-flops.

I’m not boasting about our two seasons here in the desert; hot and less hot. Everybody back east already knows about our climate. In a couple of weeks, they’ll be camping in RV Parks throughout our state. This week’s rant is about why good things always come with baggage (this isn’t about Queen Anne either—stop that, you’re nasty). For example, as a kid, do you remember stretching out on a freshly cut lawn on a breezy summer’s eve so you could stare into the black sky and count shooting stars—only to be eaten alive by chiggers? Right there, that’s what I’m talking about.

Sitting at my computer, enjoying my first sweater of the season, and processing this week’s photo, I liked how lovely the monsoon clouds were. In Navajo lore, the gathering of puffy sheep in the sky foretells the coming summer rains. Our summer clouds are dynamic. They form over the mountains in the morning. They build and tower into the stratosphere and then charge into the desert with a triple fury of wind, dust, and frog-choking rain. By midnight, they disappear, and stars come out of hiding. It’s the opposite of the winter clouds that travel down the coast. They’re a homogenized grey sky, hanging around for days like a bowl of lumpy oatmeal. As I closely studied this week’s picture, I realized that the monsoon season might be my favorite time of the year—if it wasn’t so damn hot and muggy.

I named this week’s image Clouds Over Craters, and I took it at the S.P. Crater location I featured a couple of weeks ago. The dark blob on the right side is S.P. Crater, and the lesser volcano in the distance is unnamed. The grass growing on its slopes indicates that it’s rainy season. The crater’s shape and color remind me of Hawaii’s Diamond Head in a mirror. The diagonal scratches are from ATVs digging up the soil as they claw their way to the top. I could have Photoshopped the scars, but I wouldn’t say I like that. Besides, the clouds are the star of this show, both in the sky and the shadows they cast on the craters.

You can see a larger version of Clouds Over Craters on its Webpage by clicking here. It’s the finale of the San Francisco Lava Field project, and next week we’re at a new location. Here’s a clue—it’s across the street. Want to take a guess? We’ll see you when you return next Sunday to find out if you’re right.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Since November is next week, it’s time for me to lay out my 2023 calendar. I make at least one for myself each year, but I’ll happily print another copy for you. Because I order them in low numbers, they’re an expensive wall calendar. When hanging, they’re the size of a copy paper sheet—they fit nicely between my desktop and cabinets. VistaPrint has dropped the small-middle-binding option this year so that they will be coil-bound along the top. When I add the shipping cost, they cost me $18.00 each, which is what I charge for them. I want to have them for Christmas, so if you want to be included, let me know by the 15th of November. That way, I’ll expect them after Thanksgiving. You can email me directly, leave a message on my Contact Page, or if I already have your email address (you’re a subscriber), you can order in the comments below (I’ll strip your email address from public comments).

Colton Crater Juniper Picture of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

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

Sycamore Point – and – Calendars     Picture of the Week

Trick or Treat
smell my feet
give us something good to eat

Since this is my first-ever Halloween post, I couldn’t pass that up.

So, where were we? Oh yes—Queen Anne and I spent an afternoon exploring and photographing along the back roads to Sycamore Point. The sun was going down, and we wanted to get back to Williams to have a nice dinner at The Red Raven Restaurant.  Before we leave, let me get in one more shot.

Sycamore Point - From Sycamore Point, looking back over Thumb Flat to Bill Williams Mountain.
Sycamore Point – From Sycamore Point, looking back over Thumb Flat to Bill Williams Mountain.

I call this week’s photo Sycamore Point. If it isn’t apparent, I took it with my drone. Unlike a normal camera, you can’t spontaneously whip it out and start flying about—well, not if you want to keep your license. You have to file a flight plan, conduct a pre-flight check, and there are no fly areas. In this case, I couldn’t fly it past the wilderness boundary (you can get an exception from the BLM—but that takes weeks).

The truth is that I took several drone shots of the canyon, but because the drone’s camera lens is ultra wide, the images from my Sony were better, so I used those. Since the drone had battery time left, I turned it around and pointed the camera toward the road we traveled. From an altitude of two-hundred feet, this is the image that I got.

When I started processing this photo, I realized that it has everything that we’ve been talking about during October. In one image I see Alligator Juniper, patches of yellow wildflowers, Thumb Flat, the edges of Sycamore Canyon, burn scars, the back road, shafts of sunlight, and in the distance, the Northern Arizona Volcanic Field—including Bill Williams Mountain (center left) and The San Francisco Peaks (far right). It’s like you’re back in school, and here’s the chapter review before the test—but from a different perspective.

You can see a larger version of Sycamore Point on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, it’s time for a new project from a different location. You’ll want to come back and see what trouble I got myself into this time.

Calendars

This year is hurtling to an end already, so it’s time for me to make new calendars. In spite of the extra cost last year we got a nice response. Inflation has taken a toll again this year. After reviewing my printer’s price list and post office shipping costs, I need to charge $20.00 for them. I know that cost is prohibitive to most of you, but they’re a limited item. I need to get one for myself and if you’re interested, I’ll print a copy for you.

The pictures for the 2022 edition are from this year’s outings. The size remains the same—6 ½ inches high (each half—about the size of a sheet of paper folded in half) and 8 ½ inches wide, and they have holidays noted on the dates. They’re printed on card stock—which is part of the expense.

In order to get them to you for Christmas (and we’re cutting it close according to the Post Office), I need to know by November 10th. If you’d like one, you can leave a comment in this post, use the contact form on my website (https://www.jimwitkowski.com/junk/index.php), or email me directly. Don’t forget to leave your contact information if I don’t already have it.

Until next time — jw

Thumb Flat   Picture of the Week

With a basic knowledge of native Arizona plants and observational skills, it’s easy to tell what elevation you’re at in our state. Maybe only Florida is easier because the entire state is below 350′. I’ve written before about how State 48 has all but two of the world’s climate zones; sub-tropic and tundra permafrost. So all you have to do is look at the bush you’re standing next to you for a clue.

For example, compare last week’s picture to the one that I posted today. The tall ponderosa pines you see in Yellow Field thrive at altitudes over 6,500 feet. While the pinion pine in this week’s image—Thumb Flat—is the dominant plant between 5,000 and the appearance of tall pines. My rule is only a rough generalization because there are microclimate pockets all across the state. I can name two places off the top of my head as examples; Palm Canyon in the KOFA Range south of Quartzite and the east slope of the Poachie Range south of Wikiup. The state’s only native palms grow in a mountainside crevice at the first location, and the latter has saguaro and pinion pine intermingling on its slopes.

When Queen Anne and I visited Williams, it was only natural as we drove down the south slope of the dormant volcano to see ponderosa pine replaced with stands of juniper. As the White Horse Lake Road descended even lower, the juniper became sparser. By the time we reached Thumb Flat—as it’s called on the map—individual trees had stood alone in the wildflower-covered fields.

Thumb Flat - A beautiful alligator juniper stands in a wildflower covered field.
Thumb Flat – A beautiful alligator juniper stands in a wildflower-covered field.

Here I spotted this beautiful alligator juniper, which made me stop Archie and get its portrait. I think this specimen would be a prized possession in anyone’s garden. Probably the only reason this tree isn’t already in somebody’s front yard is that it’s in the middle of the Kaibab National Forest.

In this week’s featured image that I call Thumb Flat, I like how the foreground is darker in color from being in the shade of a cloud. It contrasts nicely against the bright white background cumulus clouds. The wildflowers are the same as in last week’s image, but you can see how much more dull they are when they’re not in direct sunlight. In this case that’s OK because they’re not the subject here—this week, they’re only playing a ‘walk-on’ part.

You can see a larger version of Thumb Flat on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we turn onto another side road, so come back and see where that road ends.

Until next time — jw

P.S. If the picture is not showing up in your email version of this post, you can click on the article title (Thumb Flat) to open the Web version of this post.

North Weaver Shadows Picture of the Week

This is Augusts’ final post; the doves are skittery, there’s football on TV, and my astrological markers are lining up. Hmm—what do you think Mother Nature’s trying to say? For me, these are all precursors to summer’s end and the time when Arizonans will once again emerge from their dens. If we were smart, we’d form a committee to dress up a ground squirrel in a tux, call him Congress Cecil, and have him predict how many weeks of extreme heat warnings remain. The days will still be hot for another month, but soon the evening temperatures make being outdoors tolerable.

I should explain the skittery doves and astrological marker. September 1 is our state’s dove season, so doves begin to move to where the houses are because they have a better chance of not being shot. The day after hunting season closes, the doves return to the open desert and won’t be heard from until they get horny in the spring.

And yes, just like the ancient Anasazi, I have a special marker that precisely tells me when the spring and fall equinoxes happen. I didn’t carve a light-piercing spiral in sandstone as they did; instead, I use Bruce’s—my across-the-street neighbor—roof. Its ridgeline runs east-west, and on the mornings of the equinoxes, the sun comes up from its peak as I enjoy my coffee on my front porch. Y’all should come to join me on September 22. It would really freak out Bruce to see hundreds of people staring at his house at dawn.

North Weaver Shadows
North Weaver Shadows – With help from the setting sun, cumulus clouds cast shadows on the Weaver Mountains.

As I said, this is the last image in my August cloud project. The monsoon took a vacation this week, so the sun’s brought the heat back. It’s had a chance to dry out, and now the yard’s full of weeds. But, Arizona Highway 89 is lined with orange poppies, and I spotted a couple of Palo Verde trees with yellow blossoms. It’s like spring again, and I’m getting that familiar wanderlust feeling.

Our monsoon will be back with a vengeance in a couple of days. There’s a hurricane traveling up Mexico’s west coast, and there’s a good chance it will come up the Gulf of California. When storms do that, it brings more than isolated showers—instead, the whole state gets soaked.

This week’s cloud picture kind of shows the weather’s dry break. The sky is clearer with scattered cumulus clouds. It also shows that it’s not just the puffy white sky-meringue that is pretty, but their shadows make the mountains more interesting. In the photo that I call North Weaver Shadows, we see cumulus cloud shadows cast on the north edge of the Weaver Mountains with help from the setting sun. This is my favorite image in this series because my familiar mountain range is different—more interesting. For your viewing pleasure, I also hid a black cow grazing on the desert floor somewhere in the picture—if you can find it.

You can see a larger version of North Weaver Shadows on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I’ll start a new September project. With the coming weather change, I hope I can get some shots in by then. So, be sure to come back and see if Dudley Duwright rescues Lit’l Nell from the railroad tracks in time (if you think about it—if he’s not in time, it’s not much of a rescue—is it?).

Until next time — jw

Sun Rays Picture of the Week

My first photography class was a half-century ago. I had just come home from a year-long tour in Korea with a brand new Nikon F2, and I wanted to learn how to be a photographer. I was stationed in Pasadena at the time (I’d tell you what I did, but then I’d have to kill ya,) and Al Bowman—an old friend—convinced me to sign up for a Pasadena City College night class. As frequently happens with crafts-centered night classes, it was more of a club. Everyone got an A, and the same people always attended each semester.

I no longer remember the instructors’ name, but he had been published in a couple of journals, so his credentials were impeccable to us. Although I wanted to shoot black and white in Ansel Adams style, our classwork was shot using Kodachrome. Each week the teacher would show our work on a Kodak—antique, even then—slide projector that he liked because it was bright and had an exceptional lens. It was essentially a portable searchlight that showed even the most minor flaws when closely viewed. It also doubled to signal Bat Man.

Even in those days, Ansel Adams was the master of landscape photography, but cover shots on Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, and others of that genre were color. They all followed the formula we read in Kodak’s How to Make Good Pictures—a bible for beginning photographers (I still have my thread worn copy).

The method of shooting landscapes in the book—and what the instructor taught—was that you find an interesting background and properly compose it within your frame, then get a model (wife, friend, stranger) to pose to one side as if they were taking in the beautiful vista. Your model should be wearing something red or bright yellow to capture the viewer’s eye. Finally, if there’s any possible way you could get a sun flare to shine on your model, that was the cherry on the sundae. That classic nature shot had been de rigueur since the thirties.

It was so pervasive, it was trite, and it wasn’t how Ansel shot, so it turned off photographers like me. We felt that there was beauty in nature even if no one was there to enjoy it, and sunrays … really? Although I’ve seasoned over time, I still avoid light beams glowing from clouds. It’s become ingrained. Maybe I’ve over-corrected because of those days.

Sun Rays - Light beams radiate from clouds near Hillside, Arizona.
Sun Rays – Light beams radiate from clouds near Hillside, Arizona.

Those conflicts came to a head with this month’s cloud project. I wanted to show the pretty side of our Monsoon Season, so I’ve been capturing clouds all month. On my last outing, I concentrated on the eastern sky as I drove north to Hillside. The clouds billowed in pure white as they built in the afternoon sun. However, there was a darker, more brooding cell on the left side of the road, but it had shafts of light beaming from it. For miles, I tried to ignore it because it looked too different from my other shots, and <shudder> there were sun rays. It followed me for miles like a puppy wanting attention, so I finally gave in and took this week’s photo that I call Sun Rays. I hope you’re happy since I broke one of my rules, but I will not put a model wearing a red coat in one of my photos—unless that’s all she has on.

To get a shot like this, you have to shoot towards the sun and make sure it’s hidden from the lens. Otherwise, its bright light will wash out the detail around it. Another consideration is how you treat the foreground. In this case, I over-exposed the shot to get some texture in the mountains and then brought back the sky in post-production; otherwise, the ground would have been a lifeless silhouette.

You can see a larger version of Sun Rays on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week to see what happens next.

Until next time — jw

Cirrus Streak Picture of the Week

My favorite landscape photographers have different styles of working with a horizon. There’s a group that omits the sky from their images. Charles Cramer, for example, most often leaves the sky out of his pictures. Michael Kenna and Ansel Adams use the skyline as part of their image’s graphic design. On the other hand, Mitch Dobrowner’s images are mostly sky and extreme weather. (To be honest, if I ever had an opportunity to go on one of Mitch’s shoots, I’d take lots of underwear because I’d be scared.)

I can’t think of a master photographer that exclusively shoots sky. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the lack of context. Clouds around the world are the same. Without a ground-based reference point, you can’t tell where or when I took the photo, and there’s no sense of scale because clouds come in all sizes.

Cirrus Streak - A wispy streak of cirrus clouds thousands of feet above monsoon cumulus clouds forming above the mountain tops.
Cirrus Streak – A wispy streak of cirrus clouds thousands of feet above monsoon cumulus clouds forming above the mountain tops.

My picture of the week, for example, could have been taken in Tibet, at the Grand Canyon, or even in your backyard. It’s not obvious what year, season, or time of day it was taken. It’s essentially a monochrome image that would work as well if it were black and white; only the subtle color in the cumulus clouds hint of the hour.

The story of this week’s image—that I call Cirrus Streak—is that this is another of my August Monsoon Clouds project. In my quest to hunt down and capture images for the project, I drove a back road through the valley between the Weaver and Date Creek mountain ranges. As I said last week, the Weaver’s (along with the Bradshaw Mountains) are a breeding ground for our evening storms.

As I drove, I noticed this streaky cirrus cloud thousands of feet above a cluster of cumulus clouds building low over the mountains. I’m partial to how the high wispy clouds get distorted into interesting shapes from the winds aloft. So, I stopped the truck and framed these clouds as a graphic design. If you’re disoriented, the blue sky gives you a clue. The color always gets lighter towards the horizon, so the mountains appear under the frame’s bottom.

You can see a larger version of Cirrus Streak on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week to see another image from my cloud hunt grab bag.

Until next time — jw

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