Broken Crown Picture of the Week

It takes a lot of space to jam a four-lane freeway through a mountain pass. If you have a horse-drawn wagon, you can squeeze through some tight spots, but with a Peterbilt 579—not so much. You have a couple of options to get that extra width—cut back the mountains or raise the road over them. A more practical approach is to do a little of each. Cut into the hills some and use that fill to raise the road—like how we build today’s modern highways.

The reason I bothered with this engineering exercise is that there are segments of the old Union Pass two-lane road that you can still explore, but they’re maybe 50 feet below the current grade. The more extensive section is on the west side of the Black Mountains crest, which we’ll talk about next week. On the east side, less than a mile of Old SR 68 remains. It’s behind an unlocked ADOT gate meant to keep livestock off of the highway, so be sure to close it after you. The road-gate is the public access to the old Richardson Homestead—a one-family ghost town.

The Richardsons were a family of five who settled the homestead in 1897. When they claimed the 160 acres, it had spring water, enough flat land for an orchard, vegetable garden, and a horse barn left behind by Union Troops stationed there to protect travelers from hostile Indian tribes. In summer, they made the journey from Los Angeles in a covered wagon pulled by a pair of horses.

They moved after John’s doctor told him to “go live in the desert.” I didn’t find a reference to John’s ailments, but that was a standard remedy for tuberculosis back then. The clear desert air undoubtedly helped him because John and his wife, Victoria, built a two-story home, root-cellar, planted trees, and raised livestock using only their sweat and simple hand tools. After establishing their home, Mohave County paid them a monthly allowance to maintain—what was then known as Beal’s Wagon Road—three miles in each direction. For thirty-eight years, they welcomed weary travelers with fresh fruits, preserves, vegetables, cold water, and a place to spend a night.

Victoria succumbed to cancer in 1935—four years after their fiftieth wedding anniversary. John followed five years later. Today they rest side by side in Kingman’s Mountain View Cemetery on Stockton Hill Road.

If you can call middle-aged adults kids, they managed the ranch and changed to keep up with the times. They added guest cabins, a small store, and a gas station. The family enterprise lasted until 1984. We, like our parents before us, didn’t have time to stop at some old place along the road. We had places to go. Shortly after that, the last of the family gave up the land, and the BLM took back ownership.

I remember the Richardson Homestead as a shady oasis on the drive between Kingman and Bullhead City. We would do the long climb from the river, and soon after cresting the hill, tall trees shaded the old road. The collection of rock-wall buildings and weathered metal roofs were always a  blur as we sped past. I vividly recall one early morning return trip. I remember the time because of the golden light. After we passed the old gas station, we saw real-live cowboys on horses driving cattle down the hill on the roadside. My companion and I laughed out loud because we had never seen working cowboys in Arizona—just the plastic ones that hang out in Scottsdale.

Broken Crown - A crown of tuff rests on a layer of basalt in Union Pass.
Broken Crown – A crown of tuff rests on a layer of basalt in Union Pass.

When I pulled over and stopped Archie to shoot this week’s picture, it was beside the homestead. Before I ran across four lanes of traffic (it was very early sun-up and no one was on the road yet), I looked over the guardrail at the remaining ruins and blew them off. I wasn’t out house hunting. Instead, I opted to focus on rocks (pun intended). This large outcrop of tuff on top of a basalt layer was just the ticket. I call this image, Broken Crown because of the fresh rock-fall and truck-sized boulders on the right. But, now that I know about the Richardson family, I want to return soon and wander among the remaining ruins with my camera.

You can see a larger version of Broken Crown on its Web Page by clicking here. Please come back next for our final image in this series and the story that goes with it.

Until next time — jw

Boundary Cone Picture of the Week

Traveling west from Oatman, on the old Route 66, it’s only a couple of miles before the Black Mountains fill the rearview mirror. The Mohave Valley sprawls beyond the truck hood, and the road descends the talus slope to the river. There aren’t any signs here, but the beautiful view takes in three states. Arizona stops at the river, of course, but beyond the blue water, California is on the truck’s south side while Nevada is to the right.

The highway passes a rounded cone that resembles the hat style worn by the Seven Dwarves. The road has a fork here, and if your destination is Bullhead City, then go straight. But, the left fork is our historic road, and it leads south to the freeway and railroad bridges at Topock Marsh. We’re not done with the mountains yet because—for most of the way— the Warm Springs Wilderness is outside of the driver’s side window.

The Black Mountains in Mohave Country always delight me. There’s a lot in them to photograph. I understand why chunks of them have been set aside as wilderness areas. I could spend years exploring and capturing their beauty on film. As an aging dotard, however, I need my truck to do that. I’m intrigued about the new riding drones that police departments are buying. They look like a motorcycle with four propellers strapped to the sides (like in this Dubai video). One of you needs to come up with the money to buy me one. With my luck, however, I’d fall off into one of the blades and become sliced salami. Besides, the government doesn’t allow drones in wilderness areas (national parks, wildlife preserves, or recreation areas). What’s that old saying? “I would have taken better care of myself if I knew that I was going to live this long.” Why did we ever laugh at Jack LaLanne?

Boundary Cone - On the right is Boundary Cone, the center of the Mohave Tribe's world, and a handy marker to keep you dry.
Boundary Cone – On the right is Boundary Cone, the center of the Mohave Tribe’s world, and a handy marker to keep you dry.

This week’s featured image was a call at the line—sorry for the sports metaphor. I had another picture picked out, and already published, but when I started researching the area, the image that I call Boundary Cone has a better story. The 4000’ peak sticks out like a sore thumb from anywhere in the valley. The Mohave Indians consider it sacred, and it is the center of their homeland. Imagine how upset they were when miners started digging at it.

Coincidently, if you could walk from Boundary Cone due west to the middle of the Colorado River, and then north for a couple of hundred yards, you would be standing—or swimming—in Arizona, California, and Nevada at the same time. Just like people do at Four Corners, and nobody would charge you (I sincerely think people would pay to see that). The actual point where the three states meet is the intersection of the 35th parallel and the Colorado River. But, I think it’s cool that you can tell which state you’re in by glancing at Boundary Cone without getting wet.

You can see a larger version of Boundary Cone on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, we’ll continue our Route 66 journey to the freeway. I hope you’ll join us then.

Until next time — jw

Grand Wash Cliffs Picture of the Week

I love those DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteers. I have about a dozen of them stashed on my office bookshelf, one for each state that we’ve traveled. Whenever Anne and I go on one of our jaunts, I toss at least one in the truck. I try to be careful with them, so they’ll last, but I’m regularly replacing my Arizona edition because I use it so often.

Last month while looking for new places to explore, I realized that there are four pages in the Arizona Gazetteer where I’ve never been, not in the 48 years that I’ve called Arizona home. The pages are easy to find, as they’re the first two and the last two. The areas covered by these pages are The Arizona Strip—east of Nevada and south of Utah north of the Colorado River—and the southeast corner of the state. I’ve never been to the Chiricahuas. Isn’t that hard to believe? I’ve decided to fix that by making trips to our northwest this year, and the southeast corner next year.

With that in mind, February’s topic will be the trip that her majesty and I made to Pearce Ferry this week. It’s not a difficult trip as you get off Interstate 40 on Kingman’s Stockton Hill Road. You go 40 miles north on that road, then you turn right on the Pearce Ferry Road and continue until the Colorado River stops you at the other end. All but the last nine miles are paved.

What you’ll see along the way is the Great Basin Desert. More like Nevada than the Sonoran Desert that we’re used to. Stockton Hill Road runs along the east side of the Hualapai Valley and Red Lake—one of the four natural lakes in Arizona. In winter, it even comes with water, the rest of the time it’s dry. The Pearce Ferry Road section crosses the valley and runs along the Grand Wash Cliffs to Meadview. That’s where the gravel-dirt road descends to the River.

Grand Wash Cliffs - A storm front moves over the Grand Wash Cliffs at Pearce Ferry.
Grand Wash Cliffs – A storm front moves over the Grand Wash Cliffs at Pearce Ferry.

Besides the towering Grand Wash Cliffs and muddy Colorado emerging from the Grand Canyon, there’s nothing much happening at the Ferry. Until a couple of years ago, it was the place where Grand Canyon rafters hauled out of Lake Mead. Because of the ongoing drought, the lake is so low that the boat ramp is high and dry. Now boaters have to use South Cove. It’s 23 miles away by road, but double that by water.

I took this week’s featured image near the deserted boat ramp. It shows the colorful Grand Wash Cliffs under a brooding sky. The storm front that you see greeted us on our arrival and followed us home, bringing rain to Congress the next day. I call this image Grand Wash Cliffs (At Pearce Ferry).

I’m also including a second image this week at no extra charge. I wanted to show the boat ramp struggling to reach the muddy river. The next launching place is at South Cove around the peninsula in the photo’s background. By the time the river passes South Cove, the river flows into Lake Mead, and most of the silt drops out of the water, so its color is blue (and high white banks because of the low water level). This second photo is for reference, so I called it Dry Ramp.

Pearce Ferry Boat Ramp - Lake Mead's water is low enough that the boat ramp isn't usable.
Pearce Ferry Boat Ramp – Lake Mead’s water is low enough that the boat ramp isn’t usable.

You can see a larger version of Grand Wash Cliffs on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy seeing it. Join us next week as we drive home with stops along the way to photograph more lovely scenery in Hualapai Valley.

Until next time — jw

Laughlin, Nevada

Every once in a great while, I’m allowed out of the house on my own. I know that’s a surprise to you, but there are times when the Queen has friends over and she wants a presentable house. That means I have to go away while her company is here. Since I’m doing Anne a ‘favor’, I can usually parlay it into an overnight trip that I call a photo shoot. One of these freedom nights was last Tuesday, but at the last-minute, her friends had to postpone, and she was already in the truck before I could get out of the driveway . . . Doh!

My friend Deb asked if this was an anniversary trip to which I replied, “What? When is our anniversary? Yeah, that’s it! It’s for our anniversary.” So, it was something I had planned all along.

Whenever I have a chance to get away, my first thought is to head for a body of water. After all, that is what we miss in the desert. I’d hop on the first plane to New Zealand if I could afford it, but that’s out of our budget. What we can afford is a cot at the YMCA . . . or something close to that. With those constraints, there’s always Laughlin, Nevada.

Colorado River Valley from the Black Mountains.
On a rare rainy day, the lower Colorado River Valley holds the communities of Bullhead City in Arizona, and Laughlin on the Nevada side of the river.

My parents were the ones that introduced me to Laughlin. In the late ‘70s, they had a second home in Bullhead City, the town on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. My dad kept his boat there for a while, and we would manage to ‘drop in’ while they were in town. We’d spend days fishing and water skiing on Lake Mohave, and in the evenings, we would take the water taxi across the river to one of the three casinos on the Nevada side. I have fond memories of those times. Good times never last however, and my parents eventually got rid of the house and boat.

There are several reasons for me to make a quick trip to Laughlin. As a fisherman, both Lake Mohave and the river below Davis Dam offer good angling. However, I never remember to pack my gear for a one night trip. Although I like the craps table, I am averse to wasting money. It used to take twenty bets to lose my bankroll, but now that the tables have a five buck minimum bet, I’m done in four rolls. So, I don’t spend much time in the casinos. There are the buffets with rows and rows of various foods, with people who make you look skinny by comparison. However I favor quality over quantity, so we avoid them. I guess the best reason for Laughlin is that now that the Queen and I retired, we can take advantage of the twenty-five buck midweek hotel rooms. You can’t stay at the YMCA for that price.

The cheap rooms have a downside too. As we strolled along The River-walk connecting the casinos, we noticed that most of the patrons were at least our age; silver-haired seniors and an abundance of canes, walkers and wheelchairs. All of the casino floors were empty with many of the tables covered. The prime restaurants only open on the weekends. The hustle, bustle and excitement you would expect from a gambling hall was missing. Then, it dawned on me that the only people who had time for a casino on Tuesday were retirees; everyone else had to go to work . . . duh!

Thumb Butte
In the Black Mountains above Bullhead City, Thumb Butte looks like the universal indignant gesture of ill-will.

There’s one last thing that fascinates me about the area; it’s the geography. That section of the Colorado River Valley runs between the Black Mountains in Arizona and Nevada’s Eldorado Mountains. Neither range I consider tall, but they’re at the north-eastern reach of the Mojave Desert and get very little rainfall. That means they are subject to wind and temperature erosion. They are rocky, jagged and very rugged. Almost impenetrable.  As a matter of fact, Interstate 40 makes a 20 mile detour along the Santa Fé railroad tracks, around the Black Mountains between Needles and Kingman. The next upstream river crossing is 60 miles north at Hoover Dam and then its 180 miles more to the bridge at Marble Canyon. At the turn of the 20th Century travel was even worse. There were no bridges between Needles, California and Moab, Utah. Everything in between is hostile, desolate and in my opinion, the most beautiful terrain on earth.

Black Mountain MIne
An old mining claim near Union Pass in the Black Mountains.

As a photographer, I see the Black Mountains as a choice place to shoot pictures. It has ragged peaks, soaring spires and interesting shapes. They’re passed by in favor of the more famous canyons the Colorado cuts through. Because of its relative closeness, I’m intrigued at its beauty and if I can figure out how to best capture that ruggedness, I may have to take it on as a future project. Hey, it’s an excuse to get out of the house.

Till next time . . . jw