Date Creek and Tres Alamos Picture of the Week

Working during the summer is challenging, whether in house chores or photography. That’s why my favorite pastime during these months is procrastination. Face it; I’m allergic to heat. Thinking about going outside is worse than actually doing so. After all, in today’s southwest, we’ve learned to minimize our heat exposure. We move about in a succession of air-conditioned cocoons.

Heat is why I had difficulty coming up with a theme for  July. The monsoons haven’t kicked in yet, so most pleasant campsites are on fire or closed. I must stay close to home, venturing early or after dinner, find a shot, and then hurry home.

I decided that July’s theme will be U.S. Highway 93. That’s the main thoroughfare near my house that Phoenicians (and Tucsonans) use to commute to Las Vegas. The route goes to Canada, but I’m only concerned about day trips. Because I’ve often traveled the section between here and Kingman, I know a few vistas I wanted to capture on film but never had time to stop. This week’s image is an example.

Date Creek and Tres Alamos - Date Creek as it flows by the Tres Alamos Wilderness Area near Congress, Arizona.
Date Creek and Tres Alamos – Date Creek flows by the Tres Alamos Wilderness Area near Congress, Arizona.

North of the SR 71 – 93 junction, the Alamo-Congress Rod is a lousy shortcut to Alamo Lake. It’s a broad dirt road that gets graded annually at best. It passes the Tres Alamos Wilderness Area about 10 miles west of the paved highway. It’s a small nature preserve (83,000 acres) compared to the neighboring Arrastra Mountain Wilderness (129,800 acres). The high point on which Tres Alamos is centered is the 4257-foot Sawyer Peak. To reach the spot where I took this shot, I had to slowly travel a couple of miles on a Jeep trail that left Archie with some Arizona Pinstripes—a badge of honor for a Luxo-SUV.

The wash in this shot is Date Creek, which should be familiar to regular readers because Congress—and the old Congress Gold Mine—are located next to the mountains of the same name. As it were, the creek flows from the Weavers, along the north side of the Date Creeks, to where it merges with the Santa Maria River upstream from Alamo Lake.

An interesting thing in the photo is the tire tracks in the sand. With the rising popularity of those all-terrain buggies, it’s easier for off-roaders to drive through the washes. Most of the time, the ride is smoother than the so-called mine roads. However, in the past, you could see tracks of the animals crossing the river bottoms. It was a visitor guest book. Now that natural history is erased each time they drive over it.

When I first moved to Congress, I coveted owning an ATV. I thought it would help me get into the backcountry and get some unique landscapes. After a couple of rides in Fred’s, I found them uncomfortable because you’re exposed to the elements, and riding in his air-conditioned FJ is more my style of roughing it. Earlier this year, I got hooked on watching Matt’s Off-Road Recovery. He’s a towing company in Hurricane, Utah, and he documents his crew on YouTube as they drag 4-wheelers back to civilization. The best part is that he uses a modified Corvair Lakewood—the station wagon version. Watching him drag ATVs off mountains and dunes convinced me I was better off without one.

Click here to see a larger version of Date Creek and Tres Alamos on its Web Page. Next week, we’ll travel further down the highway and see what’s around the next bend.

Until next time — jw

Skull Valley Depot Picture of the Week

I’m not considered a sociable person, so you may be surprised that I joined a car club back when I was a younger man—more than half my life ago (oh jeez, where has it all gone). This club’s existence was based on owning a particular brand—which one isn’t important for my story—but the club member’s general attitude was that no one should drive one of these cars because the mileage brought down their value. Insane, I know. Despite that, the club put on well-attended events like parties, tours, meetings, and track days.

The club event that drew the most participation was their annual progressive dinner. If you’ve never heard of that, it’s a three to seven-course dinner served at the volunteers’ houses who prepared each course. So we’d meet at the appetizer house, have a glass of wine, and when the food was all gone, we’d jump in our cars and drive to the next course. The club paid for the food and a couple of jugs of Carlo Rossi wines, and members paid a flat per-head attendance fee. The club made a lot of money. Things were different then. Phoenix had few roads north of Northern Avenue, and traffic was nil on Saturday nights, so by the end of the evening, the drive between houses turned into a Targa Florio race. Half the club would wind up in the slammer on DUI charges these days, and the insurance companies would cancel their policy.

Now hold that thought in the back of your head while I talk about the other part of another one of my grandiose ideas. I’ve written before about the trains that pass our house. They run less than a half-dozen times each day (and night), so the tracks are empty most of the time. The route runs from Phoenix to the northern town of Ash Fork, and it has so many twists and turns that it was dubbed The Peavine Line when it opened a century ago. The tracks run through the heart of Arizona’s historic gold mining country.

Historically our little train used to carry passengers with depots in Phoenix, Wickenburg, Congress, Kirkland, Skull Valley, Prescott (now bypassed), and Ash Fork. Most of the town’s stations are still there in one form or another. And—unlike the routes between Phoenix to Tucson and Phoenix to Yuma—there is some interesting backcountry scenery and at least two climate zones along the journey.

Skull Valley Depot - The townspeople of Skull Valley have put their abandoned depot to good use as a local museum.
Skull Valley Depot – The townspeople of Skull Valley have put their abandoned depot to good use as a local museum.

So, after my photo outing where I shot this week’s featured image in Skull Valley, I began to fantasize about having a progressive dinner—on a train. The trip would start in Wickenburg (or maybe Sun City West), then make scheduled stops where the old stations are. At each stop, you could peruse the local museum, enjoy the designated course, spend money on useless trinkets in the gift shop, pee, and get back on the train. Between stations, the guests could taste wine samples (from Arizona vineyards?) and purchase bottles that they would pick up at the evening’s end. At the end of the line, the train would make a leisurely two-hour trip back to the station. The night will have fallen by that time, and guests would enjoy non-alcoholic beverages to sober them up.

I only know of two train excursions in Arizona; the Verde River Line and the trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon. There once was the White Mountain steam train, but that closed a long time ago, and Durango bought the engine (which fell off the trailer along US 89—however that’s another story). I think there’s plenty of market for another train ride in our state, and the dinner would make it a unique experience. Think of it as a dinner cruise on rails.

If this lame-brain idea sounds good to you, then it’s yours. On the other hand, if you feel it’s a stupid idea, I never said anything. My brain hurts too much to work on stuff right now. I’m too old and penniless. Besides, it’s time for my nap.

You can see a larger version of Skull Valley Depot—the picture that set my brain on fire this week—on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we continue with another Skull Valley artifact.

Until next time — jw

Joshua Tree Below Picture of the Week

Everyone has several traits that make up their personality, and psychologists measure these traits by where they fit on a line—called a continuum. The most common example is being an extrovert or an introvert. Most people fit in the middle, of course, but some people are really outgoing and unconstrained, while others are shy or withdrawn. I’ll bet, off the top of your head, you can name several people on either side of that teeter-totter.

Another—lesser-known—continuum is thrill-seekers. Even if you’re not adventurous, you’re still somewhere along that line—maybe just right of center. You can name friends that will jump out of a perfectly good airplane while others avoid sidewalk cracks. I’m a moderate risk taker, but there are certain things I won’t do. I’m not too fond of roller coasters, for example. More accurately, I don’t like the initial weightless drop—I’m fine with the sharp twists and turns throughout the ride’s latter part.

Another fun thing that I can’t make myself do is bungee jumping. I’m confident that the hosts know what they’re doing, and the physics have been worked out to the last decimal place. I also know that with my obesity, jumping off a bridge would lead to my premature demise. And I can tell you exactly how it happens.

I’d have to watch at least a half dozen people come back alive before I summoned up the courage to give it a try. Once I put on the helmet and harness, I’d be trapped. Somehow, I’d climb up on the railing and stand there for an eternity before closing my eyes and jumping. That’s just the beginning of the end. When that feeling of weightlessness first hit my stomach, I’d spew the old Technicolor yawn. As I fell through the air, I’d be surrounded by atomized droplets of my morning breakfast. Then at the bottom, I’d start the rebound only to find out that Galileo was wrong. I’d hurtle upstream through my own mouth shower. At the apex, I’d catch a whiff of my own stench and spew second upchuck, and I would fall through that mess a second time. But—at the bottom—the overstressed bungee cord catastrophically fail, and I’d do a belly flop on the ground. As I lie there, a gentle vomit mist would fall, covering my lifeless body. For a final insult—and as everyone who watches South Park knows—your bowels release the moment you die. No one would ever volunteer to come and clean up that mess. The authorities would throw a blue tarp over me, and that spot would become my forever resting place.

Joshua Tree Below - The sight of a pointy object, like this Joshua Tree, hurtling towards you should make you reconsider skydiving in the Sonoran Desert.
Joshua Tree Below – The sight of a pointy object, like this Joshua Tree, hurtling towards you should make you reconsider skydiving in the Sonoran Desert.

What motivated me to consider my tragic demise was this week’s featured image—Joshua Tree Below. All I intended to capture was a different view of one of our Joshua Trees—the large tree in the second image, to be exact. But, when I processed the photo, it became obvious why no one should skydive in the Sonoran Desert—no matter where they lie on the Thrill Seeker Continuum.

Black Mountain Joshua - The large Joshua Tree before Black Mountain is the model I used for this week's featured image.
Black Mountain Joshua – The large Joshua Tree before Black Mountain is the model I used for this week’s featured image.

You can see a larger version of Joshua Tree Below on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we begin a series of photos from Skull Valley.

Until next time — jw

Santa Lucia Cows Picture of the Week

Until this week, May has been pretty nice. The temperatures in Congress were pleasant enough that Queen Anne and I could enjoy coffee on the back deck in the morning and have happy hour on the front porch where we watched the daily parade go by. Our nights had been quite cool. By managing the airflow—opening and closing the windows at the right times—we succeeded in keeping the hot afternoons at bay.

All of that came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday. With this latest round of high pressure crossing our State, the evening air didn’t cool off as fast or as much. We finally had to turn the air conditioning on for the season. On top of the heat, people have started new brush fires each day, so I have to accept that summer has come to the desert.

Santa Lucia Cows - A small herd of black cattle graze on a hillside of emerald grass at sunrise.
Santa Lucia Cows – A small herd of black cattle grazes on a hillside of emerald grass at sunrise.

I don’t want to go into the inferno without a fight, though, so I went back through the photos from our recent California trip. I wanted to remember the great morning I spent photographing the sunrise on the Santa Lucia coastal mountain range. There was a slight breeze on top of the hill where I waited in the dark, but my wool sweater was enough to ward off any chill. As I worked my way from the top to the coast road, it seemed like someone was painting in the black shapes with color—like in a coloring book. As the sun cleared the horizon behind me, I stopped along the road to capture a herd of cattle grazing emerald green grass on a hillside. It’s this week’s featured image, and I called it Santa Lucia Cows. As I worked on it this week, I wondered why we didn’t stay in Cambria for the whole summer.

I want to give credit to the artist that influenced me to take this picture. I’m glad that I was able to buy three of Eyvind Earle’s works in my life. They’re all small pieces because I couldn’t afford the six-figure larger ones. If you ever watched the movies Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella then you’ve seen his work. He painted backgrounds for Disney films. That was his day job, but he painted scenes along California’s Central Coast on the weekends. His style was graphical and modern impressionism. His trees and animals had exaggerated long shadows—often bigger than the subject itself. I suppose it’s Eyvind’s fault that I’m always on the lookout for long shadows.

You can see a larger version of Santa Lucia Cows on its Web Page by clicking here. Now I have to snap out of my memory, put on some shorts, and get back to work, so why don’t you please come back next week and see if I found anything good.

Until next time — jw

Skull Rock Picture of the Week

It’s the beginning of May, and right on cue, we reached temperatures in the triple digits. The heat immediately sparked an exodus of winter visitors out of our park. Even some of our full-time residents have already left for summer retreats. Queen Anne and I have been abandoned by our friends to deal alone with the pair of terrorists nesting in the trellis outside our bedroom window.

Since we moved into our Congress home, we’ve had all kinds of birds nest in our vines outside. We’ve had quail, dove, hummingbirds, verdin, and the usual assortment of sparrows—the low-life of the bird world. They’ve always been quiet and discrete and never called attention to themselves. This pair is an alumnus of the Delta Tau Chi.

In spring, we love sleeping with open windows. The fragrant fresh breezes keep the house cool, and there’s the occasional coyote howl, hooting owl, or the sound of a nighthawk we enjoy. As the sun begins to show light in the eastern sky each morning—the mornings are getting pretty early these days—Frank and Margaret celebrate surviving another night by perching on the trellis top and begin a sparrow’s equivalent of “Ode to Joy.”

Have you ever really listened to a sparrow’s song? It’s a flat, monotonous “chirp – chirp – chirp.” If left unattended, it can go on for hours. The Queen—who has disdain for anyone having pleasure—soon yells, “Off with their heads.” My obedience is blind, so I stumble out of bed, walk over to the window, throw back the sash, and scare the birds away with my ugly pre-coffee face. That chases them off, but it’s only a while before they’re back and at it again. Sing – scare – repeat.

When the sun does come up, their second act begins. With the new light, they see their reflections in the glass, and like the emu commercial on TV, they start defending their nest. They fly against the window, pecking at the reflection. They fly back and forth along the window top, fighting their perceived intruder. It’s a wonder that my window isn’t perforated. It doesn’t stop until I get up, walk over, pull down the blind, and show my face.

It’s gone too far, so I concocted an evil plan to get even. I went to Goodwill today and purchased an old-timey alarm clock—a bright yellow one. You know—the kind with two bells on top that dances around the end table until you smash it with a hammer. I set the timer for 2 am and hid it in the vines near their nest. I can’t wait for tomorrow when Frank makes a sparrow’s impression of Don Knotts. Meanwhile, I found an old English recipe for Sparrow Soup if it doesn’t work.

Skull Rock - People in Yavapai County love to paint rocks resembling objects to make it more obvious to other people.
Skull Rock – People in Yavapai County love to paint rocks resembling objects to make them more evident to other people.

This week’s featured image is called Skull Rock. The people in Yavapai County have a thing about painting rocks that resemble things because people would never figure it out on their own. Unlike our frog, you have to search for the skull. It’s halfway up the Hillside dirt road. It’s hidden behind the elevated railroad tracks, so you have to do a bit of climbing to get a shot of it. One story I read said a Santa Fe engineer originally painted it to tell passengers that the Apaches killed a poacher and left his skull behind to warn others. Then he’d laugh when they reacted as the train rounded the bend and the rock came into view. I can’t vouch for the story’s validity, but it sounds reasonable. You can see a larger version on its Web Page by clicking here.

Until next time — jw

Blue Tank Wash Picture of the Week

Along U.S. Highway 93, between Congress and Wickenburg, are a set of peaks that I’ve had my eye on for the last five years. They aren’t named because they’re slightly greater than a line of hills. Their color is the same as the surrounding desert, except they have a basalt mantle along the top. Sometimes the darker capstone looks like a shadow on the hilltops.

They’re generally aligned in an east-west direction, with the Hassayampa River on the west and the Blue Tank Wash on the east side. As they face south, there never seems to be a flattering light on them. The other challenge that I have is getting all four peaks into a frame. Even from the highway (3 ½ miles away), they only fit in with a wide-angle lens. That means that all of the homes, ranches, and construction lining the Hassayampa would be included in the photo. So I decided to get closer and pick them off one-by-one.

Two old mine roads radiate out from Wickenburg (Rincon Road and Constellation Road), and connecting the two is another path called the Blue Tank Wash Road. This dirt trail runs through the valley on our range’s south side. Late afternoon this Tuesday, I drove Archie up there to see what I could do.

Blue Tank Wash - Two of the four mountains that rise above the Blue Tank Wash Road near Wickenburg, Arizona.
Blue Tank Wash – Two of the four mountains that rise above the Blue Tank Wash Road near Wickenburg, Arizona.

This week’s featured image is the first variation that I liked. I wanted shadows to show texture and depth, so I shot this from the third peak looking west at the second. I was fortunate to find some sunlit saguaro growing in reddish soil to place in the foreground for scale. The bright spot gives balance to the dark peak in the background. I call this image Blue Tank Wash.

You can see a larger version of Blue Tank Wash on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week for another of my images from the small mountains above the Harquahala.

Until next time — jw

Harcuvar Forest Picture of the Week

Our little town is not so different from yours. We have crime here too. That’s why the county sends a couple of deputies down from Prescott to patrol our streets and keep us safe. Most of the time, they drive around the empty streets, but there are moments where a rush of adrenalin flows through their veins—like last Friday night.

As most cops do, deputies Starsky and Hutch parked their cruisers on the dead-end street between the Dollar Store and the Quickie-Mart in such a way that they could drink coffee, chat across their door windows while keeping an eye on the only traffic control sign in southern Yavapai County. The night had been rainy but peaceful up till then.

Shortly after Congress’s only cowboy gay-bar closed, a pair of suspicious cars rolled up to the stop sign before turning south on Highway 89. Starsky noticed that a woman with long blond hair was driving the lead exotic Italian sports car (Around these parts, a Fiat 500 stretch limo is considered exotic) in the din of the sodium-vapor street lights. “I have to check this out,” Starsky yelled out his window, stowed the coffee in a cup-holder, put his cruiser in gear, and drove off in chase.

As he perused the little import through downtown Congress, he crossed over the double yellow lines, raced around the second vehicle before cutting in front of it. Then he lit up his lights and pulled the Fiat over. As he called in the plates for wants-and-warrants, he noticed that the sinister black Buick had pulled in behind. Sensing a threat, he radioed Hutch for back up. When he finally saw the second set of emergency lights in his mirror, he felt that he could safely get out of his cruiser.

Hutch had already climbed out of his truck behind him with a Maglite in his left hand while resting his right hand on his holster. He walked up to the second suspect’s vehicle and heard the last remaining Jennifer Rush Disco CD blaring through the stereo. The woman behind the wheel sat motionless with her hands in the air. “Mam, can you tell me why you pulled off the road behind my partner?” (OK, to protect the innocent, I have to change some names. Donna is the floozy driving the Fiat because Donnas always drive convertible sports cars. The gangsta-girl in the second car I’ll call Princess Margaret. Yeah, that works. No one will ever guess their real names.)

“That’s my friend, Donna,” Margaret replies. “I just want to make sure she gets home alright.”

“Well, this is a dangerous place to park. You’ll be safer if you pull in front of the other vehicles.”

With that, Margaret put her hands down, put on the left blinker to signal the empty highway that she was pulling out. Slowly she drove around the other cars, signaled that she was pulling back off the road, she put the car into park, and—once again—raised her hands over her head.

As Starsky strutted toward the hottie in the little white Italian Job, he practiced his best, “So, how you doin?” But when he got to her open window, the flashlight glare revealed far more lines of wisdom on her face than he expected, and her long tresses weren’t blond; they were pewter. His training and quick thinking let him instantly change tact. Instead, he asked, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You didn’t come to a complete stop at the sign on 71.”

“Yes. I believe that I did.”

“That’s OK; I’m going to let you off with a warning,” which is what cops do when they can’t prove something in court. It also leaves a paper trail that shows they were working.

Donna—the consummate socialite—tried to get on the deputy’s good side, “I understand. My first husband was a Highway Patrol Officer.”

“When was that,” Starsky asked.

“During the late sixties and seventies,” she replied.

“That was long before I was born,” he gasped.

After Starsky filled out the form, he handed it to Donna and watched her drive off. Margaret finally put her hands down and followed into the darkness. As he walked back to his Tahoe, it finally sunk in that he almost hit on his grandma; he doubled over and blew donut chunks onto the front tire. From the other cruiser, he could hear Hutch’s giggling float across the damp night air.

Harcuvar Forest - A large grove of Saguaro grow along the eastern flank of the Harcuvar Mountain Range.
Harcuvar Forest – A large grove of Saguaro grows along the eastern flank of the Harcuvar Mountain Range.

You may be wondering what this story has to do with this week’s picture. Well, actually, nothing other than our town’s stop sign is on Highway 71, and at the other end of that road—near Aguila—is where Santa rests, and there is a large grove of saguaros growing along the eastern flank of the Harcuvar Mountains. That’s where I took this week’s picture, which I call Harcuvar Forest. When I drove home from that shooting, I stopped at that very intersection—without getting arrested. I guess that I’m not cute enough.

You can see a larger version of Harcuvar Forest on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I’ll bring you another image from around our house.

Until next time — jw