Past and Future Picture of the Week

Past and Future - Along Willcox's historic Railroad Avenue, there are business that pay homage to the town's past and its future.
Past and Future – Along Willcox’s historic Railroad Avenue, some businesses pay homage to the town’s past and others to its future.

My dad bought our first television the week they hit the stores from stories that my mom told. I don’t remember because I was an infant at the time. The screen was small; you could cover it with your hand. She said that news of our new set spread fast, and the entire neighborhood crowded into our two-room apartment to watch shows on it. The crowd size amazes me because my great-grandmother’s apartment building didn’t have indoor plumbing, but it must have had electricity.

We didn’t need a TV Guide. We memorized the program schedule and could rattle off the shows for any given evening. The best night was Sunday. That was the night that Walt Disney’s Disneyland came on. They called it that between 1954 and 1958, it had various names after that. The gist of the show was always the same. Us kids loved that we could stay up an extra hour to see it—and maybe some of the Ed Sullivan Show if Topo Gigio was a guest.

The Disney show had four rotating themes. My siblings and I liked the cartoon week the best, but my dad enjoyed the westerns. They were either cowboy stories or a smooth-talking narrator explaining the west. He spoke differently from us. He didn’t have an accent as such—he had a drawl. He hung on to words so long they curled at the end—like the top of a Dairy Queen cone. His calm voice was soothing, and even at our young age, we knew that he wasn’t from Pittsburgh.

As I got older, I learned that the narrator’s name was Rex Allen. In addition to the Disney shows, he was an actor, songwriter, and singing cowboy. You may remember seeing his movies on Saturday morning cowboy shows if you’re as old as I am. (I don’t see a lot of hands out there in the peanut gallery, so you’ll have to take my word for it.)

After seeing this week’s picture, many of you have already guessed that he was born and raised in Willcox. I suspect that he’s their most famous native, and that’s why there is a museum for him along Railroad Avenue, across the street from a park with his statue. I can’t imagine anyone loitering in that park because the busy railroad tracks bisect it. It’s no place for a drunken hobo.

The tan building in the photo wasn’t built to house the Rex Allen Museum—it was initially the Schley Saloon. Sound familiar? It was the bar where Joseph Schwertner made his money—go back a read last week’s story. Two doors down, the building with the blue awnings is the Marty Robbins Gift Shop. You’re asking, “What’s he got to do with Willcox?” If you’re a boomer like me, you’ll remember the hit song Streets of Laredo that Robbins sang. Rex Allen wrote it. I think another Allen song that Arthur Godfrey recorded in 1948 is pretty catchy. It’s titled Slap Her Down Again Paw. It’s true; I couldn’t make this one up.

The grand white building between the museum and gift shop was a bank. It’s currently the Keeling Schaefer wine tasting room. One of at least three that Queen Anne and I saw on the avenue, and they may be the future of Willcox tourism. While the memory of Rex Allen and Marty Robbins appeals to my generation, there is no context for those that follow. So, the old cowboys’ draw may be on the wane.

However, wine is another story. A couple of decades ago, some adventurous vintners settled into the high grasslands of southeast Arizona. They saw that the conditions here would be an excellent place to plant vines—especially the well-drained soils of the foothills. The climate and geography are similar to parts of California’s central valley. New wineries are blooming from the little town of Elgin east to New Mexico.

Anne and I spent a couple of hours in Keeling Schaefer sampling and talking with the hostess. We found their offerings to be young and a little rough, but we did like a couple of whites and reds enough to purchase. There is an essence of the local soil in the wine—like the peat in a highland scotch. It’s a characteristic that you like or not. A word of advice if you go; sample at the tasting rooms and note your likes. Then stop at Safeway and buy the bottles at a more reasonable price.

You can see a larger version of Past and Future on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we move on to a new project. Come back and see our next project.

Until next time — jw

Willcox Depot       Picture of the Week

Willcox Depot - The old train depot in Willcox is now used as the town's city hall.
Willcox Depot – The old train depot in Willcox. The local government now uses it for city hall.

Queen Anne and I traveled to Arizona’s southeast corner this week. One of my future projects is in Cochise County, so we spent a couple of nights in Willcox. The eastern half of the state is unlike where we live. That desert has little cactus. Instead, you see blue mountain ranges rising from the 4000′ elevated broad yellow grass-covered valleys and a couple of dry lakes—or Playas, as the Spanish-speaking people call them. This area shows the geographic diversity of Arizona.

It’s almost over, but it’s still winter, which means it’s still snowbird season, so we skipped seasonal rates at the chain motels near Interstate 10 and opted for a cheaper inn closer to town. The original builders probably built it in the 60-70s, but the current owners work hard to keep it clean and contemporary. Our room had a fresh coat of white paint, new blond fake-wood floors, and a useless bright red sash across the foot of the bed. We could watch long freight trains race past on the Southern Pacific tracks from our window. Three or maybe four of them an hour.

Although the throbbing bass from its five engines was enough to vibrate the bed across the linoleum, the trains didn’t keep us awake. That’s because they never slowed or blasted their horns at the town’s only track-crossing. However, we did have an issue with the new stylish duvet cover. It wasn’t like the plush down-comforter that we have at home. We hit town in-between storms, so the nights were clear and cold—below freezing. We tried to heat the room using the window-air conditioner, but every time it cycled on, it was the equivalent of a DC3 engine starting next to the bed. We finally shut it off and slept closer to one another.

Another amenity missing in little places like these was in-room coffee. I can’t function without my morning java. So, I’d get dressed and venture out to secure my fix at first light. In the golden light, I searched the town for a coffee house. Not only did I find one, but I also discovered a neat little mom-and-pop bakery and the Willcox historic district. Since I had hours to kill while I waited for Her Majesty to prepare herself for public viewing, I wandered the eight blocks with coffee in one hand and camera in the other. After a couple of mornings, I had enough images to decide that March’s project would be about Willcox.

If you drive through Willcox on Interstate 10, you won’t see much—only the usual chain motels and burger joints located at the mid-town exit. Even if you drive through town on the freeway bypass, you’ll pass some old motels, a couple of RV parks, and a gas station or two. There are many closed businesses along the road. The exciting stuff is on Railroad Avenue—next to the tracks because Willcox was built by and for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Long-time readers may recall that the early steam engines ran on fuel and water. Willcox Playa—a seasonal lakebed—is conveniently located midway between El Paso and Phoenix, so Southern Pacific built a whistle-stop there in 1880. The company dubbed the town Maley. It was a single-purpose town for nine years when a guy, General Orlando B. Willcox, got off to stretch his legs and realized that it would be a fabulous place to raise cattle.

Willcox wasn’t even on a significant highway until the Feds completed Interstate 10 in 1960. Before that, the southern Coast-to-Coast highway was US 80. It went south around the Chiricahuas to Douglas and then Tombstone.

This week’s picture directly relates to the railroad birth of Willcox. It’s a shot of the train depot located at the heart of old-town. It’s a large building for a small town and in pretty good shape, considering the railroad closed the depot years ago. Today the trains race past at full speed and don’t even blow their horn. It’s now the town’s city hall. I liked how the pyramid pattern repeats from the turret to the roof peaks. I called this image Willcox Depot.

You can see a larger version of Willcox Depot on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I’ll show you another location I shot during my Willcox wanderings.

Until next time — jw

White Bluff Picture of the Week

For most of the 1200 miles between Oklahoma City and Barstow, Route 66 and Interstate 40 are stuck together like a zipper. As you drive along the freeway—started in 1957 and completed in 1984—you can see a ghost of the old mother road on the roadside. Sometimes it’s a frontage road with little traffic, in different spots the pavement is gone, and it’s not a road at all.

Arizona has two exceptions to these overlying trails. The first is where Interstate 40 cuts off Peach Springs between Kingman and Seligman, and the second is between Kingman and Needles. In the first case, the freeway cuts miles off the trip by heading straight across country, while the latter deviation is further (albeit quicker) as it skirts the Black Mountain Range.

The section of the historic road that Queen Anne and I explored this month cuts through a mountain pass that Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves mapped in 1851. Although the trail has beautiful scenery for me to photograph, it is very twisty and slow going, and that’s not ideal for interstate commerce.

Cool Springs Station - A historic gas station converted to a gift shop that now sells hot dogs from a cart.
Cool Springs Station – A historic gas station converted to a gift shop that now sells hot dogs from a cart.

After we finished photographing Thimble Mountain seen in last week’s post, we continued along the road for less than a mile, where we stopped at an old gas station called Cold Springs. The owners have converted it into a gift shop that sells nostalgic Route 66 kitsch, but there were no customers. As I snapped a few pictures, a woman’s voice came from the shadows, “Hello there. How ya doin’?” When I took off my sunglasses, I saw a young woman sitting in the shade next to a hot dog cart. We made small talk, and I asked about her business. “April is normally our best month, but this year it’s a bust.” After promising not to include her in my photos, I took another shot or two before we drove away. Looking back, we should have bought our dinner there. She could have used the money, and her food was probably better than the drive-through meal we got at the Kingman Carl’s Jr.

As we drove further, we had to stop almost immediately again, where the canyon narrowed. On the road’s north side was a pair of sandstone bluffs rising from the dry creek bed. Their cliffs glowed in the late afternoon sun, so of course, I had to capture the moment on film … er, I mean electrons. I’ve since found out that at this location, the road passes between two wilderness areas. To the north is the Mt. Nutt Wilderness, while on the road’s south side is the Warm Springs Wilderness area.

White Bluff - The vertical sandstone cliff of a bluff provide a great home to nesting swallows.
White Bluff – The vertical sandstone cliff of a bluff provides a great home to nesting swallows.

In this week’s featured image—called White Bluff—you can see Mt. Nutt in the distance. At over 5100 feet it is the tallest peak in the Black Mountain Range. To get any closer, you’ll have to hike or grab one of the local wild burros—of which there are many—and ride.

You can see a larger version of White Bluff Butte on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, we’ll travel over the pass and make a stop in Oatman. I hope you’ll join us then.

Until next time — jw

Out Buildings Picture of the Week

Any discussion about Black Canyon City wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Rock Springs, so I saved that for last this month. It’s hard for me to know where to begin. If you say that name, most Phoenicians will think about the pie restaurant. It’s understandable, it’s been open for a century now, and every time we drive by and think about stopping, we don’t because it’s packed. Like Yogi Berra said,” Nobody goes there anymore, because it’s too crowded.” As for lasting 100 years, I’d like to extend my congratulations, but I don’t want to talk about pies, I want to discuss its history.

Out Buildings
Out Buildings – A pair of tin roofs on storage sheds behind the Rock Springs Cafe.

Before cars, trains or airplanes—when I was a child—travelers stopped at Rock Springs because it was a reliable source of good water. People came here for centuries before Caucasians lived in Arizona. On your next visit, take the time to stroll around the grounds and look for the Waterfall signs. Outback, you’ll see water drizzling over polished and worn boulders—that’s Rock Springs. The restaurant has a couple of tables out there so you can enjoy a waterside cocktail. I imagine that the flow over the falls is pretty good at times, but when it’s dry, it’s more like forgetting to turn off your garden hose.

The water is the reason that Ben Warner opened a tent-like store, and—in 1918—built a hotel on this site. In case you didn’t notice,  I love these historical buildings. Fortunately, the café has a Web Page that speaks of its history and shows an old photo of the block building—with an A-1 Beer sign hanging from the portico. I really wanted to capture an image of that hotel and talk about some of its famous guests; like Jean Harlow, Tom Mix, and Wyatt Earp. I couldn’t. Decades of hastily planned expansions have camouflaged the original building. Only hints of the original hotel sick out here and there. After circling the restaurant as the sun rose, I gave up and shot other subjects.

On one of my laps, I saw this interesting pattern of weathered tin roofs on a couple of storage sheds behind the Rock Creek Café. It’s as if they knew that I would be shooting this because they built a simple plank fence that masks the clutter and adds a perspective line to the scene. When I took this shot, I honestly didn’t pay attention to the clouds, but let’s not tell anyone. I’ll claim that I planned it. I call this week’s image: Out Buildings.

You can see a larger version of Out Buildings on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we begin a new monthly series from a different place in Yavapai County.

Until next time — jw

Stanton Street Picture of the Week

This week’s new image shouldn’t be a surprise. I sort of previewed it in the last post. It is the row of houses that I took while visiting the ghost town of Stanton last week. If you missed the post you can scroll down to learn more about the gold and the shady characters that lived there. Maybe not as exciting as it was, Stanton, is now an RV Park where baby boomers like me can spend their vacations panning for gold.

Stanton Homes
Stanton Homes – Only three houses have survived the years of abandonment. They line a street surrounded by campers.

It was late in the day when I finally got to Stanton and the light was low with long shadows. I had watched the sky during the day thinking I may not go because it was gray and uninteresting, but in the afternoon, the clouds broke up into puffy finger-like shapes with a good light underneath. I started shooting the front buildings first, frankly because of the old signs on them, and when I satisfied myself that I had got what I wanted, I walked up the dirt street where this row of homes is. I loved the soft light falling on the white-washed buildings. The light wasn’t too harsh that it blocked up the shadows, yet it still showed off the building’s dimensions. Because the sky was so striking, I backed off from the homes to include the clouds. I think this shot came off as more than a house picture. I see it as a specific instant of time when the light was weird and the clouds were right. I’m very happy with it.

I named this shot Stanton Street and now you can see a larger version of it on my Website by clicking here. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below and don’t be bashful about clicking on the Like button if you enjoy what we’re doing.

Until next time — jw

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