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people fit in the middle, of course, but some people are really outgoing and unconstrained, while others are shy or withdrawn.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

Garnet Mountain Picture of the Week

When I was a younger man, I had too many hobbies. Besides photography, I raced cars, fished, listened to music, and gorged on food and wine. Since retiring, we’ve downsized. I’ve given up cars, fishing, and expensive restaurants. We live on a pension now, so photography is my last indulgence—and it’s a good thing that I don’t have to buy film anymore, else I’d have to throw that out the window too.

It took a while to adapt to Arizona living. Sure, half the year is divine, but summers are hell—literally. So, as every good Zonie knows, you head for the hills to escape the heat and humidity of the monsoons. The other option is to close the drapes, lock the doors, and hibernate in front of the telly. As an aspiring angler, I bought a new edition of Bob Hirsch’s Best 100 Arizona Fishing Holes every year. They never changed, but I always read the ink off my copy by the time the Outdoors Show rolled around. I preferred fishing for trout instead of bass, so we’d make our pilgrimages to where the waters were cold: the Mogollon Rim, White Mountains, Lake Powell, or Lee’s Ferry—if the weather was good.

On the trip that Queen Anne and I made to Pierce Ferry for this month’s topic, I kept asking myself, “Why haven’t I been here before? This part of Arizona is beautiful and very photogenic.” I think the simple answer is that there are no trout here, so I didn’t care. Of course, there’s the Black Canyon below Hoover Dam, but it’s 675′ above sea level. That’s lower than Phoenix, and black rocks surround it. Besides, I got skunked on the one trip that we made, so I never went back.

Hualapai Valley, as I said, is Basin-and-Range topography—like Nevada. It’s flanked on the east by the southern end of the Grand Wash Cliffs, while the Cerbat Mountains line the west. The valley floor’s low spot is Red Lake—which is dry most of the year. Orchards surround the lake, but I don’t know how successful they are. Hualapai Valley is also home to a large grove of Joshua Trees, which fills an area about the same size as ours in Yavapai County.

It’s the Grand Wash Cliffs that caught my attention on the map. They’re a long string of mountains—above and below the Colorado River, forming the western edge of the Colorado Plateau. They’re the transition to the Great Basin Desert.

Garnet Mountain - Joshua and sage grow to the foot of snow-covered Garnet Mountain.
Garnet Mountain – Joshua and sage grow to the foot of snow-covered Garnet Mountain.

This week’s featured image, Garnet Mountain, shows Joshua Trees and sage growing to the mountain’s feet. The mountain is over 6,000 ft high and has snow from previous winter storms. The unnamed pointy peak is closer but a thousand feet shorter, so that’s why it’s not snow-capped. Together, they show two of the geological forces that shaped Arizona. Block shapes are generally uplifts caused by plate tectonics, while pointy mountains are usually volcanic. I like what we saw on this visit, so I’m planning a trip to the Colorado River’s north side later this year, but to do that, I’ll need to travel via Utah or Nevada, so I’ll need some slot machine money.

You can see a larger version of Garnet Mountain on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy seeing it. Join us next week as we drive home and stop for more photos.

Until next time — jw

Joshua Bud Picture of the Week

I know that this is near impossible to believe, but I may have been wrong when I claimed that the Joshua tree—Yucca brevifolia—was part of the Lily family. Well, it always had been, but modern DNA testing shows enough differences that botanists had to break the giant Lilly family into 40 distinct species. It used to be that scientist categorized plants by looking at their dirty little sex parts, and the flowers of Joshua trees, yuccas, and lilies look the same. Along comes DNA testing and—bam—Joshua Trees are now considered an agave, and its closest cousin is the yucca. DNA is turning our old assumptions upside-down. I always thought that my father’s family came from Poland, but when my DNA tests came back, they said that I’m actually Lower Slobbovian.

Joshua Bud
Joshua Bud – The bud of a Joshua Tree flower shot in late February.

My botany lesson is included—at no extra charge—because I was shooting along the Joshua Tree Parkway this week and saw the trees beginning to bloom. Like other agaves, the trees put out a large phallic that opens to an enormous stalk with clusters of white flowers. Research suggests that frost damages the branch ends which triggers the blooms. If a tree doesn’t experience freezing, it doesn’t put out flowers or reproduce. These specimens grow as a single stalk, and the behavior limits the tree’s range to southwest deserts from 2,000 to 6,000 feet of elevation.

Another weird thing about Joshua trees is that they’re pollinated by the Yucca Moth. Polination happens when it lays eggs on the flowers which turn into seed pods resembling a small squash. If you’re a Euell Gibbons follower, you can eat the flowers and fruit. They need to be boiled or roasted to remove bitterness that comes from alkaline soil … and you’ll want to dig the worms out of the fruit. It has a banana taste, or so I’m told. I’ll stick to Mars Bars.

For this week’s featured image, I wanted to show an emerging bud without clutter—almost an abstract graphic. This image worked best for me. I call it Joshua Bud. The flower was overhead and with a cloudy sky. When I processed the photo, I blew-out the highlights to simplify the background. Like the groundhog, the bud says that spring is imminent.

You can see a larger version of Joshua Bud on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll begin a series from a new place.

Until next time — jw

February Storm Picture of the Week

My mother used to tell me that I didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. Did your mom say things like that to you when you were growing up? Mine had a catalog of proverbs, one for every occasion. It’s too bad she’s gone now because after 70 years I finally have a witty retort. Making comments about our mental faculties—my sisters got the treatment too—was slandering our lineage and upbringing. In other words, my parents didn’t give me much intelligence, or they didn’t learn me well. So my behavior was her fault. Take that mom.

Maybe she was right though. Last week, we had a couple of fast-moving storms come through Congress. These weren’t the usual winter fronts that are uniformly gray and dreary. Instead, these storms had layered low clouds with scattered showers interspersed with blue patches. I spent a lot of time staring out of the window watching the changing light, before telling Queen Anne that I was going to play in the rain. You’ll never guess what she said.

After tossing my camera and a spare lens into Archie, I drove up and down the Joshua Tree Parkway a couple of times. It is my current monthly topic after all, and as I said last week, it’s nearby. There were times along the road that I had the sunroof open, so I could stand on the seat to take a shot, mixed with moments where the wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge. Some shots got away because I couldn’t quickly find a safe spot to pull over. It seemed that there was always a semi filling my rearview mirror. This game of highway dodge-ball went on for a couple of hours before the light got so dim that the exposures were too long to hand hold the camera.

February Storm
February Storm – A winter storm moves north over Malpais Mesa.

Of the shots that I took, I liked this one best. It shows a squall line as it moved north over Malpais Mesa and lots of Joshua Trees in the foreground. I called this image February Storm. I feel that the gold, gray, and even hints of blue captured the essence of last week’s storms. It also shows that there are exciting images to shoot even when the weather’s not perfect. Just remember to bring a cloth to wipe your camera dry.

You can see a larger version of February Storm on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from the Joshua Tree Parkway.

Until next time — jw