KofA Thunderhead Picture of the Week

KofA Thunderhead - An autumn thunderhead builds over the KofA Mountains in western Arizona.
KofA Thunderhead – An autumn thunderhead builds over the KofA Mountains in western Arizona.

Each time Queen Anne and I jump into the car; I pack a camera in the back seat. I don’t mean on local errands like a trip to the grocery store but on drives longer than an hour. Rarely do I stop to take a picture, but should one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments happens, I’m ready.

If I capture some unique photographs, they don’t fit our usual workflow. We usually pick a location as a month-long project and photograph enough shots for a month of articles (or even a book). My one-of-shots along the highway traditionally become forgotten orphans. No one gets to see them—until now.

For December, I decided to make this month’s project out of the non-project shots I collected this year. With these four pictures, a special moment made me pull over and stop the car. That’s pretty hard to do because once I have a destination set in my mind, I only stop for gas, a candy bar, and bladder relief.

Anne and I run to Mexico about four times a year. We go to Algodones to see our dentist and buy 90 days worth of prescriptions. We’re on Medicare, and we have a gap plan that pays for most of the pills we take, but some of the select drugs (hint: you see them advertised on TV) are so much cheaper in Mexico that it pays for the drive. If we don’t have to wait on the dentist, we can make a drug run in a day. We leave here at 8:00 am, walk two blocks across the border, stop at Mickey D’s for lunch, and get home by 5:00 pm.

That was our itinerary on September 22—the first fall day. As we drove home on Highway US 93, I watched a single thunderhead building thirty miles north over the KofA Mountains. I thought it unusual to have monsoon activity in autumn and a single storm cell develop so far west in Arizona. I spent the next half hour arguing with myself.

“That will be a great shot if the clouds hold together until we get there.”

“If we stop, we’ll get home after dark.”

“It’s an isolated cell, and it’s posing like a runway model.”

“It’s the wrong time of day, and the light is wrong.”

Just after passing the Border Patrol station that marks halfway between Yuma and Quartzsite, I noticed that the cloud was beginning to tear apart (the wispy part on the tower’s left side). It was time to stop the car. I reached back for my camera and hiked a few steps off the highway. I set the zoom-lens as wide as possible before framing and then snapping a couple of shots. I call this week’s featured image KofA Thunderhead.

The spot where I stopped was several miles away, and for perspective, the jagged KofA peaks rise a couple of thousand feet above the 500-foot high basin. That makes the billowing cumulus top nearly 40,000 feet in the air. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture any lightning strikes beneath the storm.

We returned to the road and continued the drive, watching the storm evolve. The upper winds blew the clouds apart by the time we were due east of it. That’s when we saw a funnel cloud drop below the ceiling. The tornado briefly touched the ground near Crystal Hill Road before it disappeared.

We weren’t done with it yet. After stopping for gas in Quartzsite, the storm ambushed us on the pass at Guadalupe Mountain. As it moved north over Interstate 10, it dumped rain so hard that the wipers couldn’t keep up, and traffic slowed to a crawl. We hoped we wouldn’t be surprised by a second tornado, but after a mile or so, we broke into the clear, and the deluge was only an image in the mirror.

You can see a larger version of KofA Thunderhead on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, I’ll drag out another orphan photo for show and tell. We’ll see you then.

Till next time


Anne and I are negotiating next year’s schedule, so there will be a lot of yelling and screaming around here during the holidays. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains.

KofA Moonrise Picture of the Week

For the last couple of years, on the drive to see the dentist, we drive past a place that I wanted to photograph. That sounds like it’s down the street, but our dentist is three hours away in Mexico. When we pass by in the morning, we’re on our way to an appointment, and I’m too tired to stop on the way home. I decided that I can’t do it justice with a drive-by shooting. I need to make it a destination.

The place I’m talking about is the Kofa Wildlife Refuge in the far west part of Arizona and near the western edge of the Sonoran Desert, which is the Colorado River thirty miles away. It’s along US 95, a half hour south of Quartzsite. The refuge spans three mountain ranges: the Castle Dome, the Kofa, and the New Water ranges. It supports a herd of desert bighorn sheep large enough to allow limited hunting. The refuge also has a couple of indigenous plants that only grow within its boundaries.

KofA Moonrise
KofA Moonrise – A partial moon rises over the KofA Range in western Arizona.

Of the three ranges, I think the Kofa Range is the most photogenic; at least along its western face. There’s a central mountain—Signal Peak—that is surrounded by shorter—but impressive—needles and jagged peaks. It reminds me of the Superstitions a bit as they’re both volcanic in origin and have a similar geographical setting. Early prospectors called them the Shit House Mountains because they thought the spires looked like outhouses. Mapmakers didn’t care for that name, so they changed the name to Stone House and finally Kofa after the King of Arizona Mine—an operation that pulled millions of dollars of gold from the mountains in the twenty years that it operated.

Besides the rugged terrain and the bighorn, the Kofa has Palm Canyon. The canyon requires a short but steep half-mile hike to see a dozen and a half California Fan Palms growing in a vertical gash in the mountain. I know that you can see palms anywhere in Arizona, but these are the only native ones in the state. They’re a holdover from one of the Ice Ages. I failed to get a good shot on this trip because to get close you would need to be a mountain goat, and the sun shines on them for a limited time. When I go back, I’ll take a different lens.

This week’s featured image was an afterthought. I was driving down from Palm Canyon and stopped to capture an image in the west. When I got out of the truck, I saw a three-quarter moon rising above Signal Peak, so I instinctively fired a couple of shots, but quickly dismissed them as insignificant because of the wide lens I used. Wide lenses make a small moon even smaller. When I saw this shot with those streaky clouds and golden light on my monitor, I thought this would be perfect for an introduction to this month’s topic. I call it KofA Moonrise (I think it’s the way we should spell the range’s name). Incidentally, Palm Canyon is in the dark area beneath Signal Peak.

You can see a larger version of KofA Moonrise on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll show another featured image from the KofA Wildlife Refuge.

Until next time — jw