WPA Legacy: The Historic Cattle Dam of Gold Butte Picture of the Week - Mesquite, Nevada

WPA-built stone dam between rock formations in Gold Butte National Monument, captured by Jim Witkowski.
WPA Legacy: The Historic Cattle Dam of Gold Butte – Stepping Through Time: This WPA-constructed dam at Gold Butte stands as a rugged monument to past endeavors, harmonizing with the arid beauty that surrounds it. A silent witness to history, its stones speak of a bygone era of hope and hard work.

Victorious in my quest to capture the ancient whispers etched into stone, I returned to our trusty steed, the Turd. There, amidst the dust and echoes of bygone civilizations, sat Queen Anne; her latest book–escape, concluded. Her gaze met mine, an unspoken dialogue of adventure’s end, punctuated by a brief, ‘Can we go now?’ Her tone carried the weight of a royal decree, yet I knew the kingdom’s treasury of wonders still had one gem left to unveil.

At the end of the infamous paved road, you can turn south towards the abandoned town of Gold Butte or go straight towards the Arizona border and the Grand Canyon—Parashant National Monument. Both roads are equally evil to drive on, but I wanted to find another relic of history—a WPA-era dam, so I started east. We didn’t travel far because I spotted a cistern on the left as soon as we drove through the first dry wash. I pulled the truck over and grabbed my camera.

The cistern looked like a dry concrete bathtub, and a rusty pipe beckoned from the cistern to a narrow canyon on the right. A couple of creosote bushes blocked the view (and the path), so I brushed them back with my arm and saw the dam. It looked like a scale model of the Hoover Dam 50 miles downstream. Although it was built in the 30s and no longer maintained, it looked like it would still hold water if you closed the gate and valves. It is another testament to those folks’ work during the Great Depression.

After getting some shots, I wanted to see how deep the backside was, which meant climbing the stairs. In my younger days, I would have said, “Nothing to it,” and jogged up the stairs. But there’s no handrail, and my balance isn’t the same, so I did it the hard way—backing up one step at a time while sitting on my butt. I got my dose of vertigo and started back down the stairs when three outdoorsmen walked through the slot. My face turned red, and I apologized, “Sorry guys, this is how we geezers climb stairs these days.” One of them quipped, “We understand—Mister Girly-Boy.”

An erosion-formed window in a sandstone canyon wall, illuminated by sunlight at Gold Butte, photographed by Jim Witkowski.
Nature’s Art Frame: The Erosion Window of Gold Butte -Carved by the patient hands of time and elements, this erosion window in Gold Butte’s canyon wall frames a story millions of years in the making—each layer a verse in earth’s grand narrative.

This week’s other photo is of a natural erosion window along the canyon’s narrow. Unless you’re the stature of our friend and frequent commenter, Deb Poteet, you can frame your face with it by standing on your toes. As usual, Anne wouldn’t get out of the car, so I had to settle for shooting the opening without her pretty face. Still, it’s pretty cool.

In the mirror

Queen Anne and I covered a lot of ground this year. We visited two California Wine regions without being tossed out on our ears. We followed some of our favorite trails and got reacquainted with the charming cities of Bisbee, Tombstone, and Douglas. We explored the Beeline Highway and the Mazatzal Mountains, shot wildflowers in the spring, got caught in a monsoon storm at sunset, and discovered some fantasy shapes in Prescott’s Granite Dells City Park. With pandemic restrictions lifted, we did a decent job of broadening our range and bringing you more diversity with this year’s photos and stories.

This has been a year of growing for us. I’ve tried to improve my writing skills. I completed a couple of online creative writing courses. You’d think it would make my work more manageable, but it didn’t. What I used to knock out on a Sunday morning now takes me three days of writing, editing, and revising before I’m ready to publish. I also invested in a grammar checker that—hopefully—gets most of the commas in the right places.

I’ve been tinkering with my photo processes by watching online photographers. I picked up some new tips and tricks, which I’ve tried to pass along to you in the Techniques section. I think you found them helpful because I’ve received positive feedback from you. Finally, to attract new subscribers, we started producing monthly YouTube videos. In each of the last few months, I converted one of my static portfolios into a five-ish-minute video with music and voice-overs. With these new videos, we’re blending the old-world charm of static images with the zippy excitement of moving pictures—without the smell of darkroom chemicals. It seems to be working because my web traffic is on the rise.

Through the windshield

I have an Arizona wall map on our laundry room wall with colored dots indicating the places we’ve visited in the last couple of years. Instead of being evenly distributed, two empty spots glare at me from the map. The first is along the southern border between Nogales and Yuma. Since that’s restricted chiefly to military ranges, there’s not a lot I can photograph without starring in my impromptu sequel to North by Northwest. The other section is the northeast corner of Arizona—the Navajo and Hopi reservations. I intend to paste a dot or two in that corner next year. Maybe you could suggest some locations.

There’s more to discover at Gold Butte National Monument. I plan to return this spring if the Turd’s crummy tires ever wear out. Getting stuck out there without communication is a genuine concern for us. Some sights we missed this year include Devil’s Throat, the remains of Gold Butte’s ghost town, and Little Finland.

Finally, next year’s wine region adventure will be in Northern California. Will it be Napa, Sonoma, or the Russian River? Let us know where your favorite California wine comes from. We haven’t picked a winner yet, but the trip will be in August. As Samuel Clements once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Some dispute that the quote is genuine, but for us desert dwellers, it’s a challenge.

Queen Anne and I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year. We hope you’ll continue joining us on our escapades and maybe invite some friends. We’re always delighted to see you in the back seat. Feel free to share your New Year’s adventure plans in the comments below. They give us ideas for which roads we take.

Till next time, keep your spirits high and your humor dry.
jw

BTW:

Last week, I released my latest YouTube video based on my portfolio of pictures of California. It’s five minutes of eye candy, and I invite you to see it by using this link: [https://youtu.be/cgXAHPyzQ5Y]

Geologic Puzzle: Unearthing Whitney Pocket’s Sandstone Secrets Picture of the Week - Mesquite, Nevada

Brown layered Navajo Sandstone uplifted and eroded by fault activity in Whitney Pocket, with unusual rounded edges and color variation.
Geologic Puzzle: Unearthing Whitney Pocket’s Sandstone Secrets – Nature’s Tilt: Witnessing the Story of Uplift and Erosion in Whitney Pocket’s Sandstone Layers.

Arriving at a new location like Gold Butte ignites a whirlwind of excitement in me, and my initial instinct is to capture everything in sight. This flurry of photography is more about immersion than precision, leading to a digital pile-up that I inevitably sift through, discarding the excess like chaff. Unlike the costly days of film, where each shot was a precious commodity, the digital age allows me to indulge in this initial creative outburst, knowing it’s part of reaching the true gems.

Once the initial rush subsides, I transition from capturing to contemplating, delving into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the landscape before me. It’s here that Shawn Willsey’s geology videos come into play. As a professor at the College of Southern Idaho, Shawn has a gift for demystifying the complexities of earth science, guiding even the uninitiated through geological wonders. His explanations, particularly his Random Roadcuts segments, clarify unusual layering and erosion and bring a new depth to my photographs, transforming them from mere images to stories set in stone.

From a distance, the formation in the picture above looked like the blades of a turbine engine embedded in the Navajo Sandstone. For all I know, there is a 747 out there with the guts missing from one of its engine cowlings. The brown color, multi-layers, with rounded edges, stood out like the red marks on one of my term papers. How can I tell you about it when I haven’t a clue? So, I emailed Professor Willsey and asked if he’d look at my photo—and he accepted. He answered, “The feature in question is not a vein but appears to be an upturned section of Aztec (Navajo) sandstone. The near vertical layering is the cross beds deposited on the dune field’s backside (downwind) side. Some faults and other structures in this region of NV are likely the culprits that have tilted the rock layers. Very cool.” Then, he returned to hosting his live coverage of this week’s Iceland eruptions. Now, don’t you feel smarter?

A butte in Whitney Pocket with layered Navajo and Entrada sandstone, with the red end facing south, creating a 'Neapolitan ice cream' effect in the desert.
Neapolitan Earth: Unraveling Whitney Pocket’s Colorful Geology – Stratified Delight: The Neapolitan Butte of Whitney Pocket, where Geology Meets Gastronomy.

There’s a question in this week’s other picture as well. It’s an image of a sandstone formation that looks like a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream after Queen Anne was done with it. I say that because Queen Anne always eats the chocolate and turns her nose up at the rest. The issue is that the red section appears on the white layer. From all I’ve read, the Entrada era—with its rust-colored sandstones—came before the white dunes. My best guess is that the forces that lifted the Virgin Mountain Range over a mile in the air also jumbled the natural order in this basin. What are your thoughts?

I have posted larger versions of Geologic Puzzle on my website < Jim’s Web> and my Fine Art America page <FAA Link> should you want to examine the layers closer. Next week, we wrap our foray into Gold Butte National Monument with one of the rare evidentiary remnants that anyone preceded us. It’s like unearthing the Spinx. Join us then, won’t you?

Until next time, keep your spirits high and your humor dry.
jw

BTW:

As we gather to celebrate the holiday season, Queen Anne and I would like to extend a hearty Seasons Greetings to all of you. Whether you’re out there chasing the perfect light or cozening up at home with loved ones, may your days be merry, bright, and filled with the joy of discovery. Here’s to capturing more beauty, sharing more stories, and creating unforgettable memories in the year ahead.

Sipping with a View: The Panorama at DAOU Vineyards Picture of the Week - Paso Robles, California

A panoramic view of rolling vineyard hills under a clear sky from the DAOU Vineyards tasting room in Paso Robles, photographed by Jim Witkowski.
Sipping with a View: The Panorama at DAOU Vineyards – Gaze over the lush expanses of DAOU Vineyards, where every turn offers a view more stunning than the last, inviting you to a tasting experience graced with natural splendor.

I bought our first bottle of DAOU wine by accident. While choosing from the Safeway shelf selection, I looked a row above the cheap stuff and spotted a bottle of their chardonnay. I immediately noticed that it came from Paso Robles—our favorite wine region. It was more pricey than our house brand but not by much, and since it had been a rough week, I thought, “What the heck?” I grabbed it by the neck and placed it in the cart.

That was a couple of years ago, and since—when we wanted something a little nicer—we splurge on a bottle of DAOU. That’s why we were so tickled that a stop at DAOU was on our wine-tasting recommendation list this spring. Indeed, I thought we wouldn’t come home without buying the place out.

Driving up to the tasting room reminded me of the Clifton Hillclimbs of days past. A castle-like building sits at the summit of the family-owned mountain. Instead of orange pylon cones, the narrow, twisting road is lined with lavender, making the mountain look like it’s wearing a purple crown. The finish line is under an ornate wrought-iron arch at the top—just after a sharp right turn. After I parked the truck, I let the engine idle for a few minutes to let it cool, which gave Queen Anne time to stop screaming and hyperventilating. Our breaths were removed again when we stepped out of the truck—this time from the view.

Stepping out onto the hilltop patio of DAOU Vineyards, one can’t help but feel as if they’ve entered an exclusive retreat, a day spa designed not just for relaxation but for the epicurean at heart. With panoramic views that command the senses and an ambiance that whispers of indulgence, it’s a place where time seems to stand still, encouraging you to savor every moment. With their attentive grace, the staff are like sommeliers of comfort, offering tastings and a complete escape from the ordinary.

The distinguished sign marking the tasting room at DAOU Vineyards & Winery, inviting visitors to indulge in the art of wine, as photographed by Jim Witkowski.
Begin Your Journey: The Tasting Room at DAOU – The sign at DAOU Vineyards & Winery is not just a marker but an invitation to a world of exquisite tastes and shared stories.

For Queen Anne and me, this wasn’t just another stop on our wine trail; it was a moment of serendipity that had us seriously contemplating a permanent residence. The fusion of luxury and viticulture was intoxicating in its own right. And as the hot and cold running hostesses pampered us, each sip of DAOU’s exquisite wine seemed to erase any thought of a world beyond the vineyard’s embrace. It was here, amidst the laughter and clinking glasses, that we made our selections—wines that would forever remind us of the sun-drenched patio, the gentle breeze, and the feeling of absolute contentment.

A visit to DAOU Vineyards is essential to any wine lover’s journey through Paso Robles. It’s an experience that transcends the act of tasting into an art form, set against a canvas of sweeping hills and skies that stretch into infinity. DAOU is renowned not just for its wines but for its ability to transport you to a state of awe with its mountaintop location, offering a view that could rival any famed landscape painting. Here, each glass is complemented by the vast vistas of the valley below, the verdant rows of vines narrating the terroir’s tale. The tasting room, an epitome of elegance, invites guests to savor each note of their carefully crafted wines wrapped in Paso Robles’ natural grandeur. This harmonious blend of sensory pleasures positions DAOU as a destination of choice for those seeking to indulge in the grand symphony of winemaking.

At the heart of DAOU Vineyards stand the founders, brothers Georges and Daniel DAOU, whose journey in winemaking is as rich and compelling as the wines they create. Their foray into grape cultivation was born from a shared vision to produce Bordeaux-style wines that would rival the world’s best. With roots stretching back to the mountains of Lebanon, the DAOU brothers bring a unique fusion of old-world charm and new-world innovation to their craft. They are known for their exacting standards, from fastidious vineyard management to the precision of their cellar practices, constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in Paso Robles. At DAOU, it’s not just about maintaining quality but elevating it, ensuring that every bottle tells a story of excellence and ambition, a narrative that honors their heritage and the land they’ve come to cherish.

DAOU Vineyards has etched its name in the annals of fine winemaking with a portfolio of wines that speaks to the discerning connoisseur’s heart and intellect. Their flagship offering, “Soul of a Lion,” is a testament to the DAOU brothers’ father and embodies the winery’s pursuit of uncompromised excellence—a Cabernet Sauvignon that commands attention with depth and complexity. The “Reserve Chardonnay” marries the richness of Paso Robles fruit with the finesse of French oak, creating a harmonious profile beloved by those who favor a fuller-bodied white. Not to be overlooked, their “Estate Cabernet Sauvignon” stands as a pillar of their red wine collection, showcasing the perfect balance of power and grace that the region’s unique climate and soils can instill. These wines, among others, have propelled DAOU to the forefront of Paso Robles wineries, each vintage crafted not only to impress but to leave a lasting impression of the terroir’s potential.

I would love to tell you what bottles we bought during our DAOU visit, but as you can see from the prices below, we were well out of our league. But throughout our discussion of whether we could get adopted by the DAOU family, we enjoyed each of the five samples our hostess selected for us. Unlike our introduction to wine tasting—when the Carlo Rossi Burgundy came from the very jug you bought—these days, the samples served at the vineyards are the creme de la creme—If the wine you buy in a retail store were an AC Bristol, they tempt you with a Shelby Cobra here at the ranch. Had we the budget, here are the bottles we would have brought home.

    • 2021 Estate Chardonnay–$100.00. We liked this chardonnay. It had the same characteristics as our Safeway version but more of everything. Unfortunately, it was clearly out of our price range, so we passed and bought four bottles of the normal chard from Total Wine instead.
    • 2020 Reserve Eye of the Falcon–$75.00. This Cabernet Sauvignon is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Verdot grapes grown on the valley floor. It had excellent color and a great taste of black fruits and aromatics.
    • 2021 Cuvee Lizzy—$89.00. This was another Bordeaux-style wine using the estate-grown grapes. It’s a blend that starts with Malbec grapes and is then blended with Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon stock. This was our favorite of the flight. If possible, we’d buy a bottle, but we haven’t found one in our local stores. If we want to enjoy a bottle, we must win the lottery and return to Paso Robles.

Beyond enjoying DAOU’s wines, the experience at the vineyards was breathtaking. Sitting in those red patio chairs with attendants passing frequently with another offering was the definition of indulgence. We would have stayed the night if we’d brought our sleeping bags. At the end of our visit, our wine guide noticed that I was using my USAA credit card to pay the tab. She asked, “Oh, you’re a vet?” When I confirmed that I was, she waived the tasting fees. If I had known that was possible, we might have sprung for one of their Eye of the Falcons.

We hope you enjoyed our month of wine offerings as much as we did. If you’d like to pixel-peep this week’s Image, you can visit the larger version on my website < Jim’s Web> or its FAA page <FAA Link>. Be sure to put us on your holiday calendar next month because we’re going to a place where no man has gone before—well, not many have been there. Join us next week when we take you off the beaten path—it’ll be an adventure, I promise.

Till next time, keep your spirits high and your humor dry
jw

Techniques: Leveling the Horizon on Sweeping Vistas

A common pitfall I’ve noticed in many online landscape photos is a slightly tilted horizon, which can unintentionally give the impression that the scene is off-balance. Remember, even the Pilgrims relied on the horizon to align their buildings at Plymouth Rock. Getting this right in-camera is critical, as it preserves the natural balance of your shot.

For those looking to ensure a perfectly level horizon, modern technology offers a helping hand. My camera, for instance, comes equipped with an in-built level in the viewfinder. As you adjust the angle, the level’s indicators align, turning green at the perfect balance point. It’s a small step in the setup but makes a difference, especially for scenes like the one in this week’s photo where the horizon plays a starring role.

If you capture a slightly askew horizon, don’t fret—software like Photoshop can come to the rescue. Use the ruler tool to draw a line along the horizon, then select Image> Image Rotation > Arbitrary. Photoshop cleverly calculates the necessary adjustment, automatically realigning your Image. A quick crop to tidy up any resulting white edges, and your photo is ready to impress with a horizon that’s true to reality.

BTW:

I released the fourth video in my On the road with Jim on YouTube on Friday. This one covers the images in my Sonoran Desert portfolio. As a subscriber to this newsletter, you get a sneak preview before I add any links. If you want to view my latest effort, you can use this link to get to the video: https://youtu.be/QDc9fXnccy8

The Geometry of Growth: Paso Robles’ Vineyard Rows Picture of the Week - Paso Robles, California

Neat rows of young grapevines ascending the gentle slopes under a cloudy sky in Paso Robles, showcasing the meticulous care in vineyard management.
The Geometry of Growth: Paso Robles’ Vineyard Rows – Witness the artistry of agriculture in Paso Robles, where the vineyard rows ascend like notes on a staff, composing a green symphony on the slopes.

Welcome back to our AA tour of Paso Robles vineyards. Last week, we started with a morning visit to L’Aventure, just a stone’s throw from downtown Paso Robles. After spending a good hour there, our next stop was Justin Vineyards. It’s quite a drive from the city center, but we had a plan: lunch at The Restaurant at Justin before our tasting. Little did we know, our venture to Justin Wines would be without the lunch we anticipated, making for an unexpected twist to our wine-tasting adventure.

We first learned of Justin Wines at the Cambria liquor store a half dozen years ago, and since then, we’ve seen the distinctive black labels in our familiar wine stores. We finally brought a bottle home to try and enjoy the harmonious blend of traditional Old World methods and the innovative spirit of Paso Robles. Justin Wines is a beacon in the Central Coast wine scene because they are committed to making world-class Bordeaux-style blends. Recommendations came not just from reviews or awards but from the enthusiastic tales of fellow wine lovers, stories of a winery that dared to dream big and deliver. It wasn’t just a name; it was a promise of an experience that merged the finesse of a finely aged Cabernet with the boldness of a region redefining itself.

The roots of Justin Wines are as deep and complex as the wines they produce. Founded in 1981 by Justin Baldwin, the winery’s mission was clear from the start: to produce world-class wines that belong in the company of the world’s great wines. With a focus on estate-grown Bordeaux-styled blends, Justin Wines has meticulously nurtured its vineyards to bring out the unique expression of its location in the Paso Robles region. Baldwin’s vision and dedication have created a legacy, making Justin Wines a standard-bearer for quality and innovation in the Californian wine landscape.

The inviting facade of Justin Winery's tasting room in Paso Robles, framed by mature oak branches and well-manicured greenery, photographed by Jim Witkowski.
Sipping in Style: Inside Justin Winery’s Tasting Estate – Beneath the shade of sycamores, the Justin Winery tasting room stands as a beacon of hospitality in the heart of Paso Robles, inviting enthusiasts and novices alike to savor the essence of their craft.

The varietals that grace the cellars of Justin Wines are a testament to their unwavering dedication to quality. From their iconic Isosceles, a blend that pays homage to the Bordeaux giants, to their Justification, a nod to the Right Bank with its Franc-centric profile, each bottle offers a glimpse into the heart of their craft. The Cabernet Sauvignon, with its structured elegance and the complex, layered character of their Syrah, speak to the diversity of their offerings. The winery’s dedication to reflecting the terroir is evident in every glass, as they continue to earn accolades and captivate palates with their expressive, balanced, and impeccably crafted wines.

We purchased four varietals in the Justin offering—three of which are only sold at the estate, while the last on our list can sometimes be found in Costco or Total Wine. That’s good for us because it saves on travel time and gas. Here’s the list of our choices from light to robust.

    • 2021 Rose Syrah—yeah, yeah! I said we didn’t care for Rose’s last week, but this is another exceptional wine. When you swirl the wine in a glass, you watch for lines running down the sides—they’re called legs and are an indicator of sugar content. The Rosé Syarah had great legs but was dry. It’s a magic act. $20.00
    • 2020 Right Angle—A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot grapes. This one had a rich combination of fruit taste with a mild tannin bite. It should age well. $40.
    • 2020 Reserve Malbec—Malbec is another Bordeaux grape that wasn’t widely grown in California until Argentina’s Malbec explosion. This example was 100% Malbec grapes and a deep purple color. This wine was robust and would pair well with anything from a good steak to lasagne. $50.00
    • 2020 Isosceles—Ooh. Dreams are made from this. This is one of Justin’s flagship wines. It’s a traditional Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes. It’s a full-bodied wine with complex black fruit, vanilla, licorice, and spice tones. Justin is right proud of this wine, and that’s reflected in the price—but you might find a bottle of Isosceles in Costco or Total Wine for less, as we did. $85.00

With this week’s Thursday being Thanksgiving, I hope you all don’t run down to Total Wine and buy out their entire inventory of Isosceles. But since you’re going there anyway, would you mind picking up a bottle for me? Borrowing the words of a great philosopher, ‘I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.’ (There are 5 points for everyone who can name that philosopher in the comments below—but no peeking at others’ answers!).

Thanks for taking time out of your busy holiday schedule to visit us today. As usual, you can find a larger version of this week’s photo on my website (Jim’s Web) and its FAA page (FAA Link). Be sure to put us on your calendar next week when we finish our Paso Robles tour by visiting the King of the Hill.

Until then, keep your spirits high and your humor dry
jw

Techniques: Patterns as Subjects – The Art of Repetition

How many ways are there to shoot a vineyard? I lost count a long time ago, but sometimes, when your subject is too small or inconsequential, you must take a step back and look at the bigger picture. How can I uniquely shoot this scene?

Sometimes, the most captivating subject is not a single object but a tapestry of repeating elements that create a pattern. In the photo of the wine grove, the rows of vines form a mesmerizing way that serves as the subject itself. The repetition of lines and shapes across the frame isn’t just pleasing to the eye; it tells a story of careful cultivation and nature’s inherent symmetry. When faced with a vast scene, seek out these patterns. They can transform a landscape into a visual rhythm that engages the eye. Whether it’s the repetition of vine rows, the orderly spread of tree canopies, or the undulating waves of a coastal scene, patterns can elevate a photograph from a simple setting to a study of harmony and design. When the subject isn’t found, let the pattern become the star.

Green Symphonies: The Vines of L’Aventure Picture of the week - Paso Robles, California

Rows of grapevines basking in the Paso Robles sun at L'Aventure Winery, photographed by Jim Witkowski.
Green Symphonies: The Vines of L’Aventure – The serene rows of L’Aventure Winery, where nature’s quiet symphony plays amongst the vines.

Wine tasting is not what it used to be. I remember when all it took was a sunny afternoon and a car, and we could show up and taste. Now, it’s all about planning with reservations. The spontaneity’s gone, but the trade-off is a more intimate experience at each stop. So we were starting our day at L’Aventure Winery while the morning was still fresh, and the roosters were thinking about their wake-up calls. Not every day you get to taste fine wine with the dew still on the grapes, but it makes for a memorable morning when you do.

We had to make reservations for each stop—days in advance this year, and we had to coordinate those times because what we wanted sometimes wasn’t open. The vineyards wish you to spend at least an hour so you get the whole spiel. Then you have to allow for travel time. God forbid you’re late for an appointment because the next bus arrives, and you’re locked in the parking lot. There you have the short version of why we started tasting wine at L’Aventure at 10 a.m. before the chickens got up.

Signpost directions to L'Aventure Winery among others in Paso Robles, snapped by Jim Witkowski.
We were navigating Paso Robles’ Wine Country. Where to go next? The signposts of Paso Robles point the way to our next vineyard adventure.

L’Aventure Winery came onto our radar like a secret whispered among the vines—its name uttered with a vinous reverence in the circles of oenophiles we admire. Nestled within the undulating landscapes of Paso Robles, this winery has carved out more than a niche; it has etched a legacy in the very bedrock of the region. It’s not just the distinctive wines; it’s the philosophy permeating every bottle. Here, tradition isn’t merely upheld; it’s reimagined. Stephan Asseo’s creations have bucked the trends, danced gracefully between the rules, and presented the world with blends that defy expectations. In Paso Robles, a place flourishing with winemaking potential, L’Aventure has boldly claimed its stake, garnering approval from critics and connoisseurs alike. To sip L’Aventure’s wine is to participate in a legacy of innovation that whispers of exclusivity and guarantees your pallet something new.

Stephan Asseo’s vinicultural journey is a narrative steeped in passion and the relentless pursuit of perfection. It’s a tale that begins in the esteemed vineyards of France, where the terroir—the unique combination of soil, climate, and landscape that imparts distinctive character to the wine—is as much a part of the culture as the vines themselves. Yet, after 17 vintages, the rich but restrictive traditions of French winemaking left Asseo yearning for a canvas broad enough to hold the scope of his ambitions. His odyssey for the perfect terroir brought him to the variegated landscapes of Paso Robles—a place where the soil spoke to his soul. Here, freed from the stringent Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regulations dictating French winemaking minutiae, Asseo’s maverick spirit thrived. In this New World sanctuary, blending is an art form, and Asseo, the ever-daring artist, dismisses the notion that wines must conform to preordained profiles. His wines are a triumph, not just of terroir, but of bold innovation—melding the best of both worlds to create something truly extraordinary. This is the spirit of L’Aventure: a symphony of earth and effort, a testament to the magic that happens when you refuse to accept that the status quo is the pinnacle of what can be achieved.

Nestled in the rolling hills of Paso Robles, L’Aventure has become synonymous with bold, innovative winemaking, and this is nowhere more evident than in their celebrated varietals. The winery has garnered acclaim for its exceptional Rhône blends, robust with the complexity and depth that the region’s soil imparts. But it is the pioneering estate blends that truly set L’Aventure apart—chief among them, the Optimus and Estate Cuvée, which seamlessly marry Rhône varieties with the noble Bordeaux, creating symphonies of flavor that resonate with the essence of both Old World sophistication and New World audacity. Their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot are testaments to the winery’s dedication to quality and the full expression of each grape’s character. Each bottle from L’Aventure is not just a beverage but a story of land and labor, a narrative told through each sip of their meticulously crafted wines.

Two of the samples in our flight (different specimens picked by the vintner) impressed us enough to purchase. We used to love finding wines priced around $10 at tasting rooms, but those days are long gone. These days, anything over $50 is out of our league unless it’s exceptional. Then I have to get down on my antique knees and beg Anne to sell one of the many jewels from her crown to cover the cost.

    • The Estate Rosé. We’re not fans of rosés because they’re often fruity and sweet—a holdover from the Mateus days. Not so in this case. L’Aventure’s rosé was dry and drank more like a chardonnay. We paid less than $30 for our bottle.
    • The Cote A Cote Red Blend. We were impressed with the complex hints of dark cherries and chocolate and how the terroir came out in this wine. I thought the tannin aftertaste was harsh but would mellow with age. This bottle sells on the north side of $50.

After our early morning tasting at L’Aventure, we left with a couple of bottles that caught our fancy and some good memories. The rosé was a pleasant surprise — not too sweet, how we like it. And the red blend? It was rich and bold, even if I think it’ll taste even better with time. With our wine adventure off to a great start, we were ready to grab a bite and gear up for the next round of tastings. Next week, I’ll tell you about our visit to Justin’s, a place you might know from your local store. But until then, don’t forget to check out my website < Jim’s Web Page> or my Fine Art America page <FAA Page> to see this week’s photo in full size.

Till next time, keep your spirits high and your humor dry
jw

Techniques: Mastering Natural Framing in Landscape Photography

This week’s photo at L’Aventure showcases a classic compositional technique: natural framing. Like curtains on a stage that focus the audience’s attention on the performance, the rows of vines guide the eye toward the central barn. Flanking the barn, the sloping hill on the left and the dark green oak trees on the right mirror each other, encasing the scene in a verdant embrace. This draws the viewer’s gaze to the heart of the image and adds a layer of depth, making the barn appear as the show’s star. Natural framing is a powerful tool, subtly suggesting where to look without overt direction. In vineyard photography, where every element tells a part of the story, such frames are the unsung heroes, providing structure and focus to the landscape’s natural beauty.

And About That Speck in the Sky

You might notice a speck against the clouds if you squint at this week’s photo. Let’s set the record straight — that’s not a smudge on your screen or a rebellious dust spot I missed in post-production. That, my friends, is a turkey vulture soaring high above the vineyard. These discerning birds of prey are known to patrol the skies over Paso Robles, perhaps keeping a watchful eye on the ripening grapes or just searching for their next meal. It’s nature’s quality control, though I’m happy to report they’ve yet to dip down for a taste test of the vintage. They may have a keen sense for the exquisite, but thankfully, they leave the wine tasting to us mere mortals.

The Gilded Road Home: Double Rainbows Over Congress Picture of the Week - Congress, Arizona

Double rainbows arching over State Route 71 with dark golden clouds and the Weaver Mountains in the background, Congress, Arizona.
Double Rainbows Over Congress: An Arizona Road Home – Explore a stunning double rainbow on Arizona’s SR 71. This golden hour capture sets the Weaver Mountains and road to Congress as the perfect backdrop

Welcome back to the final leg of our US 93 in the Golden Hour trip—it’s like a happy hour but with fewer hangovers and more lens flares. Last week, if you recall, we played hopscotch with raindrops beside the road, capturing the Date Creek Range in its full golden glory. After which, I hopped back in the truck, already chalking up the day as a wrap, convinced the photo gods had closed shop for the day.

As I barreled down the highway, I noticed two glorious arcs of color in my windshield. It was like the sky had painted its version of Starry Night but with rainbows. These weren’t your garden-variety, quick-glimpse-or-you’ll-miss-’em types. They were vivid, full-arc, double rainbows. You bet I thought about stopping there—if only the road weren’t hogging the frame. Nature’s light show so entranced me that I almost shot past my exit. Veering onto the ramp like a last-minute shopper on Black Friday, I parked at the bottom, hoping to snag that elusive west leg of the rainbow. No dice.

But then, the universe threw me a bone. As I swung left under the overpass, the eastern leg of the double rainbow was practically touching down on SR 71—my road to El Dorado. I couldn’t resist; the cosmos said, “Welcome home, Jim. Your pot of gold—aka Queen Anne dressed in pearls and pinafore is waiting with a nice pot roast.”

I wanted this shot to scream, “You’re almost home!” as loudly as an Irish setter wagging its tail at the front door. Standing in the middle of the asphalt, eyeballing the lens and framing that quintessential road view, felt right. The receding road signs served as breadcrumbs leading us to the mountain’s base—the ultimate exit sign to our slice of paradise. And hey, that mileage sign? Seven miles to home, folks. The rainbow, of course, gets top billing, occupying most of the frame because, let’s face it, it’s the Beyoncé of this visual concert.

Did you know you can never drive through a rainbow? Yep, don’t even bother revving that engine. That’s because rainbows aren’t physical entities; they’re celestial eye candy, illusions caused by sunlight’s refraction, dispersion, and reflection in raindrops. If you hadn’t fallen asleep in your high school physics class, you’d know these things. When sunlight enters a raindrop, it slows down and bends as it goes from air to water. Inside the raindrop, the light disperses into its various color components. It may reflect off other raindrops as it exits the raindrop, creating this stunning arc. The magic number here is a 42-degree angle of refraction. No, it’s not the secret of life, the universe, and everything—though it’s close—but rather the angle at which light is refracted to form that vibrant arc in the sky.”

And just when you thought one rainbow was enough to make you pull over and risk getting your shoes muddy, nature decides to double down. That’s right—a double rainbow, all the way! But wait, there’s a twist. If you look closely, you’ll notice the colors in the second, fainter rainbow are flipped. While the primary arc screams ‘ROYGBIV,’ its more introverted twin whispers’ VIBGYOR.’ What’s the deal with that, you ask? The second rainbow undergoes a second reflection inside the water droplets, effectively flipping the color scheme. It’s like nature’s version of a plot twist in a thriller movie. You never saw it coming, but it makes the story better.

You might be scratching your head, wondering why you don’t always get a two-for-one deal with rainbows. The answer, my friends, lies in the perfect concoction of light intensity, droplet size, and good ol’ atmospheric conditions. The second rainbow is like the shy sibling at a family gathering—too bashful to crash the party without an engraved invitation from the universe. It needs more specific conditions to come out and play, like bigger raindrops and darker skies to contrast its fainter colors. So, the next time you spot a lone rainbow, know its elusive twin wasn’t feeling the party vibe.

Hey there, rainbow chasers and golden hour aficionados! I hope you’ve enjoyed this magical journey down Arizona’s highways as much as I have. If this picture has left you starry-eyed and longing for more, don’t forget that you can see bigger versions of this photo in my New Work collection (Jim’s Web) or its page at Fine Art America (FAA Page).

While we’re wrapping up this month’s project, rest assured that another adventure is on the horizon. So make sure you swing back around next week for a new slice of life, served up Jim Witkowski style. Now it’s your turn. Have you ever encountered a vibrant double rainbow that made you forget about your exit? Or maybe you have a rainbow story that can top mine? Either way, spill the tea—or, in this case, the rainbow—in the comments below!

Till next time
jw

Techniques: The Wide-Angle Wonder—Capturing Expansive Landscapes

Do you know how the perfect landscape shot often feels like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole? There’s just too much beauty to squeeze into that tiny frame. Enter wide-angle lenses—the landscape photographer’s magic wand for making square pegs fit just right.

Let’s start by cracking the code on focal lengths. A wide-angle lens typically has a focal length of 35mm or less. And this little number can pack in a lot of sky, earth, and anything in between. That’s why it was my go-to for capturing this double rainbow phenomenon. It allowed me to give the rainbow—and its quieter, introverted sibling—the room they needed to shine.

Wide-angle lenses aren’t just for fitting more stuff into your shot; they’re great for storytelling, too. In our Double Rainbows Over Congress, the wide-angle lens allowed me to include the expansive sky, the road signs gradually shrinking into the distance, and the mountains’ embrace, all without cramping the style of the rainbows that are undoubtedly the stars of the show.

But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Wide-angle lenses can distort straight lines, making them curve towards the edges of the frame. Sometimes, you can turn this into a creative advantage, like making the road seem even more stretched, like reaching for the mountains. Other times, you might want to tweak things back to normal in post-processing, using lens correction features.

A word to the wise: wide angles can make close objects appear more prominent, and distant objects look farther away. But don’t be fooled—this lens isn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet for your frame. The trick isn’t to turn your photo into a yard sale of visual elements; it’s about emphasizing what matters. Do it right, and your image becomes a gourmet burger with just the right toppings. Do it wrong, and you’ve got yourself a Dagwood sandwich—so stuffed you don’t know where to take the first bite. That’s where your artistic judgment comes into play. How much space do you want to give each element so they all get their moment in the sun, in this case, between the rain showers?

And there you have it—a quick but jam-packed dive into the wonders of wide-angle lenses for landscape photography. I hope you find it as liberating as I do when you’re chasing your next perfect shot.

Storm-Lit Skies Over Date Creek Range Picture of the Week - Congress, Arizona

Golden-light silhouette of Joshua Trees with a dark, stormy sky over Date Creek Range in Arizona.
Storm-Lit Skies Over Date Creek Range – Caught in the golden embrace of the setting sun, the Date Creek Range and its Joshua Tree sentinel defy an impending storm. Can you spot the elusive rainbow?

In last week’s US 93 escapade, I put the pedal to the metal, racing the encroaching dark clouds to bask in the vanishing golden hour. I even detoured to Burro Creek campgrounds, where the only thing I found was…more clouds. Alas, as soon as I wrapped up my Burro Creek pit stop, those looming clouds won the race, swallowing the sun whole.

Disappointed, I set aside my camera’s relentless search for that perfect shot and started a leisurely drive home. No rush, right? Queen Anne was busy wallowing in precious metals at the jewelry store with her gal-pals, and I had miles of asphalt ahead of me. Soon enough, the highway carried me through the Joshua Tree Parkway, and then it began—Arizona’s version of ‘will it or won’t it’—raining from the sky.

Yes, this arid state has two kinds of summer rain. First, there’s the gully washer, the frog strangler, the cob-floater, a torrential rain that I can’t even see the house across the street. This type of downpour is the VIP guest that shows up uninvited, fills up the washes, and turns rattlesnakes into accidental Olympians. You should see them. Snorkels on their snouts, doing the backstroke like they’re auditioning for ‘Snakes on a Swim Team.’

Then there’s the other kind, today’s specialty: a rain so indecisive it could give Hamlet a run for his money. It’s like the weather gods couldn’t agree, and we get this annoying drizzle that teeters on the edge of being useful. You find yourself in this wiper-limbo, perpetually toggling between ‘kinda need it’ and ‘oh, the horror of that screeching noise.’ The local washes don’t even bother to fill up; rattlesnakes smirk and break out their snorkels for practice laps, just waiting for the next aquatic extravaganza.

Just when I was about to award myself the title of ‘Arizona’s Rain Philosopher,’ the universe decided to show off. The sun, ever the dramatic artist, slipped beneath the heavy cloak of the western clouds, making a brief but stunning encore. It was as if it said, ‘You thought I was done for the day? Hold my solar flare.’ And just like that, the golden hour was back on stage for its final act.

Dodging highway traffic and raindrops, I perched myself by a barbed-wire fence to capture what I’ve aptly named Storm-Lit Skies Over Date Creek Range. The Joshua Trees pop like jack-in-the-boxes from a golden sea of creosote, crowned by the glowing Castle Rock. For the eagle-eyed among you, squint a little harder. A subtle rainbow makes a cameo on the right of the taller Joshua Tree.

If you’re squinting at this on your smartphone, do yourself a favor—upgrade to a bigger screen. Trust me, this photo deserves it. You can see the bigger versions by browsing my website [Jim’s Page] or checking out my Fine Art America gallery [FAA Page]. Do make sure to swing by next week. The best is yet to come.

Till next time
jw

Techniques: Capturing Storms: The Drama Before, During, and After

Grab your umbrellas and wellies because today, we’re talking storms. And I don’t mean the kind you have with your spouse over who left the toilet seat up. We’re diving into the cinematic, the dramatic, the eye-candy kind of storms that would have made even Ansel Adams pause and say, “Well, would you look at that!”

Ah, the golden hour. That ethereal moment before the sky erupts into a Van Gogh painting or descends into gloom. But have you ever tried capturing a storm during this time? The universe throws you a curveball, saying, “Hey, here’s beauty and chaos, all wrapped in a corn tortilla of opportunity.” Remember Ansel Adams’ Clearing Winter Storm? The dude knew when to click that shutter.

You might think, “Jim, storms are just wet messes! How am I supposed to capture that?” Ah, my dry-weather fans, this is where things get electrifying. Capturing lightning requires some specialized equipment or mad reflexes. But the results? They’re shockingly good.

The storm has passed, but don’t pack up that camera yet. The sky now looks like hungover clouds meandering aimlessly, bumping into mountains, and trying to remember where they parked their cumulus cars. The aftermath can offer as many Kodak moments as the storm itself.

So, the next time you see those dark clouds looming, don’t just think about whether you’ve left the laundry out. Think about the once-in-a-lifetime shots that could be waiting for you. Embrace the wild mood swings of Mother Nature. After all, when the weather can’t decide, it might just be helping you make up yours about that next epic shot.

Do you have any of your own storm-chasing or weather-defying photography tales? We’d love to hear them! Please share your stories in the comments below, and let’s swap some epic weather adventures.