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
jw

BTW:

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.

Box Canyon Picture of the Week

A pair of Pueblo ruins adorn the cliff tops on either side of Box Canyon in Wupatki National Monument.
A pair of Pueblo ruins adorn the cliff tops on either side of Box Canyon in Wupatki National Monument.

It’s November already. Time passes so fast that the remaining hair on my head flutters behind me like a streamer in the wind. To make things worse, the landlord turned off the heat. Here in the foothills, we had a couple of mornings in the high 30s, and Queen Anne insisted on sleeping with the bedroom window open. When I got up, I was invisible, standing in front of the blue accent wall—nothing but a pair of whitey tighties and chattering teeth floating through space. This cold front is supposed to move out later this week, so I’ve resisted turning on the heater. Instead, we throw back the curtains, put on heavier sweaters, and shiver till noon.

With the new month, we started a new project and didn’t have to travel far to get to it. It’s the housing development across the street. The street is Highway U.S. 89, and the development is Wupatki National Monument. Wupatki shares the access road and visitor’s center with Sunset Crater National Monument—they’re conjoined twins. During this year’s fire season, the fires closed the 35-mile park road at the crater, but Wupatki remained open because it’s north and out of danger.

Wupatki is at the base of one of the Navajo’s four sacred mountains: Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks, Mount Taylor in New Mexico, Hesperus Mountain near Durango, and Blanca Peak outside of Alamosa. The Dine’ considers the area with these mountains their home. But, long before the tribe moved from central Canada, Pueblo Indians lived here. They left behind stone homes along the Colorado Plateau: from Wupatki to Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde south to Walnut Canyon.

Most Americans consider Mesa Verde National Park the most extensive collection of pueblo ruins, but Wupatki is its match. In some areas, our National Monument exceeds the Colorado Park in the number of dwellings per square mile. When you visit the monument, the maps direct you to displays unearthed and restored by archeologists that you can walk through and hear thousand-year-old ghosts. As you drive to these exhibits, keep your eyes peeled because you’ll see piles of rocks in the fields and on hilltops. These are not natural clumps of stones but more ruins that the scientists haven’t yet examined. These areas are set aside for future paleontologists to examine using more advanced tools.

There are so many ruins in Wupatki to enjoy I can’t cover them all in one month. For November, we’re only covering a half-mile hike called Box Canyon. In that short distance, you pass three ruins along the way to the main exhibit—Lomaki. This week’s picture is of a pair of stone buildings standing on the cliffs of Box Canyon. As I walked along the paved trail on a warm summer afternoon, I stopped at each ruin, photographing what I saw. The path led up a gentle slope from the parking area, past the first ruin. From there, I could see the second dwelling on the other side of the canyon, so I continued along the trail. I could have spent the rest of my time shooting these two, but when I reached this spot, I could see Lomaki, which is more prominent with even more rooms. I quickly framed this scene and moved on to the big show.

I chose this image to start this month’s project because it shows the proximity of the two ruins along the canyon walls and how they rise above the grasslands. I assume different families occupied them. There’s enough space for privacy, but they’re close enough to provide mutual protection and borrow the neighbor’s lawn mower.

You can see a larger version of Box Canyon on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, we’ll walk up to Lomaki and spend some time there. Come back then for another episode of This Old House. I’ll leave the light on for you.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

Don’t forget to get your calendar order in before the cut-off on the 15th.

Clouds Over Craters Picture of the Week

Clouds Over Craters - Monsoon clouds fill the sky over a pair of volcanic craters at the San Francisco Lava Field in northern Arizona.
Clouds Over Craters – Monsoon clouds fill the sky over a pair of volcanic craters at the San Francisco Lava Field in northern Arizona.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and the east coast has already had its first dusting of snow. Only last week, I had to switch from my daily summer uniform (t-shirt and shorts) into my winter outfit (t-shirt and jeans). I only wear long pants because my feet get cold with poor blood circulation. Otherwise, I’d wear shorts throughout the year—as men do in New Zealand. The last time we went to their islands, we saw road crews dressed in down parkas, shorts, and flip-flops.

I’m not boasting about our two seasons here in the desert; hot and less hot. Everybody back east already knows about our climate. In a couple of weeks, they’ll be camping in RV Parks throughout our state. This week’s rant is about why good things always come with baggage (this isn’t about Queen Anne either—stop that, you’re nasty). For example, as a kid, do you remember stretching out on a freshly cut lawn on a breezy summer’s eve so you could stare into the black sky and count shooting stars—only to be eaten alive by chiggers? Right there, that’s what I’m talking about.

Sitting at my computer, enjoying my first sweater of the season, and processing this week’s photo, I liked how lovely the monsoon clouds were. In Navajo lore, the gathering of puffy sheep in the sky foretells the coming summer rains. Our summer clouds are dynamic. They form over the mountains in the morning. They build and tower into the stratosphere and then charge into the desert with a triple fury of wind, dust, and frog-choking rain. By midnight, they disappear, and stars come out of hiding. It’s the opposite of the winter clouds that travel down the coast. They’re a homogenized grey sky, hanging around for days like a bowl of lumpy oatmeal. As I closely studied this week’s picture, I realized that the monsoon season might be my favorite time of the year—if it wasn’t so damn hot and muggy.

I named this week’s image Clouds Over Craters, and I took it at the S.P. Crater location I featured a couple of weeks ago. The dark blob on the right side is S.P. Crater, and the lesser volcano in the distance is unnamed. The grass growing on its slopes indicates that it’s rainy season. The crater’s shape and color remind me of Hawaii’s Diamond Head in a mirror. The diagonal scratches are from ATVs digging up the soil as they claw their way to the top. I could have Photoshopped the scars, but I wouldn’t say I like that. Besides, the clouds are the star of this show, both in the sky and the shadows they cast on the craters.

You can see a larger version of Clouds Over Craters on its Webpage by clicking here. It’s the finale of the San Francisco Lava Field project, and next week we’re at a new location. Here’s a clue—it’s across the street. Want to take a guess? We’ll see you when you return next Sunday to find out if you’re right.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Since November is next week, it’s time for me to lay out my 2023 calendar. I make at least one for myself each year, but I’ll happily print another copy for you. Because I order them in low numbers, they’re an expensive wall calendar. When hanging, they’re the size of a copy paper sheet—they fit nicely between my desktop and cabinets. VistaPrint has dropped the small-middle-binding option this year so that they will be coil-bound along the top. When I add the shipping cost, they cost me $18.00 each, which is what I charge for them. I want to have them for Christmas, so if you want to be included, let me know by the 15th of November. That way, I’ll expect them after Thanksgiving. You can email me directly, leave a message on my Contact Page, or if I already have your email address (you’re a subscriber), you can order in the comments below (I’ll strip your email address from public comments).

Colton Crater Juniper Picture of the Week

Colton Crater Juniper - A lone juniper surrounded by lava bombs stands before Colton Crater topped with monsoon clouds.
Colton Crater Juniper – A lone juniper surrounded by lava bombs stands before Colton Crater, topped with whipped cream monsoon clouds.

I’m unsure where my head was last week when I wrote that today was the last Sunday in October. It wasn’t until the middle of the week that I realized I was wrong, and another weekend was ahead. Don’t worry; I have one more photo from the San Francisco Lava Field that I’d like to show you. You’re so lucky.

Queen Anne and I didn’t have to travel far from S.P. Crater to find this week’s scene. She didn’t move at all. She sat in the Jeep and continued to read her Kendal while I walked due south across the dirt road to a tree that I found interesting. I composed my shot as I walked toward the juniper. I wanted to include the monsoon clouds building over the San Francisco Peaks and some of the lava bombs surrounding the tree; otherwise, I would have moved closer to capture its twisted trunk. When I finally processed the photo this week, I realized that I had grabbed another volcanic crater—it’s a twofer. I’d rather be lucky than good—it takes up less time.

The cone in this week’s shot is Colton Crater. It looks like a fallen birthday cake. No amount of icing will cover that mess up. Compared to the mountain I featured last week, this one doesn’t seem impressive. It doesn’t look tall and well-formed like S.P. Crater. That’s only an optical conclusion. Colton has more height and width, and the caldera is deeper. And there is another smaller cone inside Colton’s caldera. You’ll have to look on Google Earth or hike its rough grade to see it. Incidentally, along the horizon, the small pyramid-shaped peak is Mt. Humphreys—Arizona’s highest mountain peak.

The reason that Colton looks old and saggy is the same as why I do; it’s an old fart. While S.P. Crater’s last eruption was only 55,000 years ago (a baby), Colton Crater hasn’t seen any action in 200k – 800k years. That’s plenty of time for gravity and erosion to bring a mountain to its knees. For example, the interior of Colton’s crater has been swept clean of residual ash and pumice from its eruption.

Scientists don’t name things very creatively. They tend to give out codes instead of names. For most of the time that geologist has been studying the San Francisco Peaks, this crater was called V160. It was the 160th volcanic flow in the lava field. See what I mean—where’s the romance in that? Dr. Harold Sellers Colton was the founder and director of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, and after he died in 1970, the local academia renamed Volcano 160 in his honor. That was nice.

You can see a larger version of Colton Crater Juniper on its Webpage by clicking here. Come back next week when we finish our tour of the San Francisco Lava Field with one last photo. This time I’m sure—I looked it up on my calendar. We’ll see you then.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

I have an old friend from my California racing days named Gary Wheeler. You might have read some of his comments in this journal. Since his retirement, he has been taking some fantastic bird photographs. I don’t know; maybe old racers turn to photography when they’re too old to do anything useful. After much urging, Gary has put his collection online for people to enjoy. If you enjoy birds, you should pay a visit at: https://gowheeler.smugmug.com/. Don’t worry; he didn’t pay me for this advertising.

S.P. Mountain Picture of the Week

S.P. Mountain - The cinder cone on the north flank of the San Francisco Peaks was named by C.J. Babbitt because it resembled a shit-pot.
S.P. Mountain – C.J. Babbitt named the cinder cone on the north flank of the San Francisco Peaks because it resembled a shit pot.

When Queen Anne and I visited the San Francisco Lava Fields this summer, we were there to photograph one cinder cone—S.P. Mountain. I watched several YouTube videos that featured the area, and I thought the cones would make an exciting journal project. I don’t see as many pictures from the lava field as I would expect, so maybe Ansel Adams left something for me, “Here’s a nickel, kid. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

The San Francisco Peaks is the taller of the two major Arizona volcanoes (the other being Mount Baldy/Mount Ord which are southeast in the White Mountains). The Peaks are the remnants of San Francisco Mountain—an active volcano that became dormant 400,000 years ago. Scientists have calculated the volcano was over 16,000 feet tall—4,000 feet above Mt. Humphreys, the highest remaining peak and Arizona’s high point.

Although the mountain has been dormant for a half-million years, there have been newer local eruptions. Geologists date the flow at S.P. Mountain to 55,000 years, and only a thousand years have passed since Sunset Crater erupted. That eruption caused the Sinagua Indians (the people we visited in August) to move 13miles south to Walnut Canyon because their Safeway was severely damaged.

Maybe one of the reasons the lava field doesn’t get more visitors is that much of it is on private land and doesn’t get much press. C. J. Babbitt is credited for the mountain’s name. If you’re young and ambitious, you can climb to the rim, and from that point of view, the crater resembles an overflowing chamber pot—or Shit Pot as he called them (and you thought those pretty flowered bowls and matching pitchers you see in museums was for washing your face). When the cartographers heard what the locals called the crater, they said, “Oh dear. We can’t put that on the maps. We’ll just use the initials.” If you’d like to see the view from the top without leaving your Lazy-Boy, I captured this Google Earth view.

When we drove out to the lava field, I wanted to video the cinder cone. Most of the time we spent at S.P. Crater was with the drone, and I didn’t get a still shot that I liked (if you’re interested in seeing the videos, here’s the Pond5 link). As we started to leave, I stopped to shoot last week’s photo of Split Top, and when I turned back, I saw this image of S.P. Mountain. The clouds were casting shadows on the cone, but a break in them let sunlight spill down on the grass and juniper trees. I’m pleased about how well this photo turned out. It’s only a couple of zebras short of being from an exotic African location. Naturally, I called this image S.P. Mountain because I didn’t want the Internet censors after me.

You can see a larger version of S.P. Mountain on its Webpage by clicking here. Come back next week when we finish our tour of the San Francisco Lava Field with one last photo. We’ll see you then.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

I’m working on my Website’s Arizona galleries to make them flow better. Unlike the other State groupings, I have too many shots from Arizona to have a single page. So, I have subcategories for deserts, farms, towns, mountains, etc. This week I posted a second Arizona Index page that allows visitors to switch between a slideshow view and a thumbnail view with a button click. Some people like the traditional thumbnail view, while others prefer to see slides. Here’s the link to the page. What do you think?

Sideyard Picture of the Week

Sideyard - The west facing facade of the Richardson home bathed in early morning light.
Sideyard – The west-facing facade of the Richardson home bathed in the early morning light.

This week, we reluctantly leave last week’s Cozy Bed by the Fire and step outside of the historic stone house so that we can explore further. On that May morning, the air was crisp, and the smell of sage-flavored tree pollen filled the air. They were sure signs that spring had come to the 3500′ Union Pass. Since I had spent the night at one of the river casinos, I had on my summer uniform—shorts and a T-shirt. The 60° temperature was perfect for encouraging me to keep moving.

I only took a few steps into the sideyard before seeing the composition that triggered my instinct to take this week’s shot. It’s the west face of the Richardson house covered with a corrugated tin roof. It’s in pretty good shape, so I’m surprised that poachers haven’t already salvaged the metal.

Two weeks ago, Fred commented on the Richardson House post. He said, “…I admire people that can build rock houses. Not easy!” I agree, and as I processed this image, I wondered how John Richardson learned to build a rock house. This morning I searched YouTube and found over a half dozen videos on the task, but John didn’t have that resource in 1897, did he? I understand his use of local volcanic stones—that makes sense. But, I have many other questions: did his dad teach him how to build, or did he take classes at night school?

To further appreciate this century and a quarter-year-old structure, we must remember that the family of five moved to Union Pass from Los Angeles because he had a respiratory disease. Lugging boulders around is fatiguing work for the healthiest of us. If Queen Anne suggested that I build a new home out in the Black Mountains, I’d look around at the rocks, trees, and water supply; then, I’d go hunting for a large cave. It would be faster for me to invent a giant 3D printer than to hand-lay all those rocks.

Maybe people back then were more resourceful than we are. My dad was. Once, in a land far away and a time long ago, my wife and I converted a spare bedroom into a den at our Scottsdale house. We had to pause because we needed shelves for the enormous 24″ TV we wanted in the closet space. In those days, we didn’t have Lowe’s, we had Sears, and lumber yards were closed on Sundays. When my dad came by and we showed off our work, he drove to America’s department store and bought the cheapest skill saw they sold. Then he cut up the bi-fold closet doors and built our shelves out of the garbage we planned to take to the dump. Voila, we watched the football game in our new den on the big screen that evening. I never thought to re-use the scrap wood even though most of my brain cells still functioned then. It’s even worse today. Some mornings I spend minutes staring at the back of the fridge until I remember coming into the kitchen for a coffee spoon.

I don’t think I appreciated how clever my father was until I had to stand alone. So, if you’re fortunate enough, hug your dad for no reason on this Father’s Day. Show your aprication while there’s time.

You can see the larger version of Sideyard on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week, and we’ll see what shot I can come up with to finish our month with the Richardsons.

Till Next Time
jw

Cochise Head Picture of the Week

Cochise Head - The 8087' high peak in the Chiricahua Mountains that resembles the great Apache Chief, Cochise.
Cochise Head – The 8087′ high peak in the Chiricahua Mountains resembles the great Apache Chief, Cochise.

Living with my editor-in-chief has been particularly stressful. Her sisters are coming for a visit this week. She waltzed her beloved Dyson through the house while singing to the bluebirds, bunnies, and butterflies. She stressed her red vacuum so much that she broke it and had to order parts from Ireland. I don’t think she’s well—I caught her washing a window. I’ve become the red-headed step-child. I have to eat on the back porch, I can’t use either bathroom, and my office desk is the only place I can sit. When I gave her this post to check, I had to check my hand for missing fingers. I believe that Cyndi thinks that if she passes this inspection, her sisters will let her accompany them to the palace ball. She’s forgotten that she already hooked her Prince Charming thirty-four years ago. I blame it on this sudden Bridgerton obsession.

Other than that, welcome to May. This month, we will feature images that I took as we drove between Willcox and the Chiricahua National Monument. The satin ribbon that ties the collection together is Cochise County Road 186. Otherwise, it’s a collection of odds and ends that didn’t fit inside the park. Over the next five Sundays, we’ll work our way from the monument and back to town. That way, there’s some logic to my presentation.

Right from the beginning, I’m going to cheat. You can’t see the peak in this week’s picture from the highway, and it’s not inside the park, but you can see it best from there. This image is of the 8087’ high Cochise Head located in the northern section of the Chiricahua Mountains. For perspective, the eroded granite head is a mile wide. The name is descriptive because it resembles Cochise, the great Apache chief, with his distinctive Mayan nose and a pine tree eyelash. Like Camelback Mountain, there’s no one person credited for the name; everybody just agreed on the resemblance. Imagine having a mountain named for you while you were alive. Arizona has 15 counties, with 12 of them having tribal names. Cochise County is the only one named after a tribe member. I think that shows how much respect our community had for Cochise (of the other two counties, our legislature named one for a mountain (Graham) and the other for a prominent mine owner (Greenly).

I tried different compositions when I shot this week’s picture—that I call Cochise Head naturally. The one that I chose is centered, which is unusual for me. The others seemed unbalanced somehow. As you move up and down the road, the eye and forehead become more or less prominent. I took this shot from the closest position that I found—standing on a rocky ledge overlooking Bonita Creek Canyon.

You can see a larger version of Cochise Head on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll make our way back to town for dinner, but there’s a place we have to stop so I can grab another photo. Come back next week and see what I found.

Till Next Time

jw

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