Peeples Valley Pastoral: A Chilly Morning Among the Cottonwoods Picture of the Week - Peeples Valley, Arizona

Cattle grazing in a field with frost under cottonwood trees at sunrise in Peeples Valley, Arizona
Peeples Valley Pastoral: A Chilly Morning Among the Cottonwoods – Cattle calmly grazing in Peeples Valley’s frost-kissed fields, with majestic cottonwood trees standing guard on a cool morning.

The enchanting snowscapes we’ve shared recently have sparked a sense of wonder and hope. They offer more than just a visual feast; they promise water—our desert’s lifeline. While winter’s chill entices snowbirds to the desert’s warm embrace for leisurely golf, the irony is stark; these dry, sunny days often come at the expense of precious groundwater pumped tirelessly to maintain verdant fairways.

Yet, behind this recreational facade lies a stark reality that Arizona has grappled with for over 20 years: an unyielding drought. It has depleted reservoir levels at historic lows and water tables, setting the stage for ecological challenges. From bark beetle infestations decimating Ponderosa pines to our iconic saguaros standing beleaguered under the strain of aridity, the impact extends beyond plant life. Wildlife, too, has felt the pinch, venturing ever closer to human settlements in an urgent quest for hydration.

In this delicate balance, even humans’ habits are shifting. Golf courses, once lush and abundant, are re-evaluating their water use. Cities across the Southwest, including Phoenix and Las Vegas, face the reality of water scarcity. We are reminded that water is a finite resource that requires our respect and careful management.

A Silver Lining in the Clouds

Nature’s wheel turns, and recent winters have brought whispers of change. Snowflakes and raindrops have graced our arid state more generously, hinting at a shift in the tide. Could this be the beginning of the end of Arizona’s long dry spell? Our hearts cling to hope.

We understand that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. One season of abundant rain doesn’t herald the end of a drought; it is merely a single step. The land is thirsty—its water tables are like empty wells waiting to be refilled. Our great reservoirs, Lake Mead and Powell, exhibit their white rings—a bathtub’s stain that marks levels of plenty long gone.

This Week’s Reflections

This week’s images—a frozen puddle and grazing cattle in a frost-touched field—are snapshots of this hopeful chapter. They’re visual stories of the land in a rare, quenched state, testaments to the resilience and adaptability of life in Arizona.

As we marvel at the snow-capped peaks and frost-adorned fields, let these recent rains be a sigh of relief and a symbol of nature’s enduring cycle. It’s a cycle that echoes resilience and renewal, qualities deep within the Arizonian spirit. While we cherish this momentary abundance, let’s carry forward the wisdom it brings—to live in harmony with our desert’s rhythms and conserve every resource.

Close-up of a frozen puddle in a frosty field with the Weaver Mountains in the background on a cold Arizona morning
Morning Freeze: Ice Takes Hold in Peeples Valley – A stillness descends on Peeples Valley as dawn reveals a frozen puddle amidst the fields, with the majestic snow-capped Weaver Mountains in the distance.

Our beautiful, rugged state narrates stories of the past and hums with songs of the future, a reminder that as we hope for wetter winters, we must also adapt with creativity and care. We step forward with a sense of stewardship, treasuring each precious drop and each frozen morning as gifts to be respected and protected.

May our appreciation deepen for the water that sustains us and the entire tapestry of life that thrives in our majestic desert. Until the next rainfall, we remain vigilant and thankful, for we understand the value of the desert’s offering.

I invite you to view these moments captured in time, visit my website <Jim’s Site> and Fine Art America page <FAA Link> for larger versions, and witness the unusual beauty that unfolds when winter visits the desert.

Until next time, keep your canteens handy and your humor dry.

Survey and Looking Forward

As we close the chapter on our March survey, there remains one last chance for your valuable feedback. Your insights are like the spring rain that nurtures this newsletter’s growth. Stay tuned—next week, we’ll unveil the survey results and explore what lies ahead for Arizona’s landscapes and this newsletter. Your voice matters, and I eagerly await sharing our future with you.

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Grazing Horses Picture of the Week

I’m a flexible person. Not in the word’s literal sense. You’ll never see me wearing my onesie running and flopping about on some rubber mat at your gym (try to get that picture out of your mind soon). I mean that when I’m presented with valid alternatives, I can change my priorities—like with this week’s image.

I got out of bed extra early this Thursday to drive up the hill and take sunrise pictures. I knew what subject I wanted to shoot and had planned my outing before I ever got out of bed. When I left the house with my cameras and thermos of hot coffee, the light was beginning to break in the east, and I knew that I could get to Skull Valley just as the sun rose over the Sierra Prieta Range. After all, this is the way we go to Prescott all of the time. The trip was as routine as a run to the corner store for a pack of Chesterfields.

I was right, of course. As I hauled my equipment out of the car, there was no one around, not even on the busy highway. Only me and my subject were there, so I quietly got to work. Fifteen minutes later, I put my junk back into the truck, and I began the drive home.

As I drove south, I wondered if the Ranch House Restaurant would be open when I got to Yarnell. They don’t open until seven, and that’s only on the weekends. It’s a good breakfast stop. Then, as your mind wants to do, I began deciding what to order. I love their ham and eggs, but their serving is so large, the ham comes on its own plate. I usually take half of it home and make another meal from it. I decided on chorizo and eggs—with an extra dash of cayenne cause I like it spicy.

I happened to be driving past the horse ranches in Peeples Valley as the great breakfast debate raged within my head. Suddenly, I felt that something was out of place, so I had to come back to earth to discover what caused the disturbance in the force. Out in the west pasture was a brilliant white horse, and it stood out like a search beacon in the tall green grass. My hunger wrestled my creativity briefly before I stopped Archie. Breakfast would wait.

Grazing Horses - Domestic horses grazing the still green grasslands in Peeples Valley on an early spring morning.
Grazing Horses – Domestic horses grazing the still green grasslands in Peeples Valley on an early spring morning.

I know next to nothing about horses and only rode one time. That nag was rude as it actually said, “oof,” when I got on. Most of them are brown around these parts, as in this instance. When I walked up to the fence, he/she/it ignored me and munched its way through the grass. That shot presented me with a great contrasty shot of the south end of a northbound horse—if ya’ know what I mean. I began to walk the fence line, chirping and whistling—trying to get its head up.

As I walked more, a mare and her foal moved into my frame and messed my composition. The mare continued to graze and ignored my presence, but the foal was timidly curious and circled behind her. Just as I thought I had enough frames—and this always happens with animals and me—the foal stepped in front of the mare and shouted, “I’m a cute baby horsie, why don’t you take my picture too?” So, I did.

Meanwhile, back at the office, when I saw what I had, I decided to push my intended shots back a week or two and publish this one first. It goes with last week’s picture and should make the complaining commenter happy. The animals in this week’s photo are more than specks on the landscape.

I call this week’s featured image Grazing Horses, and you can see a larger version of it on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week and see what else we dug up around the ol’ homestead.

Until next time — jw

Hidden Springs Ranch Picture of the Week

The cottonwood trees I showcased in this month have told a story of winter in the uplands of Arizona—a part of our state we Zonies keep secret from outsiders. The photos show as much about the chilly morning, crystal clear air, and open spaces as the trees do. After all, there’s nothing special about cottonwood trees—they’re everywhere. Their Latin name is Populas, which means “People’s Tree.” (Wow, did you catch the irony? I have a series of People’s Tree photographs that I shot in Peeples Valley. Yeah, I meant to do that all along).

Although you can find cottonwoods throughout the United States—in one form or another—they’re not widely used in landscaping. In Arizona at least, some homeowners associations explicitly forbid them in their association rules. Although they are fast-growing and provide shade, they’re messy, attack water lines, and are prone to disease, so as they age—just like me—parts fall off. One of their significant irritants is in their name. The mature trees spread seeds to the wind on white cotton-like tufts. When seeds are in the air, it can look like its snowing, and quite a few folks are allergic to them.

If you’re a rancher and you want a fast-growing tree to say, line your driveway, there is an alternative—the Arizona Ash. These trees grow tall quickly, but are less messy, live longer, respond to pruning, and they are more pest resistant. They also have more fall-color than cottonwood, but only slightly. The ash doesn’t get that gnarly old look that interests me.

Hidden Springs Ranch - Well manicured Arizona Ass trees line the drive of the Hidden Springs Ranch in Peeples Valley.
Hidden Springs Ranch – Well manicured Arizona Ash trees line the drive of the Hidden Springs Ranch in Peeples Valley.

When I was shooting my Peeples Valley trees, I first thought that the Hidden Springs Rancher lined his driveway with our friend, the mighty cottonwood. That’s why I photographed the entrance. On second glance, I did a face-slap and thought, “Of course!” Unless you wanted to drive over broken branches all of the time, you would pick a different kind of tree. But, it was winter, and from afar, a bare tree is a bare tree.

I included this week’s photo—called Hidden Springs Ranch—in this series because … well, I needed five pictures instead of the usual four, and my first impressions were wrong. My intentions were good. In case you’re wondering, Hidden Springs is the other ranch in Peeples Valley—they raise horses instead of cattle.

You can see a larger version of Hidden Springs Ranch on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Come back next week when we begin a new series from another Arizona back road.

Until next time — jw

Peeples Valley Cottonwood Picture of the Week

Four years ago, when Queen Anne and I moved to Congress, one of the decisions we made was to cut-the-cable. Well, it wasn’t a hard decision to make because Cox doesn’t cover this area, and we were tired of paying Dish Network more than a hundred bucks a month. Fortunately, we’re in line-of-sight with the South Mountain antennas, so we get the major local channels sharper than a cable signal. To supplement our viewing choices, we bought a TIVO box and signed up for the fastest Internet available in our neck of the woods, and we get the gist of current shows via YouTube.

One of the channels we repeatedly watch is The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. It’s a comedy-news show that we’ve enjoyed since Jon Stewart was the host, and Trevor has carried on well. Last week, or maybe it was the week before, he had a segment titled Is This the Way We Die? – Coronavirus. For Anne and I, that question struck close to home.

I usually shy away from writing about current events—I don’t know why, because I can’t count the number of times that people have called me an opinionated jerk—but, this week, I feel like talking about the elephant in the corner. I know that most of us will catch this bug and shrug it off in a couple of weeks. However, there’s that small percentage of elderly with underlying health issues that are at risk. With my diabetes and Anne’s recent surgery, we are that group. So it got my full attention. I’ve been preoccupied lately with my mortality, and asking myself, “Is this how it all ends?” I’ve concluded that I haven’t run out of film yet, and we’re going to carry on. I always knew that there was an upside in being an anti-social curmudgeon, and my time has finally come. I’ve practiced Social-Distancing for years, so I pretty much have it down pat. Now, if I could get one of you to throw a pack of toilet paper up on the porch now and again, we’ll be fine.

To maintain your sanity, the doctors recommend that you get out of the house and exercise. Walk around your block, ride a bicycle, or just spend some time outside, but stay away from crowds. I’m glad they urged that because it means I can still go out and shoot photographs. With my kind of subjects, I don’t interact with other people so that I won’t harm them or myself, and that brings me to this week’s featured image.

Peeples Valley Cottonwood - An old cottonwood tree growing along a rancher's irrigation line.
Peeples Valley Cottonwood – An old cottonwood tree growing along a rancher’s irrigation line.

This picture is my fourth image in the series of Peeples Valley Cottonwood trees, and this one is called Peeples Valley Cottonwood. It’s an old cottonwood tree growing along a rancher’s irrigation trench. In case you didn’t recognize it, it’s the same tree that is the subject of the first in this series—Broken Cottonwood. The angle is slightly different, and I used a polarizing filter to darken the sky. I think it gives the tree a three-dimensional look.

You can see a larger version of Peeples Valley Cottonwood on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week for the final portrait from Peeples Valley.

Until next time — jw

p.s. I know that these are not going to be the easiest of times, but we’ll get through this. Be kind to one another and find something you enjoy doing. Listen to what the doctors say and stop obsessing on the news.

Meadow Cottonwood Picture of the Week

The part of Yavapai County where Queen Anne and I live is littered with the names of pioneers that came to Arizona looking for gold after the gold rush in California panned out. These places include the towns of Wickenburg, Yarnell, and Stanton—the Weaver Mountains—and Peeples Valley. I didn’t misspell the valley name. It’s not a great commune up there in the mountains, but a rather a lovely flat valley named after a prospector named A. H. Peeples.

I’ve mentioned him before in previous posts. With a set of initials like that, I was relieved (although disappointed) to find that his full name was Abraham Harlow Peeples. He was on an Army expedition lead by Captain Joseph Walker and guided by Pauline Weaver—who, despite the name, was a man. While camping along a creek, some horses (or mules, depending on which story you read) wandered off during the night. Walker sent a couple of wranglers to fetch the animals. When they returned to camp, they talked about gold on top of the hill and showed pockets full of nuggets. Peeples and the rest of the party went to see for themselves. Arizona Place Names said that Abraham picked up $7,000 in gold before breakfast—and that’s in 1863 money. Anyway, he used his new wealth to build a ranch in the valley that bears his name.

Before Anne and I settled in Congress, we looked at several homes up there. It has advantages. With a higher altitude, it has milder summers but doesn’t get snowed in during winter. The valley has beautiful mountain views with the Bradshaw’s to the east the Weaver Range on the south. The little town has a bar and convenience store. What more could you want? However, the closest grocery store is the Safeway in Wickenburg, and that’s where we buy groceries now—fifteen miles in the other direction.

The Maughan Ranch owns most of the land in the valley, and they keep adding to their property. Along Az. 89, there are painted white fences, with black cattle grazing behind them. Our real estate agent joked that the painters are full-time staff because they’ll never finish.

Meadow Cottonwood - a single tree grows in a meadow ravine ensuring a good water supply.
Meadow Cottonwood – a single tree grows in a meadow ravine, ensuring a plentiful water supply.

Lucky for me, the fences don’t block the view of the trees featured in this month’s set of photographs. For this week’s featured image—called Meadow Cottonwood—I leaned against the fence to brace myself when I snapped the photo. This dormant cottonwood is a middle-aged tree that found a meadow ravine to grow in. Backlit by the sun, I’m happy how the delicate branches contrast against the white sky.

You can see a larger version of Meadow Cottonwood on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week for another cottonwood portrait from Peeples Valley.

Until next time — jw

Cottonwood Grove Picture of the Week

I want to begin this week’s post by thanking Deb Poteet for her advice about wearing fish-net stockings. If you missed what she said, it was a helpful comment to last week’s post. She said that she got her information straight from the Candy Store dancers—the gentlemen’s club on Cave Creek Road near Costco. It made both Queen Anne and me wonder what she was doing hanging around old strip clubs. Deb really does surprise us sometimes.

On another subject, Her Majesty is improving with each day. She goes to physical therapy three times a week and limps around the house without her walker or a cane. When I remind her that she doesn’t need to do that, she drops the Chester impersonation. It’s interesting to see how fast a woman can recover when you walk up to her death bed with a bottle of Dawn dish detergent and ask, “How much of this do I put in the dryer?”

Cottonwood Grove - A small grove of cottonwood grow along a dry brook in Peeples Valley, Arizona.
Cottonwood Grove – A small grove of cottonwood grows along a dry brook in Peeples Valley, Arizona.

Meanwhile, back up the mountain in Peeples Valley, and the second in my series of cottonwood tree images. This week’s featured image that I call Cottonwood Grove was another image taken on the Maughan Ranch north of town. Like other members of the Poplar family, these large fast-growing trees only grow where there’s a good water supply. In this image, there’s about a half dozen growing along the banks of a dry brook, which eventually feeds Kirkland Creek. Scenes like this one are familiar throughout the west.

In an Arizona Geography class that I took at Arizona State University, the professor told us how the trees filled the length of the Salt River bed. A family of beavers dammed the river under the Mill Avenue Bridge while the river still flowed. When the Corps of Engineers built the dams east of town, the Salt River stopped flowing, and the trees died, rotted, and eventually, a summer monsoon storm blew them over. That would have been a swell topic for a photo essay, but I wasn’t here then.

You can see a larger version of Cottonwood Grove on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week for another cottonwood portrait from Peeples Valley.

Until next time — jw

Broken Cottonwood Picture of the Week

Well, I might as well tell you right off, because you’re going to find out anyway. I’m cheating on this month’s project. I didn’t search out a new back road for us to explore. Instead, I just drove up the highway to Peeples Valley and photographed old cottonwood trees that I’ve meant to shoot for the last couple of years. I guess you could consider Arizona 89 off the beaten path if you’re used to driving I-17 to Prescott, but it’s the way we go to Costco all of the time, and it’s the official route for every car and motorcycle club tour every weekend.

The reason I shirked my responsibility this month is that I had to put Queen Anne down—wait, that’s not right—oh yeah, she had knee replacement surgery, and I’ve been wearing two extra uniforms since. I’ve been her nurse and maid, and quite frankly, I prefer the white stockings because my toes keep getting caught in the fishnets.

When she first came home from the hospital, her knee looked like a sewed up bag of haggis—that’s the Scottish delicacy of oats and various animal parts boiled in a sheep’s stomach. It was black and blue with stitches that could make Frankenstein jealous. She was all doped up on pain medication and spent most of her time in bed. When she did get up, she’d hobble on her walker to the bathroom or eat a cup of food.

In less than two weeks, she’s moving much better and can make her way through the house without assistance. Now she’s going to rehab three times a week where they ask her, “How far can you bend your knee before it hurts?” After she demonstrates, they grab her leg and bend it further. The whole town of Wickenburg knows when that happens—sort of like the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride. It seems to work though, because she has more movement each day, and she’ll soon be back to normal. I do think shes enjoying being waited on hand and foot because she milks it for all she can get. She even claims the doctor said that ice cream was medicinal.

Enough about her, let’s talk about photography. As I said, we frequently travel through Peeples Valley, where there is a large cattle ranch—Maughan Ranches—with white fences lining each side of the highway. In the green pastures, there are some very old cottonwood trees that I find appealing, so on a Saturday, when I was able to escape, I drove up and spent a moment behind the camera. After looking at images on my screen, I decided that since it’s winter and there’s no leaves or color, I would process them in black-and-white. In all, I think it shows the subjects off much stronger.

Broken Cottonwood - A pair of cottonwood trees, where one has fallen leaving the survivor leaning precariously in Peeples Valley, Arizona
Broken Cottonwood – A pair of cottonwood trees, where one has fallen leaving the survivor leaning precariously in Peeples Valley, Arizona

This week’s featured image is called Broken Cottonwood. It shows half a pair of old trees. One of them has fallen from decay or rot whose remains litters the ground. The second tree leans to the left to avoid crowding. Now that it stands alone, it leans precariously, like Grandpa McCoy on his cane. There’s a tension in this shot that the little windmill on the right seems to balance.

You can see a larger version of Broken Cottonwood on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week for another cottonwood portrait from Peeples Valley.

Until next time — jw