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?

Beer Can Picture of the Week

Beer Can - An uncouth visitor left an empty beer can near a cattle tank on the Babbitt Ranch.
Beer Can – An uncouth visitor left an empty beer can near a cattle tank on the Babbitt Ranch in Northern Arizona.

If you drive north on US Route 89 from Flagstaff, you get to see one of the best scenic views in the country. To get there, we need to get around the San Francisco Peaks—the remains of an ancient volcano, and they rise over 12,000 feet—Arizona’s high point. Route 89 is on the east flank of the peaks and winds through Flagstaff suburbs that suffered fire and flood damage this spring. As the road climbs a gentle grade, the scenery changes from open meadows full of new homes to a ponderosa forest. There was substantial fire scaring, but many tall, red-barked trees survived.

At the top of the hill, the four-lane highway briefly flattens before you reach the Sunset Crater National Monument entrance road and the 7288-foot elevation marker. A mile further, the road suddenly drops from its mountain elevation to the Little Colorado River Bridge, 3100 feet below and 35 miles away. On an exceptionally clear day, you can see into Utah—I swear.

This vista encompasses every rainbow color. On the left, the dark green pine trees grow down the mountain slope until they make way for lighter green junipers and then the yellow grass-covered cinder cones on the Babbitt Cattle Ranch. The twenty-one miles of perfectly straight blacktop divides the east side from the west. On the east side, patches of black lava flow give way to the distant Painted Desert colored in hues of reds, whites, greys, and purples. Above everything, the deepest blue skies—a color they don’t make anymore—tie the canvas together.

Every time I see this scene through my windshield, I have a smile on my face. My joy is probably because I’m on my way to someplace fun, like Lake Powell, Lee’s Ferry, the Grand Canyon, or (shudder) Utah. As I drive down the mountainside, I habitually switch my dash view to see if I can recover my gas mileage before I hit the bridge. It keeps my mind occupied for the next half hour. As you all know, I’m easily amused.

Except for a few visits to Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments, I’m usually passing through this wonderland. But, during our July visit to Flagstaff, Queen Anne and I came to the mountain’s north side to photograph the cinder cones in the San Francisco Lava Field. They’re technically on the private ranch owned by the Babbitt family. The Arizona pioneers that have been successful ranchers, merchants, and politicians.

Before we drove out to the ranch, I checked in at their store in town to see if we needed a hall pass. “No, if the gate is open, you can enter as long as you’re respectful and drive on the roads.” Taking the caution to heart, I was surprised when we reached the old trading post that there wasn’t even a gate to open. The dirt road was so smooth that we didn’t tax our Jeep’s capabilities—not even its four-wheel drive. It’s only a couple of miles to the lava field, but before we got there, we drove by a cattle tank where some uncouth slob left an old beer can. I was so upset that I stopped to document what the thoughtless cretin had done. The picture came out so well that I made it this week’s featured image. I call it Beer Can.

As you might have figured out already, it’s not actually a beer can but graffiti that some vandal painted on the side of one of the ranch’s metal water tanks. They’re used to hold water for the cattle during the dry season. Indeed, the lettering is still vandalism, but one that appeals to my perverted sense of humor. Besides the tank, I don’t know what the trash can lid is. Perhaps it’s a cache to store surplus hay for when a herd is in the area.

An unnamed volcanic cone appears in the background, and it doesn’t seem very high until you try climbing it. Neither Anne nor I tried scaling anything on this trip because there weren’t any stairs for me to bitch about, so as usual, Anne stayed in the Jeep reading her Kindle while I ran around taking pictures.

You can view my Web version of Beer Can on its page by clicking here. We have a month’s worth of photos from the lava field, so we’ll be spending October here. I hope you enjoy this week’s pictures and come back next week when we present more. Be sure to join us then.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

We recently discussed making a Route 66 photo trip and producing a large coffee-table book from the new photos. After burning down my calculator, we’ve put off any such trip until later. We’ll wait and see what happens next year.

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