Predator Tracks Picture of the Week

We need to drive an hour to show you a different part of the Algodones Dunes. I hope you had breakfast because we’re not stopping. There are only two roads that cross the dunes, Interstate 8—east of Yuma and California State Highway 78. We’ll hop onto I-8 and head west to Holtville, then north to Brawley.

Most of this drive is flat and dull except for the towering green John Deere tractors that take up three lanes of the two-lane road. The farmers drive them on public roads to remind you that if you eat steak and salad in winter, this is where they were likely grown—either here in the Imperial Valley or Yuma.

Once we get to Brawley (there’s a bypass, so thankfully, we don’t have to go into town), we’ll turn west onto S.R. 78—the road to Blyth (boy, it keeps getting worse, doesn’t it). It isn’t far out of town that you see a cloud bank on the horizon—or at least that’s what it appears to be. The sand reflects light on a bright day, and the detail gets lost. The shapes and color begin to resolve in another mile, and the windshield fills with an overwhelming sea of golden sand.

We have arrived. This area of the dunes is the home base for So Cal dune-buggy enthusiasts. As soon as the highway starts up the sand, you’ll see Gecko Road on the right. It’s a paved street loaded with vendors, campers, and rangers. This road is a fee area, so we may have to buy a permit if the rangers come to work today. There are several designated camping areas along the road, and they’re full of R.V.s and trailers—even in the middle of the week. Judging from the size and luxury of these rigs, they’ve come from the L.A. Basin—and they’re richer than anyone from Arizona. There must be a thrill racing up and down dunes; otherwise, what’s the point? I wouldn’t try it in Archie, but with Bluto, I might. It could be fun.

Predator Tracks - An innocent victim was snatched from her friends by a giant sandworm California's Imperial Dunes .
Predator Tracks – An innocent victim was snatched from her friends by a giant sandworm in California’s Imperial Dunes.

It can also be dangerous. Some creatures live in the sand that nobody’s seen—their tracks are the only evidence that they’re real. They’re called sandworms, and they feed on unsuspecting victims as they try to cross. It’s true; they were in the ’90s movie Tremors, and you can see for yourself in this week’s picture called Predator Tracks. In it, you see footprints from a herd of bikini-clad tawny blond valley girls, moving north across the sand while staring at their phones. They were defenseless because they ignored their parent’s warning to take a chainsaw.

As they incessantly chattered about their Instagram likes, they overlooked the sandworm lurking behind a distant mound. Like dolphins feeding on a school of mackerel, the sandworm blindsided the girls. From their midst, it snatched Cassie in its massive jaws and drug her under as she complained about losing all her bars. None of the others noticed. They continued to the snack truck making snide remarks about how Cassie had just ghosted them. The only record of this tragedy is the tracks in the sand in my photo. Within a couple of days, even those will blow away.

You can see a larger version of Predator Tracks on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll hang around the Imperial Dunes and see what other sand tracks we can find.

Until next time — jw

Sunrise on Track Picture of the Week

There are only a half-dozen places Queen Anne, and I frequent in our home town of Congress. There’s Nichol’s West—our favorite local restaurant, the Post Office, the clinic, the Kwikie Mart, and the Dollar Store. Oh, I forgot the dump. For anything else, we have to drive into town or—shudder—the big city. Half of those in-town destinations are on the west side of the railroad crossing, which never has a train—most of the time.

I wrote in a newsletter about our train when we first moved here. This section of track is called the Pea Vine Grade that follows Highway 60 out of Sun City till Wickenburg then continues north to Prescott and Ash Fork. The name is descriptive of the twists along the route.

The tracks aren’t busy like the southern route in Yuma, or the north through Flagstaff. This route isn’t bustling and only has four to six passing trains each day. They’re not on any schedule that I can discern and you don’t hear them go by as much as you feel their bass vibrations, especially the ones coming up the grade. The five engines work hard dragging loaded freight cars up the hill, while the ones headed south sound like a wooden roll-a-coaster as they effortlessly roll downhill. Their horns only blare in Wickenburg and the Congress crossings. That’s too far away to hear from the house unless we’re sitting on the back porch and there’s a north breeze coming off the mountains, but even that’s so faint that it’s like a scene from a Steinbeck novel.

Sunrise on Track
Sunrise on Track – Dawn breaks with a red sky over the railroad tracks heading north from Congress Junction.

This week’s featured image turned out completely different from how I originally visualized it. I wanted to capture this shot with a train in it. The tracks come into Congress Junction from Hillside through the valley between the Date Creek Range and the Weaver Mountains. On most mornings, there’s an early southbound train. We’ve seen it while we’re out for our morning walks. To further set the scene, the Date Creek Range foothills at the crossing are prettiest at sunrise. The rest of the day, they’re flat and dull. So that’s what I had in my mind when I drove there in the dark.

I previously scouted out a lovely spot overlooking the tracks, and I set up my camera and waited for the characters to arrive. As the eastern sky got brighter, the clouds overhead turned red, and I thought, “Ooo shiny.” I fired off a couple of frames. As I waited, the fast-moving clouds moved east and began to block the sunrise removing any drama from my scene. Besides, no trains showed up. Disappointed, I packed up and drove around town looking for other subjects to shoot.

When I got home and reviewed my images, this was the shot that impressed me the most. Even without a train, the tracks are a leading line that moves your eye to the foothills.  The light bouncing from the clouds tints the scene pink, and that light softly brings out the mountain’s cone shape. There is a feeling of tranquility in this shot. It’s a moment of quiet and calm.

You can see a larger version of Sunrise on Track on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from Congress.

Until next time — jw