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

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.

Sierra Prieta Afternoon Picture of the Week

I broke down and bought one of those dorky bicycle helmets. Not the pink and white one that Anne picked out. She only liked it because it came with a Hello Kitty backpack, ideal for carrying my Capri Sun juice boxes. Mine’s bright silver with a black visor, and when I wear it, I look like the cartoon character in Pearls Before Swine—Jeff the Cyclist. Women swoon when I ride by.

I didn’t buy a helmet as a riding accouterment; it was a practical choice. A couple of weeks ago, I fell off my bike and landed on my head in a neighbor’s front yard. Don’t worry, nary a scratch, so I got up and finished my ride, but I was all over Amazon the minute I got home.

The bike was an innocent bystander in the crash; the real culprit was my balance. I’ve had dizzy spells recently. They’re caused by the microscopic sand particles in my inner ear balance thingy—the vestibular system. Some of the particles in my ear have escaped, and when I tilt my head, they brush hairs and set off dizzy spells—vertigo.

As I was climbing the hill on my morning route, I looked down at the chain to see which gear I was in, and when I looked back up, my head started spinning. The spells usually only last a short time, so that I thought I could power through, but the bike kept drifting toward the left curb, and I couldn’t control the steering, so I stopped to get off. If I get dizzy at home, all I need is to touch a wall for balance. There was no wall in the street. I was on my way to the ground before I knew it. I landed on my back, and I pounded the gravel with the back of my head. I sat up and checked for anything broken or bleeding. Then, I glanced around to ensure that no one had seen me before continuing my ride when I found none.

I’ve already seen my doctor, and she gave me exercises to round up those little buggers, so I’m doing better. There are a few recalcitrant grains that still run loose in my ear, but we’ll get them back in their cage eventually.

The dizziness was a concern on this month’s hike, but I wasn’t affected on the trail. I guess that the strenuous exercise kept it at bay, but I touched every boulder and tree along the way to be safe. When I reached the top, I was rewarded with views like in this week’s image.

Sierra Prieta Afternoon - From the top of Little Granite Mountain Trail you can see south all of the way to the Weaver Mountains.
Sierra Prieta Afternoon – From the top of Little Granite Mountain Trail, you can see south all of the way to the Weaver Mountains.

I call this picture Sierra Prieta Afternoon, and in it, you’re looking south from the hilltop. Beyond the eroded granite boulders, there are three mountain ranges. The closest peaks—the ones with color—are the Sierra Prieta. The next range—the one that has the large rounded peak—is the mountains around Kirkland and Skull Valley. Finally, along the horizon on the left-center is a glimpse of the Weavers. Our home is down on the desert floor on their far side—four thousand feet below the point I was standing.

You can see a larger version of Sierra Prieta Afternoon on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I’ll finish with a whimsical thing I found on the Little Granite Mountain Trail, so be sure to come back.

Until next time — jw

Cirrus Streak Picture of the Week

My favorite landscape photographers have different styles of working with a horizon. There’s a group that omits the sky from their images. Charles Cramer, for example, most often leaves the sky out of his pictures. Michael Kenna and Ansel Adams use the skyline as part of their image’s graphic design. On the other hand, Mitch Dobrowner’s images are mostly sky and extreme weather. (To be honest, if I ever had an opportunity to go on one of Mitch’s shoots, I’d take lots of underwear because I’d be scared.)

I can’t think of a master photographer that exclusively shoots sky. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the lack of context. Clouds around the world are the same. Without a ground-based reference point, you can’t tell where or when I took the photo, and there’s no sense of scale because clouds come in all sizes.

Cirrus Streak - A wispy streak of cirrus clouds thousands of feet above monsoon cumulus clouds forming above the mountain tops.
Cirrus Streak – A wispy streak of cirrus clouds thousands of feet above monsoon cumulus clouds forming above the mountain tops.

My picture of the week, for example, could have been taken in Tibet, at the Grand Canyon, or even in your backyard. It’s not obvious what year, season, or time of day it was taken. It’s essentially a monochrome image that would work as well if it were black and white; only the subtle color in the cumulus clouds hint of the hour.

The story of this week’s image—that I call Cirrus Streak—is that this is another of my August Monsoon Clouds project. In my quest to hunt down and capture images for the project, I drove a back road through the valley between the Weaver and Date Creek mountain ranges. As I said last week, the Weaver’s (along with the Bradshaw Mountains) are a breeding ground for our evening storms.

As I drove, I noticed this streaky cirrus cloud thousands of feet above a cluster of cumulus clouds building low over the mountains. I’m partial to how the high wispy clouds get distorted into interesting shapes from the winds aloft. So, I stopped the truck and framed these clouds as a graphic design. If you’re disoriented, the blue sky gives you a clue. The color always gets lighter towards the horizon, so the mountains appear under the frame’s bottom.

You can see a larger version of Cirrus Streak on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week to see another image from my cloud hunt grab bag.

Until next time — jw

Seal Mountain Picture of the Week

I wouldn’t have made a good prospector if I had lived during the Weaver Mountain mining boom. Since it is Father’s Day, a quote from my dad seems especially appropriate today. “You’re nothing but a lazy bastard, and you will never amount to anything.” Thanks, dad. I’ll cherish those words forever. He’s right, though. I don’t even like to water our flowers much less pick at a mountainside. In last week’s post, I was shocked to see in the photograph of my hand, a callous below my ring. Where did that come from—I haven’t touched a hand tool in decades.

If mining is off my list, what else did men do to earn wages back then? To find out, I continued my exploration of the Weaver Range east side by following the other side-roads near Placerita. This week I drove the Wagoner Road down to the Hassayampa River. I’ve never seen that area, and besides, I might get different scenes for my drone film. I struck pay dirt (sorry for the mining metaphor).

The Wagoner Road descends the east slope of the Weavers into a river valley where the Hassayampa flows above ground. As expected, where there’s surface water, there’s farming—or in this case ranching—big ranches. They’re stacked along the river one after another. They have well-maintained fences, impressive gates, and lots of black cattle (although I did see a herd that had Wagyu markings). The valley reminded me of north Scottsdale when it was mostly Arabian horse farms. It would be an ideal place to live except for grocery shopping. There are only two ways out, the 38-mile road back to Kirkland Junction or crossing over the Bradshaw Mountains on the Senator Highway (Wickenburg is only 20 miles distant in a private aircraft, which is possible given the size of these estates).

Seal Mountain - A remote mountain only seen in an obscure valley is the model that was used on the Arizona emblem.
Seal Mountain – A remote mountain only seen in an obscure valley is the model that was used on the Arizona emblem.

Since I was scouting new views of the Weaver peaks, I found a doozy. It’s the mountain that is in the background of this week’s featured image that I call Seal Mountain. Every Arizonian should know this mountain by heart because it was the model used for the Arizona State Seal. In 1912, who knew it existed? The only place you can see this peak is from the ranches in this remote valley. I’m impressed, however, that my local mountain range is represented on the Arizona seal.

The Arizona Seal - If you squint hard, you can see the similarity.
The Arizona Seal – If you squint hard, you can see the similarity. Personally, I would have chosen Four Peaks.

So, could I have been a rancher instead of working in a mine? MMM—maybe not. That kind of work still involves toiling with shovels, rakes, other hand tools, and even possibly riding a horse. Horses don’t like me. The last one that I road said, “Oof,” when I got on. Let’s take a closer look at that state seal—shouldn’t there be a programmer or a Web designer on it? Come to think of it, there isn’t even a real estate agent, and that’s the number one Arizona job.

You can see a larger version of Seal Mountain on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Come back next week to see what else we found along the road to Placerita.

Until next time — jw

Placerita Hills Picture of the Week

While having this morning’s coffee, I sat on the front porch and watched the sunrise over the Weaver Mountains. That’s the best view from my house, but there are still homes and trees in the way, so I can only see their tops unless I walk down to the end of the street. Since the elevation here is 1500’ higher than the Phoenix basin, the mornings are still cool—even in June. Because my porch faces east, all of that pleasantness comes to an abrupt halt the second the sun clears the horizon. Then I’m forced to retreat to the back where I have a spectacular view of my neighbor’s shed.

When we moved here almost five years ago, I knew nothing about the Weaver Range other than their name. With time, I learned more about their secrets as I researched the subjects I photographed. I fear that by the time I run out of film, I’ll become a sort of grizzled old Gabby Hayes wandering the Wickenburg streets, wearing a torn cowboy hat, a mouth full of chaw, and spinning yarns about mountain ghosts, so the tourists will give me loose change.

The Weaver’s have been at the center of my attention for a couple of months now because they’re the subject of my third drone video that I’ll finish in a couple of weeks. For the video, I made a list of points to film, and I’ve grappled how to describe the range best. On the way to the Prescott Costco last week, I blurted to Anne, “They’re like a horseshoe wrapped around Peeples Valley.” She said, “Huh?” I probably should have started with some context. Then I came up with a better metaphor. They’re more like the palm of your left hand—not the Michigan one.

The Weaver Range - The geography of the Weaver Range can be summed up on one hand, but you have to use the correct one.
The Weaver Range – The geography of the Weaver Range can be summed up on the one hand, but you have to use the correct one.

Use your imagination. Peeples Valley is the depression in the center, and State Route 89 is your life-line ascending from your wrist up Yarnell Hill to the little town at the pass. The Weaver’s tallest peaks are along with the thumb, and where gated communities of summer homes are. The desert wall (the northern boundary of the Sonoran Desert) is along your wrist. The area under your little finger represents the lower eastern peaks—more like rolling hills. The Hassayampa River separates the Weavers from the Bradshaws. The area that we’re exploring this month is at the base of your little finger.

Placerita Hills - The east flank of the Weaver Range are hills than tall peaks.
Placerita Hills – The east flank of the Weaver Range are hills than tall peaks. On the distant horizon is Weaver Peak which is on the other side of Peeples Valley, and is the range’s tallest peak.

The east flank of the mountain range doesn’t have any soaring peaks, at least not when you drive in from Peeples Valley. The mountains are more like rolling hills, as seen in this week’s featured image that I call Placerita Hills. To get there, you have to drive up a long gradual incline. The hilltops have granite outcrops that are like miniature versions of eastern and southern peaks. In the photo, the dense vegetation is very evident and is a mixture of Manzanita, Scrub Oak, and some others that I’m not able to name. Unlike the desert floor, there’s no space to walk, and it’s easy to understand why cowboys wear chaps. The mule deer that we saw bounced over the brush instead of running through it. It’s incredible to me that the area’s ranchers can raise cattle here.

You can see a larger version of Placerita Hills on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Come back next week to see what else we found along the road to Placerita.

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

Stanton—The Outlaw Ghost Town Under Yavapai Skies

My lovely bride abandoned me for a couple of days to get her annual check-up at a beauty spa on the Arizona Rivera—Lake Havasu City. Before she climbed into her friend—Yasmeen’s—car, she turned to me and with a pointed finger and sternly said, “I have two words for you. Be – have!” Well … that sounded like a challenge to me, so I began thinking about what kind of trouble I could get into. I was in the mood for a photography outing and I hadn’t been to Stanton since Fred and I got lost, so I tossed my gear into the truck and set off to get some new photos.

Hotel Stanton
Hotel Stanton – During the Summer of Love, hippies moved in and set up a commune. Unfortunately, they tore down many of the old buildings for firewood. LDMA has slowly repaired the remaining structures since acquiring the town in 1976.

Stanton is one of the many towns in mountainous Yavapai County (rhymes with have-a-pie) where, because someone discovered gold, a town sprung up overnight and disappeared just as quickly when the ore played out. It was little more than a stagecoach stop on the Wickenburg-Prescott road at  Antelope Creek until a tracker named Alvaro chased an errant burro to the top of what is now Rich Hill. When he got back to camp and told the expedition leader—Pauline Weaver—about finding gold nuggets “the size of potatoes” on the summit, you can surely guess what happened next.

Opera House
Opera House – The Opera House is an adobe building with a brick façade. It’s now used as a meeting hall for the RV Park.

The town—known at the time as Antelope Station—got its name from an unscrupulous character named Chuck Stanton who moved to the thriving community several years later. Stanton opened a store and, with the help of his hired banditos, killed off his competition. His reign didn’t last very long as he was shot and killed that same year (living with swords, I guess). The town thrived afterward for several decades but it had a bad reputation. “In 1892, for example, a Prescott newspaper reported that the residents of Stanton liked to ‘drink blood, eat fried rattlesnakes and fight mountain lions’” (Wikipedia). By 1905 the gold ran out and Stanton was abandoned.

Stanton Homes
Stanton Homes – Only three houses have survived the years of abandonment. They line a street surrounded by campers.

Ownership has changed several times since then and now it belongs to Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association (LMDA) and they have turned it into a member’s only RV Park. Membership is kind of pricey but LDMA has methodically bought up mining claims in the area and its members can work those old claims without charge. It’s surprising how many people will pay good money to play in the dirt—I don’t even like to plant flowers. Guests are allowed to visit but they first have to stop by the office and sign a release.

After my visit this week, I drove further down the road to the old Octave and Weaver mine sites and saw people on either side of the road prospecting. Late in the day, I stopped to take a photo along the roadside at quitting time when several trucks pulled out of a side road. They all slowed and waved and one of the men stopped to ask if I was getting some good shots. I asked him how his day went.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Did you make a fortune today,” I explained.

He laughed and replied, “Only the boss makes any money.”

“I see.”

Then he started telling an old joke, “Do you know how to make a small fortune in placer mining?”

“Yeah, you start with a big fortune,” I responded.

With that, he laughed and drove off in a big trail of dust.

Until next time — jw