Mack’s Bar Picture of the Week

Mack's Bar - Something that its patrons may never see is the early morning sun shining on Mack's Bar in Willcox, Arizona.
Mack’s Bar – Something that its patrons may never see is the early morning sun shining on Mack’s Bar in Willcox, Arizona.

“Gee, had I only known …” I don’t know about you, but I’ve uttered that phrase a lot. I shouldn’t be surprised because my mom always told me that I “was a day late and a dollar short.” And, I always thought she called me sun because I was so bright.

This time I whispered the idiom to myself after getting back from our Cochise County trip. As I always do, I began looking for stories that complement my pictures. I found a great story about another Earp shooting. Not Wyatt. That would have been too good. This incident involved the shooting death of Warren Earp—Wyatt’s youngest brother—at 1:30 am July 6th, 1900, in the Headquarters Saloon.

If you’re not familiar with the controversial Earp brothers (where have you been), they were supposedly the good guys at the OK Corral shootout in 1881—even though they wore the black hats and black dusters. I don’t want to dwell on the Tombstone incident, but the short version is that Wyatt, two of his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and their friend—Doc Holiday went to the corral to disarm four Clanton Gang cowboys. The confrontation erupted in a 30-second gunfight where the Earp’s killed Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton while Ike Clanton managed to run away. (In this video, Bob Boze Bell—former DJ, artist, and publisher of True West magazine—explains the shootout’s story better. It’s longish but interesting.)

Warren wasn’t in Tombstone at that time because he was too young and lived with his parents in California, but he later got entangled in the subsequent vendetta that lasted another year. By 1900, Warren had settled in Willcox, a mountain range east of Tombstone. He worked as a stage driver for the mail and a Sierra Bonita Ranch hand. It was at the ranch where he and Johnny Boyett became close.

On the fateful night, Warren and Johnny got into a shouting match in the saloon on the northeast corner of Maley Street and Railroad Avenue (diagonally across the street from last week’s train station). As their argument heated, they threatened to kill one another, although neither was armed. Short-tempered Warren and Boyett left the bar separately. Earp wanted to cool off, and Johnny went to get a gun. When Warren returned through the back door, Boyett shot at him four times. He seemingly missed on purpose. Earp taunted the ranch foreman and opened his duster to prove he didn’t have a gun. “Don’t come an inch closer,” Johnny shouted, but Warren continued. Johnny fired another round sending a bullet through Earp’s heart. Warren fell foreword, dead onto the floor. Then things got weird.

Between the 1:00 am shooting, and sunrise, Earp’s body was dragged to the cemetery and buried in an unmarked grave. Meanwhile, the Sheriff arrested Johnny. Then he got the local judge out of bed. They held a trial, where the witnesses testified. Finally, the judge determined the shooting was justified and freed Johnny Boyett. The incident was closed and sealed forever.

There is a tantalizing clue, however. In the 1930s, a reporter interviewed a woman living in Prescott’s Pioneer Home. Her name was Mary Cummings—she was also called Kate Elder, but she was best known as Big Nose Kate. She worked as a prostitute in Tombstone and was Doc Holiday’s common-law wife. During that interview, she recounted her memories of the Earp brothers and said Warren’s death “… was the result of an altercation between two individuals involved in an unnatural male relationship.”

How does this week’s picture fit into this story? It doesn’t. The Headquarter Saloon burned to the ground sometime after the shooting, but the builders used the foundations to rebuild an identical structure. It’s repurposed now—ironically as a wine-tasting room. While I was shooting in Willcox, I didn’t feel it worthy because it has a tacky sign painted on the white stucco. This week’s photo—Mack’s Bar—is also on Maley Street, a block west of where our story took place. So, it’s a bar, it’s on the same street, and that’s as close as I got.

You can see a larger version of Mack’s Bar on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I have another picture from Willcox, and maybe I can find a story that goes with it.

Until next time — jw

Date Creek Clearing Picture of the Week

Sometimes you get lucky. As a photographer, I keep scenes in my head, so I can go back when the light is right when I want to capture them. That’s what happened for last week’s image, Resting Santa. We had a series of dry fronts move through Congress during the month, but the weather forecasts called for an afternoon where the sky would be clear so the evening sun would pleasantly light up the Harcuvars. I left the house at 3:30 and purposely drove out to get that shot. It was practically a product shot.

More often, I pass by beautiful once in a lifetime scenes that will never be replicated, and I chastise myself for not having a camera with me—or worse—not taking the time to stop. That’s almost what happened with this week’s featured image.

Date Creek Clearing - A clearing winter storm hangs over the Date Creek Range in the evening sun.
Date Creek Clearing – A clearing winter storm hangs over the Date Creek Range in the evening sun.

After I was finished shooting Resting Santa, I drove home on State Route 71. I was looking forward to getting back to a warm home, a nice glass of wine, and one of Queen Anne’s famous home-cooked Stouffer’s dinners. The sun was low on the horizon, and outside my window, a golden cloud hung over the Date Creek range. The conversation in my head went something like this.

“Oh my, that’s gorgeous. I should really come back with the camera sometime when the light is like this.”

“You idiot! Your camera is on the passenger seat, and the light is like this right now. Stop the truck, walk across the road, and take the picture.”

I was very convincing, so I did stop and take a shot—several of them to be exact. The version that I like most is called Date Creek Clearing. There are two prominent peaks in the Date Creek Range; both of them are unnamed. On the left is the rocky pinnacle that ate my first drone, so I call it Drone Eater Mountain. On the right side is the Range’s high point. They are only bit-players in this photo. The real stars here are the clouds caught in a moment that can never be duplicated. Those storm leftovers can never be the same.

I know that my work is considered trivial and will never warrant a Pulitzer Prize or other great awards. I shoot mostly meaningless pretty pictures, valued at a dime-a-dozen. But on a week such as the one we’ve experienced, I needed a bit of calmness and serenity. If you feel the same, then this is my gift to you.

You can see a larger version of Date Creek Clearing on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I’ll bring you another image from our small corner of the world. Stay safe.

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

Sonoran Winter Afternoon

It’s the end of the year already, and that means that this week’s photo wraps up the month and year. In a few days, we’ll begin a new year, shooting new locations and new subjects. But I’ll worry about that next week. For now, let’s finish with the trip up the San Domingo Wash, which is where I shot this week’s featured image.

While I was out exploring the mountains north of Wickenburg, I experienced the desert in changing light—from late afternoon to sunset. In that short amount of time, the desert’s character changed as the sun sank lower in the sky. When it was behind the clouds, the scene was dull and empty. Later, when the sun came out, it was warm and full of life, and all the different plants stood out like characters on a stage. At sunset, those characters blended into an image of textures and shapes. Meanwhile, the sky became a more critical player in the story.

A late afternoon sun lights up the saguaros in the mountains north of Wickenburg, Arizona.
A late afternoon sun lights up the saguaros in the mountains north of Wickenburg, Arizona.

With this week’s image I call Sonoran Winter Afternoon, it was the saguaro near the hilltop and in the middle of the frame that made me raise the camera to my eye. Although it may not seem notable, desert dwellers will spot that it’s a very tall specimen. It stands out like an NBA player walking down New York’s Fifth Avenue. It’s a trophy shot in the same way as one with multiple arms or with a crest would be. After my first shot, I worked to get a better composition and show it among others for scale. I like how the warm afternoon sun gives the vegetation a golden glow which contrasts nicely with the blue sky patches. I hope you enjoy it.

You can see a larger version of Sonoran Winter Afternoon on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll be in an entirely different Arizona place. I also have some announcements coming up that I’m looking to get the New Year with a good start. Here’s hoping yours will be better and brighter.

Until next time — jw

Observations on a Winter’s Morning

After listening to the radio reports of sub-freezing nation-wide temperatures, I donned my blue light-weight jacket and straw hat as protection against the 48º (F) biting chill and left the house for my daily dawn walk around our compound. The sun was lurking behind the Weaver Range and it turned an overhead cloud into a streak of crimson. I couldn’t decide if it was the Arctic Blast or the red sky that stole my breath.

I’m of course telling you this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but it’s an Arizona law commanding us to brag about our winters just like our law that says we have to tell out-of-state relatives that we’re having Thanksgiving by the pool, regardless of having one. I’m just a law-abiding citizen.

On this morning’s walk, however, I did notice a couple of things that concerned me and another that brought joy. Unlike last year’s wet winter which brought snow to the mountains flanking our east, this winter has been warm and dry. The last measurable rain in Phoenix was August 23rd. That’s not good even though our RV Park is packed with northern people. Octogenarians partying in shorts and loud shirts late into the night dancing the Limbo next to a roaring campfire (do they know we don’t do that here?). All fun I guess, but winter rains are important for us. We count on them for spring wildflowers. More importantly, the mountain snowpack’s feed the streams and rivers where we keep the water Phoenix needs.

The first example I have is this brittlebush. It has flowers which is something that happens in early spring—not at the beginning of winter. In spring the daisy-like yellow flowers cover the brittlebush and they carpet the desert floor, then the heat sets in and the plants shrivel into dry sticks—hence the name.

Brittlebush in January
January Brittlebush – Brittlebush normally sends out daisy-like yellow flowers carpeting the desert floor in early spring.

At the south-east corner of the park, down by the water treatment plant is a large ash tree where our resident Cooper’s hawk nests in the spring. Ash trees in Arizona are always late to turn color, but this one is still green. I don’t know if something in the leach field keeps it green, or the unusually warm weather is affecting the leaves from turning. In either case, it’s not the norm.

Winter Ash
Winter Ash – Ash trees (background) are always late to turn color in Arizona, this one may have missed the bus.

When I got to our cactus park, I was glad to see that the warmth has not prevented the columnar cacti—the ones that look like pipes—from sprouting their winter bloom. This only happens during the coldest part of the year and the cup-like flower stay until the nights warm again. Since we haven’t had a freeze this year, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the flowers. Strangely, neighbors living near the park report hearing melodic noises during last night’s (super) full moon. They all said that they heard the soft chanting of “Whip-it, whip-it good” drifting across the night air.

Winter Blossoms
Winter Blossoms – Only on the coldest nights of winter do the columnar cactus sprout these cup-like white flowers.

Until next time — jw