Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The (sort-of) Triangle

Hoodoo Sunrise, New Mexico Badlands
Perhaps I need a 12-step program; I just can’t seem to stay away from The North Kaibab Forest in the autumn.  This year I considered skipping it; I’d scheduled a camping trip with Arizona Highways Photoscapes (more on that later) which started October 4.  I hated to think of driving the 6 hours from the aspens, unpacking and re-packing, and driving another 7 hours to Chaco Canyon.  The Photoscapes people told me I could join the trip in Lurch, so I planned the semi-triangular route; 8 days in the mobile mansion.

Modified Triangle

The last week in September and first in October are generally the best for yellow leaves there.  As it happened, my trip collided with the remnants of hurricane Rosa, so for four days if it wasn’t raining it was drippy and damp.  I lived in my rain pants but thank goodness for them.  The Kat fire was still not quite under control and the resulting forest closures limited my options as well.  

Lurch in one of the great campsites, Kaibab Forest

This sort of limitation can sometimes be a blessing, though, like the famous photo exercise which requires that the photographer shoot all day with just one lens.  You learn to adapt, an in this case, I camped at three brand new spots, two of which I LOVE and know I’ll return to.

Fog in the Kaibab Forest

The cloud inversion over Marble canyon and fog in the forest were gifts as well; I’ve never had a chance to do an autumn shoot up there with these unusual conditions.  Most often, we see brilliant sunshine at this time of year.

Setting up to be in Gallup for lunch the next day, I camped at lower elevation (3500 feet from 9000) near Marble Canyon.  How delicious to wash my hair and hang all my wet stuff out to dry.  I thought the rainy weather had passed until I woke up at 3:30AM to a thunderstorm.

Sunrise, Navajo Bridge

I shot sunrise at Navajo Bridge, and then drove to Gallup to meet the group for the Photoscapes trip.  After four days on my own, I felt I had to learn social skills again.  The blue corn enchiladas at Gordo’s Cafe and some patient new friends helped a lot.

We stayed for three nights at a group site in Chaco Culture National Historical Park (is it any wonder that people mostly just call it "Chaco?").  The temps dropped to the upper 30s.  I’ll admit to some guilty feelings, sleeping in my heated camper, but tried to make amends by sharing ice cream treats and beer. I think I got away with it.

The camp was outfitted by AOA Adventures, a Phoenix company.  They provided all the camping gear and cooked for us.  What a gift to roll into camp after a long day and have no responsibilities but to sit down to a delicious dinner. I  highly recommend them!

Great light on the Chaco doorways

This was my first trip to Chaco; I really just scratched the surface. Kerrick James, who I’m lucky to claim as a mentor, did a fabulous job leading the workshop.

The park’s hours are not particularly photographer-friendly (7:00AM – Sunset), but Photoscapes did arrange for early entry one morning; we were escorted by a ranger and had a chance to photograph stars a bit.
Petrified wood, New Mexico Badlands

We also had the pleasure of wandering around a part of the New Mexico Badlands called Ah Shi Sle Pah, similar to, but less traveled than the more famous Bisti.  The shapes are otherworldly, and we enjoyed the most impressive petrified wood I’d ever seen.

Thanks for riding along on this epic triangular trip.  More images are in the Autumn 2018 Gallery on the website.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Country Fair

Country Fair, Peeples Valley Arizona
Well, there’s been an awful lot going on, but most of it is not particularly bloggable, or photogenic.

As many of you know, I sit on the board of the Yarnell Regional Community Center.  We administer Meals on Wheels and other programs in our rural area. On Saturday we held our annual “Country Fair” fundraiser which is goofy and corny and just perfect for our little communities. 

I was asked to be the event photographer.  Of course, I’m mostly a horse of a different color, shooting the natural world and travel.  Frankly I was a bit concerned about the bright, harsh light and that thing about events where you either catch the moment or it’s gone forever. This is why I don’t love to shoot weddings. I really didn’t want to say no, though, so off I went.

Board Members, YRCC
My saving grace was the plethora of shade structures we put up Friday night.  The white ones, at least, act as giant neutral diffusers and lend a lovely flattering light.  Whenever I could, I photographed people under the cover of these, avoiding the blue-roofed ones.
Firefighter's Relay
Sometimes it’s just dumb luck.  We had to cut the Firefighter relays short because one of the departments had a call.  The whole event lasted 15 seconds; no kidding.  Its just dumb luck that, shooting from the hip while essentially running into place, I got one shot that I like.  For next year, I need to coordinate better with the emcee. 
Fortune teller and his human
The caped crusader rode in

Silly hats, drumming and other hands-on music, Costumes (hat contest, Batman, a fortune teller, a hot dog) cookie decorating and slop painting (just a few examples) ultimately made the event much more photogenic than I’d expected.
Blue Ridge Reservoir, Coconino National Forest Arizona
And, last week I paddled Blue Ridge Reservoir; my last chance before it closes for the season. 

Other than that, I’m just gearing up for a busy October; lots of interesting travel to revel in the coming of autumn, a particular joy for desert dwellers.

More from Rim Country and the Fair in the newly constructed Fall 2018 Gallery on the website.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Fundamental Restlessness

Watson Lake Sunset, maybe better than moon rise
Sometimes this traveling nature photographer stuff goes smoothly; all my research pays off and each location yields, if not exactly what I’d planned, then images or experiences which are at least as good.  August has been a bit of a challenge.  Most likely that’s just a coincidence, but the time in Guatemala is always life-changing in one way or another, so it’s also possible that transformations are brewing in my subconscious since we came home at the end of July.  I find that when that happens I’m often restless and dissatisfied and that things seem more challenging.  I hardly ever recognize what’s happening in real time.

The Guatemala trip required lots of interaction with people, a great deal of it in my improving but nothing-close-to-fluent Spanish.  The introvert in me returned home desperate to get out on my own.

Pema Chödrön wrote, “It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up the space.  By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness”
Sunset in a new favorite spot, Coconino National Forest
So, once the Guatemala images were processed and the laundry done, I packed up lurch and went looking for flowers and empty psychic space in the Flagstaff area. The first night I stumbled on a new favorite place to camp, one of the benefits of boondocking without a plan, but found only a few scattered blooms.  On the second day I was griping about the smoke from wildfires all over the west, mosquitoes, lack of flowers, and the unheard-of high temperature of 98 degrees.  It was a long day.  Yes, I do understand what a privilege it is to be able to be in the wilderness in this way, and the Buddhist concept of acceptance (ahem); its just that whining a bit can be therapeutic.

A couple of weeks later I was in Pine, Arizona for the annual retreat of Through Each Other’s Eyes.  Our gracious host, Errol Zimmerman, let me and Lurch sleep in his driveway Friday night.  Saturday was productive and inspiring but again, because I’m such an introvert, lots of talking and interacting is exhausting.  Afterward I had a few days free and was so close to Mogollon Rim Country it seemed a waste not to explore a bit, so I broke my rule about never camping on weekends there.
Determined mushroom, morning walk
These parts of the Coconino National an Apache Sitgreaves National Forests are lovely but on weekends are crowded, loud, and home to dangerous drivers.  Oh, and there’s target practice.  On top of all that, there was a large forest closure which included one of my favorite camp spots and the adjacent trail which I’d planned to hike.  I did some exploring and ended up tucked into an unspectacular site, but my morning walk was quiet (rednecks seem to sleep late) and had some nice surprises.  
Golden Light, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
The next day I burned half a tank of gas scouting around and settled into a spot on the edge of the Rim which allowed a vista including layers of near ridges and diminishing mountains in the background. My favorite image, though, was a serendipitous shot of the light turning golden on the dust kicked up by another car as I drove home in the morning.

Meetings and family stuff kept me home after those trips, but I planned a few local shoots around the full moon.  Photographers will already know that the full moon is bright. One way to deal with this photographically is to shoot moon rise the day before full and moon set the day after.  That way the sky is not fully dark, and there can be interesting dawn and dusk light as well.
Moon Rise, Watson Lake
I did my research with The Photographer’s Ephemeris, Photopills, and some old-fashioned brainstorming and found a spot on the shore of Watson Lake in Prescott for Moon rise last Friday.  A friend came along and It was a lovely night; the first this year hinting at autumn. Unfortunately clearing storm clouds precluded seeing the rising moon until it was full dark, maybe an hour after it came up.  I can’t complain though.  Reflected color was worth the price of admission.
Moon Set from Yarnell Hill
Moon set Monday morning, similarly researched, was at the overlook near our home in Yarnell. Thought not perfectly timed (moon set was about an hour after sunrise), the scene was  breathtaking and worth the early wake-up.
Setting moon and its fractured reflection, Watson Lake
Tuesday I hit the road at o-dark-thirty and paddled Watson Lake, soaking in the therapeutic solitude again.

I do treasure the fundamental spaciousness, if I bring an open mind and earplugs.

There’s more in the Summer 2018 Gallery on the Website.