Rebecca Wilks

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

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Spies

 

Owl Parent

Photography has led me to so many cool opportunities.  As I ponder this, I‘m grateful for a lot of help.  I’m particularly grateful for my “spies.”

My friends know what excites me in the natural world, and they’re so good at telling me about things that I should check out.

Owlets

Most recently, a friend let me know about a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls in her tree.  Since then, I’ve had several adventures on her rather slippery roof (the best vantage point) and discovered two owlets in the nest while watching one of the parents chase off marauding ravens.  These are not art quality images, but they are a window into the natural world. 

Barn Owl

My veterinarian friend lets me know when she’s doing something interesting, like helping to fledge this orphaned barn owlet. I love the chance to photograph these things.

Enough owls, maybe?

Summer Poppies, Kirkland AZ

A pair of friends, as curious as I am, have turned me on to flowers I might not have noticed on my own.  The most memorable were these “summer poppies” which sometimes pop up during monsoon season.  They look like the Mexican Gold Poppies we see in spring when I drive by at 65 MPH but they’re not related: they’re actually a member of the Creosote family.

Ajo Lily, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

One friend is a Park Service Ranger who’s pointed me toward a huge variety of places since we met ten or so years ago, both at the Grand Canyon and at her current gig at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Most recently it was Ajo Lilies in a corner of the monument.

Solitude at Mojave Trails National Monument

Speaking of Rangers, I called the BLM Needles (CA) office for information about Mojave Trails National Monument a few years ago and had the good luck to connect with another generous ranger.  She walked through google earth with me to help me get to this and other nearby places. 

Handoff; Hashknife Pony Express



Another friend is connected with the Hashknife Pony Express.  I was thrilled that he invited me to help shoot publicity images for them.  One of these riders has since died, and the other, his good friend, has used this image several times in his memory.  RIP Wade. I’ve recently learned that the image was used on a plaque for a new sculpture in Holbrook Arizona. 

Volcan Fuego, Esquintla Guatemala

My husband and I have become acquainted with the director of the Spanish language school we frequent in Guatemala.  Knowing I was a photographer, he arranged for his brother-in-law to guide us to this vantage point of Volcan Fuego.  I was getting impatient waiting for an eruption, but he encouraged me to keep waiting.  This happened.  I only had time for one 25 second shot 

Walnut Grove Bridge over Hassayampa River

Our local waterways are lined with cottonwood trees.  I was anticipating shooting these trees upstream from the 1930s bridge in bright spring green.  The spot is a long enough drive that I appreciated the intelligence I got from a friend who is building a house out that way.

These are just a few examples of helpful spies – I’m grateful to you all. If you see something, please say something.  ­čśŐ

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Rest of April

 

Peeples Valley Arizona

Well, I’ve been flying the drone.  I’m fascinated by the possibilities that come up with a different perspective.  The only real frustration is that there are so many rules.  No flying directly over people or moving vehicles, no flying in National Parks, and all the regulations around airspace.  But I still have a huge grin when I fly.

 

Walnut Grove Arizona

The high viewpoint makes me newly enthusiastic about places I’ve shot frequently, like the bright green cottonwoods near home.

 

Valley of the Gods, Utah

San Juan River

We had a road trip to southern Utah recently, and the aircraft gave a much more interesting view of some places which are difficult to shoot well from the ground like the entrenched meanders of the San Juan River (shot from outside Goosenecks Sate Park), the Moki Dugway, and Valley of the Gods.

 

Labyrinth

Even more challenging to shoot well from the ground is a lovely bit of private property which belongs to some friends nearby.  I’ve tried many times.  So far this drone shot of their labyrinth is the one I like the best.

Great Horned Owlet, Peeples Valley Arizona

Not with the drone, but off the ground, I’ve been sitting on a friend’s roof in Peeples Valley intermittently to spy on some Great Horned Owlets.  My 5-10 approach shoes with the sticky soles (I call them slick rock shoes) have saved my butt up there.

I’m working on a couple of wish lists, one for drone shots and one with great places for the whole family to visit; BLM land for Gypsy the Dog and for the drone, fishy for my husband the angler, and beautiful for everyone.  Suggestions are appreciated.  I’ll report on my progress as the summer goes along.

More from this spring are in the Spring 2023 Gallery on the website.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Celebration

 

Aerial; cholla, desert gold and ajo lilies, Darby Well area, Southern Arizona

I’ve been absorbed in a project for a couple of months, studying for the FAA Commercial Drone Pilot Certification.  Last week I passed the test.  Normally I wouldn’t share the score, but I got 97%, which will resonate with readers of The No1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, who know that Mma Makutsi was comically proud of her 97% at the Botswana Secretarial College. I got my score before I walked out of the testing center at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, so I was all ready for a nice lunch at El Gato Azul.  That was the conventional part of the celebrations, together with the errands required of rural people like us when we’re in the city.

 

Certification doesn’t allow me access to more places, but it does let me legally sell my drone images and donate them to my favorite nonprofits.  Perhaps the best perk is feeling confident that I know the regulations when I’m out there flying and know how to get Air Traffic Control permission when I want to fly in controlled airspace.  I’m looking at you, Watson Lake.  Then there’s knowledge for knowledge’s sake (no, I’m not being sarcastic).  I now know how to read sectional charts, decode aeronautical weather reports, and understand airspace.  I can read all those little letter and number signs at airports, too.

 

Lupine and owl's clover, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Arizona

The big celebration was a road trip with a treasured photography friend.  We met at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where there were still a few nice flowers.

 

Rattler

Ajo Lily

The focus of the trip was to safely (sandy roads and border crossers) visit a place which, in a good year, has purple verbena and white dune primrose blooming together.  We drove 50 miles on dirt roads, only to find that this was not a good year there.  We elected to keep our eyes open and be flexible as we looked for another place to camp, and among other things we found a lovely growth of Ajo Lilies and a photogenic rattlesnake.

 

Aerial; Organ Pipe Cactus and Black Mountain with blooming brittlebush

On our last camping night together, we found a colorful spot on BLM land in the area.  National Parks and Wildlife Refuges (where we’d been until then) don’t allow drone flights, but I enjoyed some flying time here.  In the morning.  After the 35 MPH wind gusts settled down.  Sigh.

 

Profusion of brittlebush blooms, Darby Well Area, Southern Arizona

The joke was on my traveling companion a bit, since he half-seriously says he doesn’t love yellow flowers.  We had a profusion of desert gold and brittlebush blooming, both yellow.

 

Detail, Darby Well Area, Southern Arizona

It’s getting warm out there, so I’m going to declare the desert camping season done.  I’m looking forward to day trips for sahuaro blooms and to returning to the high country if it ever thaws out.  This all sounds like more celebrations to me.

There are more images on the website, in the Spring 2023 Gallery.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Showing up

Desert Marigold and Lupine, Beeline Highway Arizona

My theory is that nobody knows a precise definition for a superbloom.  Wikipedia calls it “an unusually high proportion of wildflowers … which germinate and blossom at roughly the same time. The phenomenon is associated with an unusually wet rainy season.”  Vague.

Maybe this is a superbloom year, but even without the label, things are extraordinary out there.  I’ve been putting on a lot of miles enjoying and photographing the flowers, even though I should be studying for my FAA Commercial Drone Pilot exam (more on that in another post.)

Early Spring, Lake Pleasant Arizona

There were some brittlebush blooming at Lake Pleasant Regional Park early in March, but that was about it.  Sometimes showing up doesn’t yield what I’m hoping for.

Poppies and ocotillo skeleton, near Lake Pleasant Arizona

Across the road, next to a shooting range (that was an exercise in steadying my nerves), there was a lovely early field of Mexican Gold Poppies.

Globe mallow from above, Salome Road Arizona

Another day I completely struck out scouting in the Saddle Mountain and Eagletail area, but stumbled on some dense brittlebush on the way home.  The icing on the cake was that this display was in unrestricted airspace, so I put the drone up.

I’d been hearing such good things about the flowers in a long-time favorite place, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, that I spent a few nights in the campground and my camera and I drove and hiked in all kinds of weather.

 

Ajo Lily, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

I was thrilled to see the showy Ajo Lily and counted 24 different varieties of flowering plants.

 

Scorpionweed against a stormy background, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

There were also carpets of scorpionweed, lupine, and poppy.  I was surprised that a spot where I’ve seen a profuse owl’s clover bloom was bare. I showed up but they did not.  These things are just not predictable.

 

Globe Mallow and sahuaro skeleton, Sonoran Desert National Monument Arizona

On the way home I camped a night in blessed solitude in the Sonoran Desert National Monument, where Globe Mallow was taking over the world.  These flowers can look a little scraggly in isolation, but I enjoy them in profusion.

 

Poppy carpets in Southwestern Arizona

A favorite spot near home was sporting huge fields of poppies this year as well, and I made a couple of trips out there to shoot traditionally and with the drone.

 

The last stop (so far, at least) was along the Bush Highway east of Phoenix.  I was able to meet up with a friend and see what all the hype was about.  Good news and bad; the flowers carpets near the highway were spectacular, but there were easily 100 cars parked on that short stretch. 

 

Lupine, owl's clover, and poppies, sorta near Bush Highway, Arizona

We drove in, stopped to photograph a cluster of Chuparosa bushes near Sahuaro Lake, and drove right back out.  We ended up shooting in some unlikely places including this one, a wide spot in the median of the Beeline Highway.

 

Poppies, sahuaro, and sky from the tall tripod (drone)

There was also time for drone shots in a valley behind her house.

 It’s been fun showing up all over the Arizona Desert, well worth the miles. More on the website, in the Spring 2023 Gallery.



Sunday, March 5, 2023

Woman with a Rooster and Other Marvels

 

Girl in a compelling spot, Santa Catarina Palop├│
 

Like many things which are destined to change our lives, this one crept up on me. Some Rotary friends mentioned (OK, repeatedly) that they were involved with a great literacy project in Guatemala.  “You should come and check it out,” they said.

That was about 15 years ago, and I’ve lost count of the number of trips I’ve made now.  Maybe 10?  It didn’t take long to get my husband hooked, too.  The nonprofit we work with (Cooperative for Education) is top-drawer, the project effective and important.  Guatemala is gorgeous, its people lovely, kind, and hospitable.  What’s not to like, right?

 

Youngster lost in thought, Zaragoza Guatemala

After so many visits, the last specifically for photography, I’m shooting more sparsely.  I have lots of the classic shots in the catalog, so I’m relaxing into smaller photogenic moments and sometimes just leaving the camera in the bag and enjoying.  The other thing is that folks are mostly wearing masks in the schools we visit and masked portraits are not so compelling to me, though they do tell a story of our world in 2023.

Woman with a Rooster, Santa Catarina Palop├│
Guatemala

My favorite work from this trip is the street portraits.  This was my first visit to Santa Catarina Palop├│, on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitl├ín.  We had about an hour to explore.  I was so excited about meeting this woman who, in addition to wearing traditional clothing (traje), standing in front of a nice background in soft light, and being friendly and willing to pose, was HOLDING A ROOSTER.  This passes for a thrill in my world.  But seriously, this kind of scene is typical of rural Guatemala, and says something about the culture.

Besties, San Pedro Yepocapa School, Guatemala

Portraits during the official school visits are a bit like street photography.  Photographing the students is such fun; it’s something of a party atmosphere when we visit and it doesn’t hurt that brightly painted walls are the norm.  Typically the whole town shows up, but during this trip I wasn’t seeing elders.  That’s a shame because their faces are so interesting to me.  No one seemed to know why; perhaps it had to do with the pandemic.



During our last few days we hung around to catch up with some friends and be tourists in Antigua, the previous territorial capitol.  Antigua is a special place, with a view of three volcanos (one active!), cobblestone streets, and fascinating details.  I’ve created photography projects for myself around these during the last few visits, and presented them in poster style.  During past trips projects have included doors & windows, door knockers, and “look down” which highlighted interesting things underfoot.


This year I put together what I call a sampler, letters and numbers from all over the city. 

Sunrise over Volcanos Atitl├ín and Tolim├ín, Lake Atitl├ín Guatemala

There are always a few landscapes, too.  Who can resist?

I’m beginning to think there’s a book brewing…

More from the trip are in the Winter 2022-23 Gallery on the website.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

A new angle

 


January has been a busy month.  The Scottsdale desert, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, The Magic of Cowboys workshop, school photos at Children First Leadership Academy, and now explorations at Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada.

In the last post, I riffed on getting out of the comfort zone.  I just want to say that sometimes it’s fun.  I have a new drone.  What a joy!

I have to eat my words a bit.  I’ve been complaining about drones for years, especially about the obnoxious whiny noise they make.  New ones are a bit quieter, and I figure I’ll be a good citizen and just fly when I’m far from others, which I often am.  I’m good with the trade-off.


Yeah, I'm a little late to the party.

 

Petrified sandstone detail, Gold Butte National Monument NV

The small print: for recreational flights the aircraft itself needs to be registered and there’s a short, quick safety quiz to take. I did all that and found it quick and painless.  It’s also important to be well-informed about where flight is allowed, and there are apps for that. Now I’m working on certification as a commercial drone pilot. The FAA “Drone Zone” website lays all that out clearly in case you’re interested.

 

Sunrise clouds, Gold Butte National Monument NV

We’d planned to explore Gold Butte National Monument, not thinking of flying there, but it turned out to be a great place to learn.  Most of the time there was no one around, and it’s a spectacular place.


Sun star over Gold Butte National Monument NV

The very first time I put the aircraft up, I stumbled on a sun star.  I took that as a small omen.  I was giggling like a schoolkid, and flight was easier than I expected.  Even I can do it.


There I am for scale, Gold Butte National Monument NV

Folks call them “tall tripods,” great for adjusting composition so things don’t overlap unattractively (an issue nicknamed “bad mergers”).  There’s also the unique opportunity to show an overview of the area, “the establishing shot”.  Using myself for scale is pretty cool, too.


Reflections in the tinajas, Gold Butte National Monument NV

I found that there’s a different mindset for aerial images and that I’m best off not switching back and forth with standing-on-the-ground image making.  There was some spectacular opportunity to do that too.

For now I’m coming up with lots of ideas about flying private property near home, fall color forest shots, and a new take on lots of favorite locations.

More images from Gold Butte are in the Winter 22-23 Gallery on the website.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Comfort Zone

 

Rycke and Michael racing

As my 60th birthday approaches, I’ve been thinking about how to avoid stagnation and keep growing.

I admit that the “comfort zone” concept is a bit clich├ę, but lots of authors make a great case for seeking a little discomfort.  Here’s Tony Robbins’ take on the subject:

The ability to move out of your comfort zone in regular, positive ways allows you to strike the right balance between certainty and uncertainty. Pushing your boundaries can make you more productive, more adaptable, and more creative. As you push your personal boundaries, you train your brain to adapt to new situations and create new neural pathways that make you a better problem-solver, decision-maker, and leader. 

Last week was interesting.

Late Light at Organ Pipe

After a couple of nice quiet (comfort Zone) nights in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and a little exploration and social time in Ajo AZ (you’ve got to check out the murals!) I drove to Gold Canyon, on the easternmost fringe of metro Phoenix (easternmost for now at least.)

 

Andella and Revvy's mounted shooting demonstration

Lisa Langell does a photography workshop which she calls “The Magic of Cowboys,” hosted by Don Donnelly’s d Spur Ranch.  These three days offered plenty of opportunities for discomfort, but only the best kind. My favorite was an action shoot with mounted shooting athlete Andella Parten.  This young woman is pure inspiration and the challenge of getting action shots with the muzzle flash and her horse Revvy in a flattering stride was exhilarating…and challenging. There’s a sarcastic photographer expression, “spray and pray.”  We shoot fast bursts and rely mostly on luck to capture the moment we’re after.  It’s not elegant but is often effective.

 

Rycke and Michael roping

A close second was roping action.  Here’s team roper Rycke Scheier and Ranch Manager Michael Poulin pursuing a reluctant longhorn.

 

The decisive moment with Bill

Six members of the Salt River Regulators re-enactment group modeled for us.  One evening we had another challenge: capturing blank shots from their period weapons.

 

The Regulators

Rycke

The Regulators and the cowhands made great models.  Portraiture is not my greatest strength, but Lisa’s staff taught us all so much about posing and shooting people.

 

Cassie and Navajo in Silhouette

Then there were the silhouette images at sunrise and sunset, which can be tricky.  I find the resulting images particularly emotive, though.


Ranch life provides plenty of opportunity for interesting detail shots, too.

 


Before I’d even had a chance to recharge all the camera batteries, I joined friends from the nonprofit Through Each Other’s Eyes doing school portraits for Children First Leadership Academy in Phoenix.  The annual tradition is one of our outreach projects for TEOE.  Portraits again.  I was nervous, yes, but I learned so much from my colleagues who do them for a living, and the kids were fun.

 

As always, more images are in the Winter 22-23 Gallery on the website.