Rebecca Wilks

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

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Brave


 

I suppose bravery is relative. The three of us had pulled on waders, kayaked a little more than a mile in the predawn dark (one day there was dense fog, though apparently we say “mist” in east Texas) and sloshed around in the lake (it sure looked like a swamp to these Arizona eyes) waiting for the light to come up and shooting. It was a small stretch outside my comfort zone, but one woman we ran across looked at us wide-eyed and said, “wow, you’re brave!”

She got me thinking. It was a nice compliment, but we were really just having fun.  Maybe we’re brave, or maybe I and these two treasured members of my tribe are just a little odd in our perception of fun.  I’d like to go on record saying that I can think of many people clearly more courageous than I.

 


This all started last autumn, when the three of us were part of a group in the Smoky Mountains. We started that trip sharing a few examples of what we’d been photographing lately.  Gwen showed us her gorgeous images of Caddo Lake and Amy and I were hooked.  A year later, there we were.

 


Compared to Arizona this place feels like another planet. Who knew; there’s a fall color season in Cypress forests.

 


It’s a big lake, but some spots seem to be getting very popular with workshop groups.  We were grateful to have had some help from the locals finding quiet spots.

 


That mist (yes, fog) was spectacular on a couple of cold mornings. This was what we were waiting for.

 


One evening we hired Captain John to scoot us out to a more distant location in a motorboat.  I’ll admit that that was a nice break from being under our own power and suiting up in the waders.

 


We can’t always be brave.

 

Thanks for paddling along with us. More images are on the website, in the Autumn 2022 Gallery.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Overripe Bananas


Sunrise in the Pando Grove of aspens near Fish Lake Utah

That smell brings me right back to every other aspen grove I’ve weaved through in Autumn.  It’s something like overripe bananas.  Funny how an unpleasant odor can be linked with a favorite context.  I don’t like the smell, but I love the memories triggered.

These change of season and fishing road trips are getting to be a tradition.

Temporary suspension, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

We started in the North Kaibab Forest.  This is a place for shooting intimate scenes rather than the grand landscapes found in Colorado.  It feels like home.  We ran around with some friends, trying a few new spots and checking out some areas which were compelling in summer but off the charts in yellow.

S-curve in the fog, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

Weather can be such a gift in landscape photography, and the highlight of this leg of the trip was a hailstorm and fog.  I might have been more excited about the hail than the rest of the family.

Ferns in Autumn, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

Some readers may remember the aspen groves (there were two) with carpets of ferns that I visited repeatedly through the summer.  Checking out the fall transformation in these spots was lovely, too.

The long view from Cedar Breaks Utah

We had two completely unscheduled days to follow.  One of the great things about autumn is that interesting images can be made more or less all day, as the sun backlights leaves.  Other times of year mid-day sun can be too harsh for my taste.  There were interesting roadside stops like Duck Pond and Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Campsite View, Dixie National Forest Utah

The first night we stumbld on a campsite with a spectacular view in the Dixie National Forest near the Brian Head ski resort. I still can’t quite believe our luck!

Sevier River Utah from above

Then we headed to the East Fork of the Sevier River, mostly for fishing.  The dog and I hiked around, and we did find one interesting photographic composition there.

Circle Cliffs, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Utah

After a week on the road, a few days in a rental house (showers and laundry) were so welcome.  Lyman Utah was a terrific base camp for Fish Lake, Capitol Reef, Boulder Mountain, and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument.  We had two more friends join us there for photos, good food and stupid TV.

On Sevenmile Creek Utah

While I was shooting, he fished Sevenmile Creek, the Fremont River, and the Sevier.  One fishing day Gypsy and I joined Marco.  After tiring the dog out and a few fishing pics, I confess that G and I settled down in the van for a little reading and a nap.  I can’t work all the time.

Restaurants are tricky when you’ve traveling with a dog, but I’ve got to put a good word in for Capitol Burger, a food truck in Torrey.  Yummy, and very dog friendly.

Backlighted Oak Grove, Manti-La Sal National Forest Utah

I’d long wanted to explore the Manti-La Sal National Forest adjacent to Bears Ears National Monument.  Here, again, we found an entirely unexpected but extraordinary place to camp at high altitude among golden oak trees. 

After three years experiencing fall color in Colorado, we appreciated exploring southern Utah.  It’s certainly less crowded and the landscape is more diverse.  On the other hand, we had to be more mindful of the hunters doing target practice and speeding along in their quads, and it seemed as if there were cattle just about everywhere, including in the roads and in our images. No matter, I’m making a list for next time. There’s so much more to explore, and overripe bananas.

There’s more in the Autumn 2022 Gallery on the website.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Things You Hear

 

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) Image at Moran Point, Grand Canyon

Folks from all over the world come to the Grand Canyon.  I’ve met (and eavesdropped on) some fascinating people.  Listening is such a fabulous window onto the rest of the world.

 A few days ago, I camped a couple of nights at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.  The plan was to meet an artist IRL that I’d been following on social media.  That didn’t work out, but a trip to the Canyon never disappoints. 

Fog from Grandview Point, Grand Canyon

On the day I arrived, a storm was breaking up, and there was delightful fog moving through the canyon like a time-lapsed amoeba.  These weather events seem to photographers to be a rare gift, but we always hear folks complaining about not seeing the canyon.  On one of these days a few years ago, I was warned by the ranger at the entrance kiosk that there were no refunds if I couldn’t see the canyon.  It’s a good thing I have a pass. 

Desert View Watchtower on a colorless evening, Grand Canyon

That night, waiting for sunset light that never quite arrived (good conditions for black & white) I saw parents with thick Jersey accents consoling their 5-year-old during his tantrum. He wanted to climb Desert View Watchtower, which has been closed for a couple of years.  Dad didn’t help much when he promised he’d take the boy to Las Vegas when he was 21.
 
Soft Morning and tree root, Desert View area, Grand Canyon

The next morning, I overheard some intense mansplaining about photography that I had to hear to believe.  This guy’s poor victim “learned” an awful lot about the craft that she’s going to have to unlearn.  As the saying goes, “often mistaken, never in doubt.”  Guy Tal (a fascinating philosopher about art) says that the answer a question about photography is often, “It depends.”  This nuanced sensibility appeals to me a bit more than run-of-the-mill mansplaining, thank you. 

Sunset at the secondary spot near Desert View, Grand Canyon

There’s a cool spot a short walk from Desert View Campground that I normally only share with the ravens.  I love ravens.  One afternoon there were a couple of guys there, and after one of them had a telephone conversation with his mom on speaker, he told his friend that what we were looking at was not actually the Grand Canyon.  Much as I wanted to ask, I refrained from determining what he thought it was.

There are some memorable moments from other trips, too.  One quiet winter day, a man with an Eastern European accent asked where the good view was.  Now, we were standing in front of the El Tovar Hotel.  Those of you who have been there know this is a pretty nice vista.  It turns out he was looking for the sky walk at Grand Canyon West, a four hour drive from there.  Sigh.

One of those sunsets, near El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon
 
I remember a day that sunset was absolutely spectacular, and I was working fast to capture what was sure to be ephemeral light.  A 20-year-old ask me to take her picture.  I told her “Sure, as soon as this light has finished,” she stomped off in a huff, looking for someone else to help.  Perhaps a selfie stick?

I love talking with Europeans.  I’ve had several conversations, especially with Germans and Brits, that tend to run along the lines of gun ownership and polygamy.  These are the baffling things my beloved Southwest is famous for, apparently.  I do try to put all that into perspective.

I speak English (some might disagree) and enough Spanish to get along.  I can’t imagine what I’d hear if I had command of a few more languages.

More from this last trip are in the Autumn 2022 Gallery on the website.  Thanks for riding along.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

The Fourth 100 nights

 

The Raven (L) with a friend, Marble Canyon AZ

I’ll have to admit that though I’ve got a new vehicle, I’m still counting from the beginning, but I hope you'll indulge me. 

I started camping this way almost nine years ago now, when I had had enough of cold nights in the back of my SUV.  As my friend Chuck Turner (who travels in a Four Wheel Camper) once said, it’s the best piece of photographic equipment I’ve ever had.

 

Fog and drama, Blue Ridge Reservoir, AZ

I recently noted the 400th night in my journal, staging near Blue Ridge Reservoir in the Coconino National Forest here in Arizona for kayaking.  I launched from a deserted boat ramp last Monday morning at about 6:00AM and watched the fog animate morning light on a flat-calm lake.

 

The view from the campsite, Mogollon Rim Country

After three hours of paddling, I spent most of the rest of the day in a hammock at my campsite, gazing over at least 20 miles of forest.  I think I’d earned some laziness.

Of these last 100 nights, 68 of them passed outside campgrounds (mostly alone in the quiet), and 39 were in completely new locations.  Now that my husband has finished building our new home, my unaccompanied trips are less frequent.  Just 18 of the last 100 were solo. 

There were some standouts.

 

BLM land stumbled upon in southern Utah

I have fond memories of the campsites stumbled upon, like a spot near Bear’s Ears in Utah which we found when we’d been looking so long that I was wondering whether we’d be stealth camping in some parking lot.  Another notable was a camp found down a random Forest Road near Grand Junction Colorado during a fall color trip in 2020.

 

Tree Tunnel in fog, Northern California

Unforgettable stories popped up, too.  There’s the time a determined packrat rode up to Flagstaff with me and just wouldn’t get out of the vehicle.  He didn’t do well when I ended the trip with an event in Phoenix in August.  Then there was the fist big trip in the Sprinter, an epic 10-day adventure into northern California in December.  Though there are lots of memories, mostly I remember rain.  Relentless rain. The vehicle and its diesel heater did great.

 

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, near Ajo AZ

We were the recipients of lovely hospitality in what I like to call driveway camping.  We imposed on generous friends in Northern California, Santa Fe, and Ajo, Arizona. Marco did such a great job with the solar and battery storage that we don’t need to run a power cord into the house any more.

 

San Juan River, New Mexico

Marco has become an avid fly fisherman, so we’re looking for locations which serve us both.  Favorites so far are East Clear Creek in the Coconino Forest and the San Juan River in Northern New Mexico.

 

East Clear Creek AZ

There were some photographic projects which lent themselves well to camping.  The ability to conveniently shoot sunset and the following day’s sunrise while sleeping in my own bed is such a gift. There was work on Arizona Highways’ State Park issue at Alamo Lake and Deadhorse Ranch, as well as a scenic drive in Mogollon Rim Country.

 

Saddle Mountain Trailhead, Kaibab National Forest AZ

Disappointments were few, though revisiting an old favorite called Fire Point at Grand Canyon’s North Rim after a wildfire was heartbreaking.  I’ve also been gravitating more toward spots tucked in the forest there and in the nearby Kaibab National Forest because of the crowding, trash, and human waste problems at the prominent viewpoints.  Overlanding seems to have reached its peak popularity now, so I have high hopes that the situation will improve.

There’s more to look forward to, with any kind of luck.

Thanks for riding along.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Fictitious Roads


Aspens in That Special Place, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

The vehicle GPS shows a lot of forest roads.  Apparently the Forest Service has been letting many of them go back to their native state.  During last week’s trip to the North Kaibab Forest, for example, I had a plan to photograph a special spot at dusk and dawn.  I wanted a nearby dispersed campsite (informal spot in the forest) so I could walk there and so my husband could try to go back to sleep in the morning.  The fictitious roads are something of a disappointment.  I settled for a longer distance to walk.

The flipside is that these used-to-be roads make very nice hikes.  They’re a route through the forest which minimizes bushwhacking.  Lemonade.

Semi-abstract in the Kaibab National Forest, Arizona

Speaking of walking, I was recently reminded of an expression attributed to Brooks Jensen, “PBWA,” or photography by walking around.  It is, among other things, an antidote to obsessive planning.  I love it.  The idea is to put myself in a target-rich environment in good light and just see what I can find.  It’s a sort of meditation, fun, and often leads to more original compositions than planning the Grand Landscape [capitalization deliberate] shot at a famous place.

Regrowth, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

Since Marco has finished building our house, he’s got more time for family travel.  Last week the two humans and Gypsy the Wonder Dog packed into the van and explored.  I had a whole list of roads from Google Earth to choose from.  So cool.  I enjoy the reconnoitering, but the other two really need it – they have about the same level of ADD.  So, we settled into a routine of exploring in the morning, then making camp and hiking in the afternoon.  There is usually also time for a nap before sunset.

He's handy for the technical-mechanical stuff.  I was nervous about airing down our tires for the dirt roads, but he assured me that we wouldn’t mess up the tires, and it did tame the washboard surfaces and the abundant potholes.  I might not have installed that fancy vehicle-mounted compressor if left to my own devices.  Let’s face it, he does all the fixes and upgrades.  Lucky me.

Spotlight on a Lupine, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

Summer in the forest is particularly nice for flowers and mushrooms.  We found lots of those walking around.  Things are green and wet up there; a good monsoon season is a beautiful thing.

Storm Light Over Marble Canyon, Arizona

We had five nights, and the forecast suggested that our best chances for good clouds and storm activity on the rim were the first and last nights.  The other three nights we stayed in the interior of the forest.  We did OK, but the one rip-roaring hailstorm happened outside the forecast when we were tucked into a cozy meadow.  So it goes.

The Mobile Office with beverage.  Please excuse the mess.

When you travel off-grid often, work comes up.  There are not too many places with a reliable service, even with our signal booster.  As much as we’d like to unplug completely, part or our morning routine is to go grab some phone time if we weren’t connected overnight.  There was even an afternoon when I set up to do some Rotary grants work in the van.  It felt good to get it done, and I got a chuckle out of the mobile office.

I’m looking forward to some fictitious road fall color in the Kaibab soon.

Symmetry and Grace

More images from this adventure are in the Summer 2022 Gallery on the website.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Dog Week


Summer Flowers at the Upper Provo River Utah

I’m amazed to think how many times we’ve been to Park City in the last 20 years.  We thought we had the summer trips down; hiking, dining, outdoor concerts at Deer Valley, shopping (ask me about the best thrift shop ever) and now my husband is a fly fisherman.

Focus

Then this year we decided to bring the dog.  We love her, hate to leave her home if we can help it, and its so dog-friendly they call it Bark City.

So, we had an entirely different kind of trip.  We found a rental condo that allowed our dog and reimagined the week.

Cascade, Upper Provo River Utah

Every morning we were up before sunrise to hike or to drive into the Uinta Mountains where Marco could fish the Upper Provo River, which is also photogenic and (at least early in the morning on weekdays) where solitude is available.  Gypsy could enjoy the woods without bothering anyone, even as we train her to have good fishing manners like limiting her splashing to downstream of the fishing hole and occasionally even sitting quietly on shore.

Columbine, S-Curve, and Marco.  Upper Provo River Utah

I continue to work on a portfolio of fishing images and on each of us doing our thing without driving the other nuts. And watching the dog.

We made it to just one restaurant, feeling fortunate that one of our favorites has an outside patio for the girl.  Otherwise, it was all groceries, except for the corn dog food truck, a guilty pleasure.


By early afternoon we were back at the rental, and I was processing images with HGTV (another guilty pleasure) playing in the background.  Then a nap before our daily evening walk to the dog park.  I have mixed feelings about these places, and there were a few dog bullies, but Gypsy did have a chance to run full speed and play other dog games.


Dog week, indeed.

More images are on the website, in the Summer 2022 Gallery.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Waders!

 

Dorky Selfie in the Waders

It’s not really all about the waders, but I was excited to try them out. I’ve been talking about getting them forever, but an upcoming trip to photograph in a swamp was the nudge I needed to do it. As David Kingham says, it was time to “Go all in.” The AZ Flyshop fixed me up perfectly!

 

The view from the end of the road, the edge of the Mogollon Rim

I practically had to use a crowbar to find time on the calendar to shoot images from the Mogollon Rim to submit to Arizona Highways Magazine.  I told Jeff Kida, the photo editor, that there was no hardship though, because I’m always thrilled to have quiet time in nature, and this road through Rim Country is a favorite.  I had a few to send from the archives, but there were a couple of good locations missing.  A good excuse.

 

Reflections in East Clear Creek

I was lucky.  There were thunderstorms, lovely clouds and reflections.  I also consider myself lucky to have dropped nothing in the creek while sloshing around in my (Herman Munster) wading boots.

 

Camp among the giants

I was lucky, too, to have quiet campsites and to see almost no one in my three days camping.

 

TEOE Guatemala Exchange exhibit

On the way home I stopped to tweak the TEOE Guatemala Exhibit, hanging now at Phoenix’s Burton Barr (main downtown) Library.  More on that later, but save the date for the reception there September 2 to coincide with Phoenix First Friday Art Walk.  It’s hot in Phoenix in July.  I’ll just say that the temperature drop between there and home that afternoon was almost 40 degrees.

I many ways, it was great to be home.

There’s more in the Summer 2022 Gallery on the website.