Rebecca Wilks

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

I Eat My (Sarcastic) Words

Lurch at Toroweep Arizona

For over eight years we've been running around in the Toyota Tundra-Four Wheel Camper combination we’ve come to call “Lurch,” laughing at other 4WCs with the bumper sticker, “#onelesssprinter."  Sprinter vans seemed so popular with the bearded hoards that they were almost trite.

Meet Raven, currently being outfitted


And then we bought one.  Marco is busy (very busy) doing its interior build-out , getting ready for a December trip and I’m on what I’m sure will be my last trip in Lurch.  I’m just hanging out with my camera in a little desert campground a little more than an hour from home; I thought we needed some quality time before he goes on the market.


Sunrise from White Tanks Regional Park; the farewell camp


The anthropomorphism is, I have concluded, a bit of a problem. Perhaps I can be forgiven if I imagined “him” protecting me in dicey situations, especially on solo trips.  I’ll admit to being unnaturally attached. I need to let go, though.



Gypsy the wonder dog.  She loves camping too.


Lurch has been great, albeit with a few little kinks we eventually ironed out.  We’re looking forward to much more camping, but would like to set ourselves up with a vehicle which is more conducive to the oldsters which I hope we’ll have a chance to become.  Eventually, pushing up the pop-up roof and maybe even climbing up into bed could become difficult.  Also, we want a bit more storage and more space for Gypsy the wonder dog.  She’s claimed the vehicle already, though it’s still under construction.


So, this is mostly a farewell post to an old friend, hoping “it” (see what I did there?) finds a loving home.  I have a few memories to share.



Trying unsuccessfully to shelter from that Mojave Desert wind


Wind.  I love the Mojave Desert, but it can be fiercely, tear the roof off (not literally, but close), nowhere to hide, suck your belongings out the door (literally) windy. I don’t have many unpleasant memories in 349 camping nights.  These are them.


Bolt picked up in Mojave Trails National Monument


I’ve had a total of two flat tires, both of which happened in places where I could get help. Once we were across the road from the only place to get a repair in 100 miles.  I feel blessed.  Of course I still need to get home from this last trip without disaster.


I took a particularly stupid wrong turn once, in the North Rim Forest.  My friend was behind me on this nasty road in her Jeep Wrangler (no danger there), so nervous for me that she was afraid to say anything on the walkie. We both knew I could neither back up or turn around, so we wished for the best and got it. I dodged that bullet.


"Randy" the pack rat hitchhiked to this spot, North of Flagstaff

Regular readers (all twelve of you) will remember the pack rat this year.  I won’t reiterate the story, but feel free to follow the link.


There were some unconventional locations; driveways loaned to me by generous rangers and friends (I generally ran an extension cord into the garage), “beer camp” in the forest next to Barnstar Brewing Co in Skull Valley (that was fun), and the occasional not-quite-legal spot.  I always had some story prepared about doing night photography, which may or may not have been true, and catching nap until the moon went down.


And then there's winter at the South Rim.


One night at Lake Pleasant feral burros commenced bashing against the sides of the truck at 2:00 AM.  I still haven’t figured out why, but I yelled pretty loud and that seemed to work.


There's been just one celebrity sighting.  I was waiting for a couple to leave one of the four undeveloped (first come first served) sites at Organ Pipe National Monument when somebody let us know that I was hovering over Craig Childs.  Nice guy; he helped me sort out the provenance of a pot sherd I found in the Marble Canyon area later.


Snow at Lee Flat

There are so many memories, from places I visit repeatedly like Grand Canyon’s North Rim, secret and not-so-secret dunes in the Mojave, Lee Flat (Death Valley) in the snow, The Kofa Mountains, and old and new local favorites like Watson Lake and the Harquahala Mountains.


#onemoresprinter #neversaynever #brandtraitor


Peace at Marble Canyon

And, if you know anyone in the market for a well cared-for 4WC…

Monday, November 8, 2021

The Tribe


Foothills Parkway Sunset

As many of you know, I love to camp and photograph by myself. There’s news on that front but that’s a topic for another post.

 Group photography trips also have their place, though. This last one was a Smoky Mountain workshop put together by Colleen Miniuk. It was a great introduction to the Smoky Mountains, a chance to be inspired by the work of others, and a friendly learning environment. There’s always something to learn.

The group.  Colleen Miniuk Photo

The highlight of these trips, really, is the tribe. These are the kind of friends who, after a long absence, can pick up together as if no time has passed. I missed them, especially since the same trip was cancelled last year. We did this, joyfully, together. 

I’m lucky to count lots of special people as part of my tribe. I love the impractical dream of having all my best photo buds together on one trip. Anything is possible, but for now I’m basking in the glow of this lovely subgroup.

Fog and Layers, Great Smoky Mountains NP

So, it rained. There was a whole lot of damp, cold, and unspectacular (we can call it “subtle” instead) light. Fog worked for us sometimes and overcast made for good shooting well into the morning without harsh contrast. Good gear makes the wet weather bearable, at least, but it was pretty wet.

A moment of glory, from Clingman's Dome

When the sun grudgingly showed up, I appreciated it that much more. A couple of times the setting or rising sun would peek out through a gap in the horizon and astound us, albeit for no more than a minute.

The illusion of solitude.  Roaring Fork Nature Drive

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited of US National Parks, with over 12 million visitors in 2020, more than four times the number at the Grand Canyon and more than three times the second-place park, Yellowstone. This translates into traffic on the roads and trails as well as visitor centers. We often found ourselves driving scenic loops locked in at under 10 MPH and photographing spectacular, apparently peaceful scenes while dodging other humans and breathing diesel fumes and cigarette smoke. I get it; autumn is an exceptional time in this beautiful place. No regrets.

So Many Trees.  From Clingman's Dome

Being in a place so different from the desert southwest, where I live, is great for conditioning my creative mind. There’s water everywhere and SO MANY TREES. Yes, that’s largely what we were there for, but if I’m honest I’ll admit that they sometimes get in the way. There are so many trees that Park allows building campfires with downed wood. We don’t do that where I’m from, ever.

Lower Meigs Falls

The group dispersed after four days, and my friend Amy and I settled into a rental in Townsend TN and a quieter time. We did some return trips to places we’d already been, explored, and chased waterfalls and cascades from a sweet little book we picked up in the visitor’s center (after waiting in line to get in.) 

Cade's Cove Drive detail

Autumn, a new place, and to be reunited with the tribe were all such gifts, and well worth my first airplane trip since early 2020.

More images are in the Autumn 2021 gallery on the website.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Better to be Lucky Than Good

Striking Secondary Road in the Kaibab, Arizona

Luck + gratitude is opportunity, I think. Some examples follow.

 

Autumn Layers, Kaibab Forest Arizona

Despite all the time we’ve spent in the North Kaibab Forest over the years, we’re still driving around discovering (stumbling on) lovely new spots.  These discoveries feel a lot like great fortune, with aspen trees dressed in ombre green, yellow, orange and near-red.

 

Winter Dandelion

Changing leaves come with cooler temperatures, of course, and this trip, in the meadows (which tend to collect cool air at night) the late-September ambiance was in the mid-20s Fahrenheit. There I found another blessing, dandelions delicately coated with ice crystals.

 

Storm at Crazy Jug Viewpoint, Kaibab Forest Arizona

Storms always have great potential to create photogenic situations, but at sunset they can be off the charts.  This one at Crazy Jug Point was nothing short of a breathtaking godsend.

 

Spotlight, Kaibab Forest Arizona

Photography is all about light, and my windfall seeing the spotlight on this resplendent tree is unforgettable.

 

Gypsy the Wonder Dog, Drawn to the Light

Speaking of light, I wasn’t planning this one, but did manage to react to this windfall of a scene before Gypsy moved (which she does quite a lot as it turns out).  I see a story in the image; perhaps more than one.

 


Macro photography in the forest is always about walking slowly and being open to seeing an emotionally moving composition.  I shot this one in a favorite grove which I’ve returned to repeatedly.  I thought I might have been done there, but luckily there's more to find.

 


The last couple of days of our trip were about getting my husband close to the trout.  One rainy day I hung out in the rental house and did little tabletop images of our hosts’ quirky artwork while he fished in the rain.

 

Casting on the San Juan River, New Mexico

The other day I shot the “action” while my husband had some luck of his own.

 

Here's looking at you...

Thanks for the good fortune of connection with you, my small but mighty readership.

 

Sunrise in one of my beloved meadows, Kaibab Forest Arizona

There’s more in the (newly minted) Autumn 2021 Gallery on the website.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Painted Desert

 

Post-storm drama, Echo Cliffs, Arizona

Oh my gosh, I hadn’t picked up the camera (the phone doesn’t count) in weeks.

 

My husband booked a fishing trip at Lee’s Ferry, and a girlfriend and I went along.  One day we traipsed around on the North Rim (where temperatures were so much cooler!).  The other day we had ourselves hauled 15 miles upriver from Lee’s Ferry with a couple of rented Kayaks and spent the day paddling down, looking at petroglyphs, and gawking at bighorn sheep.  We had a great time, until the rainstorm up-canyon wind was strong enough to make whitecaps and blow us backward.

 

Clearing storm over Echo Cliffs, Arizona

Back at Cliff Dweller’s Lodge after a beer, some ibuprofen, and a lot of laughs at dinner, I ran out to photograph this.  One photographic truism is that magic happens after storms.

 


Gray Mountain Public Art, Arizona

I’ve wanted to stop and gawk at this motel – turned – mural at Gray Mountain since it first appeared almost a year ago.  It’s on the Navajo Reservation on the way home.  The property has been abandoned since 2005 and the mural, part of Chip Thomas’ Painted Desert Project, was completed in November 2020.

 

Harvest moon-set, Yarnell Arizona

Hanging at Vermillion Cliffs in the light of the harvest moon inspired me to climb the hill east of Yarnell the first morning home.  I caught the full moon setting behind the town.  As or friends said, we see an awful lot of natural beauty when we travel, but where we live is pretty awesome, too.

There’s more in the Summer 2021 Gallery on the website.  I’ll open the Autumn Gallery with North Rim and Colorado shots from the next trip.

Friday, August 27, 2021

August

Crepuscular Rays from North Timp Point, Kaibab Forest Arizona

It's been a minute.  

Here's a little update on thoughts and journeys for August.

When I lived in the desert, I called this the least wonderful month of the year.  Here in the high country of Southern Yavapai County, Arizona, the weather is not so bad.  We've had robust monsoon storms and things are green and blooming.  Most nights we can sleep with the windows open, cool the house, and avoid that months-long-canned-air feeling I remember from relentless air conditioning.

Arizona Poppies near Kirkland Arizona

Speaking of blooming, I got a tip early in the month from some neighbors about a carpet of orange flowers off State Route 89 a few miles north. I love to follow up on those "you've got to go take a picture of this" conversations.  It turns out they were summer poppies, or Arizona poppies.  To the casual observer they look like the poppies we see in the desert in March, but they're actually unrelated.  I crawled under the barbed wire and did some contortions to conceal the nearby highway in the images.

Aspen Sunrise, North Kaibab Forest Arizona

Then it was back to the North Kaibab Forest, getting back into the swing of camping alone.  It's much quieter up there, perhaps because school has started or perhaps (dare we hope?) camping is no longer the latest trend.  In any case, I hardly saw anyone; the introvert's dream.  There were lots of what has come to be called 'intimate landscape' shots, including mushrooms everywhere.  I also was able to witness the amazing sunset on the header image from North Timp Viewpoint and to return to a favorite aspen grove.  I think I finally got the sunrise shot I've been working on there for several seasons.

Crossbedded rocks near East Clear Creek Arizona

We've rescheduled a trip to Northern California, mostly because it seems to be on fire.  Sigh.  Instead we packed up the dog and hung out in the forest on the Mogollon Rim, east of here.  My husband fished, I photographed, and Gypsy ran around like a nut case.  The bull elk have started singing their haunting love songs to the cows, too. It was pretty much the ideal short trip; green damp, and again, pretty quiet.

Amanita mushroom emerging, Kaibab Forest Arizona

That's a lot of blessings for one month; I'm looking forward to September.  Next up, southern California.

There's more in the Summer 2021 Gallery on the website.



Monday, July 26, 2021

The Fisher Widow

Detail from the forest

 We love Park City Utah.  For each of the 22 winters we’ve been together, we’ve made two or three trips.  We know where to eat, which runs are best first thing in the morning, and which lift opens 15 minutes early. 

Marco fishing the Middle Provo

Now my husband is a fly fisherman and we’re just back from a road trip.  We stayed in Park City and he fished the Middle Provo River in the mornings.  Yep, I’m the fisher widow.  One day I got up at 4:45 (3:45 Arizona time) and went along, photographing landscapes and documenting the fishing.  Who knows; I might get good enough at that to submit some work to the fishing magazines. 

Impressionist aspens, Guardsman Pass

On the other mornings I hiked (dodging mountain bikes like large mosquitos) and thrifted and photographed. 

The view from the top of the ski resort

It turns out that we get a free summer ski lift ride at Deer Valley because we had season passes last winter. Now, that was an interesting experience.  There were lots of mosquitos (bikes) on the lifts with us, because downhill biking at the ski resorts is a thing.  We know this place really well but were still disoriented at the look of it in summer, and at riding lifts in shorts and tees.  The view from the top was striking. 

Silver Lake

A mutual friend introduced me to a new photography friend, Steven Kornreich, who graciously showed me some photogenic places one morning.  We drove over Guardsman Pass and hiked (sort of inadvertently off trail for a bit) up to a lake from Brighton ski area.  It occurred to me that I’ve not had much of a chance to talk shop with a member of the tribe (photographer) for a while and it felt good.

The lights coming on in Park City at dusk

Steven also showed me the view from this lovely city overlook, which I shared with a couple of mule deer bucks and watched the lights come on one evening.

Everyone has dogs in Park City, and half of them are happily off-leash.  We need to find a dog-friendly place to stay next summer so we can bring the girl. 


Like all vacations there were little luxuries like ice cream for dinner, meeting old friends in Salt Lake City for lunch (oops; we got caught in Pioneer Day Parade traffic) and shopping indiscretions.  We brought this handsome devil home with us as a homage to the place and to feed my fascination with ravens.

Perhaps it’s not so bad being a fisher widow.

More images are in the Summer 2021 Gallery on the website.

 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Randy

 

Oh, and there was a rainbow

It seemed like an ordinary photo camping trip, hanging out in the forest and enjoying the rare company of my good friend Jeff.  We pitched camp on Thursday mid-day, had a nice long chat and then went our separate ways for naps.

Around 6:00 I felt a hint of guilt for being sort of shiftless and hauled myself out of the hammock to gather my camera gear from the backseat of the truck.  I opened to door and met the challenger in this little drama.  I’ll call him Randy the recalcitrant rodent.  A pack rat. Sitting on my camera bag.  Yeah.

Salsify flower detail

My husband and I thought we’d scared him away before I’d embarked on this trip, but he’d ridden the three hours from home with me.  He seemed confident.  Bold, even.  I had not seen anything yet.

So, I yelled to Jeff that the critter was still in the vehicle. Together we took everything out of the back of the truck cab and found him staring up at us again.  I didn’t want to touch him, so I scooted him out with the jumper cables.  I thought that was the end of it; that he would live out his days in the forest.

Not so much.

Eventually we realized that he had scooted up into the perceived safety of the engine compartment.  At first we just heard him skittering around.  After a bit he’d stand on the battery and stare, or peek around the end of the little air-intake tunnel which seemed to be his safe place.  I’d had a pack rat in the truck cab before, at a trailhead at Grand Canyon’s North Rim.  Since then I’d carried peppermint oil, so I was scenting the truck cab (the smell will never go away) and his little tunnel.  At one point he was standing in a puddle of said aromatic, I’ve become confident that it was not a deterrent.

Over a couple of hours we tried bright lights, yelling and banging on things, and starting the engine, all to no avail.

We started happy hour, setting up chairs nearby and talking about options.  I called my husband, who’s a natural problem solver and Bruce Taubert, our friend who is an Arizona wildlife specialist.  They gave the situation some thought, but to no avail.

At one point Jeff came back from his vehicle wearing one leather glove and holding a shovel.  I had no hope that he could grab the critter, but darned if he didn’t.  It all happened pretty fast, but what I know is that Jeff grabbed Randy and threw him 20 feet from the vehicle.  A vigorous round of whack a mole followed.  Immobilized by the kind of laughter that gives you a substantial core muscle workout, we helplessly watched Randy scoot back into the engine compartment.


LED lights continued to blaze under my open hood like a campfire while we conceded defeat.  Daylight was about gone when an owl circled silently and perched on a tree limb just above us. It seemed time to give up and hope for the best.  Pack rats like to gnaw on wiring, and while (as they say) “hope” is not a plan, we retired hoping that the vehicle’s electrical systems would still be operational in the morning, which they were.

The next day we made the weirdest camping resupply ever, driving to Home Depot in Flagstaff for traps.  24 hours later we had hope (there’s that word again) the owl had taken care of our problem.  The traps were undisturbed, and we didn’t hear any more skittering.

Lying in bed that last night, it occurred to me that my next stop was in the Phoenix metro area, where temperatures were expected to hit 115F.  I figured that, If Randy were still with me, he’d not stay in the vehicle six hours at those temperatures, at least not alive.

Too graphic?  Sorry.

The resolution is a little anticlimactic.  My husband disassembled the air intake tunnel when I got home and found that our adversary had passed. 

RIP Randy.  He gave us a good story.