Rebecca Wilks

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

Monday, June 27, 2022

Explorations

 

Quiet two-track, Kaibab Plateau Arizona

The North Rim Forest.  Ahh.  The first trip of the year always feels like a homecoming.

Sunrise at Desert View Watchtower, Grand Canyon Arizona

This was a family trip, and we hit Desert View Campground on the South Rim first.  It’s not a bad place to camp, though crowded and it has been photographed by many and Gypsy would really rather run around in the forest off-leash.  We left a day early and no one was disappointed.

The plan was to explore some new spots.  The list is long, but we checked some of them out.


Brow Monument

There’s a survey marker from the second John Wesley Powell expedition of 1871-2.  There was a short hike culminating in lovely views from what’s called the Brow Monument, apparently named for the landform which gives views of Bryce and Zion to the north. 

Soft light on the ponderosas, Kaibab Plateau Arizona

We figured that, as long as we were WAY out in the forest, we might as well find a boondock spot nearby and we tucked into a lovely mature ponderosa grove (we were below optimal altitude for aspens). 

Flowers along the forest roads, Kaibab Plateau Arizona

I’d been looking at a pair of roads on Google Earth, and (as Marco likes to say) there was good news and bad news.  Both roads were lovely and remote, but both were blocked with multiple downed trees in various sizes.  We camped as far out as we could get and explored on foot. 
 
Fire Point, Grand Canyon National Park Arizona

When I began this obsession with the North Kaibab Forest, it was all about the viewpoints.  There are many.  I’ve gradually become more interested in subtle photography in the forest than the long views.  There’s more opportunity for original photography, and there’s no one around.  On the last night of our trip, with rain in the forecast, we decided to duck into the park and get a permit to camp at Fire Point, which has been one of my favorites.  

Spooky dead ponderosas in the burn scar, Fire Point

The Viewpoint on Western Grand Canyon just reopened after a wildfire a few years ago.  I was curious.  Though the long views are still beautiful, the conifers are charred dead soldiers.  There’s some graphic potential in that, but really the feeing there was spooky. 

Resplendent ferns and aspens, Kaibab Plateau Arizona

There were also lush carpets of ferns in some aspen groves along the long drive home on Forest Road 223.

Like any really good trip, Gypsy and the humans found solitude and the exploration list is longer now than it was before.  There’s another visit on the calendar.

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

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Challenge

 

East Clear Creek AZ Detail

I’ve gotta get a little creative sometimes with image making, an imperative which is never more true than with family travel with my husband the fly fisherman and my dog the over-cranked hurricane.

When we don’t land in the easiest-to-photograph pockets of landscape, I need to adjust.  One famous creative technique for artists is to impose limitations on ourselves.  A photographer might shoot all day with one lens, for example.  The challenge is healthy if sometimes a bit frustrating.

I’m just back from a trip to the X-Diamond Ranch near Eager Arizona.  That’s a town, not an adjective.  Some of you will remember that I’ve visited the Ranch several times, for a cowboy photography workshop, for hummingbird photography with some accomplished friends, and with my husband on a fishing trip (for him) once before.  X-Diamond is a lovely outpost.  It’s also a working cattle ranch, so the idyllic views are interrupted by man-made structures like fences and power lines.  The place is not strictly scenic.

Little Colorado River, Eager AZ

This image required (in my mind anyway) removal of power poles and wires in Photoshop.

Moon setting over the hay barn, X-Diamond Ranch AZ

Sometimes I just gave in and included some signs, and even the hay barn.


Pot Sherds, Little Bear Ruin, Eager AZ

There’s also an archaeology site on the ranch, called the Little Bear Ruin.  My favorite shots there were details like this pot sherd shot. 

Thistle Mandala, X-Diamond Ranch AZ

Details are great because they can be found about anywhere and light around them can be modified.

Casting in dramatic light, East Clear Creek AZ

Last week Marco and I made a trip to Mogollon Rim Country, east of here and in the forest.  We hung out near East Clear Creek.  There were some lovely scenes, but perhaps my favorite shot that day was Marco casting in the sun against the gorgeous, unlighted rocks.  I’m working on shooting fly-fishing and planning to contact some relevant magazines when I’m happy with it’s the portfolio.  I shot a lot of these, until I got the right light, shutter speed (that line moves fast) and a cast that he was happy with.

Speaking of the creative stimulus of a new challenge, I went to a polo match.  There’s something to be said for living in horse country.  Spoiler alert: I’m excited to check out team roping next season in Wickenburg.  Anyway, this was an outing arranged by a local photo club and took place at Van Dickson Ranch in Skull Valley.  What a lovely setting; this seemed to me a terrific opportunity.  Perhaps I was the only one; no one else showed up.

Polo, Skull Valley AZ

The challenge here was fast action and harsh light.  I suppose starting a match in gorgeous sunrise light would be unpopular with the players.  I brought out my giant wildlife lens and used a monopod for maneuverability.  The fast shutter speed shots were disappointing because light was harsh and backgrounds were busy and distracting.  I do like the panning shots like this one which shows motion and blurs the distracting background. The ponies with bright yellow leg wraps had particular impact.


Model Creek, Peeples Valley AZ (private property)

We’ve also made a few close-to-home camping trips to a friend’s property on Model Creek, here in the Weaver Mountains.  This is a tough place to shoot, too, but their labyrinth and pool area in the creek make nice subjects.

It’s been fun, but I must admit to looking forward to the first North Rim trip of the season; camping deep in the forest and making lovely traditional landscape images.

I’m looking forward to sharing those images soon.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Gone Viral

 

The group in silhouette, Redwall Cavern

I’ve just resurfaced from my 9th raft trip in the Grand Canyon.  I have a few observations.

 

My last few trips were different. Easier.  They were gatherings of smaller groups (12 vs 23), shorter duration (10 vs 14 days) and we moved down the river on motorized rafts.  This last thing is relevant because they travel faster and there’s relatively less time on the water, as well as the drier experience of riding higher and more security for my camera gear.  Yes, I have insurance, but that won’t help if my gear tanks on day two. One of the rafts is paddled, as well, which (though fun) means more work as six guests and a guide propel the boat.  Really, though, I think age is beginning to catch up with me.  Ouch.

 

Long time readers might remember that I’ve been threatening to stop doing these trips for some time.  So much for my credibility, but I’ll commit to the following; if I do it again, I’ll do it the easy way.

 

Metallic light, Hot Na Na Camp

It’s tempting to lead with the hardships but let’s talk about the good stuff.  Being in the bottom of the Grand Canyon is a rare and precious gift.  Light plays across the walls and water through the day and night.  The stars are breathtaking. Nothing smells like the river corridor and cocktails taste better. Wildlife is everywhere, and I find I have the time and motivation to notice lizards, bighorn sheep, peregrines, osprey.

 

After a few days, I’m fully immersed in the experience.  Removed from the details and chaos of “rim life,” I learn about what remains (which I believe is who I really am.)

 

We scheduled this trip with three friends, and the chance for the five of us to hang out in this special setting was priceless. We made some new friends, too.

 

The elegant dory cuts through Lava Falls Rapid

Photographing five of the six boats coming through Lava Falls Rapid was a highlight for sure. 

 

Granite Rapid detail

I also loved experimenting with different ways to show the power and chaos of Granite Rapid.

 

But,

 

We had wind, gusting to about 50 mph.  We saw actual waterspouts on the river, and anyone who has camped in sand can imagine what that night was like.  The wind makes some tricky rapids more treacherous.  The Trip Leader, in an abundance of caution, waited a couple of hours for a let-up (which we didn’t get) above Hance Rapid.  What I didn’t want to share with the group is that there was a death on the river last season which was partly attributable to wind.  Ultimately our skilled professional guides brought us through safely, though.

 

Particulate-enhanced light near Grapevine Camp

The wind created some lovely light, filtering though the dust.

 

What about the virus, you ask? On day 7, four of the six guides woke up with vomiting and diarrhea.  By that night two more of us were ill. Eventually there were 8 of 30, which is very good containment for what was likely the very contagious Noro virus.  The Park Service is apparently still investigating the situation, so there’s a lot we don’t know.  I’ll follow up and amend this post if I can convince them to tell me anything.  Bottom line: the guides heroically rowed the big rapids while ill and I lost a couple of days napping instead of doing anything requiring any effort.  There were several days when I didn’t take any usable pictures at all.

 

Moonset and Diamond Peak at dawn, river mile 222

I have no regrets, now that I look at the trip with some perspective, home with my dog and electric toothbrush.

 

Marco doing the thing, near South Canyon

More favorite images are in the Spring 2022 Gallery on the website.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Publication

 

Moon set, Watson Lake, Prescott AZ

As my friend Paul Gill says, it never gets old.

 

There are lots of reasons that photography is my passion.  I’ve talked a bit about this in other posts; photography is a meditation, a creative outlet, a chance to spend as much time as possible outdoors, a way to support my favorite nonprofits,

 

Another is the desire to share my vision with others. Conservation is certainly one of my goals, and I believe that the more folks can see the beauty of the natural world, the more they will value it. Social media and my website have been a huge boon, but there’s nothing like the impact and reach of publications people can hold in their hands.


 

Fisherman at dawn, Lake Atitlan Guatemala

This is my first published image, from 2010, which appeared in Budget Travel Magazine.

 

Hand Planes photographed for Popular Woodworking Magazine

Since then, I’ve had the honor of work published in several magazines as well as some unexpected places like Popular Woodworking and American Surveyor Magazines (collaborations with my husband Marco), Vermont Magazine, and a cover of the Wilderness Medical Society Journal. Now that my husband is an avid fly fisherman, I’m working on capturing images for that magazine niche, too. I’m not too much into competitions anymore, but some of those have led to appearances (and sometimes nice prizes) in federal lands publications and those of my favorite Grand Canyon Raft outfitter, Arizona Raft Adventures. 

 


My main client now is Arizona Highways Magazine, a first-rate 97-year-old publication of, surprisingly, the Arizona Department of Transportation. I can honestly say that I love working with them.

 

Fishing in Mogollon Rim Country AZ

How does it work?  I get this question a lot.  First, I needed to get the attention of Jeff Kida, the photo editor.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, except that we had some friends in common, I started sending some of my work to him, and I nagged.  The first step was to be added to the Stock Call List, so I would get emails asking for images of some specific place or thing, or in the case of the annual calendar call, we’re invited to send our best Arizona work which he’d not yet seen.  Sometimes Jeff will give me an assignment to shoot something specific.  I laugh a little when I remember being asked to shoot a desert location in July for the magazine, but I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity. I know, too, that he keeps work on file; I’m sometimes surprised to have a request to use an image which is more than five years old.

 

Speaking of surprises, I remember a conversation with Pete Ensenberger (the previous photo editor) when I asked for advice about getting published.  There was– lots of it, but I particularly remember him saying that I should only submit things that I would be proud to see in print, because I’m sure to be surprised sometimes at what he chooses. That’s certainly proven to be true.

 

Dead Horse Ranch State Park AZ

One surprising benefit of the stock call system is that it creates a project for me that can reach beyond creating new work for the magazine.  This winter there was a stock call for the piece in the May issue about Arizona State Parks.  I submitted previous work, but also made several trips to Alamo Lake (including a morning paddle at sub-freezing temperatures) and Dead Horse Ranch.  I’m not sure I would have done all of that otherwise, and I’m glad for the bump to my motivation and focus.

 

Alamo Lake State Park AZ

One of the Alamo images was selected, as were some from my neighborhood state trail, the Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial State Park.

 

I agree with Paul; it never gets old.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Lessons Learned

 

Weekend accommodations


Well, my friend Kim and I have had another trip to the Desert Photo Retreat in Southern Arizona.  I blogged about it after last year’s trip.  Again we managed to hit the one unseasonably warm weekend in March, but other than that the trip was delightful.

 

I learned so much.

 

He seemed surprised to see us

First, emotion.  I’ve been thinking on and off about the challenge of conveying emotion in images of landscapes and of details in the natural world.  It can be done but is a rather subtle thing.  Shooting at the Retreat gave me a chance to approach the challenge with critters instead.  We perceive emotion in faces naturally, including those of animals.

 

Thirsty house finch

During the always fascinating Out of Chicago Live conference this month, one presentation addressed the rewards of photographing common things that are often overlooked.  The presenter used dandelions as an example. I decided, while shooting from the Retreat’s blinds, not to overlook common things like squirrels and house finches.  Once I took some time to look at the “dandelions, there was so much to see.

 

Striped skunk and blooming brittlebush

Finally, I got out of my comfort zone, learning to use my new Pluto trigger for camera trapping.  Thank goodness for Ron, who’s very experienced and a great troubleshooter. His suggestion about a setting buried deep in my camera’s menu fixed a problem so the second night shooting could be successful.  Kim helped me to remember that what I learned that first night is more important than the shots I might have missed.  Speaking of Kim, because of all the equipment that she brought along, we managed to set up three stations on the second night and had some nice shots.

 

I’m inspired to start working on this project in my own back yard, where we have quite a few mammals running around at night; fox, bobcat, skunk, racoon, javalina, and the occasional mountain lion.  Stay tuned.

 


We’ve booked three nights for next year to give us an even better chance at (ahem) education.

 

More favorites are in the Spring 2022 Gallery on the website.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Winds of Change

 

The Raven at the edge of the wilderness

I’ve really said enough about the wind in the Mojave Desert.  Blah blah blah.  I’ll just say that the sprinter is much more wind-stable in camp, which leads to a better night’s sleep.

A month or so ago I contacted the Needles CA BLM office and had a lovely conversation with a ranger there.  She helped me plan a boondocking visit to the edge of a wilderness area in Mojave Trails National Monument which had been on my list for years.  She was generous with her time and knowledge as I followed along with her on Google Earth.  She even invited me to call if I had more questions, which I will of course.

Cactus Detail, Mojave Trails NM

I wanted quiet places, and we got them.  We could hear the trains, but otherwise I’m sure there was nobody within 10-15 miles of us. These areas are a little stark, photographically. In my world, that’s nothing more than a fun challenge.

Streambed geology, Mojave Trail NM

The first night we were at my Ranger friend’s pick, a quiet spot with fascinating geology.

Bonanza Spring, Mojave Trails NM

Then we moved on to a small perennial spring.  I was staked out in the viewing area for hours, expecting (as dry as the weather has been) to see wildlife, but saw just a few small birds and heard the distant yip of coyotes just before dawn.

Speaking of dry weather, in three nights we didn’t see a single wildflower.  The first spot has fairly heavy growth of brittlebush, but not a single bloom.  I’ll need to go back there in a wetter year.

Mid Hills area, Mojave National Monument

The temperature got up into the 80s that second day, and we decided to go to a higher altitude for our last night.  We’d tried Mid Hills Campground in the Mojave National Preserve before, but had turned back on the muddy roads on the way in.  This trip we only needed to brave the washboards.  We had a spectacular campsite in the piñon juniper forest with views. The wind had abated and at 5600 ft elevation it was a great day for reading and exploring. 

The family, Mojave National Monument

Three entirely new places and some soul-cleansing peace; what more could a girl want? Change is good; wind not so much.

As always, there are more images on the website.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

All Better

Sunrise near Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

I forgot my tripods.  Not such an auspicious beginning to a solo road trip, but there are quite a few possible mistakes and omissions on a trip like this and I'm working up to making them all, ideally not all at once. I can laugh now, but I’ll admit that when I realized they weren’t in the van I might have been a bit frustrated. Oh, well.  Lessons learned.

This voyage materialized around meeting a Tucson-based friend to camp a couple of days at Cochise Stronghold.  There seemed no harm in hitting southern Arizona on my own before our rendezvous.


Alamo Campground


I grabbed one of the four spots at first come - first served Alamo Campground in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. If I were superstitious I’d say that was significant omen of good luck.  I managed to use rocks and my camera bag as makeshift tripods and to use photo-voodoo (higher ISO, shallow depth of field, image stabilization, and shooting in bursts) to bridge the gap.  Oh, and it seemed the perfect time to do some ICM.


Backlight on the Desert View Trail, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument


As tempted as I was to stay there, I moved to Twin Peaks Campground; 200+ spaces of parking lot purgatory.  I had an agenda for hiking and shooting nearby.  Last season I was shooting the (highly recommended) Ajo Mountain Loop for a magazine and made four trips around the 21-mile loop in a little over a day.  As much as I love that drive, I decided to explore other areas instead.


4-foot Border Wall Near Quitobaquito, 2018

30-foot Border Wall Near Quitobaquito, 2022


I had my first look at the 30-foot border wall on my way out. ORPI is so close to the border that I got a text from Verizon welcoming me to Mexico. I have lots of thoughts about the wall, but will let the image speak for itself. There’s no sense stirring the political pot here.


My friend who lives in Ajo was kind enough to offer her driveway to me and the Raven for a night.  She’s a ranger (though she’d say she’s more of an administrator) at the Monument. We shared wine (always a plus), took a little ride around town in her mini, and she was kind enough to share her insights about her park and its proximity to the international border. Check out the Sonoran Desert Inn for art and accommodations if you're in town.


Sunset on the Grasslands, Cochise Stronghold

I met Jeff at the Horseshoe Café in Benson.  A burger lunch tasted good after three nights of camping.  It seemed the right season to camp in Southern Arizona, and it really was my turn to come his way.  I loved my first real trip to the Dragoon Mountains.  These expansive oak grasslands are typical of Southern Arizona and offer a nice change for me. All the granitic rocks multiply the photographic possibilities, too, and what a joy to be dispersed camping, catching up with a friend.


And Jeff loaned me a tripod.  All better.


Yucca Sunrise, Cochise Stronghold

The road was just rough enough for me to appreciate the competence of the van’s suspension.  As is typical, it worsened as we got further out. The Raven did great.


Electric sunset, Cochise Stronghold

Not for the first time, nor the last, we were reminded that a sunset might not be a bust when I think it is.  We turned over the idea of giving up on the overcast afternoon when this started to happen. I’m feeling humble, and fortunate.


Thanks for riding along. Lets see what I can forget next time.


More images are in the Winter 2021-22 Gallery on the website.