Rebecca Wilks

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

Friday, April 12, 2024


Sunset over Bluebonnets, Muleshoe Bend Texas

“Look and you will find it - what is unsought will go undetected.” -Sophocles

The plan hatched around the total solar eclipse.  Gwen lives outside Waco, right on the totality line cutting across Texas.  Amy and I flew in from opposite sides of the country and the three of us had 4 days to shoot together, planning to also chase other photogenic things. My eclipse images (I’ll share one below) are no better than most, but the trip was worthwhile for that experience alone.


Coneflower Portrait

There was also considerable icing on the cake: flowers, wildlife, and the odd bits of local kitsch.

I found that when we talked about what we wanted to photograph, often half-joking, as often as not we got what we asked for.  If I were more new-age, I might call that manifesting.


Greater Roadrunner, Reynold's Creek Texas

The best example was the roadrunners, which we wanted to shoot in a Bluebonnet field.  Once we started looking, they kept showing up.  So exciting.


Counterpoint, Muleshoe Bend Texas

Flowers were everywhere, and eventually I tired of the endless fields of Bluebonnets.  I started looking for counterpoints, like the Huisache Daisy punctuating this field, or beautiful oak trees to create background, like the header image.


Blue Truck Ranch (really!) Texas

There were so many roadside finds as we adopted the strategy of setting an intention, then taking the long way to our destination along smaller roads and paying attention.  We ran into old vehicles in the flowers…


Texas Longhorn at rest



Photogenic Texas Horse

…Horses, and…


Spring Mix, Inks Lake Texas

…Vast fields of mixed flowers in what amounted to glorified roadside ditches.


Speaking of good fortune, we were sure we’d miss the eclipse, because the forecast, even just a couple of hours prior, called for 100% cloud cover.  There were some clouds, but we saw just about the whole thing.  This was my first, and I was struck by the darkness, cacophony from the crickets, and the cheer which came up all around us at totality.


Great Horned Owl, Lacy Point Texas

The three of us make a good team (maybe together we have one good brain), sharing navigation, spotting, technical reminders (“time to put your solar filter back on”) and gearhead things like a sensor cleaning demonstration. Gwen had gotten some great tips from local wildlife photographer Brian Boyd, without whom the Great Horned Owl shoot and the Roadrunner hunt would have been nearly impossible.


Louis Pasteur’s thought that “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind” is likely true, but sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good.


More from the trip is in the Spring 2024 Gallery on the website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Use Your Photographic Powers for Good: Nonprofit Collaborations

 This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Focal Points Magazine.

Early morning commuter and reflection of the famous Arco in La Antigua Guatemala

Last May I attended my first NANPA (North American Nature Photography) Summit in Tucson.  I heard a talk from Russell Graves, an engaging photographer from Texas who works to support conservation in a wetland area near his home.  He made the point that supporting a cause is easy and very fulfilling, and that we need look no further than our backyards.


Save the Dells

Drone image of Highway 89 through the narrow section of Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona; too beautiful to dynamite.

I was inspired by Mr. Graves and made a commitment to contact the leadership of an outfit called Save the Dells which primarily works on conservation in Prescott Arizona, 35 miles from my home. When I first met with their leadership, we talked about their photography needs and I made some suggestions about what I have to offer, especially drone imaging.  I’ve since worked with them in opposition to a road-widening project which would require blasting of iconic granitic boulders and in support of a new regional park which would preserve critical open space. I’ve been collaborating with them for just a short time but am looking forward to a long fruitful partnership.

 Driving home from that first meeting I realized that, though this seemed like an epiphany at NANPA, in fact I’ve been doing this sort of thing for some time. I just hadn’t thought of this work as a goal nor realized how fulfilling it is.  I’ll share a few more examples.


Cooperative for Education

A lovely, colorful student in La Hoya, Guatemala

My husband and I have supported a Guatemalan NGO for about 15 years.  Cooperative for Education (COED) is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education.  I wasn’t thinking of photography when we started working with them, but the partnership seems obvious now, after about 150 days in the country.

When in Guatemala with COED, we spend a great deal of time in rural schools and surrounding villages.  There is social time (convivencia), the unavoidable talks from administrative types, and cultural performances from the kids.  These range from sedate folk dances to performances which involve fireworks strapped to a costume or simulated Mayan human sacrifice. The images from these visits are not only useful assets for the organization, but also icebreakers with the kids.  We all love to look at the photos on my camera’s LCD screen and before long I have a tight circle of kids around me, looking at photos and asking me to also take pictures of them.


A favorite rural street image from Santa Catarina Palopo, Guatemala

Another of the delights of volunteer travel with COED is access to street portraiture in rural areas.  Parents and grandparents are coaxed into a sense of comfort with me, the strange photographer, because they know why we’re there and trust me more than they would the average tourist.  Even outside the schools, Guatemalans are happy to engage and have their pictures taken.

Through Each Other’s Eyes


A feral dog warms up on the lava on Pacaya, an active volcano in Guatemala

The deep dive into Guatemalan culture got me interested in becoming an Associate Photographer for Through Each Other’s Eyes, which promotes cultural understanding through photography.  We do international photographer exchanges and host exhibits of the resulting work created by photographers from both countries.  We also do educational events like photography instruction for kids and volunteer activities like annual portraits for underserved schools.

The Phoenix exhibit of 80 images from all four photographers on the Guatemala exchange.

My first TEOE exchange was with Guatemala.  I was in a unique position to organize it because of the connections made while traveling there.  I hope to participate in one of our upcoming exchanges to Himeji Japan or Cypress and Greece.

Yarnell Regional Community Center

Community fundraiser for Meals on Wheels in Yarnell Arizona

Yarnell, Arizona is my small-town home.  I’ve been volunteering to photograph events at the Yarnell Regional Community Center for some time.

A Meals on Wheels client and her beloved chihuahua.

Recently I’ve been hired to work on a project for our rural Meals on Wheels Program at the Center.  We’re operating under a grant from Meals on Wheels America and PetSmart to help our clients manage food and veterinary care for their pets.  Many of these folks have few resources, so a bit of help goes a long way. Studies show that pets are very beneficial for older people living alone and we know that they sometimes must choose between paying for their needs or the animal’s.

Veterinarian Kate McCullough cares for a Meals on Wheels client’s dog.

This project aims to make the effort sustainable with printed materials and video, and I’ve had the pleasure of contributing still and video assets, some made with the drone, as well as some work in graphic design.

Perspective pulls on heartstrings for conservation in this drone image of the Peavine Trail and Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona.

How to start

Interested in getting involved yourself? It’s easier than you might think to get started.  Perhaps you already volunteer with a local conservation, humanitarian, or animal welfare organization. Maybe you support an international cause or have a connection with another country because of your heritage.  These are great places to start brainstorming what you have to offer and having conversations with the group’s leadership.

Next, consider your strengths and what you enjoy as well as what you’d like to learn more about.  Maybe portraits of animals for rescue groups, landscape work for conservation organizations, or travel work for international NGOs will suit you.  Sometimes you discover skills as you go along.  I never knew I had a talent for graphic design until I agreed to give it a try for the YRCC pet project, and I’ve also been learning a bit of video editing.

If you’re still baffled, remember that most of these opportunities come from your own connections.  Who do you know that works with an interesting nonprofit or perhaps just knows lots of people doing interesting things?  Buy that person lunch and see where the conversation goes.


Best Friends at a school in Chimaltenango Guatemala.

Don’t be afraid of a cold call.  After all, you’re offering them something of value.  Likewise, be willing to follow up, sometimes several times.  Nonprofit leaders can be more focused on putting out fires than being proactive. Be sure to be clear that you’re a volunteer. Sometimes sharing a resume is helpful to show that you’re legitimate and help leadership see your skills and experience.

When you have that first meeting, be prepared.  Review their website and know what the current projects are.  Take some time beforehand to brainstorm what you can offer.  For example, I’ve enjoyed contributing aerial images to several projects. You might also consider portraiture, landscape work, behind-the-scenes images, and video.  Think outside the box as well and include things like public relations, events, and social media work, as well as graphic design and video editing.

As your partnership continues, attend meetings. If you have the time and inclination, you’ll be glad you did. More than once discussions in the meetings have sparked a new idea that would not have otherwise occurred to me.

Why Do This?

Mostly, I’d point to fun and fulfillment.  That’s what many of us are looking for when we reach the season in our lives when we have experience to share and perhaps some uncommitted time.  I’ve also seen some incredible places and made connections with amazing people that would not otherwise have come about.  Additionally, these projects focused my photographic learning and problem-solving skills.  I certainly have gained as much as I’ve given.


Saturday, March 2, 2024

Getting Over It


Getting over the cold, paddling on Alamo Lake in February

Travelers know that, if a trip is long enough, there will be those moments.  You’re tired and things aren’t going your way.  If we’ve been around long enough, we recognize the situation, take a deep breath, and know that it will pass.  If we can, we get away by ourselves or settle down with loved ones and refrain from addressing anything important until it passes.  Some find that alcohol or sugar helps.


Windstorm at Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park

The first examples that pop into my head are all about wind, whipping the camper around so I can’t sleep and sucking my stuff out the door as I try to get the pop-top down.  The van is so much more stable than the Four-Wheel Camper (“Lurch”) that was our previous vehicle, but winds to over 40 MPH will take the fun out of most camping trips.  Most of that has been in the Mojave Desert, where there’s no escape (joy), but there were a couple of monsoon storms at viewpoints on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim when I packed up at 2:00 AM and headed into the forest.  Trees are a big help if you can find them.  Parking nose into the wind is a good plan, too, if you can manage it and the wind direction is more or less constant.


The morning after from my haven in the Mojave National Preserve

This last Mojave trip had relatively tame winds at around 35 MPH, but I was already grumpy about the cold and getting tossed around on the highway when I pulled over for fuel in Pahrump, NV (so very much cheaper than CA).  I managed to choose the wrong pump and before I knew it there was fuel spraying out around the nozzle.  This messed with my attitude.  I was too grumpy and tired to drive home for 5 hours, so I headed for the northern part of the Mojave National Preserve, tucked into the downwind side of an abandoned corral, and popped a beer.  Voila, Attitude adjustment.



Then there was the time at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge when my last dog, the perpetually grumpy one, backed into a cholla and came up covered with cactus balls.  She let me take exactly two off and lost what few manners she had.  We drove the three hours home and our local veterinarian put her under anesthesia for the win.  We both had better attitudes then.


Yankee Fork Salmon River.  The hot place.

Last August’s epic circle included some sublime time in Idaho.  We’ll be back. One issue with summer, even at altitude, is that sometimes we can’t escape the heat.  We don’t have A/C. The biting flies were relentless and DEET was useless, so shade was not the answer.  That was a long day in the black van.  There was nothing for it except to wait out a very long day.


Not my favorite camping moment.  Death Valley.

Long-time readers may recall that Lurch had an electrical issue.  Eventually I traced it to a fuse and had lots of spares around for replacement before the battery charged down completely.  The first time, before figuring it out, I was in Death Valley.  Long story, but the rig stayed at the Toyota Dealership in Las Vegas (a warranty tow, thank goodness) and I went home. 


Gypsy warming up after a night without heat, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

Sometimes I think that eventually everything will shake loose in a rolling house.  I’ve had lots of minor mechanical issues like a (sink) water pump failure, heat failure, mobile phone booster failure, and a still mysterious blown-out rear window.  These were not my best days and come to think of it they always seem to happen when my mechanically inclined husband stayed home.  But I’m not superstitious.


I’m sure there will be more since that’s the nature of travel.  The trick is getting over it.


Best of luck to you in your adventures and failing that I wish you a prompt attitude adjustment.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

150 Days in Guatemala

 This article was originally written for the Southern California Sierra Club Camera Club's publication, "Focal Points,"  but did not appear there in this form.

El Arco Reflected, Antigua Guatemala

I wonder how much time I need to devote to an international destination to make me credible enough to write an article like this. I’ve been hesitant for some locations, but after a dozen or so trips to Guatemala for a total of about 150 days, I have some images to share and a few things to say.

This all started when my husband and I got sparked about an exemplary NGO called Cooperative for Education.  We’ve volunteered with them, been tourists, and spent time in language immersion school. In 2019 I enjoyed a photography-based trip as an exchange sponsored by the nonprofit Through Each Other’s Eyes.  TEOE promotes cultural understanding through photography.  I was hosted with another TEOE Associate there, and we arranged a whirlwind tour with them in Arizona. 


A Local, Santa Catarina Palopo, Guatemala

I don’t do much street photography at home.  When I travel internationally, though, I appreciate the opportunity to convey something of the culture.  I love this woman’s traje (traditional dress) and the rooster, which is certainly not a pet.  We also had a brief lovely connection, which is one of the best  parts of travel for me.  My Spanish is passable, but she only spoke the local Mayan language, Kaqchikel.  We gestured and laughed.


Pig Vendor, Tecpan Guatemala

Chichicastenango boasts a famous Guatemala street market, but I love the market in Tecpan because we saw no tourists there, and the vendors are not yet fed up with us.  Generally, they’re happy to be photographed.  I love this image despite its technical flaws.  This woman was stopping people, hoping to sell the piglets.


Volcan Fuego, Guatemala

Of course, there are landscape opportunities.  We sat with a guide in a nature preserve along the flanks of Volcan Fuego, which famously had a large deadly eruption in 2018, and continues to have frequent small ones.  We were about to give up when I had the chance to get just this one 25 second exposure.


Net Fishing Lake Atitlan at Dawn, Guatemala

Some of the most beautiful destinations in Guatemala are in the shadow of volcanos, including Lake Atitlan.  German explorer Alexander Von Humboldt famously called it “the most beautiful lake in the world.” This predawn image from 2009 was my first published in a national magazine, Budget Travel.

View of Antigua Guatemala and Volcan Agua From Cerro de la Cruz

The city of Antigua is also graced by volcanoes.  The territorial capital boasts ruins from the 1500s, cobblestone streets more suited to photography than tuk-tuk rides, color, shopping, and dining.  I love to walk Antigua early in the morning, when the locals are going to work and school, and other tourists are still asleep. This image was made from Cerro de la Cruz high above the city.

Door Knocker Details, Antigua Guatemala

Fascinating details are everywhere, begging to be photographed.

Tikal, Guatemala

Even further back in history, Before Cortez made his mark, Mayan empires were built.  My favorite cultural site is the famous Tikal, tucked in the rainforest.  If you’re a geek, you might recognize it as the rebel base on Yavin 4 in Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope.

Students in Patzun Guatemala

We’ve been to scores of tiny pueblos, delivering supplies to schools.  I feel privileged to have been welcomed to these places, danced and played with the kids, and of course photographed. The whole town shows up, and we have the advantage of being trusted, honored guests.  Nearly everyone, including the elders, is happy to be photographed and enjoy seeing the results on the back of my camera.

Kite Festival, Sumpango Guatemala

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some celebrations, including the well-known processions and colorful handmade sawdust alfombras (carpets) made in the streets. My favorite is the Kite festival in Sumpango, which marks Todos Santos in early November.

Flor with Marco and me 2023

Finally, the relationships.  We’ve watched lots of young people grow up.  We especially treasure the chance to keep in touch with Flor, our first scholarship student.  We met her when she was 12.  Now she’s 27 and raising an infant daughter.  She supports the rest of her family and is saving to study engineering in College.

All those return trips to Guatemala might be evidence of a lack of imagination or perhaps I just want to know the country deeply. In any case, I’m sure we’ll be back.

There is, of course, much more in the Guatemala Gallery on my website.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

No Dog

Rare snow in the Mojave National Preserve

This was supposed to be a trip with a friend, but he was worried about the weather and cancelled. It was probably a wise decision since he would have had the longer more treacherous drive.  Death Valley, and National Parks in general, are not the best places to take an active dog.  As long as I had this dog-free trip planned, I decided to take this opportunity and shoot some dog-unfriendly locations I’d had on my list.  I got away with juggling the timing to travel between storm pulses and woke up to snow on the Joshua trees in the Mojave National Preserve the second day.  This seemed an auspicious start to the journey.

Feast or famine; water on highway 127, California

Driving up highway 127, I could see the damage from a rough season of rain everywhere.  I followed a pilot car through this flood, otherwise I would have lost my nerve.  Even the road into Texas Spring Campground in Death Valley was essentially four-wheel drive terrain.  Heavy equipment operators in the park will be busy for a long time. 

 Lots of my planned locations were not accessible.  There were roads that had been closed for a long time like Scotty’s Castle and Titus Canyon, and a long list of newer closures; Dante’s View, West Side Road, Devil’s Golf Course, 20 Mule Team Road, Artist’s Drive, and Salt Creek, as well as most of the back country. Lots of projects on my mental list have been bumped to next season. 

Cloud Reflections at Badwater Basin, California

Propper style on the mud flats, Badwater Basin California

The flooding of Badwater Basin, the occasional recurrence of historic Lake Manly, was impressive.  I made three visits with conditions ranging from flat calm to wind-driven white caps, sloshing around in the saturated saltwater in my flowered muck boots.  I heard lots of comments about them.  With so many places closed, it was a bit of a struggle to avoid including the crowds in my shots, even at sunrise. People were concentrated in the few populare places that were open.  I avoided Zabriskie Point and Mesquite Dunes, largely for that reason. 

Travertine and flames, Titan Narrows, Death Valley California

I enjoyed hiking into a few canyons.  Years had passed since I explored the travertine details of Titus Narrows.  One benefit of this road closure is the chance to walk up the passage, which is so washed out that it’s not recognizable as a road, without the need to dodge vehicles.  Desolation Canyon was new to me, a lovely hike and sort of consolation prize for the closure of Artist’s Drive since some of its wild geology is visible there too.  I loved being the only hiker in this lesser-known canyon. 

On the last day I made a swing through Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty Nevada.  I’d been curious about this place for years and might have spent more time there if I wasn’t so uncomfortable in the cold, strong wind.  The most captivating thing about that detour was the Goldwell Open Air Museum, with the famous Last supper sculpture and this “Keep Going” shadow sculpture by Michelle Graves .  That was a message I needed that day for sure, with the wind blowing me around on the highway and especially when a fuel pump malfunctioned in Pahrump and spewed diesel all over me and the van.  Every trip has its moments. 

Sunrise, Mojave National Preserve California

I didn’t want to drive all the way home in that wind and with that attitude, so I landed among the joshua trees, back in the Mojave National Preserve refueling psychologically and getting a little work done while the winter sun streamed into the van.

Golden light in Golden Canyon, Death Valley California

I'd come full circle with weather, light, and water where it usually isn’t.  I would have called it a near- perfect short trip, had I been able to bring the dog.

More images are in the Winter Gallery on the website.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Fortuitous Atmospheric Phenomena

Birds repositioning for a hazy sunrise, Peeples Valley Arizona

Storms bring good stuff, which creates an excellent excuse to catch you up what I've been doing, photographically.

Google Images, East side of the White Tanks Mountains, 1990 and 2023

Ready for some quiet time after December's usual excesses, I headed for the desert January 3.  I had two nights reserved at White Tanks Regional Park, which was a quiet little second home in the 1990s.  With the stunning encroachment of subdivisions, it has become a bit of a zoo.  

Moon behind gathering storm clouds, White Tank Mountains Arizona

That first night, while enjoying a beer and Trader Joe's Chicken Tika Masala (on my top 10 camping meal list,) I got philosophical.  This place has always been a bit challenging to shoot, and with the addition of loud crowds, I decided to bail.  My thinking was that the campsite was paid for whether I used it or not, and I could be happier for the same price in a favorite free site ("dispersed" in forest ranger lingo).  

There are spots in the Harquahala Mountains which remain quiet and still feel like a second home.  Granted I go on weekdays, but I've never seen another soul camping there.

Rainbow at last light, Harquahala Mountains Arizona

The afternoon was rainy, and I didn't expect any light until the morning.  I was in my jammies (embarrassingly early, I admit) listening to Guy Tal's webinar about (of all things) living an authentic life.  I looked up and saw this,

Purple sunset, Harquahala Mountains Arizona

and this.  I ran out into the rain in my cotton PJs and joyfully got wet shooting and laughing my head off while yelling happy profanity.  Alone has its advantages.

Foggy Tree Tunnel, Peeples Valley Arizona

It snowed here at home mid-month, but I confess there are no snow images good enough to share.  Then we had a warm spell and the El Nino moisture fell as rain.  The next morning there was fog.  Every good Arizona photographer I know loves fog.  I was on my way to photograph some bridges north of Prescott (more on that project later) and was stunned into hanging out in Peeples Valley, 3 miles from home, for over an hour.

Fogbow, Peeples Valley Arizona

Between the horses and the tree tunnel at Hidden Springs Ranch and the fogbow across the highway, it was time well spent.

Little Hell Canyon Arizona

Once all this burned off, I headed up the road to start a project on historic Arizona bridges. This one spans Little Hell Canyon near Drake.  I'll write more about this work soon.

As always, there's more in the Winter 23-24 Gallery on the website.