Rebecca Wilks

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Memory of Water

Badlands, Death Valley
 Sometimes, traveling in Death Valley National Park, a phrase comes into my head, “the memory of water.”  The better part of a year can go by without significant precipitation.  The average yearly rainfall in the Furnace Creek area is less than 2 inches.  Wherever I look, though, is desiccated evidence of its effects; slot canyons, eroded washes, salt polygons and cracked mud flats.

I’ve even complained about endless stretches of days without photogenic clouds in the sky.

Predawn Earth Shadow, Cottonball Basin, Death Valley
This last trip, it rained.  And rained. I was camping with friends and we had about 1 ½ days of lovely weather.  There were also two full days of rain with the kind of socked-in overcast that sucks the color and texture right out of the landscape. Normally, I’d hit the canyons and shoot details there.  I’m a desert girl, though, and I just can’t do that when there’s a flash flood risk.  Even on clear days, I find myself looking for the nearest escape route in such places.

Storm Over Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley
Napping, reading, cleaning the camper, and working on the computer is good for a half day, but by then I was antsy; wandering (sloshing) around Stovepipe Wells in my rain gear. Here I heard the 20-something explaining to his dad about how he hydroplaned and totaled the car and watched ambulances screaming west toward snow-covered passes. There was one image opportunity, of the storm breaking up over Mosaic Canyon.  Lovely, but perhaps not a full day’s work.

Water.  Lots of water in real time.

Meanwhile my photo friends are making dazzling images in the snow at the Grand Canyon and Watson Lake (Prescott).

I remind myself of the privilege of spending time in this spectacular park.  It heals me, and it’s showing me an unusual face.

Sunrise at Badwater, Death Valley
Violent winds woke me at 1:00 AM on my last day.  I scrambled to bring down the camper top and ran around in my sheep jammies closing the external clips so it would stay down in the gale.  The camper doesn’t move nearly as much in the wind this way, and I got back to sleep on the dinette bed just fine.  We scooted over to Badwater Basin that morning.  Hoping for reflected color in the puddles among the salt polygons kept us slogging against the wind, out a mile and a half or so to the relatively undisturbed parts of the basin.  I might not see these rare conditions again; standing water, colorful clouds, and snow on the Panamint Mountains to the west.

These things are tough to predict, but perhaps we’ll have another impressive bloom this spring, thanks to all this rain, and the memory of water.

More images from this trip are in the Winter2016-17 Gallery on the website.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Redneck Camping

Sunrise on the Lower Colorado River Backwater, Arizona

I have a love-hate relationship with BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands.  I love the opportunities for dispersed camping and the dog-friendliness.  We have so much federal land in Arizona, and to me it looks like so many more places to explore.

On the other hand, lots of these areas ("resources" in fedspeak) have been overtaken by what I call redneck use.  I had that sense in the recently established Agua Fria National Monument north of us and in areas east of the Phoenix Metropolitan center.

I squeezed in a couple of nights with my friend Maria Langer last week in the BLM area south of Interstate 10 at Ehrenberg.  We were camped adjacent to the Colorado River and some lovely backwater areas.  The coyote and owl songs were delightful and the smell of the river brings back memories of the Grand Canyon's inner gorge.

Sunrise on the Lower Colorado River Backwater, Arizona
The sunrise on the last morning was breathtaking.

Sounds good, doesn't it?  Unfortunately I awoke from a nap to find someone camping too close to us really, for proper camping etiquette.  He was running his generator.  I asked him not to and he seemed amenable but he was gone when I got back from my evening shoot.  I don't feel too badly; he had lots of other spots to choose from.

The Damage.  Maria Langer Photos
In addition to noise, there's a shocking amount of trash.  Maria includes clean-up in her stay there, bless her, but it's overwhelming.  As if that weren't enough, the dead-end road near us had barriers to prevent folks from going nose-down into the inlet.  Some genius had decided to push or pull these out of the ground, with their monster truck no doubt.  Some other mental giants (or maybe the same bud light dudes) had deposited a heap of fireworks leavings, perhaps for their redneck New Year’s Eve.

ATV Tracks
Finally, there are ATV tracks through the riparian grasses all around the backwater behind our camp.  Really, some judgement is required when driving these vehicles in wild lands.

 I understand that BLM, like the Park Service, is frightfully understaffed.  They couldn't possibly stay on top of all of this.  I wonder sometimes whether they've just given up on some of these overused areas, figuring that they'll never recover.  I’m saddened by the loss.

First Light, Lower Colorado River Backwater, AZ
I imagine I'll be back, with a kayak perhaps, and a whole lot of trash bags.

More form the trip are in the Desert Gallery on the website.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

5 Year Journal

Alpenglow on Mount Whitney, Alabama Hills CA Christmas Day 2015
In 2004, I helped organize a day retreat for a women's networking group I belonged to.

One of the speakers, whose talk I've quite forgotten, introduced a book called the "5-Year Journal."  The book allows three lines for each day, and groups entries for that day together for 5 years.  The fun of this, once you get going, is seeing what you were doing and thinking and striving for in years past. Doreen Clement, the Journal's author, also included periodic summary questions and questions about goals.

The idea was irresistible to me, so I bought one.

13 years later, I'm still doing this exercise, though I switched books to a version from Levenger when Ms Clement died and the original version was temporarily unavailable.  The Levenger version doesn't include the questions, but I don't find that I miss them overmuch.  I'm a natural planner, and even a bit of a brooder, so I do this sort of big-picture thinking without prompting.

The books have also become a way to follow photography & camping trips (I wrote a compulsive little post about my first 100 trips in Lurch the camper using the journal as a reference) and to keep track of shooting location names and other details like plant and animal species to help keyword my images.

I thought, for fun, I'd follow what I've been doing on a given day for the last 12 years. I chose Christmas Days, which I tend to spend rather unconventionally. This being a photo blog, I'll dig up photographic documentation when it exists.
Lee Flat, Death Valley National Park.
Christmas Day 2016
In 2016, Christmas day dawned cold and clear on the Joshua Trees of Lee Flat.  This was our fifth solstice trip to Death Valley National Park and other parts of the Mojave Desert.  My husband and the dog were cozy in the camper while I negotiated to 16 degrees F, waiting for the earth shadow and then the alpenglow on snow-covered mountains.  Then, I joined them for breakfast burritos and hot tea.

Rainbow over the dunes, Death Valley National Park
Christmas Day 2015
Christmas day was spectacular in 2015; complete with a rainbow over the dunes in Death Valley.

Christmas Day 2014
In 2014, we brought friends and got a little silly on the dunes.

Last Chance Mountains, Death Valley National Park,
Christmas Day 2013
December 25, 2013 we woke up at Eureka Dunes, in the north part of this huge park, with a backdrop of the Last Chance mountains.

Santa Barbara Courthouse, Christmas Day 2012
In 2012 we were in Santa Barbara with friends, visiting tourist destinations like the County Courthouse and Mission.  I'd rented a fisheye lens for the trip.

Christmas Day 2011

2011 was our first trip to Death Valley.  We stayed in the Furnace Creek Ranch.  It seems odd now to stay anywhere but the camper.  There are, unfortunately, lots of coyotes accustomed to humans.  This guy was attracted to the crackle of a granola bar wrapper.
Storm light, Santa Ynez Valley, CA.  Christmas Day 2010

2010 we took a drive from Santa Barbara to the Santa Ynez Valley in a storm.  I’d forgotten this image and am delighted to have had a chance to reprocess it as I prepared this post.
Sedona, Christmas Day 2009

2009 was the first year that a charity event we’d been helping to organize for six years didn’t happen.  We’d gotten used to spending all of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on this fun event for homeless families and were at a bit of a loss about what to do.  This year we hiked in snowy Sedona.

Finally, going back to 2003, some pics of the holiday thing, which was called “Miracle in the Desert,” Complete with Santa.
Miracle in the Desert, Phoenix, Christmas Days 2003-2008

Fun, right?  Maybe only fun for those dancing on the edge of OCD.