Rebecca Wilks

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Sunrise across Lake Powell
With apologies to Jim Croce, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you don’t drive on wet bentonite.  Bentonite is a type of clay.  When it gets wet it swells to as much as three times it’s original volume and gets slicker than wet shiny ceramic tile.  

I’ve planned to visit some of these destinations before, but been rained out.  What a joy to finally have a window of dry weather and be able to go.

Speaking of driving and poor judgement, we were flagged down by three young (maybe 20-year-old) tiny Asian girls in a Mercedes sedan on the way to Alstrom Point.  They explained that they had “kind of” gotten stuck down the road a bit. They had made it back to the main road and assured us that their car was fine. They wanted us to drive them “down to the lake.”  I kid you not, they were parked under this sign.  For those of you who don’t know Alstrom, it’s lovely but 2000 or so feet above the lake.  If you began a swim from there it would be your last.  Despite all this, I don’t believe we convinced them.

But, I digress.

Alstrom Point Sunrise
The road to Alstrom Point is one of those Bentonite wonders, and I hadn’t been there for 7 years.  The road has deteriorated, but is still doable with 4WD, good clearance, and the usual precautions.  Absolutely worth the trouble.  We did a layover there, watching reflections dance on the lake and the back lighted glory of the peaks to the south, across the lake.

The second night was clear, and I decided to make my first real attempt at stacked star trails.  If you’re not a photographer, I won’t bore you with the technical details.  This is the finished product.  I’m grateful to Beth Ruggerio-York for her helpful book on night photography.  I like to call it shooting in my jammies.

Cottonwood Narrows
The other place I’d missed seeing on previous trips because of rain was Cottonwood Canyon Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  This place defies description (though maybe that’s a consequence of my limited geologic vocabulary.)  We hung out in a slot canyon, photographed arches, and I watched the sun come up (my husband often prefers to roll over and go back to sleep when I go out to shoot sunrise) in “Candyland,” which is every bit as much fun as it sounds.  This place has lots more potential for exploration on other dry days.
Undisclosed Location
We visited another location in Grand Staircase-Escalante, shared with me by a friend from Page.  The details are not my secret to tell, but this is the Paria River flowing toward the Colorado.

The take-home lesson; don’t drive on wet bentonite.

Oh, I almost forgot.  We tried to visit Bryce.  On Thanksgiving weekend.  Really dumb.  Live and learn; we essentially waited in the entrance queue (20 minutes) and made a u-turn.

More images from this trip are in the Autumn in the West Gallery on the website.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Plan "B"

Ocotillo Wells
Marco and I were lying in bed, in the camper.  Neither of us wanted to look at our phones to check the time, but it seemed like this had been going on for hours.  The revving of dirt bikes and quads, the loud music and yelling, and the gunshots.  The first time I gave in and looked, it was around 2:00 AM. We tossed and turned, groused and grumbled until it finally stopped at 4:30.  Belated quiet at the Main Street Event Center in Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Our group, and "friends"
I don’t want to seem ungrateful.  The folks who make our mobile mansion, Four Wheel Campers, generously set up this rally, renting the facility and providing groovy tees, food, and wine.  We met some great folks during the afternoon and over dinner.   In all, there were about 35 vehicles.  Unfortunately, there were a whole lot of other folks, some of them drunk and rude on a colossal scale.

We hiked up the hill to the north before sunrise (because, who can sleep?), dodging dirt bikers (when do THEY sleep?) and enjoyed first light on what I’d come to call “Thunderdome.”  He and I and the dog agreed to leave the party a day early and find some peace.

The Slot and tiny moon
We had a nice hike in a slot canyon in the adjacent Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, creatively dubbed “The Slot.” The light was lovely, and more beige than the oranges we’re accustomed to in the Navajo Sandstone in Arizona.  We scouted some other spots, and decided to move on.

Kofa NWR
I’ve shot a handful of times in the last few years in the Kofa National Wildlife Preserve, south of Quartzsite, AZ.  Marco had never been there, and that, together with the likelihood of solitude and quiet in the spot I had in mind made it seem like the right choice.  Kofa Queen Canyon is not particularly well-known, and the road is just rough enough to discourage most campers but not bad enough to high-center Lurch.

Cactus skeleton detail in sweet light, Kofa NWR
The light was beautiful and the beers were cold.  Luna managed to stay out of the chollas. No regrets.

Plan “B” helped me reclaim my mojo after a month of being occupied with other work.

More images of this trip are in the Autumn in the West Gallery on the website.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Love the One You’re With

I’m nearing the end of four weeks without any serious shooting.  I had some family things and some volunteer responsibilities and I’m getting pretty antsy. My last real expedition was to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim over a month ago.

They say that the best camera is the one you have with you, a sentiment not unlike Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With.”  For many of us, that means the mobile phone.

Out the window on final approach to Midway.
Sometimes I can’t put my hand on the camera (like that unexpected out-the-commercial-airplane-window shot), or I deliberately didn’t bring it, like a day with harsh light or out for a walk or bike ride.  Sometimes I think a phone snap is good enough because I’m unlikely to want to sell it, though I’ve been wrong on that assumption.  Sometimes I’m just lazy.

It’s not the same as a real camera, at least not yet, but it’s serviceable in good light and its available.  Lately I’ve been keeping an e-journal with photos on the Diaro app and have found that the exercise sharpens my way of seeing and is a whole lot of fun.
Neighborhood Halloween spirit

On a walk at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix
Yarnell's Finest, Cornerstone Bakery
The bulk of what I played with this month popped up on walks.  My 12-year-old dog still insists that we go out every day.  We do an hour and she glares at me when I pause to shoot.

Clouds in Covington, KY (almost Ohio)
Eden Park, Cincinnati
In Ohio for the fundraiser, there were some remarkable scenes.

Spooky in the in-laws' backyard, Buffalo
Fire Escape, Buffalo
We were in Buffalo with family.  The area has remarkable contrasts between urban scenes and farmland.  I didn't notice until putting this post together that I've rendered Buffalo in Black and White.  Interesting.
A little Franciscan humor

Good advice from the Franciscans
Saint Francis himself
A Rotary International Grants Conference at the Franciscan Renewal Center here in Phoenix was busy enough to preclude any serious photography, though the place is full of potential.  I did fire off a few shots.

I know you’re concerned, so I’ll put your mind at ease.  My next road trip begins soon.  Stay tuned for the report!