Rebecca Wilks

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

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Monthly Favorites 2017

A Very Good Year

Welcome to the sixth annual year-end monthly favorites blog.  Editing our own work is a great exercise for photographers, and like most exercise, is a bit painful.  

 In the process, I find gratitude.


It rained in Death Valley, more than a little, last winter.  Weather Underground shows 2 1/3 inches over the three months, and I think my friends and I got most of that during a January trip.  It was chilly (Chuck’s Whiskey helped) and we spent a fair amount of time waiting for the gloom to clear.  On my last morning, we braved the assault of the wind to find reflections in standing water on the Badwater Salt Flats, a rare and lovely sight.


Guatemala.  Our enthusiastic guide told us to wait a little while longer.  It was late, and we were tired of sitting still.  Then Vulcan Fuego erupted for us.  Once.  This is a 25 second exposure and I’m rather glad I got it right, as the show was over that quickly. There are tons of images of schoolkids (the real reason we go) which I love, but I thought you might enjoy a different kind of image and a different emotion.


Lucky me.  I won this trip in a charity raffle; I’ve always wanted to see Charleston and Savannah. This one has a certain elegance, and I stumbled on this spot, despite all the meticulous planning I did for the adventure.  I find it foreboding, yet it beckons me in.


Quiet time on my own, shooting the jagged mountains and cactus bloom in Kofa National Wildlife Preserve. This one is admittedly a novelty.  It makes me smile, though.  This, the first time I played with the glass sphere, was the day I learned that focused sunlight is hot.  Very hot. Ouch.


My first trip to the area which had just been designated Bears Ears National Monument.  I’d tacked on a few days after the Moab Photo Symposium with a friend.  We did a superficial tour of the area, which included Muley Point, the vantage Point for this image.  There’s so much more to see.  That’s the San Juan River in the foreground and Monument Valley further away.  Then we drove back to our hotel and I nearly hit a black cow in the dark.  One of many hazards of outdoor photography.

Incidentally, we were at House on Fire, a famous Anasazi ruin in the area, on the same day the Secretary of the Interior was scheduled to visit.  Apparently the need to preserve these precious places did not impress him, as the Monument has been recently decreased in size by 85%.  Stay tuned, though, these changes are likely to be held up in court for some time.


A selfie.  Does that make me a narcissist? 

Cape Final is a fairly easy trail on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.  Once each season I pull a backcountry permit and spend the night out there.  The Park Service only issues a permit for one party per night and I am the party.  What a lovely spot to be alone.  This was the first time I used my camera’s smartphone remote control app.  I had a lot of fun with it, and appreciated not having to run back and forth in under 10 seconds. 


Home sweet Home.

San Clemente, where I grew up, has what’s called Ocean Festival each July.  It’s fun but loud and busy.  I appreciated a little stroll when it was all over, Monday at dawn.  This one triggers all my senses; cold sand, the salt smell, and the marine layer retreating from the green ocean. 


Crazy Jug Point, Kaibab Forest, bounced light, dawn.  My shoulders are relaxing just looking at it.


White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  This was part of a trip with friends, old and new.  I felt rather decadent being driven and cooked for by Dreamland Tours.  Usually I do all that myself.  WP is delightfully weird, and I’m sure I’ll never tire of the place.


This is fun; essentially the same stretch of forest road in August and September.  I love autumn and the magic of changing seasons in general.  I appreciate the way the August image includes a puddle with reflections.  It was a delightfully wet monsoon week for me.


Dog Point, Kaibab National Forest.  Sunrise backlight, Marble Canyon, Navajo Mountain.


Alstrom Point, High above Lake Powell.  This was what passed for Thanksgiving for my husband, dog, and me this year. The light had been mostly underwhelming until our last morning.  This, though, made me smile.


There were some mishaps on this trip to Death Valley, but it remains a joy to be in one of my favorite places.  This image is made up of manually-blended shots because it was not possible to keep all four dunes in focus at 175mm focal length.  The subtle morning light captivated me, and still does.

Thanks for coming along for the ride this year.  Stay tuned for the new adventures.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The List

I keep location lists.  They live in my photography idea notebook with blog post notes and random thoughts.  Mostly I’ve gone digital, but this last analog exercise is still valuable.  I’ll admit to enjoying the crinkle of the paper and the smell of the ink.  There are intangibles too, which help me to get my thoughts together.

None of my series of lists is as robust nor has had as many incarnations as the Death Valley files.  Each time I make camp on the last night there, I make notes about what I missed, and I supplement these as I do research in the interim, pouring over maps and guidebooks.  Death Valley is remarkably large (just slightly smaller than Connecticut) and has about 1,000 miles of road, only about 300 of them paved.

My rig can handle quite a bit, but some roads require higher clearance and a shorter wheelbase.  I’ve long thought about renting a jeep (easy to do in the park) for some of these remote locations.

As an aside, last January a prominent Mojave Desert guide and writer posted on social media that his jeep and computer needed repair.  We struck a deal that I would send a deposit for guiding the next season, a sort of advance.  I thought I’d help the guy out.  Our arranged dates were December 9-10 and, to shorten the story, he didn’t show and has not responded to me since mid-November.  I’m working on getting the money back, and on a plan to get to those places on my own or perhaps with a particular kind Jeep-driving friend.

Panamint Playa, Lake Hill Road
Many years ago I scouted Lake Hill Road, and an overnight there to shoot the textures in the playa has long been on the list. I was on my way there in February of 2014 when my rig died.  Though we’re still not sure what the problem is, I have learned to carry 7.5A low profile automotive fuses to replace #15 under the dash.  I mention this because I thought the problem was solved; the last blow was in October of 2014. Sadly we had another this trip. 

I finally got there this month and loved shooting the mud cracks.  This location has rolled over to the next list; I have unfinished business.

There are other places, like some of the more remote dune fields, that I can’t get enough of.  Dunes without footprints are a great joy, and we found a new dune field this trip.

Darwin Falls
Keane Wonder Mine
For other places, once is enough.  Some, like Harmony Borax Works or the Keane Wonder Mine (recently reopened) are fascinating historically but not spectacular photographically.  Others, Like Darwin Falls, are a pleasant diversion, but tough to depict in an original way.  These places don’t make the next list.  I’ve put the Goldwell Open Air Museum down as a one-timer for next time.  I’ve long been curious about the ghostly Last Supper sculpture, especially.

Slot Canyon, unnamed on my map.
As much as I prepare, there are always explorations that result from looking at maps and saying, “I wonder…”  or hiking to a high vantage point and seeing something I hope is worth hiking to.  This canyon is one of those.

The lesson here, I suppose, is the advantage of having a depth of knowledge about a place. I figure I've spent a collective 6-8 weeks here, and I'm nowhere near done.

I’ll be back in January.  There are plenty of ideas on my list.

More from the trip are in the Winter 2017-18 Gallery on the website.