Rebecca Wilks

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

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Overlanding for the rest of us

Barrel cactus and alpine glow, Alabama Hills California

Picture this; I’m out in short-wheelbase 4WD vehicles with my jeeper friends.  We stopped to remodel an eroded section of the road by moving rocks into the ditch and the first couple of vehicles made it OK.  I thought I was going to make it too but I got stuck, resting on the front bumper with no traction and now I’m struggling with the hi-lift jack.

Not so much.

"Lurch" at sunrise, Death Valley National Park
I love to get out to remote places, but for me it’s more about the destination.  I blogged a bit about this a few years ago.  Part of the reason is that my camper-adorned 4WD Tundra is reasonably capable, but has a long-ish wheelbase. Maybe more to the point, I don’t want to beat the crap out of it, nor do I enjoy “recovery.”  I’ve got gear to get me out of trouble but would rather not have to use it.  All of this is a trade-off, of course.  The up-side is that when I arrive, I have heat, a fridge, a comfy bed, and a workspace.  

I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels this way.

This year, my husband and I set out on our nearly-annual solstice trip to the Mojave Desert.  Our intention was to overland Death Valley, avoiding campgrounds.  It was just as well, since the government shut-down hit early in our trip, so the big campgrounds weren’t available anyway.  By the way the larger Death Valley CGs are really just glorified parking lots; OK in a pinch or for the sake of proximity to things I want to photograph but best avoided if there’s an option.

So, overlanding is a camping trip which typically involves taking your rig far from civilization and living off the grid for multiple days. We find we can eat fabulously with what our fridge holds for at least a week and be well-supplied with water and propane as well.

The fewer people around, the better.  I’m pleased with the way that worked out on this trip; I think that the closest humans to us those first four nights were ten miles away.  Two of those camps were in completely new places for us and required driving what one of the DV guide books called roads “with character.”

Moody pre-dawn moon set, Saline Valley Dunes
There were two nights at dune fields, and the opportunity to take advantage of the full moon.  Saline Valley dunes were new to us and a delightful discovery. We used different roads in and out of the Saline Valley, but both had icy patches.  That’s not what most people imagine when they think of Death Valley.

Striped Butte, Butte Valley
I’d been wanting to see Striped Butte in the southern part of the park for years.  It was a thrill to finally get there, but the road tested our patience.  It was about 24 miles and the last half we averaged about 5 MPH.  Like a lot of places in DV, there are interesting remnants of mines, and in Butte Valley there’s an impeccably maintained “Geologist’s Cabin” that people stock with food, books, and games and stay in from time to time.  It was tempting, but there’s nothing like sleeping in my own (mobile) bed.

Moon riding the "Sierra Wave," Lee Flat
One night we planned to head to the mouth of Marble canyon but changed that plan up when beautiful clouds began to develop.  We headed for Lee Flat, with its open sky and dense healthy growth of Joshua Trees, and were rewarded with the setting full moon and pink-illuminated lenticular clouds at sunrise. A few years ago I was there in a snowstorm but this was just as beautiful.

Last glow, Alabama Hills
After Death Valley we checked back in with civilization and staked out a spot at the Alabama Hills.  I’ve got several nice conventional shots from this trip, but my favorite is the glow behind the Sierra.  This spot rarely produces spectacular sunsets, since the 14,000-foot Sierra Nevada Range is rather close to camp to the west. This night's light was a welcome surprise.  Incidentally sunrise is often lovely, though in the summer months the early light is blocked somewhat by the White Mountains to the east.  The closer to solstice, the better the sunrise.

All this, lots of unpaved roads, and we never broke out the recovery gear.  Truly a trip for the rest of us.

More images from the overland are on the website, in the Winter 2018-19 Gallery

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Dumpster Diving Too

Western Grand Canyon monsoon sunset 2014

I’m cleaning out my archives.  Yes, this project is about as dull as it sounds, but it does have its advantages.

Almost three years ago, I was inspired by Guy Tal to re-work some forgotten images. He calls the process “dumpster diving.”  My current interminable project again gives me the opportunity to earmark some of my older work to live again through alternative processing.  Some images seem to demand to be presented in Black and white, while others need a crop or (ahem) subtler color presentation.  Sometimes I just want to add an image to my favorites whose merits I didn’t appreciate at first.  Perhaps, having been confronted with the specter of losing them, I’m feeling more sentimental.

Susie Yazzie in her hogan
Susie Yazzie lived in Monument Valley throughout her life and died in 2013, allegedly at the age of 98.  Some say that her birth date is conjectural. As far as I know she didn’t speak English, and I only speak Tony Hillerman Navajo, so what I know of her is secondhand.  She was a weaver, a midwife and in later life a frequent photographic model.  This image was made in her Hogan in 2012. It’s one of those images which fell between the cracks, but it seemed to me to really want to be processed in black and white.  Those hands.

Sunset from Yarnell Hill 2015, New Years Day
I think I’ve only recently come to properly appreciate a minimal composition with dramatic light.  These (this, together with the header image) rather minimally composed, serve as examples. They convey much more emotion to me now.  The drama of these experiences builds gradually with a vibration in my chest and that delicious uncertainty about how far the moment will go. These two owe their spectacle to storm light, one during monsoon season in Western Grand Canyon and the other after a winter storm in Southern Yavapai County. I feel as if I’m unwrapping a couple of forgotten gifts.

Sedona sunset behind the Cock's Comb 2011
Sometimes we’re left with a dilemma about color.  There are competing desires; to portray the scene faithfully and to make it believable.  This moment in Sedona arguably appears farfetched but I just couldn’t resist presenting it in its full glory. It looked like this.

Peacock, Sahuaro Ranch Park, Glendale Arizona 2011
This critter is a resident of the City of Glendale Arizona’s Main Library and Sahuaro Ranch Park grounds.  The peacocks there are comfortable with people and make great subjects.  I appreciate the drama in this portrait and what appears to be quite an attitude.

Harbor Seal, San Luis Obispo County California
Speaking of animals habituated to humans, this harbor seal on Harford Pier in Central California couldn’t be bothered to interrupt his nap for me.  No, he wasn’t dead (he was surrounded by his mates) and as much I strive not to anthropomorphize animals, I found him cute.  This image just needed a little rotation and crop after its rescue from obscurity.

Southbound end of a northbound burrowing owl
The last of the critters; a slightly different perspective on a burrowing owl from Maricopa County’s western farmland in 2014. Sometime we just need to shake it off.

Tree in the fog, Sonoma County California 2012
Fog.  We don’t see it so much in the desert.  Jerry Dodrill has a knack for finding just the right spot to optimize fog photography.  This one came from a workshop in Sonoma County.  Quiet strength.

Lake Powell Aerial
Aerial abstracts.  I’m not sure how I missed this one from a 2010 helicopter flight over Lake Powell.  This one makes me want to go back for more.

Thanks for sailing along with me on this little voyage of discovery.  Here’s wishing you some unearthing of your own.  Cheers.