Rebecca Wilks

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Monthly Favorites 2021

I’m back.  If you’re not fatigued with all the end-of-year lists, I hope you enjoy this, an annual look at the hard-chosen “favorite” image from each month of this year. With gratitude…


It was a cold, stormy camping trip at Lake Pleasant Regional (County) Park in Peoria.  I was with some friends and moving a little slowly because of the damp weather. On my way home I decided to hike up the Yavapai Trail in the dark to catch sunrise.  Oddly, my friends declined to join me. Its feast or famine after a storm; sometimes the sky is completely socked in.  These colors felt like a banquet.  Bob Brandon, a local painter, liked this enough to create his interpretation of the scene.  That was fun, too.

You can’t win if you don’t play.


From a shoot at Organ Pipe National Monument, for a “Drive of the Month” feature in Arizona Highways Magazine.  This is one of the images published, and my favorite from the shoot.  I made multiple circles around the Ajo Mountain Loop, shooting at different times of day.  Having a specific goal is inspiring.

Rise to the challenge.


There are these dunes in the Mojave Desert that I don’t want to spread the word about.  I started going 3 seasons ago (“seasons” because I’m not that person who loves desert camping in the summer), and I’ve hardly ever seen another human or footprints thereof. I can “feel” sunrise looking at this image and can’t wait to go back.  I respectfully request your indulgence of my secrecy.

Tag responsibly.


This is my first effort at camera trapping, with the assistance of Ron Niebrugge at his Desert Photo Retreat in Marana Arizona.  This is a hooded skunk who was kind enough to take a drink at just the right moment.  The experience was really fun, especially shared with my good friend Kim.  And I slept one night in a hammock.  We’re going back this spring.

Try something new.


I didn’t get out much in May but did play around quite a bit with tabletop photography indoors.  My dad stole the cough syrup bottle from a Prescott area mine in the 1960s.  Its not the best image I ever made, but its fun and a bit sentimental.

They don’t all have to be works of art.


There were some great sunrise and sunset shots at the Grand Canyon this year.  I had a hard time choosing.  This is from a solo trip to the south rim.  I camped at Desert View Campground.  There was smoke everywhere, which can be disturbing and unhealthful but can also make for nice images as the light bounces off particulates in the air.  These layers of ridges are a classic view from the eastern rim, and I love the crepuscular rays. They remind me of the Arizona flag.

There’s good in (almost) everything.


My husband and I seem to have created a new tradition, spending some time in the Summer in Park City Utah. There’s hiking, fishing, and my favorite thrift store.  Days are long up there in July, so dragging myself out in the evening for twilight photography is an effort.  I was after a wider shot of sunset over Park City, which I also got, but this telephoto-compressed twilight image of the town captivates me, power lines and all.

Just do it.


What a nice, rainy monsoon we had this year; enough for a sort of second spring.  These Arizona poppies (not closely related to the ones we’re used to seeing in the desert in March) came up just a few miles from home.  I had a great photo tip from some local friends, timed just right for this field’s peak bloom.

Accept help, from whatever source.


Overnight temperatures in the meadows of the North Rim (Kaibab) Forest can get pretty low in the autumn.  Some mysterious combination of conditions created the delicate ice crystals on this dandelion head, which stopped me in my tracks.

Look Down.

I’ve made a rule for myself for these “best of” posts that I can fudge once with an extra image.  Here’s my fudge.  Backlight on Gypsy the Wonder Dog in the Kaibab Forest.  This one warms my heart.

Who makes the rules, anyway?


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This was my first trip, part of a large all-woman workshop group. Sunset, glow, backlight.  This park is so busy that you’re hardly ever alone, and the trick is to convey a feeling (like solitude or peace) even when you don’t feel it.

It doesn’t have to be literal.


Yup, still in the Smokies.  After the workshop, I spent a few more days with a friend for a quieter experience. We were headed toward what we thought would be photogenic and pulled over for this, which turned out to be much better.  I did have to wait for the traffic to clear to make the shot, though.

The best-laid plans...


This image comes from the new Raven van’s first long road trip, through California.  It was made in Sonoma County, where I was guided by the masterful Jerry Dodrill.  I love the clouds, color, reflection, and light on the foreground rocks.  That’s all expected.  The surprise is that I like the lens flare (the scattering of hexagons), which I’m more often struggling to avoid.

Embrace the imperfections.

 Thanks for riding along as we look forward to 2022 together.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Six Counties...


Marco and Gypsy at San Simeon

…13 days and 2500 Miles in the Raven Van.

Our longest camping trip yet, in California, was a whirlwind of weather, great light, friends, food, and beer & wine.  Now I’m wondering when we can hit the road again.

 San Bernadino County

Haboob from a distance, Death Valley

We thought that 5-6 hours of driving each day was a civilized maximum, so Mojave Desert camps were great first and last night stops.  We started in the southern part of Death Valley National Park at a lesser-known sand dune field.  The evening light was forgettable, but the wind kicked up overnight and I decided not to walk the mile or so onto the dunes pre-dawn and get my eardrums and camera gear sand blasted.  Rather, I climbed the alluvial fan in the other direction and was treated to sunrise backlighting the haboob.

Rainbow Basin Sunrise

On the night before heading home, we choose Owl Canyon/Rainbow Basin, north of Barstow.  I’d never been there.  Sunrise was lovely and this trip was enough to whet my appetite to shoot there again, though the BLM campground is neglected, especially the pit toilets.  Enough said.

Gypsy’s favorite thing: Sand

 San Luis Obispo County

In trip planning, we’d thought to drive up through Nevada and down the coast.  In practice, that plan would have put us in snow and required some difficult driving.  Instead, we took the western route both ways, and landed in SLO County for one night in each direction. 

Impossible reflections, Pismo Beach

After a stop at Mosby Winery, a favorite for 20 years which, sadly, is closing for good soon, Pismo Beach was the camp on the way up.  The dunes are striking.  Gypsy loved running on the beach, too.  The pink light and reflections at sunrise were not quite believable.

Moonset, San Simeon

On the way home we stayed at San Simeon.  This place was nice and dry (which we sorely needed by then) and comfortable, but not so dog friendly.  We would, of course, never let her run off-leash on the trails.  In the morning I braved the coating of frost on the boardwalk (really) and caught the full moon set.

Gypsy’s favorite thing: Sand

 Lake County

Sycamores in the campground, Clear Lake

I’d never heard of Clear Lake but choose it from the map during trip planning.  There were just two other families at the camp, and the fog off the lake was striking. 

Gypsy’s favorite thing: Squirrels

 Humboldt County

Backlighted mushroom bombshell, Humboldt County

After three nights of waypoint camping, it was nice to settle down for a few in Arcata. Our friends had rented a house for a month and graciously invited us to stay a while.  Showers and laundry are always a great gift during road trips, as are cooking in a kitchen and a grocery restock.  They took me to two locations to shoot; a forest full of mushrooms (I had fun with my LED panel light in the very dark glade) and stormy Trinidad Beach. 

Drury Chaney Grove Trail

Marco and Gypsy and I also had a chance to hike a couple of redwood forests.  We especially liked walking the Drury Chaney Grove on the way back south.

Gypsy’s favorite thing: Running atop the wet, downed trees.

 Sonoma County

Sunrise near Bodega Bay

Jerry Dodrill (check out his fabulous work) has been a friend and mentor since we met at his photo workshop with Justin Black on the Sonoma Coast in 2011.  He’s got a delightful way of looking at things and is so much fun to be around.  This time we camped behind his house for four nights and combined running around this beautiful area with beer, wine, and great food.  There seems to have been a different bakery stop every day as well.

Sonoma County ephemeral waterfall

A couple of highlights were some gorgeous sunrises and an ephemeral coastal waterfall. I was almost glad for the rain because it gave us the opportunity to shoot this beauty.  Almost.

Gypsy’s favorite thing: Jerry’s cat.  Well, maybe not.  Actually, beach sand.

Marin County

Cypress tunnel, Marin County

Though we didn’t stay in Marin County (we are likely not posh enough), we did sightsee and shoot.  It was great to scout Point Reyes for the first time.  I’m already plotting my return. Then there was the cypress tree tunnel (how I love them!) in the fog.  Fog creates a lovely sense of mystery as well as depth (critical in 2D art) and is so rare where I live that it’s a bit of a thrill to experience.

Gypsy’s favorite thing:  National parks are not so dog-friendly, so she hung out at the beach with Marco.  So, Sand.

More images from this trip are in the Northern California Gallery on the website.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

I Eat My (Sarcastic) Words

Lurch at Toroweep Arizona

For over eight years we've been running around in the Toyota Tundra-Four Wheel Camper combination we’ve come to call “Lurch,” laughing at other 4WCs with the bumper sticker, “#onelesssprinter."  Sprinter vans seemed so popular with the bearded hoards that they were almost trite.

Meet Raven, currently being outfitted

And then we bought one.  Marco is busy (very busy) doing its interior build-out , getting ready for a December trip and I’m on what I’m sure will be my last trip in Lurch.  I’m just hanging out with my camera in a little desert campground a little more than an hour from home; I thought we needed some quality time before he goes on the market.

Sunrise from White Tanks Regional Park; the farewell camp

The anthropomorphism is, I have concluded, a bit of a problem. Perhaps I can be forgiven if I imagined “him” protecting me in dicey situations, especially on solo trips.  I’ll admit to being unnaturally attached. I need to let go, though.

Gypsy the wonder dog.  She loves camping too.

Lurch has been great, albeit with a few little kinks we eventually ironed out.  We’re looking forward to much more camping, but would like to set ourselves up with a vehicle which is more conducive to the oldsters which I hope we’ll have a chance to become.  Eventually, pushing up the pop-up roof and maybe even climbing up into bed could become difficult.  Also, we want a bit more storage and more space for Gypsy the wonder dog.  She’s claimed the vehicle already, though it’s still under construction.

So, this is mostly a farewell post to an old friend, hoping “it” (see what I did there?) finds a loving home.  I have a few memories to share.

Trying unsuccessfully to shelter from that Mojave Desert wind

Wind.  I love the Mojave Desert, but it can be fiercely, tear the roof off (not literally, but close), nowhere to hide, suck your belongings out the door (literally) windy. I don’t have many unpleasant memories in 349 camping nights.  These are them.

Bolt picked up in Mojave Trails National Monument

I’ve had a total of two flat tires, both of which happened in places where I could get help. Once we were across the road from the only place to get a repair in 100 miles.  I feel blessed.  Of course I still need to get home from this last trip without disaster.

I took a particularly stupid wrong turn once, in the North Rim Forest.  My friend was behind me on this nasty road in her Jeep Wrangler (no danger there), so nervous for me that she was afraid to say anything on the walkie. We both knew I could neither back up or turn around, so we wished for the best and got it. I dodged that bullet.

"Randy" the pack rat hitchhiked to this spot, North of Flagstaff

Regular readers (all twelve of you) will remember the pack rat this year.  I won’t reiterate the story, but feel free to follow the link.

There were some unconventional locations; driveways loaned to me by generous rangers and friends (I generally ran an extension cord into the garage), “beer camp” in the forest next to Barnstar Brewing Co in Skull Valley (that was fun), and the occasional not-quite-legal spot.  I always had some story prepared about doing night photography, which may or may not have been true, and catching nap until the moon went down.

And then there's winter at the South Rim.

One night at Lake Pleasant feral burros commenced bashing against the sides of the truck at 2:00 AM.  I still haven’t figured out why, but I yelled pretty loud and that seemed to work.

There's been just one celebrity sighting.  I was waiting for a couple to leave one of the four undeveloped (first come first served) sites at Organ Pipe National Monument when somebody let us know that I was hovering over Craig Childs.  Nice guy; he helped me sort out the provenance of a pot sherd I found in the Marble Canyon area later.

Snow at Lee Flat

There are so many memories, from places I visit repeatedly like Grand Canyon’s North Rim, secret and not-so-secret dunes in the Mojave, Lee Flat (Death Valley) in the snow, The Kofa Mountains, and old and new local favorites like Watson Lake and the Harquahala Mountains.

#onemoresprinter #neversaynever #brandtraitor

Peace at Marble Canyon

And, if you know anyone in the market for a well cared-for 4WC…

Monday, November 8, 2021

The Tribe

Foothills Parkway Sunset

As many of you know, I love to camp and photograph by myself. There’s news on that front but that’s a topic for another post.

 Group photography trips also have their place, though. This last one was a Smoky Mountain workshop put together by Colleen Miniuk. It was a great introduction to the Smoky Mountains, a chance to be inspired by the work of others, and a friendly learning environment. There’s always something to learn.

The group.  Colleen Miniuk Photo

The highlight of these trips, really, is the tribe. These are the kind of friends who, after a long absence, can pick up together as if no time has passed. I missed them, especially since the same trip was cancelled last year. We did this, joyfully, together. 

I’m lucky to count lots of special people as part of my tribe. I love the impractical dream of having all my best photo buds together on one trip. Anything is possible, but for now I’m basking in the glow of this lovely subgroup.

Fog and Layers, Great Smoky Mountains NP

So, it rained. There was a whole lot of damp, cold, and unspectacular (we can call it “subtle” instead) light. Fog worked for us sometimes and overcast made for good shooting well into the morning without harsh contrast. Good gear makes the wet weather bearable, at least, but it was pretty wet.

A moment of glory, from Clingman's Dome

When the sun grudgingly showed up, I appreciated it that much more. A couple of times the setting or rising sun would peek out through a gap in the horizon and astound us, albeit for no more than a minute.

The illusion of solitude.  Roaring Fork Nature Drive

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited of US National Parks, with over 12 million visitors in 2020, more than four times the number at the Grand Canyon and more than three times the second-place park, Yellowstone. This translates into traffic on the roads and trails as well as visitor centers. We often found ourselves driving scenic loops locked in at under 10 MPH and photographing spectacular, apparently peaceful scenes while dodging other humans and breathing diesel fumes and cigarette smoke. I get it; autumn is an exceptional time in this beautiful place. No regrets.

So Many Trees.  From Clingman's Dome

Being in a place so different from the desert southwest, where I live, is great for conditioning my creative mind. There’s water everywhere and SO MANY TREES. Yes, that’s largely what we were there for, but if I’m honest I’ll admit that they sometimes get in the way. There are so many trees that Park allows building campfires with downed wood. We don’t do that where I’m from, ever.

Lower Meigs Falls

The group dispersed after four days, and my friend Amy and I settled into a rental in Townsend TN and a quieter time. We did some return trips to places we’d already been, explored, and chased waterfalls and cascades from a sweet little book we picked up in the visitor’s center (after waiting in line to get in.) 

Cade's Cove Drive detail

Autumn, a new place, and to be reunited with the tribe were all such gifts, and well worth my first airplane trip since early 2020.

More images are in the More Places gallery on the website.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Better to be Lucky Than Good

Striking Secondary Road in the Kaibab, Arizona

Luck + gratitude is opportunity, I think. Some examples follow.


Autumn Layers, Kaibab Forest Arizona

Despite all the time we’ve spent in the North Kaibab Forest over the years, we’re still driving around discovering (stumbling on) lovely new spots.  These discoveries feel a lot like great fortune, with aspen trees dressed in ombre green, yellow, orange and near-red.


Winter Dandelion

Changing leaves come with cooler temperatures, of course, and this trip, in the meadows (which tend to collect cool air at night) the late-September ambiance was in the mid-20s Fahrenheit. There I found another blessing, dandelions delicately coated with ice crystals.


Storm at Crazy Jug Viewpoint, Kaibab Forest Arizona

Storms always have great potential to create photogenic situations, but at sunset they can be off the charts.  This one at Crazy Jug Point was nothing short of a breathtaking godsend.


Spotlight, Kaibab Forest Arizona

Photography is all about light, and my windfall seeing the spotlight on this resplendent tree is unforgettable.


Gypsy the Wonder Dog, Drawn to the Light

Speaking of light, I wasn’t planning this one, but did manage to react to this windfall of a scene before Gypsy moved (which she does quite a lot as it turns out).  I see a story in the image; perhaps more than one.


Macro photography in the forest is always about walking slowly and being open to seeing an emotionally moving composition.  I shot this one in a favorite grove which I’ve returned to repeatedly.  I thought I might have been done there, but luckily there's more to find.


The last couple of days of our trip were about getting my husband close to the trout.  One rainy day I hung out in the rental house and did little tabletop images of our hosts’ quirky artwork while he fished in the rain.


Casting on the San Juan River, New Mexico

The other day I shot the “action” while my husband had some luck of his own.


Here's looking at you...

Thanks for the good fortune of connection with you, my small but mighty readership.


Sunrise in one of my beloved meadows, Kaibab Forest Arizona

There’s more in the Autumn in the West Gallery on the website.