Rebecca Wilks

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

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 (newly minted) Autumn 2021 Gallery on the website.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Painted Desert

 

Post-storm drama, Echo Cliffs, Arizona

Oh my gosh, I hadn’t picked up the camera (the phone doesn’t count) in weeks.

 

My husband booked a fishing trip at Lee’s Ferry, and a girlfriend and I went along.  One day we traipsed around on the North Rim (where temperatures were so much cooler!).  The other day we had ourselves hauled 15 miles upriver from Lee’s Ferry with a couple of rented Kayaks and spent the day paddling down, looking at petroglyphs, and gawking at bighorn sheep.  We had a great time, until the rainstorm up-canyon wind was strong enough to make whitecaps and blow us backward.

 

Clearing storm over Echo Cliffs, Arizona

Back at Cliff Dweller’s Lodge after a beer, some ibuprofen, and a lot of laughs at dinner, I ran out to photograph this.  One photographic truism is that magic happens after storms.

 


Gray Mountain Public Art, Arizona

I’ve wanted to stop and gawk at this motel – turned – mural at Gray Mountain since it first appeared almost a year ago.  It’s on the Navajo Reservation on the way home.  The property has been abandoned since 2005 and the mural, part of Chip Thomas’ Painted Desert Project, was completed in November 2020.

 

Harvest moon-set, Yarnell Arizona

Hanging at Vermillion Cliffs in the light of the harvest moon inspired me to climb the hill east of Yarnell the first morning home.  I caught the full moon setting behind the town.  As or friends said, we see an awful lot of natural beauty when we travel, but where we live is pretty awesome, too.

There’s more in the Summer 2021 Gallery on the website.  I’ll open the Autumn Gallery with North Rim and Colorado shots from the next trip.

Friday, August 27, 2021

August

Crepuscular Rays from North Timp Point, Kaibab Forest Arizona

It's been a minute.  

Here's a little update on thoughts and journeys for August.

When I lived in the desert, I called this the least wonderful month of the year.  Here in the high country of Southern Yavapai County, Arizona, the weather is not so bad.  We've had robust monsoon storms and things are green and blooming.  Most nights we can sleep with the windows open, cool the house, and avoid that months-long-canned-air feeling I remember from relentless air conditioning.

Arizona Poppies near Kirkland Arizona

Speaking of blooming, I got a tip early in the month from some neighbors about a carpet of orange flowers off State Route 89 a few miles north. I love to follow up on those "you've got to go take a picture of this" conversations.  It turns out they were summer poppies, or Arizona poppies.  To the casual observer they look like the poppies we see in the desert in March, but they're actually unrelated.  I crawled under the barbed wire and did some contortions to conceal the nearby highway in the images.

Aspen Sunrise, North Kaibab Forest Arizona

Then it was back to the North Kaibab Forest, getting back into the swing of camping alone.  It's much quieter up there, perhaps because school has started or perhaps (dare we hope?) camping is no longer the latest trend.  In any case, I hardly saw anyone; the introvert's dream.  There were lots of what has come to be called 'intimate landscape' shots, including mushrooms everywhere.  I also was able to witness the amazing sunset on the header image from North Timp Viewpoint and to return to a favorite aspen grove.  I think I finally got the sunrise shot I've been working on there for several seasons.

Crossbedded rocks near East Clear Creek Arizona

We've rescheduled a trip to Northern California, mostly because it seems to be on fire.  Sigh.  Instead we packed up the dog and hung out in the forest on the Mogollon Rim, east of here.  My husband fished, I photographed, and Gypsy ran around like a nut case.  The bull elk have started singing their haunting love songs to the cows, too. It was pretty much the ideal short trip; green damp, and again, pretty quiet.

Amanita mushroom emerging, Kaibab Forest Arizona

That's a lot of blessings for one month; I'm looking forward to September.  Next up, southern California.

There's more in the Summer 2021 Gallery on the website.



Monday, July 26, 2021

The Fisher Widow

Detail from the forest

 We love Park City Utah.  For each of the 22 winters we’ve been together, we’ve made two or three trips.  We know where to eat, which runs are best first thing in the morning, and which lift opens 15 minutes early. 

Marco fishing the Middle Provo

Now my husband is a fly fisherman and we’re just back from a road trip.  We stayed in Park City and he fished the Middle Provo River in the mornings.  Yep, I’m the fisher widow.  One day I got up at 4:45 (3:45 Arizona time) and went along, photographing landscapes and documenting the fishing.  Who knows; I might get good enough at that to submit some work to the fishing magazines. 

Impressionist aspens, Guardsman Pass

On the other mornings I hiked (dodging mountain bikes like large mosquitos) and thrifted and photographed. 

The view from the top of the ski resort

It turns out that we get a free summer ski lift ride at Deer Valley because we had season passes last winter. Now, that was an interesting experience.  There were lots of mosquitos (bikes) on the lifts with us, because downhill biking at the ski resorts is a thing.  We know this place really well but were still disoriented at the look of it in summer, and at riding lifts in shorts and tees.  The view from the top was striking. 

Silver Lake

A mutual friend introduced me to a new photography friend, Steven Kornreich, who graciously showed me some photogenic places one morning.  We drove over Guardsman Pass and hiked (sort of inadvertently off trail for a bit) up to a lake from Brighton ski area.  It occurred to me that I’ve not had much of a chance to talk shop with a member of the tribe (photographer) for a while and it felt good.

The lights coming on in Park City at dusk

Steven also showed me the view from this lovely city overlook, which I shared with a couple of mule deer bucks and watched the lights come on one evening.

Everyone has dogs in Park City, and half of them are happily off-leash.  We need to find a dog-friendly place to stay next summer so we can bring the girl. 


Like all vacations there were little luxuries like ice cream for dinner, meeting old friends in Salt Lake City for lunch (oops; we got caught in Pioneer Day Parade traffic) and shopping indiscretions.  We brought this handsome devil home with us as a homage to the place and to feed my fascination with ravens.

Perhaps it’s not so bad being a fisher widow.

More images are in the Summer 2021 Gallery on the website.

 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Randy

 

Oh, and there was a rainbow

It seemed like an ordinary photo camping trip, hanging out in the forest and enjoying the rare company of my good friend Jeff.  We pitched camp on Thursday mid-day, had a nice long chat and then went our separate ways for naps.

Around 6:00 I felt a hint of guilt for being sort of shiftless and hauled myself out of the hammock to gather my camera gear from the backseat of the truck.  I opened to door and met the challenger in this little drama.  I’ll call him Randy the recalcitrant rodent.  A pack rat. Sitting on my camera bag.  Yeah.

Salsify flower detail

My husband and I thought we’d scared him away before I’d embarked on this trip, but he’d ridden the three hours from home with me.  He seemed confident.  Bold, even.  I had not seen anything yet.

So, I yelled to Jeff that the critter was still in the vehicle. Together we took everything out of the back of the truck cab and found him staring up at us again.  I didn’t want to touch him, so I scooted him out with the jumper cables.  I thought that was the end of it; that he would live out his days in the forest.

Not so much.

Eventually we realized that he had scooted up into the perceived safety of the engine compartment.  At first we just heard him skittering around.  After a bit he’d stand on the battery and stare, or peek around the end of the little air-intake tunnel which seemed to be his safe place.  I’d had a pack rat in the truck cab before, at a trailhead at Grand Canyon’s North Rim.  Since then I’d carried peppermint oil, so I was scenting the truck cab (the smell will never go away) and his little tunnel.  At one point he was standing in a puddle of said aromatic, I’ve become confident that it was not a deterrent.

Over a couple of hours we tried bright lights, yelling and banging on things, and starting the engine, all to no avail.

We started happy hour, setting up chairs nearby and talking about options.  I called my husband, who’s a natural problem solver and Bruce Taubert, our friend who is an Arizona wildlife specialist.  They gave the situation some thought, but to no avail.

At one point Jeff came back from his vehicle wearing one leather glove and holding a shovel.  I had no hope that he could grab the critter, but darned if he didn’t.  It all happened pretty fast, but what I know is that Jeff grabbed Randy and threw him 20 feet from the vehicle.  A vigorous round of whack a mole followed.  Immobilized by the kind of laughter that gives you a substantial core muscle workout, we helplessly watched Randy scoot back into the engine compartment.


LED lights continued to blaze under my open hood like a campfire while we conceded defeat.  Daylight was about gone when an owl circled silently and perched on a tree limb just above us. It seemed time to give up and hope for the best.  Pack rats like to gnaw on wiring, and while (as they say) “hope” is not a plan, we retired hoping that the vehicle’s electrical systems would still be operational in the morning, which they were.

The next day we made the weirdest camping resupply ever, driving to Home Depot in Flagstaff for traps.  24 hours later we had hope (there’s that word again) the owl had taken care of our problem.  The traps were undisturbed, and we didn’t hear any more skittering.

Lying in bed that last night, it occurred to me that my next stop was in the Phoenix metro area, where temperatures were expected to hit 115F.  I figured that, If Randy were still with me, he’d not stay in the vehicle six hours at those temperatures, at least not alive.

Too graphic?  Sorry.

The resolution is a little anticlimactic.  My husband disassembled the air intake tunnel when I got home and found that our adversary had passed. 

RIP Randy.  He gave us a good story.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Eight Years

 


Bronze and pottery.  These are the traditional gifts to commemorate an eighth anniversary.  They’re symbolic of the creation of something tougher; pottery from clay and Bronze from iron and copper.  Nothing, of course, can bring back the 19 brave men lost here on June 30, 2013, but our town has grown stronger even as we’ve lost our innocence.

 

Sunrise on the trail

The Yarnell Area Resource Group (YARG) asked that I photograph the plaques commemorating each fallen firefighter on the trail at Granite Mountain hotshot Memorial State Park. They used the images in the remembrance concert today. It’s June, of course, so I was up at 4:00 yesterday to I could hit the trail before sunrise. It’s a great hike, and I’m up there a lot.  It can be easy to forget the losses honored here, but this trip was a homage for me, stopping at each plaque to contemplate each man for a moment.  It was less acute than my first homage, photographing the coaches carrying remains from Phoenix back to Yavapai County, but no less heartfelt.

We’re still grateful here, and still mourning. We still think of life in two parts, “before” and “after.” Frequently the fire is still what we’re known for.

 

Terry Palmberg, Frances Lechner, and the news crew

Monday there was a surprise for Frances Lechner, a truly tireless local volunteer.  Frances was met at the new park by AZ CBS 5 news with the “Pay it Forward Award,” a $500 prize for extraordinary volunteerism.  Frances has worked in many areas in town, including the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group immediately after the fire, as well as the Community Garden, Regional Community Center, and Fire Auxiliary. Many friends were there to witness her recognition. The story is here.

 

The Park Dedication

This afternoon, our annual memorial event remembering the fallen was combined with a dedication of the park in Yarnell.  The Park has been a long time coming and we’re all very excited to see it complete.  The project has been completed in cooperation with Arizona State Parks. The design was created by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.  One fundraising effort was the sale of decorative bricks.  I was pleased to see one we purchased to honor my dad in place there.

 


For the eighth year, the names of the fallen were read by Lew and Marcie Theokas, whose grandson was lost that day. A bell was rung after each name.  The slow and orderly listing brings to mind my walk on the trail yesterday, past the 19 plaques in turn, and of what a large number 19 is.

Bronze and pottery.

A few more of my posts about the fire are here:

After the Yarnell Hill Fire; the first eight days

Regrowth

Chicken Soup From Yarnell #1

Chicken Soup From Yarnell #2

Chicken Soup From Yarnell #3

Chicken Soup From Yarnell #4

Chicken Soup From Yarnell #5; Moving On

Anniversary

Monday, June 28, 2021

Backlight and Smoke

Crepuscular rays at sunset, Desert View, Grand Canyon

I had a quick trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I like the occasional stay at Desert View Campground.  It's still a campground (too much humanity), but has the advantage of easy walking access to a number of lovely canyon vistas. This place used to be first-come, but this season they made the change to a reservation system.  I'll roll with it, planning further ahead.  For the record, though, there are always 10% or so of the sites that are not used, so the reservation system does create some waste.

We're still waiting on the start of our monsoon rains this year.  The pervasive smell of smoke is a potent reminder of the land's vulnerability and frankly it sets me on edge a bit.  

Smoky sunset at Desert View, Grand Canyon

That being said, smoke can create some lovely effects, warming and saturating sunrises and sunsets and providing atmospheric effects and a sense of depth in photographs. 

Atmospherics at Grandview Point, Grand Canyon

All of this was particularly impressive on my last morning.  I woke up in the middle of the night finding that the smell of smoke was much stronger.  I stuck to the plan, packing up in the predawn dark (sorry about that, campground neighbors) and scooting to Lipan and eventually Grandview Point for a new angle on sunrise. 

Smoky backlight, Grand Canyon Arizona

I've never seen these stunning conditions before.  This odd combination of beauty and tragedy reminds me of the photography of Daniel Beltra, who does some amazing things with this intersection.  Check out his Gulf oil spill images.

I could still smell the smoke on my clothes after the 3-hour drive home.

Morning at Watson Lake Arizona


Speaking of backlight, here's an image from Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona, my home turf.

There's more in the Summer 2021 Gallery on the website.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Meadows

 

Lovely aspen trunks

I’m just back from my first North Rim trip of the season.  Technically, we were not in Grand Canyon National Park (except for about 10 minutes; more on that later), but rather in the North Kaibab National Forest.  Typically I make this trip 3-5 times each year, from shortly after opening May 15 to a fall color trip in late September/early October.  Lots of things have changed, for me and for the forest.  For years I camped primarily at viewpoints, photographing the grand vistas.  They’re breathtaking to be sure, but lately I’ve been motivated by a search for solitude and more intimate landscapes.  I’ll just note briefly (and skip my usual rant) that as camping has become astronomically more popular, those viewpoints are crowded.  More on that later as well.

 

Morning striped shadows in the meadow

The Arizona Trail runs through a series of meadows on the “East Side” (of highway 67) which are spectacular and little-used.  We found camps near where the trail crosses forest roads, and so had easy access to hike these sections and sort of stitch them one-by-each.

 

Infant aspen leaves

Spring is fully underway in most parts of the forest, but cold air settles into the lower meadows at night, delaying the greening of the aspen trees.  One morning it was 30F, compared with 50F up on the roads.  There were large swaths of aspens doing a credible impersonation of winter there in the low places.  Some trees were just beginning to leaf out.  As an illustration of how much I love these beauties, I’ll admit that I find infant aspen leaves cute.  Really.

 

Traveling with Gypsy is well worth the trouble

We stay out of the park on “family” trips because national parks are not so dog friendly.  There is, however, a trash drop and porta-potty a few miles inside the entrance gate.  No, I wouldn’t have paid $35 for this service alone, but it seemed a reasonable use of the annual pass. The lines at the North Rim Entrance are minimal and the drive is gorgeous.  That’s the unglamorous story of our 10-minute visit to the park.

 

Hazy sunrise at Marble Viewpoint

My mom’s health has been tenuous, and I wanted to be available to my sister, her primary caregiver.  So, we tried to camp where there was a phone signal.  Normally connectivity is only available at those crowded rim spots I mentioned earlier.  We tried Marble Viewpoint, which has become a worst-kept secret. There were five groups camping at a place which really should only have two.  We compromised, moved away from the edge a quarter mile or so, and walked out periodically to catch the signal.  Still, I had to don medical gloves and gather up TP (my husband calls them redneck prayer flags) and other trash before we could feel comfortable in that space. Perhaps that’s why we had so much trash to dump.

After that night, we decided we’d just drive or hike to a spot with phone service (and a pit toilet; such luxury) each day and depend on my Garmin InReach (which allows satellite texting; great for the solo traveler) for the in-between times.

 

Morning inspiration

That’s when we hatched the plan to do a little exploring in hopes of finding quiet places and hiking the meadows.  We didn’t see a soul for 48 hours at least and the dog was in heaven.

 

Spring growth

Signs of spring were everywhere, and the aspen groves were healthy and pristine.

We’ll be back to the meadows for autumn, and likely before.

More favorite images from this trip are on the website, in the newly minted Summer 2021 Gallery.