Rebecca Wilks

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

Thursday, February 24, 2022

All Better

Sunrise near Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

I forgot my tripods.  Not such an auspicious beginning to a solo road trip, but there are quite a few possible mistakes and omissions on a trip like this and I'm working up to making them all, ideally not all at once. I can laugh now, but I’ll admit that when I realized they weren’t in the van I might have been a bit frustrated. Oh, well.  Lessons learned.

This voyage materialized around meeting a Tucson-based friend to camp a couple of days at Cochise Stronghold.  There seemed no harm in hitting southern Arizona on my own before our rendezvous.

Alamo Campground

I grabbed one of the four spots at first come - first served Alamo Campground in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. If I were superstitious I’d say that was significant omen of good luck.  I managed to use rocks and my camera bag as makeshift tripods and to use photo-voodoo (higher ISO, shallow depth of field, image stabilization, and shooting in bursts) to bridge the gap.  Oh, and it seemed the perfect time to do some ICM.

Backlight on the Desert View Trail, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

As tempted as I was to stay there, I moved to Twin Peaks Campground; 200+ spaces of parking lot purgatory.  I had an agenda for hiking and shooting nearby.  Last season I was shooting the (highly recommended) Ajo Mountain Loop for a magazine and made four trips around the 21-mile loop in a little over a day.  As much as I love that drive, I decided to explore other areas instead.

4-foot Border Wall Near Quitobaquito, 2018

30-foot Border Wall Near Quitobaquito, 2022

I had my first look at the 30-foot border wall on my way out. ORPI is so close to the border that I got a text from Verizon welcoming me to Mexico. I have lots of thoughts about the wall, but will let the image speak for itself. There’s no sense stirring the political pot here.

My friend who lives in Ajo was kind enough to offer her driveway to me and the Raven for a night.  She’s a ranger (though she’d say she’s more of an administrator) at the Monument. We shared wine (always a plus), took a little ride around town in her mini, and she was kind enough to share her insights about her park and its proximity to the international border. Check out the Sonoran Desert Inn for art and accommodations if you're in town.

Sunset on the Grasslands, Cochise Stronghold

I met Jeff at the Horseshoe CafĂ© in Benson.  A burger lunch tasted good after three nights of camping.  It seemed the right season to camp in Southern Arizona, and it really was my turn to come his way.  I loved my first real trip to the Dragoon Mountains.  These expansive oak grasslands are typical of Southern Arizona and offer a nice change for me. All the granitic rocks multiply the photographic possibilities, too, and what a joy to be dispersed camping, catching up with a friend.

And Jeff loaned me a tripod.  All better.

Yucca Sunrise, Cochise Stronghold

The road was just rough enough for me to appreciate the competence of the van’s suspension.  As is typical, it worsened as we got further out. The Raven did great.

Electric sunset, Cochise Stronghold

Not for the first time, nor the last, we were reminded that a sunset might not be a bust when I think it is.  We turned over the idea of giving up on the overcast afternoon when this started to happen. I’m feeling humble, and fortunate.

Thanks for riding along. Lets see what I can forget next time.

More images are in the Southern Arizona Gallery on the website.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A Tropical Heat Wave


I woke up around 3:30AM for the usual reasons and saw that the temperature outside was 15F.  We had planned for something more like the upper 20s, which is what we’d experienced the last two nights, and had neglected the diesel fuel additive which prevents gelling.  I’m new to this diesel stuff (DEF was just a 20-something cute abbreviation a couple of months ago, as in “I’m def going to the party tonight”) but did know that our owner’s manual says that gelling can happen at around 14F.  I’m thinking it’s a bad thing.  So, we ran the engine and had quality time reading email and playing wordle for a while.  Eventually we got back to sleep, and when I got up to hike out in the dark for the crescent moon set it had warmed to 16.  As I piled on every layer I could find, I was blessed with an earworm (you guessed it), Irving Berlin’s Heat Wave.  After all, it had warmed up one degree.  The song stuck with me for the next couple of hours.

Moonrise over Marble Canyon AZ

I was reminded that a night like that one, almost 10 years ago, convinced me that I needed something more than an SUV to camp in.  At least we were comfortable sleeping this trip.  We heat with diesel too, though, so I imagine that gelled fuel also wouldn’t be so great for keeping us warm.

Morning backlight, Marble Canyon AZ

While campgrounds are quieter in winter, at least in most places, they’re still campgrounds.  Between a couple of local trips and the big Northern California trip, I’d had about enough of them.  We were thrilled to meet some camping photographer friends in a delightfully isolated place for a few days.  You know they’re good friends because I shared some of my secret places.


In any case, we all lived to tell about the heat wave.

Moonrise, Watson Lake, Arizona

In other news, I had a lovely quick trip to Watson Lake for the rising of the full moon.  Come to think of it, that was cold, too.

Predawn light at Alamo Lake AZ

And a quick overnighter at Alamo Lake.

The Raven at Alamo Lake

And finally, despite the learning curve, we’re still loving the Raven; the space, the views, the pleasure in driving.  I just smile when people say it reminds them of Mad Max.