Rebecca Wilks

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

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Monthly Favorites 2023

Here I am again, inviting you along on a little trip down gratitude lane.  I enjoy this yearly exercise and I hope you will too.

Roping at D Spur Ranch Arizona


Lisa Langell offers a delightful workshop she calls “Magic of Cowboys” at a ranch east of Phoenix. Our group did everything from portraiture to capturing gunshots to exciting action.  This was my favorite, though I’m pretty sure the longhorn would disagree. This image will be part of a show called “Double Takes” at the Wickenburg Art Center.  It will be displayed next to a painting inspired by it.  I can’t wait to see it!

Guatemalan Friend

Guatemala is an exemplary place for street photography, and this shot in Santa Catarina Palopo is my favorite so far.  Not only was she happy to be photographed, but she was wearing her colorful traje, standing in front of a great background and (lest we forget) holding a rooster. This was one of those moments of connection that make international travel so special.

Globe Mallow, Sonoran Desert National Monument Arizona
Spring Bouquet, near Tonto National Forest Arizona


I don’t know how to define the popular term “superbloom,” but I will say that last spring was a doozie.  I couldn’t decide between these two.  The first is globe mallow overtaking a cactus skeleton in Sonoran Desert National Monument.  I’d never been there before, which made the visit that much more delightful.

The second was a friend’s neighborhood. We spent the day together, chasing flowers in the Tonto National Forest East of Phoenix and the best shots were here, literally in the median of highway 87.  I love the color and the context that the mountains provide, and that you can’t tell it’s a highway median.

Spring Cottonwoods in the Hassayampa River Arizona

The drone has literally given me new perspectives, especially on familiar places close to home.  The cottonwood trees in the Hassayampa River are exuberant in the spring.   They tend to look a bit ratty close-up but from a distance like this, they’re the heart of the Spring season.  I’m also a sucker for historic bridges like this one on Wagoner Road. This shot has made me think about a bigger photo project along those lines.

Top-down view of Watson Lake Prescott Arizona

Abstract, aerial, directional light, dramatic, and from a top-down perspective.  Delicious.

Golspie Burn Scotland

East Clear Creek Arizona

June was a big month, so I’m going to allow myself two; one domestic and one international.

We’d been planning and re-planning a trip to Scotland through the COVID years.  Finally, we got there and there are so many images of stone structures, waterfalls, seascapes, and highland cows that making a choice is impossible.  Today, my favorite is this lovely waterfall at Golspie Burn, but tomorrow it might be the 3:30 AM sunrise on Skye

The Arizona shot is a drone perspective on one of my favorite spots, the Kinder Crossing area on East Clear Creek.  That’s Marco casting in lovely light.

Fish Lake National Forest Utah

Especially this year, I’ve been discovering beautiful places through Marco’s fishing.  Our time in this lovely area in the Fish Lake National Forest in Utah started out as an escape from the 100 + degree temperatures at lower altitudes.  At 10,000 ft it was a joy.  300 feet above that, from the drone, this just got better.  The light green trees are aspens, and they were a thing to behold when we returned in the autumn.

Sunrise on the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Two weeks seemed like long enough to circle up through Montana and back, but that’s a lot of driving.  I suppose we’ll have to keep trying the timing until we get it right.  Two weeks of photography also makes for some tough choices, but here’s my selection and I’m sticking to it.  This little tributary of the Salmon River in Idaho is called Fourth of July Creek (who could resist?) and the mountains sporting morning glow are the Sawtooths.

Lake Stream Gorge, Fish Lake National Forest Utah

This one gives me that ‘full heart” feeling, even though it’s not technically perfect.  We’re back in that same part of the Fish Lake National Forest as the July shot.  I loved this angle on the spectacular gorge enough to come back and shoot it again the next day.  I love the backlight and color.

Caddo Lake Texas

Caddo Lake Redux.  This was my second go with the girls, and I had a ton of ideas about what to do differently.  Some worked, some fell victim to the overcast but not foggy weather, and then there was the unexpected.  This pond was free of the surface gunk we saw in the more popular places, and delicate and diminutive floating heart flowers against the reflections were winners.

Maple leaves under ice, Zion National Park Utah

Zion, like many National Parks, is not so dog-friendly.  Marco had never seen it, though, so we made a little detour on the way back from Gold Butte and took a short hike on Checkerboard Mesa.  This little scene captivated me.  It still does.

Afton Canyon California

When I fly the drone over places I’ve not seen from the ground, I’m sometimes surprised.  There’s a lot going on here in Afton Canyon (Mojave Trails National Monument); railroad tracks and bridge, geology, topography (I love that s-curve canyon), and the Mojave River and Road.  Desert at its best.


Thanks for riding along this year, and here’s wishing you the best in 2024.

Monday, December 25, 2023

500 Nights

Almost alone in Afton Canyon Campground CA

You know how sometimes, when you buy things, you worry that they’ll just sit around and gather dust and you’ll feel guilty about the expense?

Not this time.  Now traveling in our second camper vehicle over 10 years, together or separately we’ve spent 500 nights out seeking adventure.  Sometimes we found it.

In the last 100, there have been 39 brand new spots, and 67 boondocking (outside campgrounds).  Campgrounds have their charms, but solitude wins. Marco is almost retired, so I’m not alone as much (12 nights) as I was in the early years and he’s been out fishing on his own for 8, sometimes with Gypsy.  She’s learning to be a fishing dog and even got used to a boat.

Idaho Summer

We had some two-week trips, long for us.  Each of these was a highlight, north for a circle through Montana and closer to home for fall color in 2022 and 2023.

Frosty Fall Morning in the Kaibab National Forest

There were 12 nights in the North Kaibab (North Rim Grand Canyon) Forest, the most in one place. 

Cowboy silhouette, D Spur Ranch Arizona

We’re grateful for the opportunity to “driveway camp” when visiting friends or conducting business in places like Red Lodge Montana and Santa Fe. Camping at the D Spur Ranch near Phoenix for a cowboy photo workshop was another driveway highlight.

Yankee Fork Salmon River Idaho

The toughest place (and longest day), though photogenic, was on the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.  It was too hot to move and too buggy to hide in the shade.

Moonset over the Circle Cliffs Utah

There were a bunch of “I always wanted to camp there” spots, Like Circle Cliffs in Grand Staircase Escalate National Monument Utah, Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, and Afton Canyon in the Mojave.

Fish Lake National Forest Utah

My favorite angler, White Mountains Arizona

A corollary to that is “We’ve gotta go back” places like the East Fork of the Bear River in Utah, the  Black River system in the White Mountains of Arizona, and perennial favorites like Kinder Crossing and Fish Lake National Forest.

In the autumn trees, Kaibab National Forest

Our Sprinter meets our needs well, but it has also dealt us some frustration, including a malfunctioning heater, seemingly infinite electrical gremlins, spontaneously broken window, wash water pump failure, free-flying solar panels on the highway, and several recalls.  The scrapes and bumps we accept as patina.

All the best to you, readers, for the holidays and new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Weird S**t (Stuff) in the Mojave Desert


The Raven (my van) in the Mojave Preserve

Marco and I are just back from our traditional winter solstice trip to the California desert.  It occurred to me that there’s weirdness out there.  I suspect that something about the Mojave attracts the somewhat odd and off-center, present company included.

First, to get the issue of spelling out of the way, it's controversial in some circles.  Having waded through Google search results, I offer the following.  In Northwest Arizona, there’s Mohave County, Community College, and County Hospital (now defunct). The native tribe of the same name seems to use both spellings in different contexts, likely because it’s an English-ization of another word entirely.  Places in the California desert, though, are spelled Mojave.



So, there we were, visiting Zzyzx, in the Mojave National Preserve, when this pattern occurred to me. According to the Wikipedia article, Curtis Springer made up the name Zzyzx, claiming it to be the “last word in health.” He established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa in 1944, which was 12,000 acres surrounding the springs. Springer also imported animals from around the country to attract more families to visit his ranch. He operated Zzyzx until 1974, when the land was reclaimed by the government. It's now operated as the CSU Desert Studies Center.

Scotty's Castle, Death Valley

There are other examples of odd human undertakings in the California desert.  Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley National Park is a familiar example, among other (mostly abandoned) dwellings very close to the middle of nowhere.

A view of the Aiken Cinder Mine

The somewhat more attractive view from the Aiken Cinder Mine

You can’t swing a cat out there without hitting an abandoned mine site.  We’ve gone out of our way to see many, and this last trip we camped near the Aiken Cinder Mine in The Mojave Preserve.  Roads can be bad, but once you arrive there’s often scenery along with history.

Gas Island Shoe Tree. Rice, CA

Perhaps my first inkling of what you might call odd Mojave public art is this collective shoe display off highway 62 east of Joshua Tree.

Amboy Crater public art

Climbing Amboy Crater in Mojave Trails National Monument, you get a great view of art projects in its base.  These seem to be modified from year to year.

Marco and the Intaglio, Blythe California

We started our trip with a little stop-off at the Blythe Intaglios, just north of the California city.  These seemed interesting, and perfect subjects for drone photography. There’s some controversy about their age, from 900 BCE to 1200 CE. Unfortunately, the fences didn’t go up until the 1970s, and by then there had been considerable damage from unpleasant people driving over them and leaving tracks.  Marco was kind enough to pose for scale.  Weird may not be the word for these, but I can get behind “unusual.”

Mojave River, Mojave Road, Rail Bridge in Afton Canyon

Then there’s the Mojave River.  We spent some time nearby at Afton Canyon Campground in Mojave Trails.  It’s a beautiful, stark place and far from quiet.  Freight trains pound through all day and night.  This campground is traditionally the western end of an adventurous 150-mile off-pavement drive called the Mojave Road.

An older image of a "sailing stone" on the Racetrack Playa

Most everyone has heard of the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley.  Until recently the tracks left by moving stones were mysterious, but now the movement of rocks is thought due to a specific combination of rain and high winds.  Still weird.

Coyote Melons, Mojave Trails National Monument

Desert Gold Flowers in December (!) Mojave Trails National Monument

Nature threw me a few curves this year, too.  Because (I assume) of the very heavy rains last fall, there were flowers in December (like these desert gold Geraea canescens in Mojave Trails) and, oddly, coyote melon (cucurbita palmata) all over the place, from 600 ft to 6000 ft elevation. I’ve spent hundreds of days out there and never seen these gourds there before.


I’ll just toss in the Ivanpah Solar Array. It qualifies.

There are more oddities I’d like to see, including the Mojave Phone Booth, Mojave Mailbox, and the Mojave Megaphone.

And, of course I’ll keep stumbling on things; there’s so much to explore out there.

More from this trip are on the website, in the Winter 2023-24 Gallery.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Cottonwood Bookends

Sunset at Gold Butte National Monument

Thanksgiving gets more challenging every year.  Decades ago, before I was old,  it was a breeze. This year, having finished the party and clean-up, we wanted nothing more than some family time on the road.

On the way back from my last trip, one of the van's back windows mysteriously shattered.  Marco, otherwise known as MacGyver, rigged up a redneck (temporary) plywood solution so we could use the van before the real repair.

Sunrise, Snow Canyon State Park Utah

Snow Canyon State Park (Utah) has been on my list for camping since a visit of just a few hours on a tour years ago with Kerrick James.  I love his photo tours, but he’s never been guilty of setting a leisurely pace.  I wanted a bit more time. The park is lovely though tough to photograph, expensive (a campsite without hookups was $48) and plagued by rules.  Most of the slickrock is off-limits to scrambling.  

Johnson Canyon, Snow Canyon State Park Utah

Our favorite hike was Johnson Canyon, a picturesque drainage with cottonwoods.  Aspen season is long over, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the water-guzzling giant trees putting on a display.

Morning moon set, Gold Butte National Monument

After that, we were ready for the solitude and free dispersed camping at Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada.  I was grateful for that, as well as the lovely light and the full moon. 

"Newspaper Rock," Gold Butte National Monument

Our camp area is famous for petroglyphs.  Spotting them is a fun challenge, as is doing exploratory hikes up the dry washes (a good way to leave no trace).  We didn’t see any others’ footprints there.  That adds to the sense of discovery.

Maple leaves at change of season, Zion National Park

I’ve been avoiding National Parks lately at least when the dog is travelling with us, which is most of the time. The parks generally don’t offer much opportunity for the nutcase to run off her energy.  Marco had never seen Zion, so we took a detour and used our federal lands pass to drive through.  We took a little hike, and I shot details of maple leaves and ice.  We’ll get back one day for an in-depth trip, maybe when we don’t have a dog.

We’d planned on a dispersed site near Marble Canyon for our last night.  We could see from the road that there were already three vehicles out there, so we compromised and stayed at the nearby Lees Ferry Campground.  $10 with Marco’s Senior Pass; That’s more like it.  There were just two other parties camping and it was delightfully quiet.  There’s a short trail to the shore of the Colorado River from the Campground.  That alone is worth the price of admission.

Oh, and we backtracked 13 miles to have burgers and fries at Cliff Dwellers Lodge.  We rarely hit restaurants when camping, but these indulgences were delightful and every bit as good as they look.

Autumn cottonwood trees, Lees Ferry Arizona

In the morning there were yellow, backlighted cottonwoods.  Bookends for the trip.

There are more images in the Autumn 2023 Gallery on the website, and Winter is coming soon.

Monday, November 20, 2023


East Verde River, Arizona

Privilege is a loaded concept in today’s world, but for me it’s a way to express gratitude.  I’m lucky in no small measure because my dad, who grew up with very little in a large family. He took advantage of the GI bill and his personal resolve to sucessfully create a better life for his three kids.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

These are the thoughts floating around in my head as I hike a trail for the first time in a familiar place, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona. Hiking alone is conducive to wandering thoughts and is itself a privilege.  Likewise, a bit of solitude and enjoying the smell and sound of the rain while cozy in my van.

I'm so fortunate that I can do what I love sometimes for money and sometimes as a gift. 

East Verde River, Arizona

Hanging out with Marco and our dog is also a gift.  A few weeks ago, he brought photos back from a fishing trip on the East Verde River.  I convinced him that we should fit in time to go back for an overnighter while the trees were still changing color.  After a dress-up brunch in Prescott, we headed up to the Mogollon Rim, changed into hiking clothes, and explored the beautiful riparian area.  I can’t believe I’ve never been there before!

Historic Ranch, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

We talked about how privilege has allowed me to be a serial monogamist with my interests.  I look at this restlessness as lifelong learning.  Most recently I earned my Arizona motorcycle endorsement, but looking back there have been many, like flying the drone, swing dance, rock climbing, acupuncture, Pilates, and (the one that’s sticking best) photography.

Betty Friedan said, “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.”

Peeples Valley Arizona

And then there are those breathtaking opportunities that present themselves close to home, like this spectacular morning light on a cottonwood tree tunnel just north of my home, in Peeples Valley Arizona.


More recent images are on the website, in the Autumn 2023 Gallery.