Arizona Connections

A Span of 32 Years

Life for me changed September 1971 with my matriculation at the University of Arizona. The next five years (4 for a BS degree and 1 year dietetics internship) were busy with study and supporting myself leaving minimal time for travel. Then came 27 years of work and family until in my 49th year of life, with the graduation of my son, Sean, from college planned for January 2003, I anticipated having time and resources to see more of the world. The Arizona postings here flowed the outcomes of this decision that spanned the years 2003 through my Mother breaking her hip just before New Years Day 2009.

Click the links for previous Arizona postings related to the post text.

November 2003 saw our first Arizona tour. Sean was scheduled to be home from USS Observation Island. He served as an engineering officer working for Maersk contracted by the US Navy to operate the ship. We flew into Phoenix and headed north for a tour of the Mogollon Rim onto Winslow, the Painted Desert, Canyon del Chelly, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon South Rim, the western edge of the Painted Desert north of Flagstaff to finish up at University of Arizona Homecoming.

Homecoming 2003

My 2003 homecoming schedule including a meeting with the head of the Department of Nutrition Sciences, Dr. Houtkooper. We talked of ways to re-connect with the University, leading to an invitation to serve on the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Alumni Board of Directors beginning November 2005. From then until November 2008 I flew to Tucson two to three times a year for planning and educational meetings: planning fund raising activities, learning how CALS benefits and connects with the people of Arizona.

These baskets from our home are reminders of my original Arizona connection and of one story of re-connection. The larger, birds, design is from my student years from a first trip to Kitt Peak. It was a gift to my parents and for decades was in their china cabinet, I’d see it each holiday visit and recall driving desert with friends, the road up the mountain, seeing the newly constructed Mayall Telescope building loom over us, the smells and views of the Sonora desert.

Meeting Native American Artists

Working for the CAL Alumni Board the first time, November 2005, I had an idea to approach Native American artists for donations of their work for student scholarships. My first outing to meet artists was to an event at the Saguaro National Monument, west of Tucson, where I met Olvera and Simon Valenzuela. They were a happy couple devoted to continuing a tradition of basket weaving. Olvera was the youngest active weaver from generations of Tohono O’odham women. Her husband, Simon, a Pascua Yaqui, learned weaving from Olvera and her family. I purchased the turtle basket, upper left, and obtained contact information.

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From the bottom clockwise. Birds by Anmelia Juan of Geawuk (Kitt Peak 1972), Turtle by Olvera and Simon Valenquela (Sqguaro National Monument 2005) Stars by Simon Valenzuela for hsi daughter Pasquala Valenquela 16th Birthday (2018). Simon is of the Pascua Yaqui tribe who Learned basketmaking from his wife’s family.

I phoned them the last week of January, hoping to discuss a donation for that November. Simon answered, we talked and I learned he was in mourning for Olvera who passed away the previous week at 33 years of age, leaving her daughters Uneek and Pascuela. I did not bring up the donation and kept in touch. I felt sympathy for Simon’s situation because, twenty one years before, Sean’s mother deserted us and I raise him alone.

Olvera Valenzuela Memorial Scholarship

Over the course of months, communicating with Arizona contacts, I came to the conclusion donations by Native American artists was not a sustainable model for financing donations. The individuals were not prosperous enough and there were too few of them. Instead, during the travels documented here, I made contacts. In the Chiricahua National Monument I met Linda Kelly the owner of Triangle T Ranch who donated stays there. The Searcher had a side farrier (care of horses feet) and donated services.

With the permission of Simon and family we started the Olvera Valenzuela Memorial Scholarship. The application is an essay on the subject: “A Proposal for Native American Cultural Conservation.”  The qualified applicants are Native Americans enrolled at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) in a course of study leading to a baccalaureate. The designation “Native American” is defined for the purposes of these criteria as being a documented member of a North American tribe. It was an annual award of $500 to the successful applicant. To start I contributed $1,000 to fund it for two years.

Over the next year, Simon and I contacted potential donors, but were unsuccessful in funding the scholarship beyond two years. In the meantime, when I visited Tucson for CALS board meetings Simon and I would do outings with his daughters. Here is one from the 2006 University of Arizona Homecoming football game. This is after the game, a win for the team, with the field covered in celebrating fans.

The third basket of the photograph, a stars design, was raffled to fun Pascuala’s sixteen birthday celebration in 2018 and I won!!!!

Cheers!!

Copyright 2022 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Afterglow, Saguaro National Park

The Flag Forms

Here is a postscript for my retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” You can visit “Ocotillo Sunset” in my Online Gallery by clicking on any photograph .

In near total darkness, the last sunlight only enough for the far western sky, these are the last shots of this series.

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Afterglow I

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Afterglow II

The final result of the day’s work, “Ocotillo Sunset.”

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Ocotillo Sunset — flag on ocotillo cane poles
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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 7

The Flag Forms

The penultimate posting of my retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Octillo Sunset.” You can see a large version of “Ocotillo Sunset” by clicking on any of my blog photographs.

The Flag in Formation and Realization

Then, for reasons I can only speculate about, a spectacular shape came together in the clouds. In the following photograph I have yet to recognize, to see, this cloud sculpture. Do you see part of “Ocotillo Sunset” coming into shape? As far as I remember, at the time I had only a dim realization of what was forming in my view finder and in front of me.

The Flag Forms

Then, I changed camera orientation and shifted the view a few degrees to the left and there it was: a coherent shape of something. Here it is in full, untethered.

Unanchored, a Flag or Ship

The final result of the day’s work, “Ocotillo Sunset.”

Ocotillo Sunset — flag on ocotillo cane poles
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Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 6

Shooting As The World Turns

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” You can see a large version of “Ocotillo Sunset” by clicking on any of my blog photographs.

Shooting as the World Turns

In Part 5, we enter the final phase of this day’s work with darkening of the land while in the sky sunlight reflects off high clouds. The length of this moment when twilight is over, just before night falls, varies with latitude and time of year. Near the poles (high latitude) this light can last for days while here, at about 32 degrees north, it is less than 15 minutes. As I wrote in Part 4, after this light, the desert is absolutely dark. This is why I chose to set up by the roadside.

In the following two photographs I experimented with camera placement and foreground elements. Starting in Part 4 I became aware of Ocotillo branches, using them for the effect of reaching for and, here, anchoring the clouds.

Saguaro Sunset II

Lead Around by an Ocotillo

These earth-bound Ocotillo branches lead me to the darkened earth. How much to include in the shot? I searched for a balance between the vastness and complete blackness and needed a point of interest. Time was running out.

Saguaro Sunset III

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Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 5

High Altitude Clouds

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” 

Choices of the Evening

The next few blogs are a set of photographs from the developing sunset of that November evening. Once set up, my practice is to stay in place until there is nothing left of capture; all the while evaluating the results and adapting the camera settings, framing and lenses to the environment.

Happening in the Twilight

By this point, twilight is over and only the sky is lit. According to file metadata posted at capture, thirteen minutes passed from the following photograph till the last. I mounted my camera on a simple tripod, purchased from a mall chain store, with the standard controls. I prefer to specify ISO and set it at 160 (the lowest value) throughout. The sky was calm and, with the tripod, I used the aperture setting with higher values. This was f13 / 1/60.

Click photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Saguaro Sunset – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

The clouds are forming up.  I need some foreground.  Vastness on vastness is a bit much. Those are the Tucson Mountains in the distance. If you look closely, on the right the Tucson Mountains dip down, revealing Kitt Peak, at least 60 miles distant. It is the defined peak on the left of that range. In early morning light, the Mayall 4 meter telescope building gleams white on that point.

The sun illuminates different levels of clouds as the earth turns toward night. These are altostratus cloud types, at 6,500 to 20,000 feet, formed by strong winds.

The elements of my print “Ocotillo Sunset” are coming together.  Do you recognize them from this image of my print?

FF6H3057_OctilloSunset_Copyright4Site

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 4

The Nursed Saguaro

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” 

Choices of the Evening

As the Golden Hour approached I had a choice to make.

My perch on Lime Kiln Falls was not safe. As the sunset developed, while I focused on the work, the trail would be lost in the gathering darkness and, even with a headlamp, I decided to avoid picking a way down a 1+ mile pitch dark deserted desert trail. Choosing not to stay, for the second time I packed up and was on the move.

That time of day wildlife is also moving and, in a short time, a rattlesnake, javalina (wild pig of the desert) and jack-rabbit crossed my path. Part of my photography kit is a Sony digital camera with a variable lens carried across the front in a readily accessible “fanny pack.” That day, I walked with the camera out and ready. I needed to be in place for an increasingly promising sunset and so spent a minimum of time with wildlife photography.

Saguaro Sky

I was only half way to the car at the time when the sun was a few degrees above the western horizon and sunlight raked across the desert. The northeast sky lit up. In these perfect moments I captured this personable saguaro on Lime Kiln ridge with a tripod mounted Kodak SLR body with an excellent 50 mm (“portrait”) lens (EF 50mm f/1.2L USM) fitted with a flexible hood. ISO 160, f13 with auto settings choosing 1/5 second.

The ocotillo branches, to the right, caught my eye. “A nice effect”, I thought. There were some high level winds shaping the clouds that evening. The Santa Catalinas are in the distance.

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Saguaro Sky

Nurse Tree

I set up back against the Tanque Verde ridge, the highest point of the road, on the western shoulder.

Front and center was this “adolescent” saguaro still growing in the shelter of a “nurse” Palo Verde tree. This saguaro benefited from the shade and protection of the tree as a seedling and juvenile. It has grown beyond the need for this protection. Eventually, the requirements of the larger cactus will starve the tree and it will be left alone, as you see it in the previous photograph. That is the shoulder of the Rincon Mountains in the distance. The direction if between northeast and east.

I am using the same camera and lens, ISO 160, f13 and auto exposure choosing .6 second. It is twilight.

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Nursed Saguaro and Sunset

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Saguaro Sky

dramatic skies from Saguaro National Park

November is a special time for the ranges and basins of southern Arizona deserts.  Climb a bajada of foothills, face west and wait for the sunset.  That is what I did this day, November 3, 2005.  East of Tucson the Saguaro National Monument at the foot of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness is where I parked, unpacked the photo gear and climbed the side of the Tanque Verde Ridge for a favorable view.  Weather was pushing high level moisture from the west, clouds were developing.

You see here a shot from that session.  In the distance, looking across Tanque Verde, are the Santa Catalina mountains.  Months since the last rainfall, the giant Saguaros are using internal moisture reserves drawn up from a shallow root system, the flesh is less plump, the supporting structure of the ribs, always evident, are more pronounced.  The last light catches these ribs in relief against a dramatic sky.

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Saguaro Sunset -- CLICK ME!!!!

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 3

View from the bajada

 

SaguaroEast20051104-4

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Octillo Sunset.” You can visit “Octillo Sunset” on my online gallery by clicking on any of my blog photographs.

Choices of the Evening

Angled to the Sun

The following photograph of saguaros and distant Santa Catalina mountains is a similar view from Part 2 of this diary.  Notice the saguaro on the right is also on the left in the Part 2 photo. What is happening is I turned the lens more toward the west and the sun. At this angle the lens hood offers less protection, especially as the sun is lower in the west and the time of day is passing to the best light from the lowering sun that rakes across the landscape.  All this means I can bring the lens further to the west even though the lens hood is less effective.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Catalinas, Finger Rock, and Saguaros – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Finger Rock!!

One reason why I am offering it, is high on the Catalina mountains, in the distance, you can just see a formation called “Finger Rock”.
This time of day, the lower angle of the sun brings out the canyon-shadows.  Finger Rock canyon has a high western wall, you can see it as a high long shadow starting toward the very center of the picture and building up and to the right.

The following photograph is the view of Finger Rock from the floor of that canyon taken during a Spring 2011 Tucson visit. I started hiking in pre-dawn hours to catch the dawn rays on the finger.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Catalinas, Finger Rock, and Saguaros – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

The Importance of Knowing Topography

Another aspect of this photograph is the landscape. There is a sloping bajada (alluvial fan) formed by water breaking up the mountain (in this case the Rincons) and washing it into the valley. It is the reason the saguaros appear to march into the distance. The same effect is used in movie theaters to allow the people in the rear to see over the head of people in the front.

This bajada and the higher elevation is the reason I moved from Sabino Canyon to here for a better position to view the sunset. Here is a nearly identical view, same 200 mm lens, in landscape format. The sloping land of the bajada is more visible.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Catalinas, Finger Rock, and Saguaros – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Changing the Lens/Sun Angle

Looking in the opposite direction, back over Lime Kiln Falls to the Rincon (mountain) foothills, the lens hood offers maximum protection. The sun is at my back and, even though it is low in the sky at the beginning of the Golden Hour, this aspect gives great color depth at the expense of loss of shadows losing some depth of field.  Still, this is an interesting photograph.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset NortheastFromLimeKilnsCopyrightSmall – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset from Saguaro National Park, a diary Part 2

The creation of a photograph

A retrospective diary of the day I captured “Octillo Sunset, continued from PART 1

 

Moving to a Better Location

On the ground in Sabino Canyon, I rethought my plans for the afternoon, given the potential of an incredible desert sunset, and decided to seek the high ground east of Tucson up against the Rincon Mountains in the Saguaro National Monument. There was still plenty of time to travel there and set up.

On arrival at the monument I took the scenic “loop” road that meandered around the desert. The Lime Kiln Falls trail makes some elevation, so I hiked that to the end. In the 1800’s the rocks in the area were exploited for their mineral content by heating them, on site, to high temperatures that released a highly caustic (chemically reactive) “quick lime” that was in high demand. All that’s left of this work is some ground discoloration.

The Dry Water Fall and former Mining Site

The “Falls” in question were a totally dry rock ledge that I climbed for these views. In the first photo, on the right in the distance, you can see the same mountain peaks I shared in Part One. I used the same 200 mm telephoto lens because that interesting stand of saguaros were over 100 feet away across a steep slope.

Young Saguaros

The saguaros are interesting, to me, because they are all so young and grouped together. As though s clutch of seeds from the same specimen landed together on the same spot. The saguaros are notable for their lack of arms which will form with the passing years.

A View of the Catalinas

Late afternoon is the perfect time to photograph the Catalinas in the distance and the high, thin gathering cloud cover made for dramatic shading of the peaks. I needed to wait for a perfect moment because the light and view changed, literally, second by second. If you look closely, the city of Tucson can be seen among the foothills, to the left.

Why the Distance Stands Out (high contrast)

The lens was fitted with a deep hood. Besides being black, the interior of the hood is surfaced with black felt, the same as used for large telescopes, to capture any stray light. Light falling across the lens surface causes reflections, which is what this hood prevents. The result is the amount of contrast I captured, using the appropriate exposure and other settings. For this photograph I used F14, 1/125 and ISO160.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Young Saguaros and the Catalinas – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Another Catalina View

A bit further down the same trail, the desert view features an army of saguaros marching into Tucson.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Saguaros and the Catalinas – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

The Catalina Highway runs along the escarpment, in the distance, and to the top of Mount Lemmon, a 9157 foot peak. In season, you can ski in the morning, on the peak, and in an hour or so travel to the desert to sunbathe comfortably. From the trail to the top of the Rincon Mountains this view just keeps opening up farther and farther and farther. My wife, Pam, and I backpacked up there April 2011.

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ocotillo Sunset, a diary

The creation of a photograph

This is a retrospective diary of the day I created my print “Ocotillo Sunset.” You can see “Ocotillo Sunset” by clicking on any of the following photographs.

On a Tucson November 2005 afternoon, after my volunteer work for the University of Arizona, CALS college, alumni board of directors, in the mid-afternoon I headed for Sabino Canyon with my photography kit.

With a 25-pound pack on my back, walking from the parking lot I looked up at the incredible rock formations of the Santa Catalina mountains. It took some time to set up the tripod (at that time I was using a cheap swivel head on adjustable aluminum legs) with a 200mm telephoto lens (Canon L-series EF 200mm USM) I grabbed this shot of the hoodoo fringed peaks beyond the foothills (f16, 1/30, ISO160). The lower sun angle made the formations pop out.

Hoodoos in the Hills

That is Window Peak, at the head of Ventana Canyon. Among the hoodoos is a spectacular rock arch, or window, not visible from this direction. “Ventana” is window in the Spanish language.

You call those strange formations of upright rocks “hoodoos. Some people believe the fantastic shapes were created by spirits, today the explanation is wind, water and time create hoodoos from rock of the right stuff. It is a wonderful experience to wander among hoodoos, though unsettling because some of these large rocks are seemingly in danger of falling over at any moment.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Santa Catalina Hoodoos – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Moving On

I have a mental list of photographic “to do’s” and the gathering clouds, typical for a Tucson November day, reminded me an awesome desert sunset was on this list, so I packed up to head for the east side of Tucson for a shot looking toward the Tucson Mountains (on the west side).

Clouds gather at sunset above a ridge serrated by saguaros.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Gathering Clouds – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

Sabino Canyon House

Before we move on, this is a fascinating image of a typical southern Arizona house perched on a ridge at the mouth of Sabino Canyon. In this image the viewer sympathizes because the telephoto lens gathers the majestic rocks around the tiny structure.

Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset Desert Foothill Home – CLICK ME to view Ocotillo Sunset.

The house is perched on a Santa Catalina foothill ridge running east west, a wall of picture windows facing south with a view across the Tucson valley toward Mount Wrightson of the Santa Rita mountains, 42 miles distant. Summer thunderstorms gather on this peak, wreathing it with lightening. These times, evenings and night, the view pays for the inconvenience of this distant, hot ridge. Another time to be there is for sunsets.

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved