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
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?
Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
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.
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.
Click any photograph to view Ocotillo Sunset
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.
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
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
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
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.
Compare these Arizona Sycamores with the struggling specimen from the last chapter, “A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek.” Many Sycamores such as this one flourish along Reavis Creek, a perennial stream of the eastern Superstition Wilderness. The drainage that feeds Pine Creek is far less acreage than that of Reavis Creek and, when the Pine Creek flow fades in the driest seasons, plants go into survival mode and halt growth and may even slough off limbs to conserve water.
These Sycamores grace a stream that seldom stops flowing, even in the driest of seasons. I had the good fortune to visit the Reavis valley of the Superstition Wilderness in November 2007, when these trees were at peak autumn foliage.
The tree requires a supply of water to thrive. This specimen demonstrates the species growth habit growing multiple trunks with a shape driven by water availability and the environmental context. The multiple trunks may be a desert survival mechanism. In dry periods a trunk or trunks are sloughed off to reduce moisture loss. This is why the Sycamore of “A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek” has a single trunk.”
To encounter a riparian space of the Arizona desert is a revelation, to progress from Sonoran desert spaces assailed by the breath of dry wind, to see the first signs of water in the distance as a welcome fluttering of leaves, to feel a welcome odor of water.
Yes, the first effect of a riparian space on the senses is the smell of water. Let’s finish this post with limbs of the Reavis Creek Arizona Sycamore reaching for the sky.
Imagine a bowl with steep sides, rough and sharp in places.
Look along the bottom and see a silver stream, sparkling and singing through rocks.
A figure is clinging to the upper side, almost to the rim.
The figure is me in the setting of my blog, “A Dry Piece of Paradise”. Here is my view from that spot.
Hiking along this bowl rim I came to a clearing in the juniper and Manzanita bushes, with a fire ring and pile of roughly broken wood with outstanding views on all sides. This tradition of leaving wood is a welcome intrusion of human kindness and sympathy in this wilderness. We gather wood for total strangers, people we will never meet, to potentially save them in a rainy, cold darkness.
At noon Pine Creek was two miles ahead as I looked into a steep descent, a wide canyon and open range of low oaks, almost shrubs, and small juniper trees. Later, well along the trail, I stepped over Walnut Spring, a silent thread of water through a thin blaze of trees, yellow flowers and continued toward Reavis Gap and Pine Creek on Oregon Ed’s recommendation.
“Even a blind man could find water there this year,” Ed claimed.
Ed’s van was parked at the Superstition Wilderness Tule trailhead when my sister dropped me off the morning before. She noted the van thickly coated with dust over grey primer with an Oregon license plate and changed her plan to accompany me the first mile or so for fear the van’s owner was lurking inside.
It was just as well Diane stayed behind because I met Ed two miles up the trail that first day. From the start, Ed was too outgoing and his pack more empty than light. He chatted me up on how “blue my shirt was”, seen from above, about his trips from Oregon to Arizona a few times a year, about his claim to be returning from a five day round trip to Tortilla Flats.
Ed’s good news about how the usual springs were flowing was welcome. Then, Ed expected me to give him some water for this information. This expectation of his was irrational, given his reports of good water sources. Plus, Ed was only a few miles from his van showed no physical signs of needing water.
I was to discover, a few hours in the direction he claimed to have walked, a flowing stream.
Ed’s attitude changed upon his spotting my .45 in a tactical holster strapped to my leg. Thirty seconds later he was heading down the trail. I had no water to spare and was relieved I didn’t need to escort Diane back to her car. Maybe Ed was an anti-gun advocate, but my conclusion was he had some lurking to do, back at the van.
While planning this trip I imagined “Reavis Gap” to be a narrow trail between towering peaks. While walking under the water heavy pack I elaborated on this expectation, but coming on the gap I walked through and into the reality of this photograph, taken from a point looking over the gap and down into Two Bar trail. This was the site of my first meeting with “The Searcher.”
“The Gap” itself is a high, narrow ridge over a 7,000 foot high valley with peaks, ridges and the occasional hoodoo. That rock formation in the mid-distance includes a hoodoo. It was this hoodoo that introduced me to the gap, being what I saw first high above in the distance from Walnut Spring, a silent thread of water through a thin blaze of cottonwood trees and yellow flowers.
Here’s a link to a video I did of a vast field of Wild Oats which covered Reavis Gap that season.
I first saw the “The Searcher” on that high, narrow ridge above Two Bar trail. I guessed he was a mounted park ranger; from the wide brimmed hat he was holding and the loose fitting shirt. From a half mile away his golden brown mount was standing steady, apparently at rest. Walking up that long, moderate grade my feet hurt and the 70+ pound pack, heavy with water, was chafing. Eager to climb the steep ridge ahead, between me and Pine Creek, I passed the signpost marking the juncture of Two Bar and Reavis Ranch trails and headed up that rocky ridge.
The clatter of horse hooves came up behind much sooner than expected. Turning, I came upon the unexpected site of two horses. The mounted stranger was not a park ranger, but a well dressed cowboy on a western saddle, riding a buckskin gelding.
Behind them, on a lead, was a brown and white pinto loaded with panniers.
I was polite and climbed up on the rocks, off the path, to let them by.
Here’s a photograph of these horses, taken a few days later.
“Colorado and Nugget, grazing at Reavis Ranch”
Our chat was brief, but practical and meaningful: where we came from and conditions along the way. The stranger, who I came to call “The Searcher”, inquired about conditions in the very steep bowl behind Two Bar Mountain. He planned to camp overnight and do a Two Bar Mountain daytrip the next day, but would not if the trail was washed out by that spring’s heavy rains.
I replied the trail was obliterated in spots and even though I could pass his horses might not get by. His reply, “If you got up, so can they.” And with that he gave the buckskin a nudge and they were soon out of sight, over the ridge.
Fifteen minutes later this was my view of Pine Creek, a valley of steep sides sloping to a stream of cool water with mountains and sheer cliffs on all sides. Part of The Arizona Trail.
Just before reaching Pine Creek I passed a southeast facing bank sheltering a garden of tufted evening primrose and a member of the crassulaceae family both in flower. The white flower is the primrose and the yellow the crassulaceae. I was so moved by the beauty of this patch, after trekking for seven hours through endless rocks, cactus, juniper and oak, I unloaded my pack and captured this shot. As the name suggests, the flower is an evening bloom that wilts in the day’s heat. That’s why the flower is a bit floppy in this late afternoon photograph.
Note flower b
The crassulaceae is a succulent, similar to a kalanchoe, with tiny flowers composed of tiny yellow balls.
In future chapters you’ll see more of Pine Creek, visit the wilderness apple orchard at Reavis Ranch, learn more about The Searcher and an ancient, circular, rock wall on a peak overlooking Reavis Gap.
Here is a gallery of photographs from this post for you to flip through. Enjoy!!
Peter’s mesa is at the center of Superstition Wilderness treasure legends. I was a member of an expedition to the top of the Mesa March 2008. This is a sunset view, looking south, southwest. Light raking across the desolation and an approaching storm behind Miner’s Needle create a fascinating spectacle. Ancient volcanism, apparent throughout the Superstition Wilderness, is here seen in the texture, form and type of rock as well as the mineral deposits. Miner’s Needle, like Weaver’s Needle (no seen in this view), are eroded volcanic summits. Look closely for the “eye” of Miner’s Needle, backlit by the storm cloud itself lit by the setting sun. To this day, hopeful prospectors search for gold nuggets around the Needle. There is one form of volcanism present today as an eerie rumble or hiss, similar to an enormous distant jet engine. We heard now and then during our two days on the mesa, louder and closer than a overhead plane could produce. The view includes many notable Sonoran desert plants. Many young Saguaro cactus are in the form of green poles and, on the rim of the ravine running left to right below the closer ridge, an excellent specimen with multiple arms. Catching the dramatic light, on the ridge is a tall single flower of an Agave, known as the “Century Plant” it flowers once in a long life and dies.
Peters Mesa is named after “Old Pete” Gottfried Petrasch, father of Hermann and Rhiney Petrasch. Old Pete worked for Jim Bark for awhile in the 1890s doing odd jobs. Irregular employment gave Pete and Sons time to s searched for the Lost Dutchman Mine in the years following the death of the source of the legend, the “Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The Petrasches were one of the first groups to search for the mine, and gold in general. They covered almost the entire Superstition range in their combined searches.
On our first day on the Mesa we came across the remains of one of these camp, on the top of Squaw Canyon. This was only deplorable junk a presumably disappointed bunch of searchers were too lazy to cart out. That March, we were lucky to find the remants of winter rains in the form of a meager trickle at the bottom of a shallow draw off Peter’s Mesa trail up from La Barge canyon. We had a good time of it until the trip was cut short by a storm front and torrential rains. We were back in Apache Junction before they hit.
This panorama is from our last evening on the Mesa. As the sun set I put the Kodak DSLR with a 50 MM lens on a Manfrotto tripod and hiked a mile higher onto the mesa for a view of Miner’s Needle. I quit only after the last light was extinguished by the approaching front. My reward for persistence was this dramatic light ennobling a craggy desolation. This is a composite of several images, combined using Photoshop. I have since invested in a Canon 24 mm wide angle lens.
Ricardo left a blank between the French Memorial Column of the Parque Italia, seen above. He made of mention of Salvadore Allende Plaza. The above photograph includes a graffiti inscribed corner of the set of steps, a platform and the area in front, a plaza, dedicated to the memory of Allende and named “Plaza del Pueblo Salvador Allende Gossens” on the 100th anniversary of his birth, 2008. The structure was not new, it was called “The People’s Plaza”, the name change was pushed through by Alberto Neumann, communist councilor. So the suppression and torture (see “Valparaiso Connections V”) was not successful in wiping out the ideals, such as they are.
The accomplishments of the Allende Presidency are another matter. The Macroeconomic Populism policies he implemented left the economy in tatters. We have only to look at the current state of Venezuela to see the entirely expected results of this economic model: hyperinflation followed by stagflation and implosion. The reactionary military coup of 1973 was, in the essentials, a rational response and a rescue from economic and social disaster until the reaction itself descended into madness.
The following series of photographs are from a neighboring country, Peru, are an illustration of the pressures the political elites of Chile are negotiating. Taken from the road between the port of Mollendo and the city of Arequipa, on a vast, waterless plain.
Migrants from the Titicaca Region formed a cooperative named “Asociacion Las Caymenos Agro Exportadores”. It is the named scrawled on the small cement brick wall.
Desperate people from rural areas migrate to cities, form associations or regional clubs based on a common origin, and grab land as a group.
In this case, it is property useless for the named purpose, “agricultural export.” What they have is a dream. a dream of the government directing water to the area.
Towards this end, individuals of the group mark out plots using rocks and build structures from concrete brick and metal roofing.
This small patch of water is the basis of their desperate hope.
This is a more consolidate group of migrate squatters on the road called “1S” near the turnoff for Lima and a place named La Reparticion.
Dreams for a better life, offset by desperate circumstances bring us back to Valparaiso and the Parque Italia adjacent to Allende Plaza. The park is a small patch of green, some wonderful trees, with statuary and monuments dedicated to people of Italian heritage.
Beyond the sleeper are statues each on a plinth. The second from the right is a bust of Giovanni Battista Pastene, a gift from the city of Genoa dedicated October 12, 1961. Pastene was the first governor of Valparaiso (the region, not the city) in the 16th century. He came to Honduras in his own ship, enter the service of Pizzaro and, as master of the ship Conception, was a maritime explorer.
The Italian refugee collectivity of Valparaiso presented this column, in 1936, surmounted by a bronze sculpture of the Capitoline Wolf feeding the infant founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. It is a copy of an ancient statue kept on Capitoline Hill, Rome, Italy.
The wife of Allende was of Italian heritage, Hortensia Bussi. The Fire Brigade Sesta Compagnia di Pompieri Cristoforo Colombo, operates today from Independence Avenue.
Here we have a gathering of friends, sharing the shade and beverages on this Saturday summer morning.