flying over the parade
In 2003 I was 50 years old, my son Sean graduated college and started his first job and we made time for a tour of Arizona together in November. The timing was perfect for me to take in the University of Arizona (U of A) Homecoming, my first since graduating 1975.
One absolutely positive memory from my time at the U of A was trying out for freshman cheer squad when I first arrived in Tucson, somehow being chosen and then serving for the fall and spring terms. So, when I received an invitation of the cheer alumni events I accepted and planned to be there in Tucson for November 7 and 8.
November 7 there was a reception for cheer alumni and current squad members. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, as you would expect, and I learned a bit about the younger members, how many were on academic scholarships.
The squad advisor, Phoebe Chalk, and I chatted briefly. She responded, “We have photographers,” and I floated the idea of my taking photographs during the parade so I let that drop with the intention of doing it, anyway.
I came prepared the next day with a Sony Cybershot F828. It was “Sony’s flagship prosumer digital camera” at the time. It worked well that day, the variable lens was especially helpful.
At the staging site I encountered a problem. The cheer squad headed the parade, behind the University President with the cheer alumni well behind. My solution was to approach Peter Linkins, the outgoing University President, with a request to photograph the cheer squad.
He said, “OK”, made a phone call and I walked up to the squad. They remembered me from the reception and I was on my way, “embedded” for the parade.
I walked alongside and on the alert. As we crossed passed the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium and into the intersection with Cherry Avenue the squad broke formation for a stunt. Three men formed the “base”, they were J. Justin VandenBerg, Ricardo Abud (captain) and Robert Scoby, around a “flyer”, Taylor Hendrickson, and launched her into the air, above the pavement.
My sense of amazement, awe and concern is reflected in the reactions of the team members. Taylor was thrown more than 15 feet high for a complete flip to land in the arms of the three base members. I call this image, “Mind.”
They did it again and I was more prepared to capture the instant of launch. “Aerialists,” is the title of this image. The next flyer to launch was Kristen Ortega, here standing on the shoulders of her partner.
Kristen was launched in front of the review stand. “Grace,” is the image title. The three base members are the same.
Here is the rest of the parade.
I posed with the cheer squad afterwards.
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills
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.
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.
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.
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.
Experience the Sky Island view from Rincon Peak
The Rincons are one of 42 Sky Mountain islands isolated from each other by the gradual warming and drying climate changes since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. While this marvelous environment of oak and pine forests only accessible with much effort on foot, it is literally visible from every point of the Tucson valley and million human inhabitants.
Rincon is Spanish for corner, the mountains are called that from their shape enclosing a space on the west, northwest until recently used for ranching and is now falling into use for tract housing. The mountains themselves are reserved as wilderness, parts in the Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest.
In the past 44 years I was lucky enough to visit the Rincon Wilderness interior three times, shouldering different style backpacks onto the mountain, walking different boots. The first, during college the 1970’s, a party of six left from the end of Speedway, up the Douglas Springs trail. The climb was an exercise in desert survival that several friendships did not survive, replace by new friends met on Mica Mountain. I have no photographs from that experience, only memories and the backpack.
Reconnecting with Arizona in 2004, thirty one years after that first experience, I took no chances. My first attempt on Rincon Peak was a success. Risk and effort were reduced, not eliminated by hiring a guide for the four day trip. We made it to Rincon Peak via the Turkey Creek Trail out of Happy Valley, climbing a mountain buttress, views ever widening and lengthening.
These are some photographs from that experience and a landscape photograph of the peak at sunset, taken the following year.
Sego Lilies bloom among a stricken oak and drying grasses on the Turkey Creek trail. This is an overview of the environment, it is the winter rains that trigger the bloom.
We paused while I unpacked my gear to capture Sego Lilies growing along the Turkey Creek Trail.
Deer Head Spring, at the top of Turkey Creek Trail was a moist spot with no accessible water when we reached it April 27, 2004. With the remains of a gallon of water each we needed to press ahead to Heartbreak Ridge and climb into Happy Valley Saddle were, thankfully, the creek was low and full of algae but usable. Here are my first views of Rincon Peak, looking across the aptly named Heartbreak Ridge and Happy Valley Saddle.
The view to south from Rincon Peak. The white rocks at lower right forms a Valley of the Moon wall. San Pedro River valley at the root, Mae West Peaks at left margin, Dragoon Mountains with Cochise Stronghold center. Taken around 12:30 on April 28, 2004 as a thunderstorm approached.
The Rincon Peak view looking south, southwest over the Valley of the Moon to the eastern Tucson Valley and the Sky Islands the Whetstone Mountains (Apache Peak), behind are the Santa Ritas. The works of man are overpowered by sky, rock, distance.
We made a hasty departure in front of the thunderstorm. It was a touch and go decision to attempt the peak that day, we made it with moments to spare.
April 29, 2004 the morning after reaching Rincon Peak I set up the tripod near our Happy Valley Saddle camp to capture Rincon Peak in early morning sunlight.
The day we descended to the X9 Ranch via the Rincon Creek trail. My guide’s grandfather had a homestead at the X9 and his access to the trailhead through private lands opened this route for us. This is a photograph of sunset on Rincon Peak from the X9 ranch. I am looking east from the Rincon (Spanish for corner) made by the massifs Rincon Peak, Mica Mountain and Tanque Verde ridge.
The evening of November 2, 2006 I climbed the Saguaro National Park, East, Tanque Verde trail for about 30 minutes to reach this view of Rincon Peak and waited until just before the sun set behind the Tucson Mountains for this shot. Then hiked back to the car in twilight. In my hurry, I tripped on a stepped turn and dove headfirst into a large prickly pear. It was a very painful experience and I regretted damaging the cactus and the loss of and good hiking shirt. There were large spines in my face and tiny, pesky spines covered my chest and back. The large spines are not barbed and come right out. I needed to visit a physician to remove them.
Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved
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.
Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved