Around this time last year, I managed to get away to the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. I was in the vicinity of the Blue River, and trying to locate a section I had visited about 20 years before. Nothing looked familiar, so I just went exploring to see what else was out there. A small side canyon had some intriguing shapes and kept me hiking and photographing until the sun moved higher in the sky and shade was no longer an option. Here is one photo from that morning.
Today in the US we have set aside a day to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the rest of us have a life of freedom. Wars have been a part of human history since we managed to make our first weapon. In WWI and WWII, there is little doubt our presence was necessary to keep power-hungry leaders in check. Since then, most notably Vietnam, our role in these wars has been questioned by some portion of the public. For those enlisted in the Armed Forces, politics has no place. Armchair quarterbacking is not allowed.
Growing up, I remember watching war movies where people died. Perhaps they grabbed their stomachs and fell over, or they lied in their buddy’s arms and shared a poignant moment before they passed quietly. It all seemed so honorable. Television shows like Hogan’s Heroes and McHale’s Navy made war seem like a vacation. As did most boys my age, I played with G.I. Joe’s. Cowboys and Indians. Cops and Robbers. Nobody ever wanted to be on the losing team. The good guys always win, everybody knew that.
I have four older brothers. They started up the draft again for Vietnam, just around the time the oldest turned 18. Seeing my mom crying while watching the draft was the first time I thought about the reality of war. The oldest brother’s birthday came up in the first twenty dates drawn. A year later, the same fate was true for the next brother. Two years later, a repeat for the next brother. Vietnam ended, but then a mandated draft registry came up in time for my eighteenth birthday. I was never called, but the thought of it weighed upon me as unrest in the Middle East was becoming more prominent.
Recent war movies have become a lot closer to reality. Bullets hit, and blood and body parts go flying. They don’t use .22’s on the battlefield. People die painfully. Those who survive are likely to be in even more pain. The glory has been removed. Thank you, Hollywood.
Just when I thought the glorification of war was a thing of the past, here they come again. The United States Space Force. You can find the promotional trailer on YouTube. Looks like fun, the only thing missing is the slogan “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” Oh wait. That’s another branch’s slogan. Copyright infringement. Can’t use that.
If we’re preparing a military division for space, you have to ask, “who are our enemies out there?” I’ve thought this through, and clearly there are only two answers.
- Aliens. This can’t be the answer, because for 70+ years, the government has been telling us they don’t exist. If they did, I’m sure our weapons are no match for theirs. Unless we’ve figured out a way to reverse engineer technology that has crash landed on this planet. Oh wait, I keep forgetting, that doesn’t exist. That, and the government would have to admit they’ve been lying all this time.
- Other humans from other countries. This must be the answer by default.
Are we really going to take our shitty war-mongering habits beyond this planet? And what kind of weapons will we be using up there? If we fire a missile at something and it misses the target, does it continue on its trajectory until it does eventually hit something. Space is a big place, but what if that eventual target is another planet? With people? Will this start a Universal War? There’s an asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter which some scientists feel may have once been a planet. Have we taken this path before?
I think we have enough problems to solve at home, like paying teachers what they’re worth, or this coronavirus thing? Let’s stop glorifying war.
Hard to believe this was just three weeks ago. Snow flurries were on the mountain, thunderstorms were rolling through town. Now the spring/summer temperature yo-yo has begun. Not for long, I’m sure, as summer is inevitable.
To all the mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
This year will probably be different for most of you, but hopefully all the sons and daughters will be able to show mom some extra appreciation today.
A number of years ago, my significant other was in a routine of visiting antique shops. While I went through hoping to God that none of that stuff was coming home with us, something actually caught my eye one particular trip. There was a small stack of predominantly black & white photographs. Subjects were mostly people, some in uniform. Almost all had older buildings and many included vintage cars. Most had borders, including a few with the textured edges. Some had hand written notes on the back, some had dates stamped on the front. Three had the Kodak Lab stamp on the back, with dates going back to 1945. Every single one of them was older than me. Although these were taken by everyday people, they all seemed to capture a moment in time. Perhaps because it cost money to click the shutter back then, people put more thought into what they were shooting. I think the stack was $10, so I had no hesitation in buying them.
Just one more thing guys, in case you’re taking mom on a hike. Don’t take her on a steep trail with steps cut into the rock, and handrails on the sides, and tell her it will be like walking through the mall. Give her a chance to dress appropriately.
When I was about thirty years old, I thought I was in pretty good shape, as most thirty year-olds would. Then, one day, I got a dose of reality. I had an assignment to photograph a hiking trail further north. The trail started at an elevation around a mile high and finished close to 6000 feet. It was about as smooth and evenly graded trail that you could ask for. I had a backpack full of camera gear and a tripod, but nothing I wasn’t used to carrying. It didn’t matter, because this mountain had kicked my ass.
The following week, I was determined to get in better shape. There were two nearby mountains in the city that had trails to the top and were fairly close-by. I started with the easier of the two, and the first few times felt like an effort, but then got easier. Soon, I was reaching the summit and didn’t feel I needed to rest. I saw that some others were repeating the hike, so I started doing the same. One day, I did it three times, and got comments from almost everybody I had lapped. To me, this environment wasn’t real hiking, but it didn’t matter – I was building my endurance. Afterwards, I concentrated my efforts to the other mountain, which turned out to be far more demanding. This one even involved some upper body work, especially on the detour routes. It took many times before I could make the summit without stopping. After a few months, my endurance was vastly improved, and I started doing this hike twice. A few months later, I started throwing on a backpack filled with forty pounds of weights. People looked at me and asked, “Are you getting ready for a Grand Canyon hike?”
“No, just preparing for life.”
Somewhere along the way in those years, I also started doing something I hated in high school. Jogging. Much like my hiking routine, this started quite pathetically. The block I lived on was exactly one mile around according to my odometer. It felt like five. Eventually, I made it around the block without stopping. Then twice, then thrice. I ran in some 5k’s and a couple 10k’s. The running built up different muscles and endurance than the hiking. I never once set foot in a gym, but I was as close to being a professional athlete as anyone might get.
About a year later, I was asked to photograph a story on mountain biking in the mountains of eastern Arizona. There were two men who joined me there. One was a professional mountain bike racer. The other was his best friend, riding partner, and writer for the story. I had gone to a local bike shop and rented what was probably a $300 bike, they both had titanium framed bikes costing about ten times that much.
The elevation was about 9000′ above sea level. One morning we headed out for the trails, and for whatever reason, I was the lead bike. The trail started up a moderate hill, and after several minutes, I heard them talking, but all I heard was my name and the word fast. I really thought I was holding them back, so I stood up on the pedals, and proceeded a little faster. There was a loud collective moaning behind me. I stopped and turned around and repeated what I heard and thought. “No” they replied, “We were trying to figure out how someone who has never mountain biked, and riding a pos bike, could be making us work this hard to stay even!”
Shortly after that trip, I purchased a mountain a mountain bike, which I have not really used like it was intended. I like uphill rides, but would ride the brakes most of the way downhill. Even before YouTube existed with its plethora of bike ride fails, I knew this law of physics:
Speed + Gravity = Pain
I once had a dog that could run at forty mph. I knew taking him on a ‘walk’ was not what he needed, so a lot of my bike riding experience was taking him through the neighborhood. Fortunately, we had some open spaces and dirt paths, so the bike was perfect for this situation.
Fast forward a few decades to my situation a couple months ago. As I started physical therapy, they put me on a stationary bike. I couldn’t operate it as it was, so they had me pedaling from a chair at the back of the bike. It wasn’t until about week four that I was on the proper seat. Another couple weeks and I was back on the real thing. Yes, I still own that same bike.
About the photograph.
I now live in a neighborhood that is mostly flat. No dirt roads. No dog. Although most would prefer a street bike to a mountain bike, I look at it differently. The tread of my bike offers more resistance, providing a better workout. I deliberately lower the air pressure for even more resistance. I have discovered during this quarantine, that empty parking garages make great hills for a workout. On one early morning ride, I took a different route and came across this garage of a building that was closed. There were a couple cars in the bottom level, so I had a feeling I might attract some attention. Up near the top level, the sun was streaming in and created long shadows. I took this with my iPhone because I had a feeling I wouldn’t have the opportunity again. Sure enough, as I reached the bottom, security was there asking me to kindly leave. That’s ok, I know of several other garages where I can still ride. With stay-at-home restrictions probably coming to an end soon, my bike rides will likely become a little less adventurous.
Red Rock Canyon has a bit of a deceiving name. Unlike Zion or Grand Canyon, there is not one distinct canyon running through the middle of the park. Instead, it is a long linear steep cliff with canyons that disect the cliff in several places. From the road, the geology gives the impression that these canyons would be much the same. Venture in, however, and all the differences become apparent. Some have water beyond the mouth of the canyon, but can be dry well into the canyon. Year round water in some, but dry creek bottoms are more common. Waterfalls can be found in most canyons, seasonally, but there are no real similarities between them. Brothers, not twins.
The trails into the canyons are similar – hike about a mile or so in open desert until you reach the mouth of the canyon, then follow the path of least resistance. The official trails don’t really go into the canyons, so following the wash bottoms is the route further in. Eventually, there is a bunch of rock hopping, tree branch ducking, and sliding between boulders. Just the kind of workout someone on the mend needs. Like me! Even with restrictions in place, getting out for exercise has been allowed here. The road to many of these canyons has been closed to vehicles, making it more work for people to access, thus keeping the crowds down. A demanding workout with fresh air, beautiful scenery, and almost no people has been a win-win-win scenario. For me, healthy legs means healthy heart and lungs, and less chance of getting sick.
All the images here are from my two recent hikes into neighboring canyons. On one, I had cloudy conditions most of the day, and the soft light was essential for getting the photos I did. On the other, clouds were predicted for most of the day, but soon vanished. Temperatures down in the desert were pushing triple digits, but a breeze was coming through and it was very comfortable here.
One of the things I’ve noticed through the years is the change in the water into springtime. After the snow has melted, and the creek flows decrease, algae forms in the pools, and as these pools dry up, green tinted rocks remain. I even found algae forming on a waterfall.
On the second hike, I started getting photos of something I don’t normally come across – tiny critters. I was sitting in the shade of a large tree cooling my feet in the water when I observed a brightly colored dragonfly. It had chosen a tiny exposed root as its perch, and after ten minutes, it was still there. It would fly away occasionally, but always return within three seconds. After clearing away some larger rocks so I could lay on my stomach somewhat comfortably, I inched closer with my favorite macro lens. By the time I finished, I was about 3 inches away and could now observe that the dragonfly was in the middle of lunch. Every time it jumped away and returned, it had some tiny insect in its mouth. He could have cared less about me. Shortly after leaving that area, I came across a lizard on a rock. I knew it wasn’t going to have the same tolerance for me as the dragonfly, but I managed a few close-ups without it moving a millimeter. It has also been frog hatching season, and I managed to capture this tiniest of frogs. I could have picked up any one of these rocks with one hand, but the pine needle in the back really gives it a frame of reference.
For now, the creeks still have water but the levels have been diminishing with each passing week. My favorite part of spring has to be the redbud trees in bloom. I wanted to capture them with partly cloudy skies, but the full sunshine actually worked well.
Stay healthy everyone!