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10,000 Miles Down the Road

Dusk over the Organ Mountains

Las Cruces, New Mexico

It’s been close to a week since I got back to Michigan after six weeks on the road. And I gotta say, it was great to see my baby at home again, even though she spent most weekends with me at the shows. One thing I learned during the 10,000 miles I drove from Michigan to Florida to Arizona back to Florida and home again: there’s a lot of interesting scenery on I-10. Was sorta sad that I had no time to stop and make photographs, but many mental notes were made. The Atchafalaya Basin, the Texas hill country west of San Antonio, the Davis Mountains, Steins, Texas Canyon in Arizona, the “Thing”… many places and many stories just waiting for the light.

The shows themselves were a mixed bag, sales-wise. Florida started out strong, with ArtFest Fort Myers and ArtiGras in Jupiter. (See my previous post on ArtFest.) We had spotty weather, though, with winds and rain at Fort Myers, and cold days in Jupiter. I spent a couple days after ArtiGras in Orlando at the Baldauf-Astoria, and then headed west on I-10 towards Las Cruces, where I stayed a few nights with my mother’s sister, Nema.

Chloride, New Mexico

"Doodle Dum", Cassie Hobbs' Workshop

The two of us drove out to Chloride, a well-preserved silver mining town near Truth or Consequences. The owners, Don and Dona Edmund, have spent the last twenty years working on the town, and gradually restoring the cabins and the general store. It’s well worth the trip out there just to see the Pioneer Store Museum. We also had lunch at La Posta in Mesilla, and visited Bowlin’s bookstore.

Fountain Hills

Fountain Hills, Fountain Sunset

After leaving Las Cruces, I had an easy drive to Phoenix, where the Great Fair in Fountain Hills and the Carefree Fine Art and Wine Festival promised great sales and good weather. Alas, neither was forthcoming. The weather in Arizona, much like the weather in Florida this winter, was cold and rainy. Sales were very slow for good art at the Great Fair, and quality quite spotty. We were amazed that such mass-produced buy/sell crap could get into a show next to fine art. The jury selection process consists of writing a check — there’s no other explanation for the wide range of quality. With almost 480 artists, there are at least 180 too many vendors at the Great Fair. Two rows of booths on both sides of Avenue of the Fountains extend down to the beautiful fountain for which Fountain Hills is named, with additional booths along the drive. I was across from another good photographer, Timm Chapman, and that set the tone for the upper end of the show. Good stuff, bad stuff, good stuff, bad stuff.

The infamous Savings Sock booth

Don't tell me this was juried in!

No show complete without doggie visors

One good reason I'll never go back to Fountain Hills (it's not the customers!)

Booth Sign, Fountain Hills

What, are they kidding??!

Interspersed between the doggie visors, scented candles and glass nail files were at least another dozen photographers, none of whom seemed to be doing very well. The weather continued its uncooperative behavior, with cold temps and rain on Sunday, which drove most of the crowd away. Many artists broke down in the morning, with the permission of the promoter, and by five the threat of another storm had the rest of us scrambling to get up and away.

In between shows, I spent some time exploring the Phoenix area. I managed to get up to Wickenburg and the Vulture Mine, which was a great experience. I also climbed Pass Mountain, on the recommendation of a friend. I previously wrote about that, in an earlier post.

Carefree promised a better crowd, and more importantly, a higher level of art at the show. Put together by the experienced Thunderbird Artist group, the show is set up around the amphitheater and sundial on the charming downtown streets of Carefree. Setup on Thursday night was semi-chaotic, and we ended up dollying across Cave Creek Road to our location on Ho Road. (Or was it Hum?) We were sad to discover that the street sign marking the location of Ho and Hum Roads had been removed by the local authorities, to make room for a streetlight. Friend and fellow photog Darren Olson was set up at this intersection, and had a pretty good show. Matt Suess and Christine Hauber were sharing a booth down the street, and I was pleased to finally meet Christine.

Other than that I never had a chance to walk the show. From what I did see, the art was predominantly western, large, and wonderful. Saturday night the threat of a bad storm (once again) caused many of the artists to break down and leave. Sunday morning dawned cold and gray, with light drizzle. The holes in the show were glaringly obvious, and while we all had permission to leave early, many decided to stay and wait for those hardy souls who might brave the weather in search of fine art. Alas, the weather was not going to cooperate.

Before the show, Carefree AZ

Early morning shoppers at the Carefree Fine Art and Wine Festival

The featured artist, a glass artist, had left all of her work overnight, and merely had to turn it over to empty the evening’s storm water from her vessels! But the rains came in full force, promptly on time as the show opened at 10AM, and we all gave it up around noon. Most everyone was packed and gone by 3. We had a great lunch at Carefree Station — highly recommend.

The sticky buns from Big Buns in Carefree

The BEST sticky buns in the world!

So, Monday morning found me back on the road to Florida. Another stop at Nema’s, where we drove up to the base of the Organ Mountains, and had a fine dinner at the famous Cattleman’s Steakhouse. I meet people at shows who are familiar with Las Cruces and Mesilla, and Cattleman’s is an institution. I have to say, it used to be better, but it still serves up a fine rib-eye in an authentic atmosphere.

Tuesday I was back on the road, with three days to get back to Bonita Springs, and, you guessed it, more rain. One out of three days on the road was gorgeous, with puffy clouds dotting the blue sky, and the horizon beckoning. The miles flew by like a knife through butter. Arriving Thursday night in Bonita Springs, it was rainy, with more of the same predicted for Friday’s setup. And sure enough, it poured most of Friday, so Karyn and I waited until later in the day to get our tent up. We were able to have dinner with our close friends Wendy & Marc Zoschke (Vetro Caldo Designs) and Anita & Steve Baldauf, where we presented Wendy with her very own “Savings Sock” from the Fountain Hills Great Fair.

Saving Sock

Anita and Wendy share a laugh

Darren Olson

Darren Olson's warning clamps to alert drivers not to knock down the awning poles

But the Bonita Springs National Art Fair was a disappointment. The weather was beautiful all weekend, in the low seventies. Perfect for an art show. But attendance was light. Most of the artists spent the weekend wandering around talking to each other. And that’s not a good sign. We ran into C.C. and Shiu Ping Lee, P.J. and Dick Commerford, RC and Kim FulwilerMichele LeVett, and Madison Latimer, the Crazy Chicken Lady. We had a party. But we didn’t sell a whole lot of photographs. I’m coming to the conclusion that South Florida has far too many art shows, and far too few patrons. Colorful sells, as does jewelry and wearables, but photography is tough.

Okay, so on to Winter Park, the crown jewel of my early spring schedule. I had high hopes for Winter Park. It’s a great show, in a lovely part of Orlando, with some of the best artists in the country. The last time I participated, I did well and we had a great time. So I was definitely looking forward to being in the show again this year. Winter Park was the main reason I rearranged my schedule and drove 5,000 miles back and forth between Florida and Arizona.

I headed up to Orlando on Monday afternoon, and played golf at Timecuan with Steve Baldauf on Tuesday. I carried my clubs for 8,000 miles without a single putt or drive anticipating a little more golf than I actually played. Again, with the chilly temps. It turned out to be a nice day, and we had a good time. Wednesday I caught up on paperwork, and then Thursday it was time to setup the show. Thankfully, it didn’t rain. No, it saved that for Sunday afternoon. But Friday and Saturday the weather was good, and we had great crowds. I won another award, an Award of Distinction. The artists dinner on Saturday night was awesome, and then we headed out to another party.

Rainy morning at Fountain Hills

Rainy morning at Fountain Hills, Avenue of the Fountains

Sales on Friday and Saturday, again, were slower than expected. Sunday, usually a day where all the buyers come back and go crazy, started out well, but by noon, the rain had started up again, and the weather radar was not looking promising. Still I had some good reactions to the new black and white work, and prints were flying out of the bin. Once the torrential downpour started, however, it was all over. We packed up the art, rolled down the walls, and went off to see some of the other artists while waiting for the park to clear out so we could get the Artanic in to load up. Then we went to Starbucks and had a cuppa joe. An hour later, some of the madness and the flood waters had subsided, and we were able to move the trailer onto the street and get packed up. Winter Park, on the whole, is a well-run show, with very very high quality artists and work from around the country. From the guys directing traffic in the close-by artists parking areas, to the load-in and load-out process, to the awards judging, this is a high-class act. If invited, I would definitely go back.

We saw lots of friends at Winter Park, of course. Glen and Linda Mace were there. Wendy and Marc were there. PC James was there from Chelsea Michigan, and we had dinner with him and the Zoschkes at Denny’s after breakdown on Sunday. Antoni Kowslowki was there. Lots of friends. Lots of good times.

The Navigators eat lunch

Our traveling critters, the Navigators, love french fries

Monday I dropped Karyn at the airport, and hit the Florida Turnpike. 1250 miles later I was finally home. The drive back was uneventful. I think it was warmer in Michigan than the average temp in Florida this year. Would I drive this many miles next year? Probably not. With the economy the way that it is, and the logistics, I may stay closer to home next winter. But I say that every year. Wait and see what the schedule turns up. In the meantime, I’m gearing up for a solo exhibition, two shows in April, and a full summer of traveling.

Happy Trails everyone!

Ho and Hum Road intersection, Carefree, Arizona

The corner of Boredom and Ennui

Souvenirs of the Southwest

I’m writing this on WordPress for iPhone, so by necessity it’ll be short. Wanted to post a couple of shots from the Vulture Mine. Like my pal Art says, it’s a “target rich” environment.


Interior of the Assay Office/Manager’s quarters


Another Interior

The Assay Office

Click on an image to view full size

A Tale of Two Peaks

View towards Payson

View towards Payson, Pass Mountain peak

While in Arizona for a couple of shows, I had a few days to nose around in the mountains. Monday was cloudy in the morning, and I spent most of the day just driving. First it was to Sky Harbor to drop Karyn off for her flight back to Detroit. Then I got turned around on the exit ramps and headed east on the 202, so I just drove northeast towards Payson. I grabbed a shot of a windmill I’d spotted the previous week, but photographically, the day was pretty much a bust. Coming back through Globe and Superior, I did see a peak that was picturesque and climbable. Picketpost Mountain is right off Highway 60, and there is a trail that goes to the top. I added that to the “someday list”, along with Picacho Peak, between Tucson and Phoenix.

Vulture Peak

The start of the Vulture Peak hike

Vulture Peak

Tuesday I headed out towards Wickenburg. I got up early (4:15) in hopes of catching the sunrise, but it was not meant to be. The day dawned cloudy with barely a milky sun. The moon was just setting in the west as I pulled into Wickenburg and gassed up. On a whim, I headed out to the Vulture Mine, which I’d heard of via Art Skopec, a local Phoenix photographer and friend. But it was too early to tour the mine (they open at 9 in the winter months). So I killed some time by walking up Vulture Peak. There is a rough campground at the base of Vulture Peak, with a mess of RV’s seemingly parked permanently there. I was put off at first, as it looks like a prime ATV spot, with many tracks running down washes. I parked Blutan the Truck and loaded up my bag with camera, food and water, and set off across the desert. The trail is well worn, and there was a maintenance crew camped at the trailhead. No problems finding or following the trail. It starts out as a pleasant ramble through saguaro, barrel cactus, ocotillo, teddy bear cholla and the usual Sonoran suspects. The grade is easy, and I took a few shots as I walked.

Vulture Peak

The top of Vulture Peak

After about a quarter mile, the trail crosses a big wash which is 4WD accessible. There is a trailhead closer to the peak that you can drive to, but that seems to miss the whole point of the desert experience. The 4WD road follows this wash for a bit and eventually meets up with the trail at the base of the peak roughly a mile in. The last half mile is pretty much uphill all the way, switchbacking gently up the slope to a saddle, where the maintained trail ends. I met the maintenance crew up on the side of the hill, busily cracking stones and clearing drainage ditches. The trail showed obvious improvements where they had been. Spent a few minutes exchanging pleasantries with them before struggling up the last few feet to the saddle. It was windy up there, and I was glad I had a jacket to stop the breeze. To get to the peak proper, an obvious use trail heads up a gully to the left. Some scrambling is in order, but it’s pretty easy stuff, with no exposure. After a couple hundred feet of mucking about, I was on top, with 360 degree views. Some jerk had spray-painted her name on a boulder at the top, and I spotted two USGS survey markers. Also a used condom. Come on people, clean up after yourselves! I made a few photographs and added my name to the battered summit register, in an old ammo box set in a concrete anchor.

Assay Office, Vulture City

The assay office, constructed of stone from the Vulture Mine

After reaching the bottom, I wandered over to the Vulture Mine. That will get its own post, as it is a wonderfully preserved (not restored) and cared for gold mine. Marty and Roma Hagen run a small souvenir shop and let tourists wander the workings and ruins on their own. I really enjoyed the mine, and recommend it highly if you are in the Wickenburg/Phoenix area. They are closed in the summer months though, due to the high desert heat. Phone ahead.

Wind Cave Trail

Yesterday, I went over to Mesa to Usery Mountain Regional Park, to hike the Wind Cave Trail. My doctor, Mark Florek, had mentioned that this hike had been a favorite of his father’s in years past, so I had wanted to check it out. The Usery Mountains are right next door to the Superstition Mountains, just northeast of Mesa. Access is easy, and the park is open most days for nature walks and camping. It’s $6/day per vehicle to get in.

Pass Mountain

Pass Mountain, Usery Mountain Park (lefthand arm of saguaro points to caves)

The Wind Cave trail is very popular, being close to a major population center, so don’t expect solitude. I met a lot of people walking, trail running and many of them were older, fat , out of shape, or all three. I felt right at home. Lots of dogs, too. The trail ascends gently through typical Sonoran desert scenery. Lovely views towards Phoenix, with saguaro, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, palo verde and beautiful barrel cactus. The approaches to these quick peak bags are often the best part of the hike, and the easiest, especially later in the afternoon, when the light gets low.

Wind Cave Trail

Wind Cave Trail, with barrel cactus and ocotillo

The trail gradually gets steeper, and switchbacks steadily up to the headwall of Pass Mountain, where it traverses the base of the rocks. After about 1.5 miles, you reach Wind Cave, a large undercut recess in the limestone. It’s not really a cave, but it is cool and shady. And yes, windy, too. The breeze felt good in the afternoon heat. This hike faces west, so I imagine it’s a great spot to come for the sunset. Plan about an hour to get to the cave. The trails do close at sunset, so you would want a headlamp to come down after dark. (I don’t think they’ll kick you out if you’re already on the trails.) Watch your step!

Wind Cave Panoramic View

Panoramic view from Wind Cave, Usery Mountain Park

At the cave, a sign warns that hiking beyond the trail is dangerous. Indeed, the footing is loose, and there are dropoffs. I walked across the cave to the north and ascended an obvious gully, where three tall saguaros seemed to mark a path. There is no trail here, so experience and prudence should dictate your own passage, should you choose to pass this way. After ten or fifteen minutes of scrambling, I reached the ridgeline. Traversing the ridge towards the summit, I found a well-worn use trail, complete with white blazes. It sort of took the fun out of my bushwhack, but it was going where I was going, so what the hey.

Pass Mountain Peak

The Superstion Mts, from Pass Mountain

I followed it to the top, and was rewarded with fine views of the Superstition Mountains to the East; Four Peaks to the North, and Phoenix, Mesa and Apache Junctions spread out on the other side. Well worth the extra effort to get to the top. And I was the only one up there. Most tourists stop at the cave, warned off by the threatening sign. I stayed on top long enough to take a few pictures, then followed the use trail back to the cave. At one spot, the trail forked, and seemed to head off in the wrong direction, so I headed right. A small headwall required down-climbing, but mostly it was easy going to reach the bottom of the headwall. Rounding a corner, I was once again back at the “Danger, Will Robinson!” sign. Hmmm…. didn’t seem all that dangerous to me. Again, your mileage may vary.

Sonoran Desert

View towards Phoenix with desert flora

When hiking in the desert, always take a map, water, some emergency eats, a compass, a flashlight, clothing for extra warmth should you get caught out at night. Let someone know where you are and when you expect to be back. I found that texting my wife with my whereabouts works extremely well, in areas with cell coverage. Since I don’t always know where I’m going to end up when I leave my accomodations, this works better than leaving a note. I don’t advise leaving a note on your windshield when you park your car, as it can alert thieves to the length of time you plan to be away from the vehicle. And remember: when your water is half-gone, your hike is half-done. Turn around and head down! I learned this the hard way, on the Flat Iron. But that’s another story.

Both of these hikes are described with great accuracy on Todd Martin’s wonderful hiking page. His beta was very useful to have, and as a consequence, I had a trouble-free, very enjoyable experience. His web site has a plethora (don’t you just love that word?) of information on southwest and desert hiking. One of the best I’ve found.

Today, I’m too tired to get up and go hiking, so I’m writing about it instead. This afternoon, I’ll be setting up for the Carefree Fine Art and Wine Festival, and I’m hoping the weather holds up as nicely as it has this week. Till next time: Happy Trails!

Ain’t Superstitious

Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake

While in between shows in Phoenix, I wandered out to the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction. The Superstitions got their name from legends passed down by miners and Indians as the area was explored for silver and gold. The Lost Dutchman Mine is reputed to have a fortune in gold still. It’s a fascinating wilderness area, and there are only a couple of roads that pass in or near the mountains. Highway 188 runs up from Globe to the Roosevelt Dam, and then on up towards Payson. But Highway 88 looks like a shortcut that runs southwest back towards Apache Junction and the Lost Dutchman State Park, where I did a bit of hiking up the Flatiron last year. And what a spectacular road it is!

The Flatiron

The Flatiron

Together with friends Marc and Wendy Zoschke of Vetro Caldo Designs, we took a road trip and visited the cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument, and then drove back to Apache Junction along the gravel track that is Arizona Highway 88. Along the way we shot a few photographs. The road winds in and out of three major canyons as it traverses the interior of the Superstitions. From the Roosevelt dam it climbs up and over one ridge and drops into the Canyon Lake Drainage. From Canyon Lake, it heads for Fish Creek, which is absolutely spectacular. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see much of it, as we spent a little too much time shooting the sunset at Canyon Lake. The light fades fast here in the Arizona desert, and since it was our first time here, we fumbled about looking for good viewpoints at the last minute. The road between Canyon Lake and Fish Creek is arguably the most photogenic stretch of the entire 40-mile road.

Superstition Mountains

Superstition Mountains

As the one and half lane gravel road heads into Fish Creek Canyon, it appears as if you are in a box canyon. Doesn’t look like there is any way out. Then you look up and see, halfway up a sheer canyon wall, a tiny little yellow highway sign. Yup, the road climbs the side of the canyon wall. The guardrails are really just there for show, as they are flimsy as all get out. You really don’t want to take an RV up this road, or down it, for that matter. There is no room to pass, but there are a couple of pullouts near the blind curves. It’s a sheer drop to the creek below, about 1500 feet or so. Absolutely spectacular. Have I said that before?

The two shots below were made at the one pull-out at the top of the canyon, before it switchbacks into the next. It was about an hour after the sun had gone down, with just a trace of daylight left. I used a tripod and a thirty second exposure, with my ISO set to 50 on a Canon 5D. I wasn’t surprised that the shots show the canyon, but the lack of detail resolution is an interesting artifact of the low light. The sensor picks up minute changes in luminance, so it looks like it might have been shot at civil twilight, but closer examination shows no real detail. Interesting.

sw09_mg_8852sw09_mg_8851I also hiked in Peralta Canyon this past week. Lots of rhyolite, sandstone and caliche as you head up the trail. It’s a popular trail, and an easy walk to a saddle where you can see the impressive Weaver Needle jutting above Boulder Canyon. Lots of cactus, too. Cholla, saguaro, prickly pear, agave, sotol, teddy bear… it’s all hard on bare flesh. Long pants are hot, but highly recommended for any bushwhacking you might choose to do. The orange mallow and brittle bush was starting to bloom, too. Saw mountain aster, prickly pear blooms, and other purple stuff that I couldn’t identify. Pretty. I’ll be going back again one of these days.