Snowbirding 2016: Phoenix

Visiting with friends, running errands, preparing for the next leg of my journey.

Posts in the Snowbirding 2016 Series:
The Colorado River Backwaters
Back to the Backwaters
Return to Wickenburg
Valley of Fire
Death Valley
– Back to Work

I left Wickenburg at about 11:15 AM on Tuesday. I’d already organized everything and packed the truck, with the kayaks on top. I’d be back, but not for at least two weeks.

Although my hosts offered to let me store some things at the guest house, I declined. One thing I like about my life now is that it’s so flexible — my plans can change at any time. Although I planned to return in February, who knows what might happen between now and then to change those plans?

Lunch with a Friend

I’d scheduled lunch with a friend who agreed to meet me along my route down to Phoenix. Rebecca is a doctor and a photographer. Lately, she’s more of a photographer. Like me, she worked hard at at least one career and managed her finances so that she could follow her passion and dedicate more and more time to it. With me, my passions were writing (which became my second career) and flying (which became my third). With her, it’s travel and photography and she does more of both every year. You can see her work online at the Skyline Images website.

Rebecca had recently been to two destinations that interested me: Death Valley in California and Valley of Fire not far from Las Vegas, Nevada. I wanted to pick her brain a bit about them. I’d been to both years ago — several times, in fact — and wanted to visit again, on my own terms, without having to deal with a companion who might prevent me from doing what I wanted to do: namely, getting up before dawn to get into position for capturing images in first light. Rebecca knew all about that; she was even more serious about photography than I am.

I was very eager to visit Death Valley while the wildflowers were blooming. I’d planned a February trip back in 2012 with my wasband when I was still married, but a variety of circumstances (best saved for another blog post) made me cancel it. But since I was already down south with the Mobile Mansion and I’d eventually be bringing it to California for frost season, I thought a route that took me through Death Valley would kill two birds with one stone.

Valley of Fire wasn’t too far off the route to Death Valley. It’s a smallish state park northwest of Lake Mead, remarkable for its red rock formations. I wanted to get out and hike around a bit there with my camera and see if I could get any good images of the rocks.

I thought that with the travel time I’d allotted for myself — almost five full days to get from Wickenburg to the Sacramento area — there was a chance I could spend one night at Valley of Fire (for sunset and sunrise the next morning) and two nights at Death Valley. That would still get me to my destination a day before I needed to be there, giving me the flexibility I like so much when I travel.

We met at a Wildflower Bakery near the intersection of Phoenix’s Loop 101 and I-17 freeways. She saw me parking — how could she miss the giant truck with two kayaks on the roof? — and met me in the parking lot. I left Penny in the truck with the windows down a few inches and we went inside. Because I’d had two breakfasts already — which is pretty much unpreventable when I stay with my Wickenburg friends — I wasn’t hungry and had just a salad. Rebecca had a soup that looked very good and hearty.

We chatted for a while about life: what we’d been up to, where we’d been traveling, and what was going on in Yarnell, where she owned some land and was preparing to build. Eventually, we set aside our plates and she pulled out a Death Valley map. She pointed out a bunch of different roads and points of interest. As I expected, she knew places where few of the tourists went — I really detest being part of a tourist crowd, especially when my mind is on photography. Among the highlights were some dunes I didn’t know about and am rather anxious to see.

She also recommended an ebook by a photographer couple that provides photos and GPS coordinates for points of interest to photographers at Valley of Fire. I bought a copy in PDF format this morning and will put it on my iPad to consult it while I’m traveling. I just ordered a Death Valley map like Rebecca’s to be delivered to me while I’m on the road.

Tempe Camera

After leaving Rebecca, I continued south on I-17, following Google’s directions to Tempe Camera. I’d been having some exposure issues with my Nikon D7000 camera and was also concerned about a certain amount of “looseness” I felt in my favorite lens. Since there are no camera repair places where I live and I’m seldom in Seattle, I figured I’d drop it off at a camera repair place I knew in the Phoenix area.

Tempe Camera is one of the full-service camera stores that still exist in this digital age. Not only do they still sell film and darkroom supplies, but they have a full range of SLR and DSLR cameras, lenses, and other photographic equipment. They even do equipment rentals.

I maneuvered my giant truck into their parking lot and managed to back it into a space beside an empty handicapped space. Then, leaving Penny in the truck again, I brought my camera and its attached lens inside. The repair department is conveniently located on the first floor — they really ought to put it upstairs so people with sick equipment can look at replacements along the way, but I’m not complaining. After a short wait, the woman at the counter took the camera and lens, filled out some forms, and told me that she’d call with a diagnosis. If it could be repaired in-house, it would be ready by the following week, when I returned. Otherwise, it would have to go to Nikon and could take up to six weeks. Since that would really foul up my photography plans at Valley of Fire and Death Valley, you can bet I was hoping for an easy fix.

Back at the truck, I took Penny out for a quick walk in the grassy area near the parking lot. Then we loaded up again for our next and final stop for the day.

Hangar Haciendas

Hangars Hacienda on the Map
Hangar Haciendas is on the map — if you know where to look and zoom in enough.

My friend Mike and his wife Cheryl had bought some land a few years back at Hangar Haciendas, an airpark that no one seems to know about southwest of downtown Phoenix, just north of South Mountain. Around the time I started building my home, they were finalizing plans to build theirs. They moved into their home around the same time I moved into mine: last spring. Since then, they’ve been working on finish items, landscaping, and other odds and ends facing the owner of a brand new home.

An airpark, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a residential development that includes a runway for homeowners. In most cases, each lot will have a hangar with a taxiway that goes out to the runway. This makes it possible to live with your plane just like most folks live with their car.

Residential airparks are not unusual in Arizona. I can think of at least ten with nice, paved runways. I’ve seen one (so far) in Washington state. They can be found in just about any state if you look hard enough.

Their home is considerably more impressive than mine. In addition to the three bedroom, 2-1/2 bath house, there’s a one bedroom, 1 bath guest house and a ginormous hangar for Mike’s plane and helicopter (and a very nice looking Datsun 280Z). It sits on one side of one end of the runway, with great views of Phoenix one way and South Mountain the other way.

I’d been dying to see the house. The last time I was in town — February 2015 — the main structure was up but the walls and windows and doors hadn’t been finished. Poor Cheryl had been a bit frazzled, dealing with contractors and trying to stay ahead of the curve on the project’s construction. Now the place was pretty much finished, although there were some details that still needed attention and were driving Cheryl nuts. What’s interesting to me is that as the General Contractor for my home, I actually had an easier time than they did because I talked directly to the subcontractors and they had to deal with a general who may or may not pass along the right instructions to the subs. No wonder Cheryl was so frustrated!

When I first contacted them about a visit, I’d expected to have the Mobile Mansion with me. I needed a place to park it where it would be safe while I went home to Washington for a while. They had plenty of land and were relatively close to the airport, where an early morning flight would take me home. It made sense to ask to park it there. They had no problem with that. But when I dropped the RV off for repairs in Quartzsite instead, I just needed to park the truck. I was hoping to spend the night at their place, but was open to staying at a hotel if they couldn’t accommodate me. No problem, though. I could come with the truck and spend the night. And although they pretty much insisted that they drive me to the airport at 4 AM the next morning, I bought a ticket for a shuttle van to get me and Penny. I could never allow a friend to take me to the airport that early.

The house, as I expected, was amazing. Cheryl was working on something when I arrived, so Mike took me on a tour of the hangar first (of course) and then the house. I loved the huge windows that let in plenty of Arizona sunlight, the desert views, the big marble tiles on the floor, the ultra-modern kitchen, and the complete home automation system. I have to admit that it was the first time I’d ever been in a home with his and hers laundry rooms. And the master bedroom shower, with its five shower heads, was big enough to host a party. Even the guest house, which was probably about the size of my living space at home, was big and bright and well-designed.

We hung out and chatted for a while and Mike built a fire in a fire pit just off the back patio. A neighbor stopped by for a beer and a chat. Then we decided on Chinese food. Cheryl placed the order and Mike and I went to get it. I discovered that yes, there is good Chinese food in Arizona. You can find it at Sun Chinese Kitchen on 20th street and Baseline.

Cheryl was tired and I had an early flight the next morning, so I left them early. I pulled the two bags I needed to take home with me the next day out of my truck and locked up the truck, leaving the keys with Mike. Then I settled into the guest house with Penny.

I was asleep minutes after my head hit the pillow.

11 thoughts on “Snowbirding 2016: Phoenix

    • LOL. I always try to take the first flight of the day. The 6 AM flight I took had me HOME, inside my house, by 11 AM. (Some friends on this end picked me up at the airport.) Can’t beat that. But after spending a week with a couple who get out of bed around 9 AM, I couldn’t really expect someone to drive me to the airport at 4 AM.

      I’ve taken people in Wenatchee to catch the 5:40 AM flight out of here. In fact, that’s the flight I always take. I’ll touch down in Phoenix at 11 AM and can be parked back along the Colorado River with friends before sunset.

  1. Really liked Rebecca’s (2015) work with the camera.

    The photographs by Ansel Adams and Group F64 provided the motivation for us to visit Yosemite several years back. An inspiration, but the accommodation was very basic.
    I still have a fondness for those large format, long exposure, small aperture, techniques that are so hard to recreate with modern digital cameras. The clarity and depth of field is unsurpassable.
    That said, some of your Monument Valley shots are up there with the best and I’m guessing that most of those are digital?

    • Thanks! Just about all of the photography I’ve shared online is digital. But you can get plenty of depth of field if you have enough light or use a tripod and close down the lens aperture. Monument Valley is plenty bright on a sunny day, as is most of Arizona.

      My preferred shots are when the focus is on something in the foreground and the background is thrown out of focus. If done just right, it can be magical, showcasing the tiny things that are part of the “big picture.”

      What’s more difficult is achieving photographic goals with the camera on a phone. Sure, my iPhone has a decent camera. But I don’t have nearly the flexibility I need to create artistic shots. While I used to spend more time concentrating on my photography, I’ve gotten lazy. I’d like to get past that and produce really good photos with my Nikon again.

  2. I think whoever designed the iPhone camera had ‘selfies’ in mind. There are plenty of pixels but distance work, at least in my Northern European light, looks flat.

    There is one of yours I particularly like, it cycles-by once in a while as the header and I’m betting it was taken with your Nikon.

    It is of a very weathered flat-bed trailer (close left of field) with a rotting plank bed. The trailer has broad rusted iron wheels and its carrying days are over. The light was strong and the depth of field drags the viewer’s attention to the middle distance and a benign farm scene with a (still coherent and defined) distance that takes us to things we can only guess at.

    That is a truly stunning shot. It tells us about age and the inevitability of decay. That belongs in a gallery.

    • I agree entirely about the iPhone camera. They say that the best camera is the one you have with you, so that’s often my best camera. Unfortunately. It never seems to capture the view out my window adequately.

      I know the picture you’re referring to. I shot that on an outing with my wasband years go up on the Waterville Plateau, not far from where I now live. I was attracted to the site by the broken down barn there — which also appears in at least one photo — and found the place a treasure trove of interesting shots. I think it would have been better during the Golden Hour; the light was very flat midday when I shot it.

      I LOVE shooting subjects like abandoned buildings and ruins. I had an idea for a photo book: Decrepit Vehicles of Washington Orchards. I got the idea because almost every single orchard I’ve been in has at least one rusting car or truck tucked away in a corner. Maybe this spring.

  3. That sounds like an excellent project.
    There is book of photographs by Henry Rasmussen called “Crop Dusters: Props in the Crops”.
    It includes shots of worn out and still working biplanes and their pilots, in various stages of decomposition. Very atmospheric, and a job you know well.

  4. Maria: My name is Mary Baker and my husband Jeff and I bought your Wickenburg home. When we were cleaning out some drawers, I found one of your old cards and that is how I arrived at your blog. Your “Flying M” metal piece is here and I was wondering if you would like it back? We enjoy the piece but I cannot enjoy it thoroughly knowing that it might be something you wanted back. just let us know. kind regards.

    • Sorry about the delay in getting back to you. I replied via email. I hope you’re enjoying the house! Your neighbors have nothing but great things to say about you!

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