March 28, 2017 – Storm on the Salt River

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Last night we found ourselves somewhat stranded. Cracked radiator on the short drive from dinner in Show Low, Arizona to nearby Pinetop. Angry hissing under the hood when we arrived, with an engine running hot. This morning was a scramble of phone calls and worry, trying to get the vehicle repaired so we could get back on the road, and back home to our jobs, our lives, our responsibilities.

Dark clouds descended in the early hours of the morning, dumping sleet and snow and unexpected cold. Thrift store jackets kept our unprepared asses (somewhat) warm, and we huddled against the circumstance, resigned to what was being thrown at us. And out of the frustration and cold, an unbelievable number of kind and generous people entered our lives, sparing us long walks through the snow, giving us advice and warm food, and wishing us luck on our return journey.

Sometimes bad luck is just good luck in disguise. This short little trip didn’t go as planned – not in any way. Instead, we were thrust, vulnerable, into the arms of strangers, only to be reminded how wonderful and kind people can be. We got the Jeep repaired and made our way back south, with the winter storm on our tail. The snow turned to rain, but the dark clouds were chasing us all the way through the mountain passes and rugged canyons. The image above is the salt river canyon, right around the time we finally outran our shabby luck.

We drifted into Tucson at sun-down, purple light igniting the back-end of Mount Lemmon. It felt like we’d been gone for two weeks, instead of just two days. It was a ride. But it always feels good to get back home, even though we spend most of our time wishing we were away.

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March 19, 2017 – Tumamoc Hill

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And for just a little break from my Mexico pictures, we’re back in Tucson for today’s photograph.

I moved to Tucson in 2001 to attend the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts and to work at The Center For Creative Photography. In that time, I stayed in cabins on Mount Lemmon in Summerhaven, hiked trails in Sabino Canyon, and I’ve ridden my bicycle up and down just about every road in town. I’ve camped in the pine forests on Mount Bigelow, and trundled along countless canyons in the foothills. In all that time, I have never actually walked the meager one or two miles up to the summit of Tumamoc Hill.

It took a special woman in my life suggesting that we drive out to the base and walk up the trail. I had no idea how popular this little walk is; the footpath was teeming with people of all ages and sizes, heading to the top around sunset.

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March 18, 2017 – Military Macaws

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In the tropical forests surrounding the riverside village of Urique, hikers can stumble across chili peppers, bananas, oranges, and papaya growing wild. In the slot canyons, guerilla crops of marijuana dot the landscape. And high in the treetops, flocks of military macaws (named for their green plumage, resembling a military parade uniform) squawk and socialize.

During the winter season, it’s difficult to find these macaws, but in the springtime the flourish.
And they make quite a ruckus

Hiking to the hilltop village of Naranjo, I filled my backpack with wild oranges and red ripened chili peppers. I had been hiking the forests for several days without spotting a single military macaw, and was resigned to not see any during this particular trip. It was March, after all, and the season had only just begun to change. But as I climbed the hill, through the rough-hewn circuit of hiking trails and patches of marijuana fields, I was delighted to hear the loud cracking and shrieking sounds of a macaw. Knowing that they live in large groups, I was confident there would be more than just the one.

Today’s photograph is one macaw in particular that I kind of made friends with. These birds can live up to sixty years in the wild, and they are a rowdy, social bunch. I managed to teach this one my name, Joe, and he definitely enjoyed hamming it up for the camera.

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March 17, 2017 – Wanderer

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On the journey from Creel down into the canyon city of Urique, we were held up in a small little town called Bahuichivo. This is where we ditched our van, paying a local hotel owner to let us park it in their courtyard, and walked down the road to the train platform to wait for our bus. We were stuck there for a few hours and, while my travel companions decided to try and keep cool in the shade on the side of the building, I decided to walk around for a bit.

I’ve never been much of a street photographer, but being a foreigner in a foreign land almost made it easier to stick a camera in people’s faces and not feel as embarrassed. This is one of the more unique looking individuals milling about the train yard. If I had better language skills, I would have tried to talk to him (or at least get a name) but instead all I have is this portrait. It certainly looks like this man has seen some things in his life.

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March 12, 2017 – Hangover Hospital

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It’s a funny name, for certain, but it works. This is an older sign, over a decade old, when American travelers were less cowed by news stories that scared them away from travel in Mexico. Once upon a time, Creel, Mexico, was a popular destination for American tourists; a great deal of the local economy relied on American travelers. The town is more economically depressed now than it has been in recent history. Fears of cartel activity, news stories about kidnappings, and general antipathy toward Mexico has had a significant impact.

But not for this traveler.

Hospital Paracrudos is in the heart of the town (you can see the railroad tracks in the background) and serves up fresh seafood, soup, and freshly cooked vegetables. It’s the first restaurant to open in town (most shops don’t even open until ten or eleven o’clock), and the interior is a huddled, wood-paneled little cavern of a place, with gas stoves steaming with boiling meat and vegetables. It’s dark, cramped, and small, feeling more like a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar, except that it serves delicious hot soup. I didn’t have a hangover when I wandered across the tracks one morning to see what there was to see, but I had an amazing hot breakfast in my dimly-lit seat, surrounded by hanging pots and pans, strings of chili husks, and bowls of chiltipin peppers.

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March 11, 2017 – Lake Arareko

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Outside of Creel, Mexico, is a curved lake surrounded by pine trees and bear-grass. It’s a bit of a hike from the town center, but worth it. Lake Arareko is one of the most peaceful places in the region. There usually aren’t too many people, and it isn’t overflowing with paddle-boats or kayaks, as one might expect at such a spot in the United States. Along some of the sand and dirt beaches are gatherings of Tarahumara woman, usually sitting on the rocks with toddlers playing in the dirt, weaving baskets to sell to tourists.

This young Tarahumara girl was throwing rocks into the water and amusing herself away from the group, and didn’t seem to mind when I took this photograph of her. Naturally, after taking this shot, she leapt from her perch and asked if I had any pesos. Instead of just giving her the money, I had her pick out her favorite basket (one that her mother had just finished) and I bought it. It sits on my bookshelf to this day, a small circular basket about five inches in diameter. It’s a great place to keep my cuff-links.

Side-note: film isn’t dead. This image was made with my old N80, a camera my parents gave me, using Kodak Portra film.

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March 09, 2017 – Rarámuri Boy at Lake Arareko

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Hiking out to the banks of the lake of Arareko, we met with a group of Rarámuri people. The women were huddled beneath the pine trees, weaving baskets while their little children played in the dirt. The young boys occupy their time climbing on the rocks and swimming in the water. This young lad took an interest in me, but we were only able to communicate in gestures and pantomime. He was excited to wander around with me and understood that we didn’t speak the same language, so our hiking experience was pretty silent.

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March 07, 2017 – The Railroad in Creel, Chihuahua

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March in Mexico continues with one of my favorite, albeit simple, photographs.

The bus stop and train station is the hub in Creel, Mexico. The El Chepe train line travels east-west across the whole country, delivering goods, people, and fresh seafood. The town square is a stone’s throw away, along with restaurants, curio shops, and privately owned markets. Tarahumara families, usually dressed in their brightly-colored traditional clothing, are always in the town square selling their hand-woven bear-grass baskets and hand-woven garments. As tourism has declined (Creel used to be a popular destination for American travelers), these families have much less to live off of than they used to. Tarahumara fathers, usually wearing regular ‘jeans and t-shirt’ street clothes, are known to walk along the main roads with their youngest and cutest children, pointing out who the children should approach to beg for pesos.

There’s an alpine feel to Creel, surrounded by pine forests and canyons. At dusk, a haze of smoke settles over the town from the wood-fired stoves that residents use for warmth and cooking. The entire town smells like burning pine-bark. Life here is simple, and the people are incredibly friendly. There’s a reason why I’ve gone back several times.

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March 05, 2017 – Arroyo de Hacienda

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Slot canyons surround the edges of the Urique River, which winds through the tropical forests in the Copper Canyon region. Military macaws squawk from the treetops and wild fruit grows throughout the area. This image is only about a hundred yards into the canyon; on the reverse side, the canyon winds several miles deeper into the side of the mountain, where a small family of Tarahumara people live, raising chickens and crops in an open clearing.

My guide was a local Urique resident, woefully hungover after spending the previous evening drinking and celebrating at a local young woman’s Quinceañera. I thought, by the time I had made it this far into the state of Chihuahua, I was reasonably conditioned to make this hike without too much trouble. Tomás managed to make me feel like a weak and vulnerable kitten.

It was a rigorous hike. My two traveling companions tapped-out and headed back to the village only an hour-or-so into the canyon. I’m incredibly thankful that I stuck it out, even though I was somewhat hobbled by blisters the following day. Once we made it back out and onto the gravel road, we hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck. It was the hottest part of the day, closing in on 115 degrees. I got back to the farm I was staying at, plucked a basket full of lemons, and hung out in the shade, slicing and juicing them into a plastic pitcher.

Best glass of lemonade I think I have ever enjoyed in my life, before or since.

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January 21, 2017 – Blades of Grass

grassbladepost

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I always love it when a completely candid photograph manages to look thoroughly manicured and staged. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes the light is just good, the subject is in just the right place, and the resulting photograph winds up with wonderful color and texture.

This, obviously, is a piece that’s intended to be appreciated on its purely aesthetic merits. There’s no lesson or philosophy here, other than a very broad appreciation of nature and color. I had gotten up in the morning to start the day off with a hike up in the hills and noticed that the desert was quickly coming back to life. It was springtime and we had received some decent rain, and the dry, straw-colored desert landscape was turning green.

I hope you enjoy!

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