On The Hilltop

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There’s a hilltop in Bisbee, Arizona, just a few miles north of the Mexican border. It sits over Brewery Gulch, casting its shadow over the canyon homes. The last several months I lived in Bisbee I was in a deeply disturbing relationship and everything around me seemed to be in chaos, but I would hike up to the cross on the hill every morning with my dog and enjoy the quiet and the peace.

I’m not a religious man, but I believe in the power of intention. I’d heard stories about the man who built this shrine, decades ago, and about the effort it took, hauling concrete and materials, an armload at a time, from Tombstone Canyon up to the hilltop. In the years since the cross was erected, other people have added onto the shrine. The ashes of peoples’ loved ones have been spread there, piles of candles have been left on the backside of the hill where a shrine to the Guadalupe Virgin has been built. A mural of Jesus is painted on the side of the hill and a monument to the people who have died in the desert trying to cross into America has been established; at the site, people deposit items found in the desert, left behind by border crossers, from backpacks and worn-out shoes to tooth brushes and baby bottles.

My heart is still in the Mule Mountains, even if it’s no longer in Bisbee. I will never forget the brief moments, sitting on the hilltop on those silent mornings, watching the sun rise over the desert.

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May 31, 2017 – San Rafael Valley

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To end the month of ‘places’ I figured I’d share a picture that doesn’t really require many words. Sunrise in the San Rafael Valley, in southern Arizona along the border, is some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever set eyes on, traveled through, camped in. There’s no other place in the world like this little pocket of heaven; it’s high desert, remote, dangerous, and hot, but it’s also unique, majestic, and largely untouched by man.

It’s the picture of heaven – at least, if you were to ask me.
Farewell, May. Let’s see what June has in store…

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May 28, 2017 – The Lone Tree

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This is a variant of a photograph published on this blog in 2016, but I came across it recently and wanted to take a second run in post-production; there were some color aberrations and soft-focus issues I thought I could improve upon. This was taken in January of last year while I was driving around south of Kansas City. As a general rule, photographers are trained not to photograph into the sun, but there are definitely times when it makes sense to break the rules. Getting this lovely silhouette of a single tree with a mercurial cloud-scape behind it took several tries before getting it right, but I am incredibly pleased with the final result.

Living in the southwest, people always ask me what Kansas was like – or, more accurately, they assume that Kansas is as bland as it’s Wizard of Oz depiction. Living in a valley surrounded by four great mountain ranges here in Tucson, the assumption is that Kansas is flat and boring, which isn’t entirely an inaccurate assessment – the plains states possess an incredibly subtle beauty and you have to have the right eyes to appreciate it.

I’m hoping today’s image is an expression of that beauty that folks can appreciate, regardless of where they hang their hat and what state they call home.

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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 10, 2017 – It’s A ‘Sin’

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While wandering around in Creel, Mexico, I gathered tons of images of posters, signs, storefronts, and interesting garbage. This one, obviously, is a play on words, as ‘sin’ in Spanish simply means ‘without,’ which is a radical departure from the English ‘sin.’ Nevertheless, I found the textures and layers of this weathered advertisement really dazzling. I know that minimal and semi-abstract imagery isn’t everybody’s particular cup of tea, but I know that there are some of you out there who understand.

I hope you like today’s ‘image of the day’ and scroll through other images from this sprawling project.

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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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