Category Archives: Phoenix Roundtrip

Phoenix Roundtrip

A number of related blog stories tell how we bundled the three kids in the car and drove two days each way there-and-back again for a family celebration. Along the way, I stopped to take photos.

Here’s the story in order from beginning to end.

Sunset near Bakersfield The year turns, and the sun sets, as I photograph the furrows of Bakersfield.
Barstow Sunrise Up before the kids to photograph the sunrise.
Winter Mojave Flower How many times can you listen to “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel?” We go for the world record.
Kids! Kar! Krazy! Be careful when playing on the Santa Fe tracks…
Birthday Boy The reason for the Phoenix roundtrip.
Where Saguaros Grow to Heaven Magnificent sentinels of the Southwest.
Saguaro Silhouette Sunset Long lens on sunset and saguaros.
Farewell 2005! A fiery sunset ends the year and greets our return to California.

Farewell 2005!

Leaving the family gathering near Phoenix, we drove home. We hoped to drive back a little more slowly than we had come.

We took a detour along old Route 66 in the Mojave Mountains over Sitgreaves Pass. Part of the point was to visit the ghost town of Oatman. For the record, this is more tourist attraction than ghost town like Bodie. Oatman was gearing up for a big New Year’s Eve party with fake gun battles and heavily made-up “Arizona cowgirls.” Nicky was scared of the (tame) burros wandering the street. We got out of Oatman fast.

Here’s a photo of the landscape along Route 66 (the first transcontinental road) near Sitgreaves Pass:

Mojave Mountains

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Coming down from the Mojave Mountains on the Colorado River plateau between Golden Shores, Arizona (a rather large retirement and recreational vehicle community) and Needles, California (a dusty town beside the Interstate), I stopped to photograph sunset:

Golden Shores

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The next day it was onward into the storm front blanketing California and a new year!

Saguaro Silhouette Sunset

The photograph of saguaro cacti silhouettes against the setting sun was taken from the roof of the Hopper house with a tripod-mounted camera at 400mm (600mm equivalent in 35mm terms). Tricky thing using a long lens with the setting sun, because you really don’t want to look through it when it is pointed right at the sun (it might damage your eyes).

Where Saguaros Grow to Heaven

Way out in the desert where saguaros reach to heaven
lived a mother jackrabbit and her little jacks seven.
“Snuggle!” said the mother. “We snuggle!” said the seven,
so they snuggled all night where saguaros reach to heaven.

–from Way Out in the Desert, a book my kids enjoy.

In Arizona there are plenty of saguaros rising to heaven, and not just in the desert. I find these cacti an irresistible subject!

These saguaros are home to birds and animals:

Saguaro Home

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Up close, they are really formidable (or else look like a map of a very foreign country):

Saguaro Close

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They bear witness as construction turns the desert into gated suburbs:

Saguaro Watching Construction

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Most of all, these saguaros do their job–reaching for heaven:

Saguaro Reaches for Heaven

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Birthday Boy

The purpose of our Phoenix roundtrip was not to give me the chance to photograph southwestern sunrises and sunsets at the turning of the year. Nor to photograph my kids, trains, nor saguaros. The photo opportunities were side effects: unexpected but pleasurable.

We were driving to the Phoenix area to spend some of the holidays with Phyllis’s parents, Barbara and Kenneth D. “Ken” Hopper. December 30th was also Ken’s 80th birthday.

The photo above shows all of us on Ken’s birthday: Barbara, Ken, my family (Harold, Phyllis, Julian, Nicky, and Mathew), and Phyllis’s brother Chris’s family (Chris, DeJonghe, David, and Steven).

Ken belongs to the “greatest generation.” He survived landing on the beach at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and a stint as a German prisoner of war. He was stationed in Barrow, Alaska for several years in the 1950s and has tales to tell of Polar Bears and surviving arctic winter.

Ken

Ken’s own elegant and moving words (from Ken and Barbara’s 2005 Seasons Greeting letter) tell why it was important for us to be with him this year:

About 2½ years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Thirty-eight radiation treatments and injections of Lupron [which continue] slowed the cancer but did not eliminate it. A few months ago there was evidence that the cancer had got very “busy” and is now much more extensive. … Where this will go is very uncertain. Barbara has had much additional work placed upon her and has been wonderful. No greater love could I ask. Consider that I am 80 years old, have had good health most of my life, have had a loving, caring wife, two great children, a job I enjoyed and sincere, good friends all over the world. What more could a person want? I have great faith in God and know His will will prevail. I thank all of those who have included me in their prayers, and those who have sent their good wishes. I love you all.

Despite his illness, Ken keeps active with his ham radio station and patrolling his property in his deluxe golf cart. He’s shown here giving a tour of the Rancho Hopper with Barbara, Phyllis, Julian, and Mathew (Nicky’s there but you can’t see him!):

Hopper Mobile

On my very enjoyable golf cart ride, Ken showed me the signs warning that we were entering a rattlesnake den area. As he said with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eye, “The signs may even be true, and they certainly cut down on trespassers!”

So three cheers for Ken! When my time comes, may I accept it with such grace, and be able to look back as happily on the blessings of my life. Happy birthday, birthday boy:

Birthday Wishes

Kids! Kar! Krazy!

In the austerely beautiful and sparsely populated country between Barstow, California and the retirement megalopolis of Phoenix there isn’t much in the way of stops safe for young children. True, there is the Mojave National Preserve. And there are range after range with names like Vulture Mountains and Hieroglyphic Mountains. Also there are plenty of saguaros, Joshua trees, and cacti.

None of this scenic grandeur does much good for parents who want to exercise their kar-bound kids and keep them safe. We did some nice desert stops in the Mojave.

For the record, at a playground in Kingman, Arizona other parents were friendly and informative. At another playground stop in Wickenburg, Arizona kids were belligerent and their care-takers hostile.

As you can see from the pictures, Mathew and Nicky are pretty much happy anywhere so long as they aren’t tired or hungry.

Nicky in the Sun

Julian is a touch more complex (not really!): he needs a rock he can think about taking home (this one was obviously too big) or something like a saguaro to photograph:

Julian Photographer Julian with Rock

As for Phyllis, she is happy as long as the kids are:

Phyllis Happy

Oh, and a word to the wise. This is a matter of good parenting. If you stop to play on the train tracks (like we did here), make sure to get the kids off before the Santa Fe engine comes rushing down the tracks:

Tracks

You can’t see it in the photo, but the engineer waved at us. Good thing we had vacated the tracks a couple of minutes earlier:

Santa Fe Train

Winter Mojave Flower

OK. The important thing when you are on a long road trip with small kids is to stop often for physical activity. But as we left Barstow and sunrise behind, in the Mojave desert options such as McD’s play areas are far and few between. Anyhow, kids may like “Happy Meals” (or at least the toys that come with them) but from the parental viewpoint there are only so many fast food joints one can take.

Which reminds me that I used to quote a Woody Allen quip to the effect that hell was being locked in with an insurance salesman listening to country and western music in an endless loop. (Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of country music!). I’ve come to think that my own personal definition of the fiery domain is going from one McD to another listening endlessly to Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Don’t ask: it is a book on tape for kids featuring the heroic steam shovel Mary Anne and the town hall basement in Popperville. Can she dig the cellar in just one day? This book is dearly beloved by our Nicky, who tends to be as obsessive as only a four-year-old can be about the things he loves.

Well, if you do ask I can probably recite the story for you word for word. Written by the inimitable children’s book author Virginia Lee Burton in 1939, it has (as the book jacket puts it), “never lost its appeal for kids.” It sure has for me, though.

Anyhow, the important thing when you are taking a break with young kids out in the desert is to try to find a place where the kids (especially an into-everything toddler like Mathew) won’t stumble into a cactus or some other deadly hazard while they are running around.

This dirt road off a dirt road stop in the middle of nowhere fit the bill. And as we were running around chasing each other, I noticed this tiny (really tiny! I mean almost microscopic) winter desert flower. Fodder for my camera, tripod, macro lens and 36mm extension tube. I think it works best with moderate depth of field (this was taken at f/11). The background plants are even Christmas-like in their red and green coloration!

Barstow Sunrise

Night swept around us, and we rushed through the night, as we left Bakersfield and the setting sun behind us. Drowsy kids in the car, we went over Tehachapi Summit and started across the Mojave. We stopped for the night in a motel in Barstow, the last stop for more than a hundred miles and the California-Arizona border.

I woke early before the kids. Peering out the window in the motel parking lot, it was dark, but I thought I saw the glimmer of a nice sunrise. I struggled into my clothes, trying not to wake anyone, and hoisted my camera kit and tripod on my back. It had been too dark, and I was too tired, when we pulled up the previous night for me to notice what was around us.

Walking out of the motel area, I crossed the road, and found myself in a median strip between the railroad tracks and a freeway exit (for Interstate 40). I set up my tripod.

Sunrise came on fast and furious and red. I photographed trains on the track in both directions:

Barstow Sunrise 1

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The landscape across the tracks also looked interesting (if somewhat sparse):

Barstow Sunrise 2

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Barstow was lighting up:

Barstow Sunrise 4

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I was startled by a flock of starlings coming out to greet the dawn and whizzing past me. I pulled my camera off the tripod, and grabbed a couple of shots of these birds gathered around a street light that was still on:

Barstow Sunrise 3

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The show was just about over. I packed up camera and tripod, re-crossed the street, and headed for the motel office where I chugged a cup of typically execrable coffee.

Back in the room, the kids were already bouncing off the walls. It was 6:30 AM and time to hit the end-of-December Mojave.

Sunset near Bakersfield

Phyllis, the kids, and I drove to Phoenix and back over New Year’s. Actually, since the Phoenix is a bird that dies and is reborn, this is an appropriate sounding destination at the turning of the year.

We went to Phoenix to spend some time with Phyllis’s parents and family on the occasion her dad Ken’s 80th birthday.

Two days drive there and two days back in a car with three small kids was on the grueling side of things, but also fun. The weather was mixed, with an immense storm front blanketing California, and cloud-filled sunsets and sunrises in the desert.

Of course, I took photos along the way! For example, these photos of sunset and fields along the road near Bakersfield, California on our first night out.

Sunset near Bakersfield 1

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Sunset near Bakersfield 3

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