This past week the weather was odd.. Less than three weeks ago summery 90 degree days followed crisp mornings, but then summer gave way to … winter? Very warm days and cool nights ushered in autumn, but then a cold front due to tropical storms enveloped the Chiricahuas. The spectacular rhyolite rock faces that have given Cave Creek Canyon the nickname “Yosemite of Arizona” disappeared into the clouds. In fact, I had driven northeast into the Peloncillo Mountains and the clouds were lying on the road.
I chase snakes and, thereby, chase warmth. But the truth is that my half dozen years living in Seattle were perfect for me: rarely hot, rarely cold, almost always hoodie and shorts weather. I enjoy cooler, more temperate, weather. Here, however, I never quite expected to be lamenting the fact that I left the jeans I had bought for my Chicagoland winter job at Cabela’s back at Joel’s house.
In my two years living in my Wheelhouse I had never encountered freezing temperatures. As November approaches I had wondered how well my RV, which is technically not a four-season camper, would fare. The greatest concern I experienced was my propane supply. My parrot Jesse requires that I keep the Wheelhouse warm even during the day when I am out exploring or hosting the VIC. Even with the thermostat set to maintain 67F I was burning through propane at an alarming rate. I have three tanks and two are online at a time. Refilling or exchanging them necessitates a one-hour drive each way. I have a friend who is going to give me a fourth tank, but a two-hour-plus trip may still become a weekly routine when the cold weather stays. I’d really like to stay here until perhaps mid-December, so I think I’ll have to get a little electrical space heater to supplement my RV’s propane-fueled furnace.
Thankfully, autumn has returned and after a week where the mercury barely rose above 45F and it often was quite chillier, yesterday when I closed the visitor center my truck thermometer read 68F. The previous day when I left the VIC and returned to camp I found a tiny yellow spider on my truck’s tailgate. I was so happy that my favored fauna was still active.
This little spider had a body length of perhaps one-quarter inch. When I post macrophotography images to social media (and this is technically, supermacrophotography) I often am asked how large the subject was. Close-up images of spiders are novel to many people and now that I have reluctantly returned to Facebook I have an increasing number of Portal and Cave Creek Canyon locals seeing my photos. Macro images make tiny subjects seem huge, especially since in post-processing they are typically cropped to frame the subject even further.
The above spider was photographed using a life-size macro lens (Tokina 100mm). That means it at its full extension it is at a 1:1 ratio; the subject is viewed and captured at its actual size. For subjects that are very small I attach a 2.5x magnifier lens (Raynox DCR250). This set-up takes some getting used to. The working distance is very small. The front of the lens is within two inches of the subject and manual focus is required. However, I do not focus the lens and keep it at full extension (1:1). I move the subject or the lens to focus, increasing or decreasing the distance.. This can be quite a trick, especially if the subject is moving! However, this little Crab Spider was fairly cooperative and the cool autumn air worked in my favor. The spider was content to rest in place for some time so I captured these images using a tripod and moving the subject to focus. That allowed me to use Live View (camera LCD display rather than viewfinder) to zoom way in and digitally magnify my subject. I then moved the rock or leaf the spider was perched on until the focus was perfect, turned off Live View and then released the shutter.
As the season advances I will have fewer and fewer opportunities to photograph spiders and snakes. One question I have been fielding at the VIC is whether snakes are still active, usually asked by someone who is hoping NOT to see one rather than someone who pursues them like me. I was pleased that yesterday when temperatures finally returned to the 60s that one couple who stopped by informed me they had encountered a diamondback rattlesnake sunning itself on Portal-Paradise road. In my last blog entry I shared an image of a young-of-the-year Sonoran Gopher Snake that I discovered on October 7 while walking my 100-yard path between my camp at the corral and the VIC. A more recent snake was also a “young-of-the year”. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake seen here I found on Portal Rd. on October 13 when the cold front first began. It had been raining for a day and a half and was drizzling at the time. My truck’s thermometer read only 52F as it sluggishly slithered on the slick, wet pavement. I escorted it to safety in the roadside grass and the image is a screenshot from an iPhone video as it slowly moved on.
I hope these aren’t the last two snakes I see in 2018. I now have four days free and will be hiking and am hopeful to find more and perhaps some other arachnid macrophotography subjects. But with fall colors coming I am excited to start doing some landscape photography. It is time I shared more of the grandeur of this area, and not just the majestic animals that inhabit it. I’ve spent a great deal of down time at the VIC viewing YouTube landscape photography and long exposure photography tutorials and even want to try my hand at some “fine art” landscape photography. Whereas pure landscape images are descriptive, revealing only what the eyes can see, “fine art” landscape photography is an artistic interpretation of the scene and finished images are more surreal, with long exposure techniques giving photos a very serene quality by smoothing out light and sky and water. I also want to try some long exposure astrophotography at night to capture the Milky Way above the Chiricahuas. As snakes and spiders enter their winter slumber, this is how I will be spending my days and nights in Cave Creek Canyon before I plan a scenic route back to Chicago that will include some other landscape photography locations.
As for the other wildlife of Cave Creek Canyon, there are still plenty of my favorite birds, the hummingbirds or colibris, to enjoy. America’s two largest species, the Blue-throated and Rivolis, are massive enough to overwinter. Many of the others have left, but yesterday I still marveled at Broad-tails and Anna’s coming to the VIC feeders. I still will have a chance to photograph them. Woodpeckers are prominent in fall and they and raptors make up my other two favorite birds and I will pursue them with camera in hand. Mammals like bobcats and bears may appear before my lens.
My mate Mark has just made yet another trip to Borneo and I am now counting down the days until I travel to that part of the world again. I was so disappointed when I woke this morning and realized that I keep thinking and saying that I fly out of Chicago on January 7 when in fact it isn’t until January 9. Two more days, o m g. But I have much to look forward to here yet, and I am also looking forward to spending some down time in Chicago and seeing family and finally meeting the newest member, Joel’s little dachshund puppy Buddy.