Sunday, December 22, 2019

From Swords to Plowshares: The Vista Sunwheel in Catalina, Arizona

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, or Yule, in the Northern Hemisphere.  I went to the sunwheel at Vista de la Montana United Methodist Church in Catalina, Arizona, to watch the sun set.  It’s a tranquil area behind the church with a few benches on the perimeter.  I was there at the Spring Equinox as well.

When I was there in the spring, Jim, the person who constructed the sunwheel, explained its purpose to me.  (There’s also brochure about it that’s available in a box attached to a signpost.)  He explained that this sunwheel is modeled after Native American medicine wheels.  They were, Jim said, astronomic tools used to highlight the passage of the seasons.  They are sacred structures and are found in many Native cultures, according to Jim.

Find out what a sunwheel is & why there is one in Catalina, Arizona | PicturingTheWest
Sunwheel at sunset
As with others, the sunwheel in Catalina consists of an outer stone circle with a diameter of 61 feet.  Emanating inwards are lines of stones, which meet at a center cairn, measuring 11 feet in diameter.  Depending on the time of year, when the sun rises or sets, the rays line up with one of the lines in the circle of stones.  I have to confess that I didn’t quite understand how it all works.

Nevertheless, it’s a very impressive site.  What makes it even more remarkable is that it is built on top of a missile silo.  The center cairn was the opening through which a Titan II missile would have been launched if the United States had been under nuclear attack. 

Southern Arizona was home to 18 Titan II missiles during the Cold War.  These intercontinental ballistic missiles, housed in underground silos around Tucson, were part of a network of 54 nuclear-armed warheads that were in operation from 1962 – 1987.  Site #18 was the missile in Catalina; it's the one just above the text that says "Mt. Lemmon."

Find out where a Titan II missile silo is now a sunwheel | PicturingTheWest
Location of Titan II missiles in Tucson; click here for an interactive map
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson operated the silos, which came online here in 1963.  Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas and McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas also hosted 18 missiles each.  The ICBMs in Tucson went offline in 1982.  Below is a map of where all 18 missiles in the Tucson area were stored.  At one of them, in Sahuarita, you can visit the Titan Missile Museum, which is a National Historic Landmark and education center.  I haven’t visited yet but will get there eventually.

Fortunately, none of the Titan II missiles were ever launched and now the site in Catalina has been transformed into a place of peace.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Photographing Birds in Madera Canyon, Arizona

Madera Canyon is located in the Coronado National Forest, about a 90-minute drive south from where I live in Tucson.  It is a world famous location for bird sightings and is especially known for its varieties of hummingbirds.  There are hiking trails and picnic areas but only rudimentary facilities, and there is a daily use fee.  It’s an easy day trip from Tucson.

Since Madera Canyon is at an elevation of almost 5,000 feet, it is particularly nice to go there during the summer as an escape from the heat of Tucson.  I recently went to Madera Canyon with the local photo club I belong to.  They have done outings to Madera Canyon in the past but this was the first time I was able to go.  We drove down and arrived around 9:30am at the Santa Rita Lodge’s Bird Viewing Area.  This is a great place for photographing hummingbirds because a series of hummingbird feeders is lined up and it is easy to set up a tripod.  There are also a few benches and a covered area that make it comfortable for when you want to get out of the sun or take a break from using your tripod. 

I set up my gear and started shooting.  I won’t go into the details of what settings and lenses I used because that is not the purpose of this post.  But I will say that since this was the first time I’d ever tried to photograph hummingbirds, and I am still learning how to use my new camera, I was very glad there were experienced photographers who could help me when I had questions.

I am not a birder so I have no idea what kind of hummingbirds I saw.  I just tried to get photos of different varieties of birds and of birds in different positions.  These photos show some of the many images I took.  While they may not be professional quality, I am happy with them.

In addition to hummingbirds, we also saw turkeys.  At one point, I counted 13 of them!  I also saw a woodpecker, which was nice.  Here are a few photos of those birds.

Now that I’ve gotten a taste of photographing hummingbirds, I want to keep trying so I can improve my images.  I will definitely return to Madera Canyon to photograph hummingbirds again.

You can see a few more of my hummingbird photos on my Instagram account HERE.

To find out more about Madera Canyon, please click on the links below: 

Visiting Madera Canyon
Information from the USDA Department of Agriculture: Forest Service, which oversees the area

Friends of Madera Canyon
Detailed information for visitors

Types of Birds Seen in Madera Canyon
Info provided on Santa Rita Lodge website

Santa Rita Lodge's Bird viewing Area
Scroll down the page to see the location of the viewing area

Monday, August 26, 2019

Deadwood Pass

This 1933 black-and-white film is only 62 minutes long but it packs a punch.  Tom Tyler (whose real name was Vincent Markowski) plays Tom Whitlock, aka Tom Saddler, aka the Hawk, in Deadwood Pass.  He's an escaped convict, though the movie doesn’t say from which penitentiary.  He returns to his old gang, hiding out in a place called Deadwood Pass, to retrieve the treasure he hid before he was caught and sent up for 20 years.  Well, that’s what the audience is supposed to believe.

Although the technical quality of the move wasn’t great, by which I mean there was some background static and tiny spots and faint lines in frames, especially in the beginning, there were a few aspects that made Deadwood Pass interesting to watch.  The plot was clever and had some good twists and turns.  However, much of the film consisted of typical Western movie scenes: a stagecoach chase, girl meets boy and they flirt, a saloon fight, a Mexican dancing girl, a shootout, the sheriff and posse riding to hopefully save the day.

What I most liked about Deadwood Pass was the role of the Mexican outlaw.  He turned out to be more than a stereotype, even though he wasn’t played by a Latino actor (Merrill McCormick).  It was amusing when he was first called Felip and then, later in the movie, Felipe.

Butch Cassidy was the leader of the gang in Deadwood Pass but there was nothing to identify him with the historical figure.  The other gang members weren’t identified by name.  At one point, Hawk wears Butch’s hat and coat, rides into the nearby town, and is mistaken for Cassidy.  You’d think an outlaw with the reputation Butch Cassidy had would know better than to wear clothes that made him instantly recognizable.

And you’d expect a movie named Deadwood Pass to be set in or near Deadwood, South Dakota, but this Deadwood Pass was clearly located somewhere else and, in fact, the movie was filmed in California.  The one thing it had in common with ASJ was the lookout at the entrance to the pass, like the one in Return to Devil’s Hole.

The dialog was often clich├ęd and there were often long stretches without any dialog at all.  Also, I was struck by the lack of background music.  Deadwood Pass was clearly a movie made between the silent film era and before talking movies really came into their own.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Heaven's Gate

Review of Heaven's Gate | Leslie Silverlove
I’ll make this short.  Unlike the movie, which seemed interminable because I watched the director’s cut which ran 3 hours and 39 minutes long.

I know that revisionist history says Heaven’s Gate, about the Johnson County War in Wyoming, is a masterpiece.  And I watched it for that reason and also because several ASJ episodes in the 3rd season dealt with the Johnson County War (Bushwhack!, What Happened at the XST?, Witness to a Lynching). 

But I just couldn’t get into it; the action moved waaay too slowly for me.  It was also hard to keep all the characters straight.  Also, some of the scenes strained my credulity and just didn’t seem realistic to me.  I especially didn’t like the ending.  On the other hand, the cinematography was beautiful and the set design was great.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Gammons Gulch

Gammons Gulch, located about two hours southeast of my home, is a small Old West film set.  It’s near Benson, Arizona, and looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere but it’s easy to reach and makes a fun day trip for anyone who wants to step back in time for a little while. It’s privately owned so reservations are needed but only a nominal entrance fee is charged.

Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
Entrance sign to Gammons Gulch
The owner gives a guided tour but this doesn’t take real long and then you are free to wander around for as long as you like.  What sets Gammons Gulch apart from other Old West film sets in Arizona is that it can also function as a set for early 20th century productions because it has props, including some old automobiles, from that time period, too.  These are out of sight, though, so as you walk down the main street and duck through the alleys, they are not visible.  The ambience is definitely that of the Old West.

Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
The view down Main Street
At one end of the main street, as you enter the site from the parking area, there is a saloon on one side and a storefront photography shop on the other.  The shop is closed to visitors but the saloon is open and decorated with a few photos of shots from famous Westerns that the owner, Mr. Gammon, worked on as a child actor.

Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
Saloon at one end of Main Street
I walked down the main street and took photos of one side, then the other.  Some buildings I could enter, such as the jail.  I couldn’t help but think what Heyes and Curry might have thought if they had been held there, especially as the “hanging tree” was visible through the window in the back of the place.

Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
The "hanging tree" behind the jail
There are also some other buildings behind the main street, up on a hill.  I liked the homesteader cabin – it made me think of all families in the Old West that could have lived there.  It was actually kind of sad, what with all the cobwebs and all.

Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
Exterior of homesteader's cabin
Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
Interior of homesteader's cabin
Also located up a hill and behind the main section of Gammons Gulch is the entrance to a mine.  It looked obviously abandoned and it wasn’t possible to go inside.  Not that I’d want to!

Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
The mine entrance
At the other end of the main street was a church.  It was interesting to me that this church and the one at Old Tucson Studios were both a little bit away from the rest of the “town.”  It was almost as if the religious building didn’t quite belong in the rest of the town.  Or maybe the rest of the town wasn’t quite good enough for the church!

Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
Typical Old West-looking church
Whenever I visit a place like this, I like to photograph details as well as larger scenes.  Below are a couple of such photographs.

Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
Horseshoes on a fence post
Gammons Gulch, an Old West movie set that people can visit | Leslie Silverlove
Wagon wheels
All in all, Gammons Gulch is a fun place to visit and worth the drive.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Renamed, Revised, and Resurrected!

You may have noticed there is a 3-year gap between the previous blog entry and this one.  No, nothing terrible happened; I just put this blog on hold after getting involved with other activities in my new home in Arizona.  But after attending the Western Writers of America Convention in Tucson in June, which was wonderful, I got inspired to start blogging again. 

But I’ve decided to shift the focus a bit and expand the scope of the blog.  Instead of being primarily concerned with finding connections to Alias Smith and Jones in the movies, I’ve decided to post general reviews of movie Westerns, regardless of whether there is an ASJ tie-in or not.  Consequently, some reviews may not mention ASJ at all.

Renamed, Revised, and Resurrected: The "New" Blog | Picturing the West
ASJ card in a deck of cards featuring TV Westerns
And there will be more reviews of books related to the Old West, and maybe even the contemporary West, than there were before.  Also, I will blog about places I visit in the West.  Now that I live here, I can do that more often.  I may even just post photographs I take, although it’s more likely you can find them on my Instagram account.

So although the blog will still revolve around movie Westerns, there will be more entries about other aspects of the West.  As a result, I’ve decided to rename the blog to better reflect its purpose.  Just in case the title isn't clear enough, the tagline makes things explicit.  I also revised the earlier posts by cleaning up a lot of the links which were no longer working. 

I’ll try to post once a month, but I make no promises.  When I do post something new, I’ll also announce it on my Instagram, so you might want to follow me there.  Just click here to do that.  I hope you like this “new” blog!