Sunday, May 31, 2009

Banner Clouds

During monsoon season, the higher mountains across the Southwest form banner clouds, which float above the mountains like billowy white banners, hence their name.

The mechanism is as follows: During the morning hours, the hot sun beats upon the exposed mountainsides, heating the air. Like a hot air balloon, this hot air rises, cooling as it goes. Eventually the hot air cools enough so that the water vapor it contains condenses out, forming a cloud. Banner clouds are more likely to form during monsoon season because the air is more humid to begin with. The more water vapor in the air, the more likely a cloud is to form. One reason mountains are so wet -- with pine trees, creeks, and riparian habitats -- is because the banner clouds tend to rain straight down onto the mountains that produced them. A daily monsoon cycle is formed -- high humidity, banner clouds, and rain, which produces more high humidity, more banner clouds, and more rain, and so forth. Often it rains every day in the mountains.

These cumulonimbus banner clouds can reach an altitude of 30,000 feet or more, which means it's possible to see the banner cloud when the mountain itself is below the horizon. From Las Cruces, the most commonly-visible banner clouds form over the 10,000-foot Black Range, located southwest of Truth or Consequences; the 10,200-foot San Mateo Mountains located northwest of T or C; and 12,005-foot Sierra Blanca, located northeast of Alamogordo.

An easy way to identify banner clouds is to use a highway map and a compass. Place the compass over your location, and align the map so that magnetic north on the map points in the same direction as your compass. If the map doesn't have magnetic north, align the map with the compass, and then rotate the map 9 degrees clockwise to compensate for the fact that magnetic north is 9 degrees east of due north in our location. If you see clouds on the horizon, you can easily tell from the map which mountains are causing them.

The best time to see banner clouds is late morning, after they've had a chance to build up. Usually by early afternoon, local clouds are starting to form, which obscure the more-distant banner clouds.

Here's the view of the Black Range from my home. Which is to say, you can't see the Black Range, because it's hidden behind the nearby bluffs. But you can see the banner cloud. In this picture, taken Friday morning at 9:37 am, the rapidly-rising banner cloud has just become visible. I could see it growing, literally second-by-second. This is the banner cloud over 10,020-foot Hillsboro Peak, 55 air miles away, highest peak of the southern part of the Black Range.

By 10:06, the top of the cloud had reached the stratosphere, and was sheared off by high-velocity winds. This creates the classic "anvil" shape thunderheads are famous for.

By 11:09, the anvil has become greatly elongated. Sometimes the anvil tops can reach a length of 100 miles or more.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


... it runs in the family.
Laura and Neil at Farmer's Market today.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ark Portrait #1

Here's my first official portrait of the Ark, showing the west and south sides. The "Stairway to Heaven" now has a roof over it, with hanging plants and other flowers. On the right side is the river deck. The river can be glimpsed in the distance. In the foreground are some wild-type daylilies, one of my favorite flowers. The big bush in the middle is a butterfly bush, which hasn't started blooming yet.

Our Front Yard

Earlier this spring I posted a picture of our big cottonwood and the river. I said I would post another one after things had greened up. This is it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Turkey Creek

Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona. 1978.

Another mountain paradise.

Firestone with Faucets

1978. Using plumbing supplies as props.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Robledo Mountains from the Jornada del Muerto


An ordinary snapshot except for the trippy clouds.

Lee and "god"

Radium Springs, NM. 1974.

Another outstanding shadow.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Moonset on Apache Lake


Apache Lake is a little-known attraction located a couple of miles up the highway from my home. It doesn't have a name that I know of, so I named it myself. "Apache" is always a good name because they used to wander through this area. (This part of the Southwest is full of "Apache Peaks" and "Apache Springs.") I have another shot from this series which shows a duck swimming next to the reflection of the full moon. I'll post it if I ever run across it.

Bob the Potter Contemplating His Pottery Fists

Radium Springs, NM. 1975.

Bob the potter cast a bunch of pottery fists for wall hangings back in 1975. He's the guy who made those baby faces I used for my portrait of Robin. I wanted a shot where his fist amplified and reflected the pottery fists. Sort of like Rodin's "Thinker" surrounded by fists of his own making.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Early Monsoon

The experts have weighed in with their May 21 forecast. They are predicting an early, wet monsoon this year, getting drier as the summer progresses. They are also predicting that the summer will be hotter than normal.

Our recent rainy spell brought us .34" of rain here, though isolated areas (located under intense thunderstorms) got considerably more.

I have a personal, beekeeper-type rule of thumb about all this: can I melt beeswax or not? I have a solar wax melter, and I depend on the hot, clear weather of May and June to process my beeswax from the previous year's late honey harvest. Yesterday I had to abort my wax-melting run -- even though they predicted only a 10% chance of rain, it started raining in the early afternoon, and the cloudiness persisted for several hours, making it impossible to melt wax. Typically, during monsoon season it clouds up during the afternoon, making it more difficult for me to process my beeswax. So as a wax-melting beekeeper, I would say, "sure seems like monsoon weather to me." Of course, you don't really need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows, so to speak.


Otherwise known as Blanket Flower, because of their resemblance to brightly-colored Indian blankets. Also, in the wild they sometimes blanket the ground.

White-Winged Dove

White-winged doves are easily identified by the narrow band of white on the leading edge of their wings. Their call sounds like "who cooks for you."

We have a grain-feeding station outside the livingroom window now, as well as hummingbird and oriole feeders. Our place is humming with birds this summer. You can expect more bird pictures soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Real Wealth

While reading the comments to today's Automatic Earth post, I ran across this gem, written by D. Benton Smith. It reminds me of what I've been doing for the past 39 years with my homesteading and beekeeping. It's rare to encounter a comment so lucid anywhere on the Internet:

There are only a few kinds of REAL wealth storage, and Money is none of them.

Money is merely a generally shared and broadly agreed upon PROMISE of real wealth, to be paid on demand at some point in the future. It symbolically represents real wealth, but in the absence of that non-symbolic reality is just a bunch of silly documents, coins or wampum.

Real Wealth can be tangible desirable goods (which can be stored and traded later), or intangible skills and knowledge that others will give us things for when need for that knowledge or skill arises.

One way to store wealth is to learn a trade, develop a skill, build a knowledge base, or (through good works and honest dealing) become popularly indispensable to a wide circle of friends. Brainy people frequently favor this approach.

Obviously one can stockpile goods, store seeds, warehouse steel, or drill an oil well. These very tangible things are all ways to literally store wealth... but the 'sweat factor' of creating this 'stuff' in the first place makes the approach more appealing to brawny people who don't mind a little physical labor.

The middle way is to combine the two (tangible and intangible) into some sort of working infrastructure (for example a transportation system or well equipped farm).

The trouble always seems to arise from those of us who are gifted neither with genius nor brawn... but fall somewhere in between.

It's hard for us to acquire and store anything in the first place, especially against superior competition, and so we yearn for ways to cheat.

Now THAT is something we have raised to high art, and low down dirty ways... such as we are now witnessing in the financial world.

Stop yearning for easy. Start storing real wealth and dump that symbolic crap while its still worth anything at all. Something for nothing has always been the province of criminals. Stop working for those bastards (on their hollow promise of getting something for nothing or more for less) and you will be well on your way to the finest form of wealth storage possible:


May 24, 2009 1:57 PM

Antler Creatures

Organ Mountains, NM. 1978.

We caught just a glimpse of these creatures before they bounded away into the hills.

Orion Rising Behind the Organ Mountains


The Organs are illuminated by the last rays of evening twilight. This one could use a touch of Photoshop work to darken it a little, get away from the "stars in daytime" effect. If you look closely, you can see that the Orion Nebula (the middle "star" in the sword) is a purplish color.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yerba Mansa

We have a patch of Yerba Mansa growing in our pasture by the river. It's been here since before I showed up in 1973. Every May our Yerba Mansa patch puts up a galaxy of white flowers. Every flower is irregular, and no two are alike. The thick leaves smell vaguely like Vicks Vap-O-Rub.

Yerba Mansa has long been considered a medicinal herb, but in recent years has achieved high status. It is now a Big Deal that I have Yerba Mansa growing on my land. I'm now thinking about ways to propagate it in the garden since I prefer not to dig up wild clumps.

Plant, Plant, Plant, Cat, Plant, Plant, Plant

Laura took this picture of Pearl inside the Ark. As you can see, we are aiming for the jungle effect.

We've Got Crabs

Laura has added fiddler crabs to our menagerie.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Garden Overview

Here's a view of the garden from the Ark roof. Laura just got through mowing some weeds and is moving the mower out of the way. Isn't it splendid to have a wife who enjoys mowing?

The garden is divided into 3 parts, each of which is about 1000 square feet. The left section, closest to the river, is the designated winter garden area, because it's farthest from the shadows of the pine trees along the highway and gets more hours of that precious winter sun. I have already tilled 3 bales of hay into it, and will till it once a month to keep the weeds down. I plan to start the more slow-growing plants (kale, collards, chard) in pots the first of August, for transplanting later. Other seeds (lettuce, spinach, beets) I'll plant directly into the garden the first of September

The middle part will be fallow this summer. Next week I'll till in 3 or 4 bales of hay. Then I'll till the weeds under about once a month. They say weed seeds can live for 7 years, so this will be a long struggle. But eventually I hope to have the weed situation reduced to a dull roar rather than the overwhelming tsunami it is now.

The section on the right is this year's active garden. I'll be alternating the middle and right sections each year unless I can find some weeding help, in which case I'll be gardening both sections. The tomato vines have wire cyliners about 5 feet high to support them. I put a piece of hardware cloth on the top of each cylinder to protect the plants from hail, or at least the hail that falls straight down. The peppers have shorter wire cylinders, mainly to protect them from being stepped on by pets and other univited guests, and have the little piece of anti-hail hardware cloth as well. I also have a wire cylinder for the Armenian cucumber to climb up. So far this year's garden is looking great, and we've been eating broccoli, beets, squash, and greens of all types for quite some time. Now for some tomatoes and peppers...

White Roof

This is the roof of our Ark after we painted it with two coats of Ultra-Roof 1000 "white siliconized elastomeric coating." The difference is profound -- on a hot sunny day a bare metal roof will burn your hand, but after painting it white, the roof is cool to the touch, at least in comparison to the bare metal. That heat gets transmitted down through the insulation, heating the house during a time of year when you would prefer it to remain cool.

It seems logical, does it not, to reflect the heat away in the first place?

It's like a planet. Every planet, if it wishes to remain habitable, prefers white ice caps at the poles, to reflect away extra heat and moderate the global temperature.

Driving around the valley the other day, doing bee errands, I paid close attention and noticed that white roofs are very rare. They simply aren't fashionable. It's easier just to turn the air conditioning up another notch. What a strange culture we live in.

Where's the Belfry When You Need it?

Yesterday morning we found this lost bat crawling on the door of our entryway porch. After taking a few pictures, we opened the door and the bat flitted away, hopefully more successful finding its way home this time.

The last bat in the house I recall was almost 40 years ago, so they're pretty good about avoiding human habitations.

How did bats ever come to be symbols of evil? Why are there people who kill every snake they see? What a strange culture we live in.

Rainy May

Today they're predicting mostly cloudy, high of 77, 50% chance of rain, and locally heavy rains possible. Unlike our typical hot and dry May weather, this is classic monsoon weather. Looks like it's a tad early this year -- like 6 weeks or so -- if it is indeed the monsoon.

In honor of the occasion, I have dug out my weather records so that I can talk about the wettest May I have ever experienced -- 1992.

On average, May is the third-driest month of the year, with an average precipitation of .30 inch. This is enough to raise the humidity for a couple of days. The driest month, by the way, is April, with .21 inch. So there isn't much difference between April and May.

May 1992 produced 3.17 inches of rain. It rained on 11 different days. The last part of the month was especially wet -- it rained on 8 of the 12 days between May 18 and 29.

Was this an early monsoon? Probably not -- June was very dry, with only .02 inches of rain. The lack of continuity seems to indicate that the heavy May rainfall was more like a freak of nature. Hang around long enough, and the "freaks" start to accumulate.

If we have May rains this year that continue through June into the regular monsoon period of July-September, then I'll call this an early monsoon, maybe the earliest ever. But not until then.

Coming soon -- wet Junes I have known.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Automatic Earth

I enjoy reading James Howard Kunstler's "Clusterfuck Nation" update every Monday morning. Keeps me in touch with how fucked up things really are.

Need more of a fix? Try Automatic Earth. This lucid and insightful blog is like reading ten "Clusterfuck Nations" every single day. Most days it's a bit too much information, but it certainly provides a thorough overview of the none-too-pretty global economic situation.

Try it... you might not like it, but you'll certainly be well-informed.

Mesilla Gravel

Laura takes pattern pictures, too.

Luminous Flower

While talking a walk in Mesilla, Laura encountered this flower and took its picture.

Made in the Shade

While waiting for Laura in the Home Depot parking lot, I found the only patch of shade available. This is the mark of a true Desert Rat.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mimosa Flowers

Laura spotted this mimosa tree growing next to the Radium Springs post office, so we stopped and took a few pictures.

Mandala Cat

Pearl on our bedspread.

Laura on Stilts

She always wanted to be a circus act. Oh, wait...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Judy in Blue

Radium Springs, NM. 1974.

Saguaro Sunset

Organ Pipe National Monument, AZ. 1977.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Many Hats

1979. One of the most revealing photos ever taken of me.

Kivas in the Snow

Aztec Ruins National Monument, NM. 1978.

Muddy River

The river is running muddy this morning, and it's up a few inches. This means that yesterday evening's thunderstorm really amounted to something, and some of the arroyos ran upstream.

We could see the anvil top to our northwest, and could hear distant thunder, but got no rain. I checked the internet, and sure enough, the Weather Service had posted a Severe Thunderstorm Warning. They said the storm was nearly stationary, in the Hatch-Rincon area, which is about 15 miles from us. Said it was dropping an inch of rain an hour -- rather sedate as such things go. But early, too. May 16 is very early for monsoonal activity, but not unheard-of.

The prognosticators are predicting that this summer will be hotter than normal, and wetter than normal. Oh goody, I can hardly wait. Hotter means more energy, which can mean higher winds, more powerful convection, more intense storms. Maybe there's really something to this global warming business, you reckon?

This is in line with the correlation I've noticed -- dry in Texas equals wet in New Mexico, and vice versa. They're having a drought in Texas this year.

They'll be updating their prediction on May 21. I'll digest their info and have more to say then.

Side note: why is it that all the good monsoon info comes out of Tucson? Do we not have a monsoon in New Mexico as well? At any rate, here's the key link. Use the blue menu bar on the left side, and click on "09 monsoon otlk."

And I had sorta been hoping for a dry monsoon this year.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ajo Mountain Wildflowers

Organ Pipe National Monument, AZ. 1979.

After heavy winter rains, the desert exploded with wildflowers.

BTW, Walgreens screwed up the scan. The original slide includes the tops of the mountains. But for 37 cents, what the hay.

The Cyclists Blow Out!

Did I post this one already?

Did you know that you can blow yourself right out of a co-op? This happened right after "The Great Ormo Bicycle Race," and the situation at the co-op was still very volatile, and "It just happened, you know!" cried the first cyclist in needless explanation as they blew straight through Saint Augustine Pass, causing the Organ Mountains to come unzipped, and then the Mesilla Valley billowed into the stratosphere like a long green ribbon, and they had the devil of a time getting everything zipped back together before anybody noticed!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Robin with Saw

Radium Springs, NM. 1975.

The saw looked like a nice prop, and I liked her shadow on the sheetmetal shed. She was quite wasted at the time, but then again, weren't we all.

Stars and Surf

Southern California, 1977.

There's nothing like the Pacific at night (or anytime). The edge of the ocean is some kind of ultimate interface. Half the planet relentlessly washing ashore at your feet, night and day, eon after eon, it never stops.

For this picture I set my camera on a tripod on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and took probably a 30-second exposure. Thirty seconds was about the longest exposure I could use before the stars started to trail, and I was aiming for the realistic "points of light" effect.

Looking at this photo, I can almost smell the salt air and hear the pounding of the surf.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Mad Monk Perusing an Obscure Manuscript

Radium Springs, NM. 1975.

We didn't have electricity, so we used kerosene lamps back then. He really was a mad monk, in his own way.

BTW, in my estimation 1975 was the year the "original back-to-the-land movement" peaked nationally, and "it" (life as shamanic vision quest) peaked locally.

Lightning Up the Rio Grande

Radium Springs, NM. 1975.

I used to take my camera and tripod and go out into all kinds of weather to get pictures like this.

Photo Update

Well, the slide scanner I bought was a piece of junk. It scans, but the color is off, and the contrast is off -- in other words, junk.

Fortunately, Walgreens still makes prints from slides, so I'm back to Plan A -- in 1987 I had a hundred or so of my best slides printed up and made a scrapbook of them. For the past little while now I've been scanning these prints and posting them onto the blog. The quality is amazingly good, all things considered.

Back in the day, they had to make an internegative of the slide, from which they made the final print. In other words, analog. These days, they scan the slide (they have a much better scanner that I do, needless to say) and make the print from that. In other words, digital. And you know what? Analog is better! The colors are more saturated. Remember when CDs first came out and connoisseurs complained that they sounded tinny? This is because DIGITAL IS NOT BETTER! Well glory be, who woulda figured? We've been snookered yet again! Why is this?

At any rate, the Walgreens prints are plenty good enough to post on a blog, so I plan to finally start sorting through my thousands of slides and see what they have to offer this blogging effort.

Why am I posting so much stuff from c. 1978? The answer is simple: my slides, and my scrapbook of my best prints from that era, escaped the flood. Most everything else (from the early 80s until 2006) got flood damaged -- some slightly, some totally. (After the flood, some friends took our prints, boxes of them, and laid them all over the floor at Quaker House to dry. We still haven't gotten these prints back yet, but when I do, I'm sure I'll be posting pics of young fox Laura, etc.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sonora Wind

May is the month of the Sonora Wind. Earlier in the spring we have cold winds out of the northwest, but the Sonora Wind is a hot wind out of the southwest. If you draw a beeline from Las Cruces in a southwesterly direction, before long you come to the Mexican state of Sonora, which lies immediately south of Arizona. That's why I call it the Sonora Wind.

I have never heard anybody else call it that, even though it's an obvious name, and poetic besides. I did a Google search and came up with nothing. I don't know why this is. Isn't it human nature to notice things and give them names? Hasn't anybody ever noticed how frequently we have hot winds out of the southwest in May? These winds are hard to ignore -- sometimes we have a Sonora Wind every afternoon. You would have thought that somebody would have noticed, and given it a name before now. But evidently not, so I guess it's up to me. But come to think of it, I just did.

Madonna of the Goats

Las Cruces, NM. 1976.

Every community has its "goat lady." Sherry was ours.

What Is This?

Radium Springs, NM. 1978.

Shotgun-blasted wall inside the ruins of Bailey Baths.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gene Plastering

1972. Gene was plastering the inside of a little adobe storehouse for his darkroom. I snuck up on him and got my camera ready. When he turned his head, I snapped the shutter.


1977. The grain pattern looks like a flame.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Radium Springs, NM. 1977.

Judy, wife #1, striking a pose. That's one of her wall hangings behind her.

Sun through Tree Branches

Tucson, AZ. 1977.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Radium Springs, NM. 1974.

This is my neighbor Bob, who plays a featured role in my story, "The Gift Comes Full Circle," posted earlier on this blog. We were on our way to visit Robin one fine winter afternoon (mentioned in my earlier post, "Robin and Sundew"), when we encountered this "derail" sign along the tracks. I posed him with the sign to allude to his habit of getting stoned whenever possible.

Shells and Sand

Galveston, TX. 1979.

Friday, May 08, 2009

I Forgot Her Name

Radium Springs, NM. 1976.

Alkali Swamp with Reeds

Radium Springs, NM. 1974.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Rob with Pelvis Mask

Sierra de las Uvas, NM, 1978.