Mystery Castle

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Having lived in the Valley for years, we certainly had ample opportunity to visit any number of the many ‘attractions’ that Phoenix offered. Working and traveling for a living, many came to wait until after we retired, such as the Mystery Castle.

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The Mystery Castle is known for being this eclectic ‘castle’ on the top of the hill, just below the popular hiking trails at South Mountain Park in south Phoenix. We only knew that it was made up of common items and a bit ramshackle, but never knew its story. For our $10 admission we were given the Tour of the 8000 sq ft ‘mansion’, with 18 separate rooms, 13 fireplaces, and a myriad of interesting details.

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It was built by a man by the name of Boyce Luther Gulley, who left his wife and child and escaped Seattle, WA to a life of isolation with the very contagious and deadly disease of tuberculosis. He moved to AZ to find a warmer climate to live out his final days in 1930. He lived much longer than anyone expected, and over the 15 years between 1930 and 1945, when he died, he built this monstrosity of a house.

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He staked claim to presumably dig for gold at the base of South Mountain. He had amassed 40 acres of land through his claim and the little gold he did find. He likely built the house to establish living quarters, and perhaps a place for his family to live after he had gone. Not having much money, all the materials were found and procured, such as the many slump bricks that with ‘mistakes’ in the firing process (now expensive oddities and rare treasures).

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As he continued to survive, he continued to build in a run-on and ramshackle manner with inventive flourishes throughout. He added on a large great room, fireplaces, and flagstone floor. His big expenses were concrete and food. Most of the stones came from the surrounding land, and decorative pebbles throughout the flooring from the nearby Salt River.

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Archways and circular windows with old thrown away pressed glass containers (early versions of Tupperware) as glass blocks and sky lights. Having no electricity or running water, he added holes in the ceiling for ventilation and light. Later he added a guest room, a little girls room for his young daughter, and later a bar and chapel. Eighteen rooms in all, most with fireplaces to warm the cool winter evenings. He built paved pathways, breeze ways and roof top patios, all with little to no education, power tools (or power), water, or assistance.

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Feature shelves jut out randomly and selectively from its breezeway walls for knickknacks and special decorative treasures. Benches built into the walls were convenient for sitting, reflecting, and rests through the day. Arches and pillars lead one from the main house area to the auxiliary bedrooms for his daughter. Pebble snakes embed the floors as a sign of good luck and virility.   I couldn’t help think that he was like an unknown Frank Lloyd Wright with great design ideas, architectural details, and well thought out features, but without the entourage, money, and fame of the arrogant FLW.

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His family finally came to see him just in the months before he died in 1945. His wife Nell and now 20-year-old daughter Mary Lou lived out their lives there. They found that people would pay to see the house and in 1948 began giving tours, which have continued since. The daughter Mary Lou died in 2010. She set up a Foundation to take care of the house and her father’s legacy and continue the tours into the future.

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It was a fascinating look into the tenacity of a man, desperate to leave something for his family. In the end he left much more. The innovativeness of what the human soul can create with limited resources and shear will is on display at the Mystery Castle. While the finish work is rough and amenities slim, the workmanship and work effort are awe-inspiring.   It was fascinating a tour and an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.

The Ones that Didn’t Make the Cut

You may have seen my Best of Landscapes 2019, here…. https://kritterspix.com/2020/01/09/my-best-landscape-photos-of-2019/  or my Best of Wildlife 2019 here… https://kritterspaw.com/2020/01/09/my-best-wildlife-photos-of-2019/ .  Below are some of the ones that DIDN’T make the cut.

1. Pismo Beach, CA... wish I could get sunset shots like this in AZ! PismoSundown_IR.jpg

2. Lil Buck… If only AZH had published THIS pic  _40A9745_IR.jpg

3. Hawley Lake ….  Through the Fog is Clarity  _40A4245_IR-2.jpg

4. Javelina … not a common sight in this neck of the woods  Javifurup_IR.jpg

5. Snow Elk…. Animal behavior can be so much fun to capture, sometimes these little guys do the darnedest thingsrest_IR.jpg

6. Moqui Snow … I need to work on getting more landscape snow pix  snoburst1_IR.jpg

7. Oak Creek Fall … Gotta love waterfalls & fall, such an amazing combination BoulderBed_IR.jpg

8. Morman Lake Elk Pool …   While this is a busy pic, lots of fun interactions to look at morman lake elk pool_IR_IR.jpg

9. Kaibab Daisies … I had never been to Kaibab Lake before, I need to get out more _40A2967-HDR_IR.jpg

10. Babies Rule … love me some baby wildlife!  Cuddle_IR.jpg

I could go on, but I think the exercise of limiting oneself to only the best forces one to be critical of oneself, encouraging growth and improvement.  Something we should all heed in our lives.  Happy New Year!

My Best Wildlife Photos of 2019

It’s been a great year for wildlife for us.  We have seen a wide and varied collection of birds, waterfowl and big beasts – including our first ever mountain lion.

Below are those I consider my best of the year….

1.  Sandhill cranes, Whitewater Drawsandhill hills_IR.jpg

2.  Deer in falling snow_40A7919_IR.jpg

3.  Bobcat, Lake MaryBob Lake_IR.jpg

4. Hawk stare _40A3440_IR.jpg

5.  Pygmy Owl PygmyEyes_IR.jpg

6. Sea OttersSea Paws_IR.jpg

7. Blue Heron Wide Eyed Blue_IR.jpg

8.  Monarch Butterflies B Comming In_IR.jpg

9.  Big Horn Sheep Ram Portrait_IR.jpg

10. Baby antelope runIMG_0440_IR.jpg

AND the number 1 top photo of the year, despite the fact that is isn’t the most technically perfect shot (would have better if he was coming toward me) is, solely for the thrill of it:

11.  Our first mountain lion

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We saw fox and javelina, elk and deer, eagles and turkey, but these were the ones that excited me for one reason or another – and sometimes not just for their expression or technical merits.  Sometimes a shot can just emote an emotion or a feeling that brings us back to it.  Maybe it was the place or the experience, but anything that keeps us coming back is worthy of a nod.

Check out my best landscapes here… https://kritterspix.com/2020/01/09/my-best-landscape-photos-of-2019/

Sea Critters

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Having just gotten back from the CA coast, we saw lots of cool ‘critters’, including the sea otter.

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I’m not sure I have ever seen a sea otter before.  I could watch them for hours.  They were just too adorable.  I didn’t realize that they are actually an endangered species.  There used to be some 150,000 – 200,000.

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In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s they were hunted for their fur.  They are now a protected species.  Their population has dipped to 1% of what they once were, at a low of only 1,000 – 2,000.  Now they are hovering at around 3,000 as they have plateau’d in their decline.

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Their facial expressions and mannerisms were priceless.

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We saw buzzards and blue herons, seals and sea lions.

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Even caught a sunset or two….

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Sometimes its good to get out of the woods and see the sea.

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We don’t get too much of this in our neck of the woods.

You can see more of my pix from my trip here… https://kritterspix.com/category/photo-musings/

 

 

 

Got Snow?!

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Yep!  First snow of the season, measurable snow anyway.  It was only 2 -3″, but it coated the trees and left it’s impression.

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There is something about new snow as it clings to the trees with all it’s white beauty.

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It’s a beautiful sight to behold  One which has been an acquired taste for me, as I always hated snow – too cold!

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But I have come to appreciate it for it’s beauty.  Living in the mountains we aren’t faced with the same dirty snow as big cities have as it piles up along the roads, mixed with cinder and asphalt.  Our’s is pristine and wild.

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Our snow is here… and gone.  It doesn’t last long.  So we enjoy it for whatever time we have it.

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And if we’re lucky, we brave the winter elements and get out and take pix… as we did for this brief snow storm.

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We were the only one’s on the road, and we felt like we were in our own world as we drove through the abandon forest roads in this magical winter wonderland, with all it’s peacefulness and untarnished spirit.  It was a thing of beauty.

 

Weather – Finally!

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We have had quite the drought this summer, with no rain.  That finally changed with a quick storm that rolled in and gave us some rain, hail, and a little snow!

_40A9766_IR.jpg  We took the opportunity to run out to the rim to see if we could get some storm pix.

We loved the sky opening up and raining on the valley below.  It made for some spectacular views.

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When it rains on your parade, look up not down.  Without the rain, there is no rainbow.

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_40A9822_IR.jpg Bad weather always looks worse through a window…. gotta get out there and feel the storm and it’s intensity to live life to the fullest.

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It turned out to be a great day for storm watching.

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Wildlife Sightings

People ask me, ‘where do you go to get your animal pictures?’

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It’s actually not an easy question to answer, as there is no straight forward answer.

I can tell you that ZERO of my wildlife photos are taken in a wildlife park or zoo.  They are 100% taken in the wild.  As all things wild, they are unpredictable.

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Many wildlife photographers get a lot of their photos through their livelihood, as biologists or working in nature conservatory for AZ Game & Fish or Forest Service preserving an animal’s habitat.  These sorts of jobs help the photographer, often early in their career, to learn the habitat and tendencies of their subject.

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I have not had that advantage.  I have had to learn the hard way on my own.  While, I have stumbled across various animal habitats, like the pair of great horned owls at Whitewater Draw, that’s the exception more than the rule.

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Sometimes it’s easy to go to where you know there will be animals, like Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, where the sandhill cranes flock to every November / December.

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But for me, that’s more the exception than the rule.  Sometimes, I get animal shots in my own yard.

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Often, though, it’s a matter of getting out there.  You have to look, to see.  We make frequent trips to the rim, leaving early morning when it’s still dark out, to get to the rim at first light when the animals are still moving around.

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Besides the rim, we go out on photography trips just in search of that great landscape or animal shot.  Knowing that antelope can be found in the plains, or that there is a herd of big horn sheep that frequents the Greer area, can be helpful.

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Other than that, one just has to get out there.  You don’t find animals sitting on the couch eating bon bon’s, unless you’re watching the National Geographic channel. Ha! : )

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In any case, luck favors the prepared.

Just this week, we were wandering around the woods (as we often find ourselves), actually looking for water where there was none.  We found lots of dry holes instead of Lakes, but we did encounter well over 1000 sheep crossing the road.  That’s not something you see every day – or ever before!

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Sometimes, you just have to be in the right place at the right time.