I just got back from a whirlwind trip to the Ohio / West Virginia
border area. I headed out on Thursday afternoon and was back by
Saturday afternoon after driving just over 700 miles. I don't often
get time to just sit and ponder, but as I thought about three job
opportunities that seemed to present themselves on my doorstep I
remembered some images that I took in Arizona on the last weekend
Just before my trip I went ahead and scheduled a phone interview
for a time when I knew I would be on the road. I figured that the
drive would be easy and I could concentrate easily while on the
road. As the conversation progressed I had some conflicting thoughts,
the first being that I'd love an option to pack up and move to the
southwest, and the second wondering why in the world, if I was going
to start a "scratch business operation," would I do it
for a bank and not for myself.
This one started to dry up before it started.
But speaking of the southwest, it's pretty well known that wildfires
are a common summer occurrence. Few people realize however, that
fires can sometimes create their own weather, and that it can end
up both fanning the flames of the wildfire and affect lives hundreds
of miles away.
What happens is that the fire actually becomes a kind of perpetual
motion machine, an engine of death and destruction that feeds on
itself. As the fire burns, the warm air rises, taking with it smoke
particles. Water molecules that are formed as a byproduct of combustion
attach to the smoke particles and condense. The air continues to
rise, beginning an updraft that causes the fire to burn faster and
As the cycle continues, the updrafts intensify and suck in air
from all quadrants. Imagine trying to fight such a beast, when it
grows in strength and intensity, minute by minute.
On June the 28th my daughter and son-in-law and I were heading
out for a late afternoon lunch at Saguarro Lake, on the east side
of Phoenix. For quite a while I had been watching a thunderhead
building to the north in the clear blue sky of the hot afternoon.
The temperature hovered around 107 and waves of heat were starting
to reflect off of the asphalt.
Suddenly I made a quick U-turn in the street and headed back in
the opposite direction.
"What's up?" the kids both asked.
"I saw a good place to pull over about a block back,"
I said and then proceeded down the road. Soon I made a quick right
turn into the parking lot of an abandoned building. Looking around
I headed right over the back curb of the parking lot and into the
field behind the store. No one was worried about the off-road trek,
for I had somehow landed a brand new Durango for my rental car.
"What are you doing?"
"See that storm cloud to the north? There is something strange
going on. In fact, I think I see smoke at the bottom of the cloud.
I've got to get a picture, even if I don't have my good camera with
This was one of those times when although I wished I had the better
lenses with me, my smaller Olympus would be adequate, especially
since I was able to boost the range with a telephoto converter.
At 2:20 PM I steadied the camera on a fence post and took several
images. I wanted to stop at this particular place since the mountain
in the foreground was begetting to obscure the view of the base
of the cloud.
When the air is really clear, looks can be deceiving, and I suspected
that this storm was maybe only 20 or 30 miles away. As we continued
to head east and down to the lake, the cloud disappeared from view
and I forgot about it during lunch.
I had thought about renting a boat for the afternoon but since
there were no deals to be had, we headed for the parking lot and
drove todward home.
After just a mile or so of driving, we came over the crest of
a hill and wham, there it was again, this time without a mountain
obscuring the view. I quickly looked for a side road and pulled
over as soon as I could. The time was 3:52 and the stormcloud had
been building for almost two more hours.
Twenty minutes later we were again about to lose our view of the
storm so I pulled off for one last shot. I asked the kids if there
was a road that would head on north, but my son-in-law suggested
that it would take hours and hours to get up to where the storm
If I was alone I would have probably headed north, only to find
that the route I would have taken would have not given me the access
to the flames that I was looking for. It turned out that this storm
was fueled by what became known as the Willow Creek Fire, just outside
of Payson, Arizona. The first image was taken almost 60 miles south
of the base of the fire, and had we turned north out of the canyon
road we could have been there in just over an hour.
(4:08 PM -taken just outside of Fountain Hills, AZ)
As we had already had a long day looking at condos and wandering
about the countryside, I reluctantly headed back to the kids house.
So you might ask, what's all this got to do with opportunities
and a long drive to the edge of Appalachia?
After we returned home that evening in Arizona I was convinced
that if I could find another vantage point, I could get a great
shot of the cloud radiated by the setting sun. I took my camera
with me and ran off to the store for a couple of items that were
missing for dinner. Just as I came out and began to think about
where to drive for another shot, a band of high cloud blocked the
sun, and my great plan for a great shot, like so many other things
lately, went up in a big cloud of smoke.
But it's also gotten me to thinking, that some of those opportunities
were just plain wrong, and perhaps what I need to do is concentrate
on building my own fire, one that I can keep under my control.