(Published June 2008 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer" in Tubac Villager.)
Preserving open spaces in Arizona’s borderlands doesn’t always require the ultimate conservation measure of setting aside pristine landscapes untouched by development or agriculture.
|A scene of wide-open freedom in a pristine valley |
on the Arizona-Mexico border.
Ranchlands, whether private or leased from the government, represent an expansive rural heritage of Arizona as significant as the natural heritage of undisturbed desert habitat. Importantly, for you, the borderlands photographer, they also provide great picture-taking opportunity.
Some of the various habitats, or biomes, of the Sonoran Desert and surrounding areas here in southern Arizona have enabled ranching to various degrees of success. From desert grassland to the pine forests, grazing continues.
Photo opportunities abound within both the living and the preserved, or converted, ranchlands in our area. I describe living ranchlands as domains of folks who still lead a classic western life on a range with cattle, horses, and other livestock.
I categorize preserved ranchlands as those tracts which have been set aside from prior ranching use and allowed to revert more or less to their original natural form. These ranchlands have been protected by a wide variety of conservationist interests, from private activists to non-profit foundations and the federal government. Examples locally are Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge at Arivaca, the Empire Ranch/Las Cienegas Conservation Area at Sonoita, and the Audubon Society’s Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch at Elgin.
|Historic, precious ranch structures add character|
to an image of the vanishing ranchlands, here
seen in Muleshoe Ranch in south central Arizona.
What great destinations these places are for the borderlands photographer! You can't beat the wide-angle thrill of an afternoon monsoon storm bursting over the yellow grassland vista.
Constantly, the living ranchlands furnish artful western scenes, from cowboys at the corral to horses galloping to cattle grazing to spinning windmills (one of my favorites).
Further, both the living and the preserved ranchlands contain structures of character and historic significance, such as adobe barns and mesquite fences, also fertile subjects for the photographer.
Go wide! Often the wide open, sprawling country begs for panoramic photos of grasses bending to the breeze and distant mountain horizons reminiscent of western films likely made there.
|Men of the range, Empire Ranch, Sonoita, Arizona.|
The borderlands photographer uses a wide-angle lens or instead, stitches two or more digital shots together to seize this widescreen grandeur. He or she remembers that quality landscape shots require a tripod for maximum sharpness.
Early morning or late afternoon is best for capturing these landscapes Also, the lucky photographer shows up when there is some weather happening, when skies are filled with more than the dreaded plain blue sky. Landscape shots beg for skies filled with feature and definition. Often the drama of ranchland skies is the highlight of a borderland image.
At day's end you'll have recorded a very fine part of America's heritage. And finally, when you leave for home, after immersing yourself in big-sky country, don’t forget to close the gates!