Fall Colors and Raccoons in Oak Creek

A few days ago I visited a small side canyon¬†in Oak Creek Canyon to photograph the late stages of fall color in the canyon forest. The trees weren’t showing as much color as they had¬†in previous years. Many of the maple leaves displayed¬†small dark spots and this may be similar to the disease that is infecting the Quaking Aspen at the higher elevations. Other explanations include the abnormally wet spring we had this year. Because of the moisture, many plants leafed and blossomed early. The fall has been wet and warm as well. All of this has resulted in an extended season for hardwoods that could be a contributing factor.

Here are a few images taken in the same location but in different years. The bright red leaves were widespread in 2013 but rare in 2015. Instead, we had mainly yellow leaves that were pale in color.

Oak Creek Canyon (2013).
Oak Creek Canyon (2013).

Oak Creek Canyon (2013).
Oak Creek Canyon (2013).
Oak Creek Canyon (2015). Note the spots and blotches on the leaves.
Oak Creek Canyon (2015). Note the spots and blotches on the leaves.
 Oak Creek Canyon (2015).
Oak Creek Canyon (2015).

So, after a few hours of wandering around and being generally underwhelmed, I retraced my steps down the dry wash and walked towards Oak Creek. I hoped things might be more interesting near the water. And things were more interesting but not in the way I expected.

A pair of raccoon youngters in Oak Creek Canyon.
A pair of raccoon youngters in Oak Creek Canyon.

As I neared the water, I heard some rustling in the nearby trees and thought¬†there might be¬†a few squirrels scampering around. But the sound wasn’t right. It sounded‚ÄĒum‚ÄĒlarger. A few minutes later, a pair of raccoon youngsters emerged from the trees. They took a look at me and decided I was not a threat and continued to forage for food.

Raccoon flicking his pink tongue.
Raccoon flicking his pink tongue.
Raccoon youngster taking a good look at the photographer.
Raccoon youngster taking a good look at the photographer.

Sitting down, I pulled the camera out of the pack and began a¬†two-hour¬†“portrait”¬†session with these critters. They would forage for a few minutes, look at me, then move on to another location. Eventually, they felt comfortable enough to approach me. Not wanting to have a¬†close encounter with a raccoon because they may carry rabies, I would gently shoo them off. They obliged each time and went back to foraging.

Raccoons in Oak Creek Canyon.
Raccoons in Oak Creek Canyon.
Raccoons in Oak Creek Canyon.
Raccoons in Oak Creek Canyon.

I was able to shoot a large number of photographs with them foraging, staring at me, climbing on trees and rocks, staring at me, wading in the water, and more. It was a thrill to be able to watch these two youngsters up close without either of us feeling threatened by the other.