My first and only visit to Coyote Buttes and The Wave was in June 2004. A coworker had permits for two back-to-back days but was unable to use them. The BLM permit system was quite different then from what it is now. Getting multiple-day permits was not unusual. Nowadays, getting a permit at all requires a fair bit of luck and perseverance. I consider myself fortunate to have had a chance to visit this amazing location.
We arrived at the trailhead in mid-day with temperatures, as I recall, in the upper ’90s. It was mid-June and the North American Monsoon and rainy season had not started. Even so, there were clouds and a few rain showers in the area.
We hiked out to the rocks and made good time arriving in the late afternoon. There were a few other visitors but they left after a short time and we had the place to ourselves for the next several hours. Really—there was no one else there. Hard to believe!
We wandered around for hours taking photographs and picnicking and enjoying the solitude. For a few brief moments, one of the rain showers produced a rainbow but I was too slow to move the camera gear and get the shot.
As the sun dropped in the west and temperatures began to cool we finally left and began the hike back to the car. Somewhere along the way we realized we were on a different trail—or perhaps no trail at all—but our starting point was still obvious and we continued on.
The next morning we decided we did not want or need to hike out there again so we did not use our 2nd day permit. Instead, we travelled down Buckskin Gulch—a place we had heard about but not yet had a chance to explore. It was a great hike and we did not regret our choice.
Here are photographs (shot on Fuji Provia slide film and recently scanned) from the afternoon that we spent at Coyote Buttes and The Wave.
Pumphouse Wash is a canyon that is ignored by most of the people who drive past it every day. It is located in the upper reaches of Oak Creek Canyon right at the bottom of the well-known switchbacks. No matter—its best quality is that very few people hike it.
During heavy rains and snow melt there will be water flowing down the canyon. Otherwise it’s a dry wash with a series of pools. The canyon is narrow with steep walls. It’s full of boulders strewn in the stream bed that have been washed down in great floods. The plethora of boulders makes hiking in this canyon a slow, arduous process. One must hop from rock to rock for miles.
But the rewards are worth the effort. You won’t encounter many other hikers. Maybe even none. And there are beautiful pools and narrows if you travel far enough up the canyon. Late in the spring the pools are still deep and clear and inviting enough for swimming. By early summer, however, they have warmed and filled with algae and, maybe, not so inviting. Timing is important.
So we recently hiked up from the bottom of the switchbacks up to the confluence with a small side canyon that comes in from the east. No name is given on the maps for this feature—not to be confused with James Canyon farther upcanyon. This is about 2 ¼ miles from the start and it took us about 2 ½ hours. That’s less than one mile per hour. There was no one else around—although we could hear hikers farther downstream owing to the echoes off the canyon walls. We stopped in the shade and had a leisurely lunch followed by a swim in one of the deeper pools. And then back in the shade for more lounging.
But eventually it was time to go. It was now mid afternoon and the sun had moved around to the northwest leaving us in shade for most of the trip down canyon. Good thing, too, because it had been sunny and hot on the way up and we were worried about running out of drinking water. Also, with the canyon floor in the shade it was easier to take photos of the pools of water and the short section of narrows.
And, then, there was that magical moment when the light created a perfect situation. The sun lit up a section of the canyon floor which was reflected upwards to an overhang. The reflected light on this overhang was beautiful—but this illuminated overhang was reflected in a pool of water surrounded by deep shadows. Amazing! Move a little closer and the pool and reflection did not line up. Move a little farther away—same thing. Just one spot—and it was perfect.
A few weeks ago, we chose to run the Sycamore Rim Trail. Our start location was the Pomeroy Tanks trailhead. From there we headed in a clockwise direction and reached our turnaround spot on the top of KA Hill.
We reversed our direction and once again passed by Pomeroy Tanks but kept going for another mile to Sycamore Falls. Alas, the falls were dry and no water was flowing down the stream. But back at Pomeroy Tanks there was water and still some flow through the numerous pools. It was very picturesque but it was now late morning and all I had was a camera phone.
We decided to return a few days later and to shoot photos in the early morning light. The pools were still mostly in deep shadows at this early hour. And, since it had been a cold night, there was still a touch of frost on the abundant grasses around the pools.
With calm winds the surfaces of the pools were like a mirror reflecting the deep blue sky. It was worth the return trip.
Here are a few recent water photographs in northern Arizona.
This photograph was taken in mid-April after a spring storm brought snow to the Mogollon Rim and rain to the lower elevations. The runoff was sufficient to swell the flow in Dry Beaver Creek from a light trickle back to a noisy roar. This is the confluence of the smaller Jacks Canyon Creek with Dry Beaver Creek. While the flowing water is in late-afternoon shadow, the trees and distant hills remain in sunlight.
A day later I was at Rogers Lake southwest of Flagstaff. The reflections of the clouds in the shallow water is interesting. Getting this shot required walking out into the mud. I was glad I had thought to bring a spare pair of shoes for the drive home.
A week later I did a morning run along the Sycamore Rim Trail. When finished, I retured to a few spots that would make interesting water photographs. This is typical of the upper sections of the canyon with ponds of slow moving water and grassy edges.
This image was taken on a different location on Dry Beaver Creek about two weeks after the top photograph. Water levels have dropped substantially. A few large pools remain but water flow is down to a trickle.
We are now entering our dry season and the water in these locations will quickly disappear.
National Parks, that is. Here are several photographs taken this winter in the National Parks and Monuments that are in northern Arizona.
These two images were taken shortly after sunrise at Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument. A recent snowstorm had brought snow to lower elevations and I was hoping there would be some snow at this location. No snow but the sunrise was still pretty nice.
Later that morning in Sunset Crater National Monument, where there was new snow, a small amount of snow on the namesake crater helping to reveal its subtle textures.
The next two images are from Grand Canyon National Park at sunrise. A recent minor storm had left some low clouds and fog in the lowest reaches of the canyon. As the sun rose higher and the canyon walls warmed the fog was lifted up and out of the canyon producing some eye-level clouds for a brief moment.
Finally, we have a panorama of the rising nearly-full Moon in late afternoon. Wonderful!