A powerful winter storm moved across Arizona in the last week of the year with substantial snow falling in the high country and even some snow flurries in the desert. In West Fork Oak Creek about 8-12 inches of snow fell in the canyon followed by very cold temperatures. The result was spectacular. Snow was draped across all the trees and even clung to the massive sandstone walls of the canyon. Water dripping down some of the rock walls fell and froze on whatever lay beneath creating some amazing ice art.
Not too far south of Flagstaff lies Pumphouse Wash, a beautiful and narrow canyon that cuts through the Kaibab limestone and Coconino sandstone. The canyon drains from the upper elevations of the Mogollon Rim into the headwaters of Oak Creek. Most of the time Pumphouse Wash is dry with occasional pools but it can run very full during the spring snow melt and after heavy summer thunderstorms.
Shortly after a light snowfall in late November I took a walk up the wash hoping for some interesting photographic possibilities with snow and ice. I wasn’t disappointed. The first image shows a small pothole scoured by the erosive actions of the occasional flood waters. It was filled nearly to the brim with rain and snow melt, perfectly blended with leaves and pine needles, and then frozen in time.
Elsewhere in the canyon a sycamore tree had shed its leaves among the boulders of the wash and upon these leaves some snow was still in place.
Although it was a sunny day in northern Arizona very little of that sun was able to penetrate into the confined narrows of Pumphouse Wash. And I had the canyon to myself that day.
A few weeks ago we had a couple of nights in which the International Space Station (ISS) made some evening twilight transits that were visible across northern Arizona. The first night the ISS transited from the northwest across the sky to the east. As it swung across the evening sky it passed near Mizar in Ursa Major then near Polaris in Ursa Minor. The following night it traveled from west to southeast and passed near the Moon and Jupiter before it entered into the Earth’s shadow.
Both of these final images are composites. Each was shot with a 16mm ultra-wide angle lens at f/4.0, ISO 800, and 10s exposure. For the photograph above, 16 images were composited. For the photograph below, seven images were used. In Photoshop, images are assembled as layers then blended using Lighten mode. This allows the streak of light from the ISS to show through all layers. The advantage to this method — compared to a single image of longer duration — is that the sky does not become overexposed. Instead the result is a dark background upon which the ISS flies.
Both images were taken at the Kachina Wetlands located a few miles to the south of Flagstaff, Arizona. This location provides wide open skies for viewing objects low on the horizon and offers ponds of water that produce wonderful reflections of the stars.
To find out when the ISS will fly across your area, visit either of these sites:
We recently took a trip to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The weather forecast that day called for increasing clouds and a chance of thunderstorms — some possibly severe — by late afternoon. Normally, this would be a deterrent to those wishing to visit this wonderful place but since I enjoy photographing thunderstorms and severe weather this was an opportunity not to be missed.
We arrived at WSNM in mid-afternoon and the clouds were beginning to fill the sky. We were soon rewarded with a rainbow stretching across the parabolic dunes on the edge of the dune fields. As that first storm moved away, other storms began to develop back to the west. I set up the camera to take lightning photographs and was rewarded with a couple of pretty good shots.
But the really wonderful part came the next morning. Those afternoon thunderstorms continued through the evening and into the night and produced about one and a half inches of rain across the sands. And in the bright blue sky of the following morning we found shallow lakes of up to a few inches deep scattered across the sands as a result of the heavy rainfall. The reflections of the sand dunes and other vegetation in these ephemeral lakes was simply delightful.
Autumn has brought wonderful colors to the flora in West Fork Oak Creek Canyon this year. The mouth of this canyon, located between Flagstaff and Sedona, lies at an elevation of about 5400 feet. With its narrow width and high walls, sunlight is strongly filtered before reaching the canyon floor. This produces a micro climate that is much cooler than would otherwise be expected for a location at this elevation.
The result is that there is large variety of flora in this canyon dominated by pine, maple, oak, and sycamore. And when the shorter and cooler days of autumn arrive the colors on these trees can be magnificent.