Autumn Colors in Northern Arizona—2018

The colors have peaked and the leaves have fallen across the higher elevations of northern Arizona. Here are some of my favorites from this season.

Aspen leaves on Weatherford Trail.
Aspen leaves on Weatherford Trail.
Waterline Road.
Waterline Road.
Inner Basin Trail after an early-season snowfall.
Inner Basin Trail after an early-season snowfall.
This is the classic shot along Waterline Road.
This is the classic shot along Waterline Road.
Waterline Road.
Waterline Road.
Near Arizona Snowbowl.
Near Arizona Snowbowl.
Snowbowl Road after an early-season snowfall.
Snowbowl Road after an early-season snowfall.
Weatherford Trail.
Weatherford Trail.
Frozen water droplets on a leaf.
Frozen water droplets on a leaf.
Colorful hillside along the Elden Springs Trail.
Colorful hillside along the Elden Springs Trail.
Reflection in Frances Short Pond.
Reflection in Frances Short Pond.
Inner Basin and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.
Inner Basin and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.

 

Autumn hiking in Oak Creek Canyon

It’s been a relatively warm and very dry autumn so far across northern Arizona. For example, Flagstaff recorded 0.42″ of rain for the months of September and October combined—normal is closer to 4 inches (4.04″). This combination of warm and dry might be responsible for the less-than-stellar autumn colors in the aspens and other trees. Or, perhaps it was actually pretty colorful and I just happened to go out at the wrong times. Either way, it’s been a bit of a challenge for me this year to get the high-impact, really colorful photographs.

A previous post highlighted some of the photographs of aspens taken across the higher elevations and also provides some comparison with previous years.

More recently, I’ve been shooting images in Oak Creek where there are plenty of maple, oak, sycamore, and other types of trees to provide a nice mix of colors.

Maple leaves in Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple leaves in Oak Creek Canyon.

While wandering around looking for autumn colors, we saw this. I’ve walked by this rock face in Oak Creek Canyon several times and never noticed the name etched in the rock.

[Dr. B. Frankson Rugby, N.D.]
[Dr. B. Frankson Rugby, N.D.]
We also found ourselves hiking up the North Wilson Trail in Oak Creek Canyon with hopes for some maples. Those we did find were not particularly photogenic because they were surrounded by dead/burnt trees—courtesy of the Brins Mesa wildfire of 2006. On the other hand, I enjoyed this view from the Wilson Bench near the intersection of North Wilson and Wilson Mtn. Trails.

A view of Sedona from Wilson Bench.
A view of Sedona from Wilson Bench.

On our descent I enjoyed the quickly shifting patterns of light and shadow on the opposite side of Oak Creek Canyon. Perched high up on the canyon walls is the area known to rock climbers as “The Waterfall.” Visitors to Oak Creek Canyon during the spring snowmelt season have often looked up from the road to see water cascading down this rock face. They may not have known that it is also a world-class rock climbing site.

"The Waterfall" rock climbing area in Oak Creek Canyon.
“The Waterfall” rock climbing area in Oak Creek Canyon.

As we descended the North Wilson Trail I was able to see that some of the best color was—where else—along Oak Creek and in the parking lot from which we had started. We still had some time so down to the creek we went. The light was very soft with no hard shadows or bright spots and autumn colors were nicely reflected in the waters.

Oak Creek.
Oak Creek.
Oak Creek.
Oak Creek.

I’ve always skipped the North Wilson Trail in all the years of hiking around here. Now, I wonder why. It’s a steep trail, for certain, but very interesting views in all directions.

Aspen colors 2017: Inner Basin and Arizona Trail

Some years it’s easy to get great photographs of the changing colors of aspen leaves in northern Arizona. The weather is good, the timing is right, you’re in the perfect place. It all comes together.

That wasn’t this year.

We set out several times on the mountain bikes to see and enjoy the color. First we were too early; then we were too late. We were out of town on a long-planned trip and the peak color season occurred while we were gone. It happens.

Not that I’m complaining. I’ve been able to get good photographs many times in the past and there will be opportunities again in coming years.

So here is a collection of pre-season photos, post-season photos, and a few from several years ago comparing colors in the Inner Basin on similar dates but different years.

Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors along the Arizona Trail near Bismarck Lake (09/29/2017)
Early season colors along the Arizona Trail near Bismarck Lake (09/29/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail in 2014 (10/14/2014).
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail in 2014 (10/14/2014).

Based on previous years, I thought we might still find some great color in the Inner Basin this late in the season. We certainly did in 2014—but not 2017.

And here are a couple from 2015—another good year for aspen photography.

Inner Basin Trail (10/07/2015).
Inner Basin Trail (10/07/2015).
Lockett Meadow and Inner Basin (10/08/2015).
Lockett Meadow and Inner Basin (10/08/2015).

An early snowfall on the higher summits juxtaposed with the aspen almost at their peak made an interesting composition. Getting this view required more hiking and climbing that anticipated—but ultimately worth it.

First Snow and Fall Colors

We had our first snow of the season in Flagstaff, Arizona last week (although snow had occurred much earlier in the nearby mountains) and it was a chance to photograph fall colors against the new snow. First stop was a grove of gambel oaks I had been watching for the past several weeks.

I had hoped for a light dusting of snow so that the leaves would stand out against the snow. Instead, several inches of snow fell and all but covered the leaves.

Gambel oak and several inches of fresh snow near Flagstaff.
Gambel oak and several inches of fresh snow near Flagstaff.

The next stop was in Oak Creek Canyon. Snow cover was quickly diminishing at these lower elevations with only a partial covering remaining as I arrived at around 5500′ elevation.

Clouds swirl around the cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon as a light dusting of snow covers the canyon floor.
Clouds swirl around the cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon as a light dusting of snow covers the canyon floor.

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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).

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