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.

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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A Big snow in northern Arizona

It’s been an interesting fall around here with regards to precipitation. The December statistics for Flagstaff are interesting. Up through 12/29/2014, there had been 2.75″ of water equivalent (both rain and melted snow). Normal for this period is 1.60″. Snowfall, on the other hand, has been mighty scarce. There had been a total of 4.9 inches this fall/winter; normal should be closer to 26 inches. What a difference!

But all that changed dramatically with the arrival of a strong and cold winter storm on New Year’s Eve day and continuing into the New Year’s Day. Snow levels fell to very low elevations with this storm and photographers were flocking to their favorite locations to capture amazing images of the desert with snow. Even Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, received some snow from this storm.

An interesting aspect of this event was the cold front that pushed southward across the Great Basin and brought frigid air to southern Utah and northern Arizona just before the storm arrived. Then, when the precipitation began it fell into very cold air—and did not melt—resulting in snow accumulations around the very low elevations of Lake Powell and Page. This location is well known for being highly photogenic and the addition of snow makes it even better.

Closer to home, significant snow fell in Flagstaff (16-20 inches), Oak Creek Canyon, and Sedona. In fact, folks suggest this may have been the most snow from a single storm in several decades with 8-10 inches decorating the famous Red Rock Country.

And it was an amazing sight when the sun finally broke through the clouds.

Pillows of snow covers the rocks in Oak Creek.
Pillows of snow covers the rocks in Oak Creek.
Snow decorates the red rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Snow decorates the red rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Coffeepot rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Coffeepot rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Cathedral Rock and the reflecting pools.
Cathedral Rock and the reflecting pools.
Cathedral Rock reflected in Oak Creek.
Cathedral Rock reflected in Oak Creek.
Sunset colors splash across the tree tops, red rocks, and snow in Sedona, Arizona.
Sunset colors splash across the tree tops, red rocks, and snow in Sedona, Arizona.
The Kachina Peaks with a rising moon from Garland Prairie, Arizona.
The Kachina Peaks with a rising moon from Garland Prairie, Arizona.
Moonrise behind the Kachina Peak.
Moonrise behind the Kachina Peaks .
Moonrise behind the Kachina Peaks along with Earth Shadow and Belt of Venus.
Moonrise behind the Kachina Peaks along with Earth Shadow and Belt of Venus.

Harding Springs, Fall Colors, and the Full Moon

Continuing with the thread in the previous post we have more images of fall colors in the Oak Creek Canyon area. This time, we explored a small side canyon known as Harding Springs. Although there is a trail, we chose to walk up the dry wash since the best colors were on trees in and near the stream bed. And we actually found a small trickle of water in a single location.

Fall colors in Harding Springs.
Fall colors in Harding Springs.

 

A thin trickle of water in Harding Springs.
A thin trickle of water in Harding Springs.

 

Later that day we hiked to the top of a rock formation known as Napoleons Tomb in Sedona so that we could watch the (nearly) full moon rise in the gap of Cathedral Rock. To make the image even better, hikers fortuitously positioned themselves in front of the moon. I wish I could say that I orchestrated this but it was just chance!

Moon rise above Cathedral Rock.
Moon rise above Cathedral Rock.