Autumn Colors — 2021

The changing of the colors of leaves continues to march from the higher to lower elevations. The higher elevations and aspens peaked in mid October while places such as Oak Creek Canyon hit their peak a few weeks later. Peak color is just now reaching Sedona and similar locations. Here are several photos of leaves taken over the past few weeks in and near Oak Creek Canyon.

Fruit trees near Cave Springs campground.
Fruit trees near Cave Springs campground.
Maples near the Harding Springs trail.
Maples near the Harding Springs trail.
AB Young trailhead.
AB Young trailhead.
Grape leaves at the AB Young trailhead.
Grape leaves at the AB Young trailhead.
AB Young trailhead.
AB Young trailhead.
Maple leaves in upper Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple leaves in upper Oak Creek Canyon.
Leaves on the water in Kelly Canyon.
Leaves on the water in Kelly Canyon.
Oak leaves in Kelly Canyon.
Oak leaves in Kelly Canyon.

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.

Additional snow fell that afternoon and evening and I returned the next morning to Oak Creek Canyon. The snow was a bit deeper this time and more widespread. And the cold temperatures of the previous days had resulted in a little more color in the leaves.

Maple leaves show their fall colors as snow lies on a fallen tree in Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple leaves show their fall colors as snow lies on a fallen tree in Oak Creek Canyon.
Finally! Some red appears in the maples this year.
Finally! Some red appears in the maples this year.

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…um…larger. 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.

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.