Snow and Fog in Sedona, Arizona

A late-season winter storm brought snow to the high deserts of northern Arizona. An early morning check of weather conditions indicated that Sedona airport (KSEZ) had reported snow. And satellite data showed an area of fog in the Verde Valley, including Sedona. This had the potential to be a great opportunity for photographs.

Fog and low clouds surround Cathedral Rock.
Fog and low clouds surround Cathedral Rock.
Fog and low clouds surround Cathedral Rock.
Fog and low clouds surround Cathedral Rock.
Snow covered cactus.
Snow covered cactus.
Fog and mist partially obscure the red rock cliffs.
Fog and mist partially obscure the red rock cliffs.
Snow covered yucca plant below the red rocks.
Snow covered yucca plant below the red rocks.

The early morning visit to Sedona was worth the effort. And the trip home included a stop at the recently re-opened Indian Gardens  Cafe in Oak Creek Canyon.

Water in the desert

It has been a wet autumn with precipitation amounts well above average for both the month and season. This has resulted in water flowing in some of the small seeps, springs, and streams in the Red Rock country of Arizona.

After a trail run earlier last week to view the water in the desert I returned a second time with photographic intentions. I was particularly interested in the tinajas located in a small side canyon. There had been running water—albeit a slow trickle—on that first trip and I was interested in capturing images of the water.

Brilliant blue skies above a series of small tinajas in Sedona, Arizona.
Brilliant blue skies above a series of small tinajas. The largest tinaja at the base of the pouroff is almost 2 meters in diameter.

Although only a few days had passed between trips the flow of water had noticeably diminished; it will likely take another substantial rain event to bring the water levels back.

Sky and trees are reflected in the tinaja.
Sky and trees are reflected in the tinaja.

Even so, the tinaja was still full of clear water and made for an excellent subject with bright sunlight in the morning and soft shadows in the afternoon.

A water seep in the wall allows ferns to grow—and a small tree as well.
A water seep in the wall allows ferns to grow—and a small tree as well.

Farther up the side canyon was this wall with a water seep that allows a few ferns to take hold and grow. While this is fairly common, the tree growing out of the ferns is decidely less so.

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.

It’s cold outside…and I don’t want to get up and shoot photos!

We’ve had several days of snow across northern Arizona with about 20 inches measured in Flagstaff — and lesser amounts in the lower elevations. Snow levels were low enough that Sedona recorded snow but little or no accumulation. That means that a few inches or more fell and accumulated in Oak Creek Canyon. When there is snow on the red rock the scenery can be amazing and worth photographing. Even if it’s cold outside.

Morning light illuminates the red rock walls of Oak Creek Canyon above Slide Rock State Park. (HDR image)
Morning light illuminates the red rock walls of Oak Creek Canyon above Slide Rock State Park. (HDR image)

All things considered, it wasn’t too bad. Temperatures were in the mid-teens when I left Flagstaff and were in the mid-20s near Slide Rock State Park. This is much warmer than last year when I shot photographs at Slide Rock State Park.

Snow clings to the steep walls of Oak Creek Canyon. (HDR image)
Snow clings to the steep walls of Oak Creek Canyon. (HDR image)

To add to the visual interest, there were clouds clinging to the upper walls of the canyon that caught the early morning sun.

Wispy clouds swirl around the cliff tops of Oak Creek Canyon.
Wispy clouds swirl around the cliff tops of Oak Creek Canyon.

Because of the extreme dynamic range of light with dark shadows and brightly-lit snow I took multiple exposures and then experimented with HDR (high dynamic range) to tone map the results. Definitely a lot of fun but like many HDR images some of the results look a bit cartoonish. Nonetheless, presented here for your amusement.

Reflected sky in the deep pools of Oak Creek.
Reflected sky in the deep pools of Oak Creek.

 

So, I’m glad I got up early and braved the cold. The photos were worth it. After I finished shooting, I headed to Indian Gardens Oak Creek Market for coffee and a bagel.

 

Birds of a feather flock together…

A few days ago we did a mountain bike ride in Sedona. Near the end of the day we travelled across a large area of red rock sandstone located on Llama Trail. Carved into the sandstone was a series of small pools — some of which contained water.

Birds gather at a water hole.
Birds gather at a water hole.

We were treated to this gathering of birds drinking from the pools. After they had their fill, they flew off to their next destination — and we finished our ride.

Descending Pig Trail, Sedona.
Descending Pig Trail, Sedona.