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.

 

Spring snowfall at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon

A late season storm brought snow to the high country of Flagstaff where almost a foot of snow fell over the weekend. But snow also occurred in the lower elevations including Oak Creek Canyon. Here was a final opportunity of the season to photograph new-fallen snow on the red rocks of Slide Rock State Park.

New snow on the red rocks of Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon.
New snow on the red rocks of Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon.

Unlike my previous snow photo shoot here back in early December temperatures were considerably warmer. (On that cold morning it was below zero in Flagstaff and only in the upper teens at Slide Rock State Park.) In fact, the temperatures remained above freezing overnight in this part of Oak Creek Canyon. This meant that the snow had been melting all night long leaving only patches on the ground. On the other hand, the relative warmth also meant that the rocks were only wet rather that covered in ice as in that previous session. So this made walking around substantially safer.

 

Snow covered boulder sits in Oak Creek in Slide Rock State Park.
Snow covered boulder sits in Oak Creek in Slide Rock State Park.

 

Low clouds hung over northern Arizona that morning and the light was dull and flat as a result. Consequently the photographs don’t have the *pop* they might otherwise have if there was sunrise light reflecting off the high cliffs above the creek. Still, the juxtaposition of snow on the red rock is always worth a chance.

 

Boulders in Oak Creek in Slide Rock State Park.
Boulders in Oak Creek in Slide Rock State Park.

Afterwards, a trip to the Indian Gardens Oak Creek Market was in order. Having a hot cup of coffee after a chilly morning of shooting is always welcome. And their bakery items are pretty good, too.

 

Snowfall at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon

Slide Rock State Park is a great place to visit. The water from Oak Creek becomes channeled as it flows through multiple layers of sandstone resulting in some deep and narrow pools of water. On a hot summer day the area is filled with people swimming and having a grand time.

If you arrive here early in the morning you can catch some beautiful light reflecting off the high sandstone cliffs onto the water below.

Water cascades through the sandstone, snow, and ice in Slide Rock State Park.
Water cascades through the sandstone, snow, and ice in Slide Rock State Park.

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to take part in a photo workshop at this location. After that summer workshop I was determined to return in the winter and capture some images with snow on the sandstone. Snow isn’t rare in this location — it’s at an elevation of around 5000 feet, after all. But snow doesn’t last long at these elevations in Arizona, either.

Slide Rock State Park with layers of ice, snow, and sandstone.
Slide Rock State Park with layers of ice, snow, and sandstone.

A recent series of snow storms put snow on the ground at elevations even lower than Slide Rock so this was a great opportunity. I left Flagstaff before sunrise and the temperature was a very cold 0°F at an elevation of 7000 feet. By the time I had descended down Oak Creek Canyon to 5000 feet the temperature had warmed to a balmier 19°F. To make it even more uncomfortable, there was a down-canyon wind blowing to bring on some wind chill.

Still, I was determined to try.

 

Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon.
Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon.

The lighting was very challenging as the upper canyon walls began to light up with the rising sun. The normally red rocks were brilliant with snow and it was all too easy to overexpose the upper portions of the canyon walls while being underexposed within the Slide Rock area.

Rather than try to capture “everything” it was more reasonable to focus on the water, rocks and snow that were all still in the deep shadows of the canyon.

A delicate cascade of water produces icicles on the leaves and branches.
A delicate cascade of water produces icicles on the leaves and branches.

As the sun rose higher and the shadows disappeared other photographers arrived. Perhaps they knew better than I that the best light was after the sun was higher in the sky. Or, perhaps just as likely, they weren’t willing to photograph in well below freezing temperatures. Either way, I had the area to myself for over an hour of shooting and I had a great time.