Fall Colors in Northern Arizona

A few more images showcasing fall colors in northern Arizona. It was great while it lasted!

North Wilson Trail.
North Wilson Trail.
West Fork Oak Creek (12mm fisheye lens).
West Fork Oak Creek (12mm fisheye lens).
West Fork Oak Creek (panorama).
West Fork Oak Creek (panorama).
West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.
North Wilson Trail.
North Wilson Trail.

 

Autumn Colors in Northern Arizona

October and November brings color to the foliage in northern Arizona. This year, however, the colors have been subdued and the color change has been over an extended period of time rather than a sharp peak. Nonetheless, it’s always a fun time to get out and photograph. These photographs were taken between October 10 and November 1.

October 10, 2023

Lockett Meadows, the Inner Basin, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Lockett Meadows, the Inner Basin, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Lockett Meadows, the Inner Basin, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Lockett Meadows, the Inner Basin, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Fallen aspen leaves cover the Waterline Road in the San Francisco Peaks.
Fallen aspen leaves cover the Waterline Road in the San Francisco Peaks.
A ridge is covered with aspen as seen from the Inner Basin Trail.
A ridge is covered with aspen as seen from the Inner Basin Trail.

October 19, 2023

Aspen along the Veit Springs trail on the San Francisco Peaks.
Aspen along the Veit Springs trail on the San Francisco Peaks.

October 30, 2023

Red maple leaves in Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Red maple leaves in Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Fallen maple leaves in Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Fallen maple leaves in Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple tree, Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple tree, Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.

November 1, 2023

Apple leaves, Call Of The Canyon picnic area, Oak Creek Canyon.
Apple leaves, Call Of The Canyon picnic area, Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple tree, West Fork Oak Creek trail.
Maple tree, West Fork Oak Creek trail.
A sunlit wall is reflected in a pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
A sunlit wall is reflected in a pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
Fallen leaves sit atop the water in a tranquil pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
Fallen leaves sit atop the water in a tranquil pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
Bright yellow maple leaves arch across the West Fork Oak Creek trail.
Bright yellow maple leaves arch across the West Fork Oak Creek trail.

The color continues to migrate into the lower elevations. Middle and lower sections of Oak Creek Canyon have yet to hit their peak.

A Winter Hike up West Fork Oak Creek canyon

Running water and ice fill the shaded depths of West Fork Oak Creek.
Running water and ice fill the shaded depths of West Fork Oak Creek.

It has been a few years since we have done a winter hike up the West Fork of Oak Creek. This is mainly because of overcrowding in the canyon and a full parking lot.Β But earlier this week we passed by the entrance and noted that the parking lot was nearly empty. We already had plans for that day but decided to hike the following day.

This wall of ice greets hikers at the very beginning of the West Fork Trail.
This wall of ice greets hikers at the very beginning of the West Fork Trail.
Overnight refreezing creates amazing ice patterns.
Overnight refreezing creates amazing ice patterns.
One of the 13 stream crossings along the West Fork Trail.
One of the 13 stream crossings along the West Fork Trail.
Beautiful with snow and ice but this location is also amazing during the fall when the trees are in full color.
Beautiful with snow and ice but this location is also amazing during the fall when the trees are in full color.
There is an overhanging wall that drips water constantly and produces amazing icicles and ice sculptures.
There is an overhanging wall that drips water constantly and produces amazing icicles and ice sculptures.
A natural ice scupture from dripping water. What does it look like to you?
A natural ice scupture from dripping water. What does it look like to you?
Another overhanging wall with icicles framing the sunlit wall on the other side of the canyon.
Another overhanging wall with icicles framing the sunlit wall on the other side of the canyon.
The end of the West Fork trail where water spreads from side to side ("The Subway"). This can easily be waded in the summer but requires an extended deep freeze for the ice to thicken in the winter. While it may look like open water it is actually clear ice about an inch or so thick.
The end of the West Fork trail where water spreads from side to side (“The Subway”). This can easily be waded in the summer but requires an extended deep freeze for the ice to thicken in the winter. While it may look like open water it is actually clear ice about an inch or so thick.

We have done this hike in the winter enough times to know that having solid foot traction gear is necessary as well as a set of hiking poles. With those aids, we had very little trouble hiking to the end of the established trail (~3.2 miles). As noted at the trailhead, there are 13 stream crossings and each one had ice-covered rocks and/or logs to step on. The trail was a combination of packed snow and ice.

We saw only a few people at the start of the hike and none after the first half-mile or so. On the way back, we encountered a few hiking parties intent on reaching the end of the trail and they were close enough that I have little doubt that they made it. As we got closer to the trailhead we ran into several parties that were ill-equipped to be doing this winter hike.

This winter hike is best right after a snowstorm but that can mean having to break trail through the snow. We’ve done that and it was a workout. But the payoff in snow-covered cliffs and creek are worth the effort.

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Here are some older entries about hiking West Fork in the winter:

Hiking West Fork Oak Creek — From the Top

West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.

Most of the time when we hike West Fork Oak Creek we do it from the bottom up. Only once before have we done top-to-bottom and that was back in 1999. We were new to northern Arizona and had read Tyler Williams’Β Canyoneering ArizonaΒ that this could be done in one very long, hard day. He was right about the long and hard. We have since referred to that epic day as our bootcamp hike.

The start of the hike on Woody Mountain Road.
The start of the hike on Woody Mountain Road.
West Fork Oak Creek. You have been warned of the difficulties that lie ahead.
West Fork Oak Creek. You have been warned of the difficulties that lie ahead.

The passage of time can dim the memories of how hard and unpleasant things were. So here we were in 2019, twenty years later, and we wanted to do this hike again but with some modifications. We were not planning on hiking the entire length of the canyon. Instead, we would simply head down canyon and turn around when we had enough.

The first few miles feature a dry wash filled with boulders, sand, and thick vegetation. There is no trail.
The first few miles feature a dry wash filled with boulders, sand, and thick vegetation. There is no trail.

It didn’t take long to realize that even this would be a challenge. There is no maintained trail—and not even much of any hint of a trail at all. The vegetation was so thick we had to bushwhack our way through it. Remember that the Slide Fire in 2014 burned through this area (mostly low intensity) and this thick vegetation may be the result of the burn and regrowth. And there was lots of poison ivy. After the first few attempts to get around it we gave up and just plowed through it.

It took us about 2 1/2 hours to reach the first set of narrows about 3 miles down canyon. Just below the narrows is the confluence with Casner Cabin Draw—which ended up being our turnaround spot. We had some commitments that evening so we did not have unlimited time for exploration. Maybe that was a good thing!

The first narrows are encounted just upcanyon of the confluence with Casner Cabin Draw.
The first narrows are encounted just upcanyon of the confluence with Casner Cabin Draw.
At the first narrows (2019).
At the first narrows (2019).
At the first narrows (1999).
At the first narrows (1999).

I had just been looking at some old photographs from that 1999 hike so I remembered a few locations and took new photographs in the same spots. The tree on the right has grown substantially in 20 years.

Navigating the boulders in the dry narrows.
Navigating the boulders in the dry narrows.

We did not encounter any water in the stream bed until the narrows and even then it was a small pool only a few inches deep and a few feet wide.

Wading through the cold pools (1999).
Wading through the cold pools (1999).

I’ve also included a photo (a scanned Kodachrome slide) from that 1999 hike showing one of the “must swim” cold pools of water.

We enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the upper canyon.

A Summer Hike up West Fork Oak Creek

In early July we invited some friends to join us for a hike up West Fork Oak Creek. This is a hike we used to do almost every year until the Slide Fire in 2014 . We made a short trip up the canyon when it reopened and were pleased that the canyon had not burned but saddened by all the silt and ash that had clogged the deep pools.

West Fork Oak CreekÒ€”First Narrows
West Fork Oak CreekÒ€”First Narrows

Earlier this year we did our first hike up the canyon in many years. Our main interest was to learn if the heavy rains of this past winter had successfully flushed out the silt and ash from the 2014 Slide Fire. As reported in a previous article here, the heavy rains had done a fine job of returning the canyon to its former pristine condition.

First time in West Fork!
First time in West Fork!
Wading through the water in the first narrows in West Fork.
Wading through the water in the first narrows in West Fork.
Above the first narrows in West Fork.
Above the first narrows in West Fork.
Water is channeled into this narrow and shallow slot in the canyon.
Water is channeled into this narrow and shallow slot in the canyon.
Enjoying a break in the cool shade above the narrows.
Enjoying a break in the cool shade above the narrows.

Now, with warm weather and sunny skies, it was time to hike as far up West Fork as time would permit. In the past, we have made it up and just beyond the “Camping Permitted” point which is around six miles up canyon. Years ago, we also did an end-to-end starting at Woody Mountain Road and hiking the entire length in a day. But since that “boot camp” day back in 1999, we have only hiked up from the bottom. This day was no different—except that we traveled farther up the canyon than any of our previous hikes. That’s a successful day. We spent about six hours hiking up and returned in about five hours.

Our friends were not able to commit as much time so they turned around after about 3.5 miles (i.e., after the “End of Trail” and just a bit beyond the first narrows).

Another narrows section.
Another narrows section.
Tree and sandstone wall.
Tree and sandstone wall.

The wildflowers were great. There were masses of Monkshood and Monkey Flowers—so I was motivated to get a photograph of both “monks*” in one shot. Nope. Apparently, they prefer slightly different conditions and while they would sometimes be close, they were never clustered together. Columbines were also in great abundance. And there were a few flowers we could not immediately identify but could certainly enjoy.

Monkshood wildflowers.
Monkshood wildflowers.
Columbines line the shore of West Fork Oak Creek.
Columbines line the shore of West Fork Oak Creek.
Stream orchid.
Stream orchid.

About a mile or so above the “camping permitted” sign we began to encounter thickets of brush from one side of the canyon to the other. These made forward travel very difficult. They also brought back memories of how challenging this section was back when we did the entire canyon. And, with that in mind, we declared that location to be our turn-around point.

Deep pool with overhanging sandstone wave.
Deep pool with overhanging sandstone wave.
Reflection pool.
Reflection pool.
The crux move. If you slip, you swim.
The crux move. If you slip, you swim.
Hiking through the narrows.
Hiking through the narrows.
Cairn marking the trail.
Cairn marking the trail.

What a fun (and tiring) day!