Sometimes a wonderful photographic opportunity just falls into place with no effort on my part.
I watched a hawk dive down towards the water of Wet Beaver Creek and then heard the squawking of another bird—this heron—as it took flight. It landed in this tree top a moment later. And then I saw that the Moon was right there. I only had to take a step or two for this positioning of Moon and heron. And, then, a moment later, it took flight again and was gone.
Not too far from the highway and only a short walk from a challenging forest service road are some amazing panels of rock art. Welcome to Red Tank Draw.
The draw is a deep wash draining from Rarick Canyon on the Mogollon Rim into Wet Beaver Creek, often carrying cold snow melt in the early spring. But today the flow of water was quiet and gentle. It’s been a warm and dry winter, after all.
“Petroglyphs are the main attraction but multicolored lichens growing on the sheer rock walls can be found here as well, some forming designs as intriguing as the etchings.”
“As ancient as the rock art, lichens are the unlikely combination of a fungus and an algae (although sometimes a fungus and a cyanobacterium)”
On this warm spring day, we wandered up and down the draw examining numerous panels of rock art. We’ve been here before and knew where to look so we went for our favorites.
This panel is often referred to as the “sabre tooth cat” panel. It looks like a sabre tooth cat but is probably a more common feline predator such as a bobcat.
But the best panel is found on a large sandstone wall that has evidence of geologically recent rockfall. As the sun moves westward and shadows creep across this face the rock art becomes more impressive until, finally, a single spear of light pierces across the rock wall.
Wet Beaver Creek is a popular destination for hikers — especially in the hotter months. Along the stream are many trees providing shade and cooler temperatures. But the biggest draw is the swimming hole locally known as “The Crack” located about three and one-half miles upstream from the trail head. On a hot and sunny weekend there might be a few dozen visitors swimming and relaxing by the stream. Even on a cold weekday you might find visitors because even though it is too cold to swim it is still magnificent to see. (Well, maybe not too cold. I’ve seen trail runners jump in during the winter!)
But go beyond The Crack and the crowds thin out quickly. There is no trail other than a faint footpath that wanders from one bank to the other. There are sections that require wading in the water. And then there are the required swims (“aqua-hiking”) in which the canyon sides close in and the water deepens.
These are best done in the hottest months otherwise the hypothermia factor must be considered. Finally, these are not easy miles so it takes far longer to travel than one might anticipate.