Autumn arrives to the West Fork of Oak Creek in previous years.

Following a long closure after the devastating Slide Fire this summer, the Oak Creek Canyon, including the famed West Fork (north of Sedona) reopens today! Just in time for autumn!

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/story/travel/road-trips/2014/09/30/oak-creek-canyon-sedona-open-slide-fire/16473799/.

The trees in this area typically start donning their fall coat in mid-October, with the peak right around Halloween and lingering into early November (depending on the weather).  Although fire crews made a concerted effort to protect this riparian area, it’s unknown how that will affect (if at all) the changing of the leaves on the trees that remain.  Best thing to do?  Grab your camera and check it out!

Happy shooting!

Autumn arrives to the West Fork of Oak Creek in previous years.

 

 

If you love color in Arizona, you’ll love the entire month of September in the Grand Canyon State!  The ninth month of the year serves as a transition period where the summer heat finally gives into the cooler, refreshing breezes of autumn and the wildflowers dancing in picturesque meadows begin to disappear, paving the way for the on-looking trees to put on their own colorful display.

Thanks to our mild climate – save for summer in the desert – Arizona sees an extended growing season for not only wildflowers, but fall colors across the state.  As the weather changes, leaves on the deciduous trees and bushes begin their multicolored transformation in late September in the higher elevations and last into early January along the riparian areas in the far south.  Yes, early January!

Though we’re sad to see the 2012 wildflower come to an end,  we’re gearing up already for an exciting autumn season ahead!  And we hope you are too!  As we prepare for the new season’s arrival, Paul and I wanted to share our favorite locations to photograph the changing palette of color in Arizona each month.  So mark your calendars and get ready for Mother Nature’s next act!

September

Near Snowbowl Ski Area

Aspen groves and views of the San Francisco Peaks near the Snowbowl Ski Area

  • Paul (P):  The Kaibab Plateau en route to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon starting in late September. The drive from Jacob Lake on Highway 67 to De Motte Park has some of Arizona’s best groves of aspen. A short drive on any forest road in this area will get you deep into the golden forests.
  • Colleen (C):  Near the Snowbowl Ski Area in Flagstaff the last week of September.  A quick and easy stroll from the parking lot leads to abundant aspens, changing seemingly all hues of yellow and orange.  A visit here is a great way to kick off your fall photography season!  (www.arizonasnowbowl.com)

October

Canyon de Chelly

Cottonwood trees in Canyon de Chelly National Monument

  • P:  Upper Christopher Creek area with a short one mile hike into See Canyon in mid-October. See fiery maples without the crowds of Oak Creek Canyon (near Sedona, which also a worthwhile location to visit around this time, so long as you don’t mind a little more company).
  • C: Canyon de Chelly in late October.  An already magical, photogenic canyon gets a splash of color, thanks to the cottonwood trees lining the wash change from summer green to vibrant yellow. (nps.gov/cach)

November

  • P:  Garden Canyon on the Huachuca Army Base out side of Sierra Vista in early November.  A long, bumpy ride along a dirt road pays off with a canyon full of eclectic deciduous trees showing their vivacious fall coats along a small, idyllic flowing creek.
  • C: Pumphouse Wash in early November.  Everyone flocks to the nearby West Fork of Oak Creek – and for good reason!  It’s spectacular! – but when you want to photograph the season’s color in solitude, turn to this quiet canyon to record maples, Oregon grape, and sycamores against the beige Coconino sandstone cliffs.

December

San Pedro River

San Pedro River

  • P:  San Pedro River all month and into January:  The autumnal season in Arizona goes out on a high note here as a ribbon of cottonwoods and sycamore sing the final song of fall along sections of stream from Charleston Road outside of Sierra Vista to Hereford.
  • C:  Hassyampa River Nature Preserve in early December.  While many people in northern latitudes are shoveling snow, the cottonwood trees in this little-known gem are still saying it’s fall in Arizona.

As we’ve done with the wildflowers this year, we’ll post periodic Field Reports here on our blog throughout the season with up-to-date information about color conditions in the various locations we visit and photograph.  Be sure to keep us posted with your findings along the way as well!

In the meantime, if you’re looking to start polishing your photography skills, be sure to join Colleen at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum on Sunday, September 16 for the “Get Ready for Fall” Photo Workshop (more information at arboretum.ag.arizona.edu/photoclass.html, registration required, limited to 12 students).

Happy fall color shooting!
Paul and Colleen

Reflections in Palm Lake

Cottonwood leaf

Cottonwood leaf

For many people in northern latitudes, the month of December often rings of snow storms, shopping, and celebrations.  While the latest storm left parts of Arizona covered in that unfamiliar white stuff and the day-time high temperatures have dropped to a <sarcasm> frigid </sarcasm> 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the deciduous trees in southern Arizona are still saying it’s fall in this part of the country.

A day-long visit to the Hassyampa River Preserve outside of Wickenburg revealed a painterly palette of golds along the Hassyampa River Bed.  Peak color likely occurred a mere couple days ago, but with the recent storm leaving traces of snow behind on the high desert, the browning leaves will quickly find their way to the ground within a week or so.

A short hike up the steep Lyke’s Lookout trail showcases a more aerial view of the curvy waterway.  A stroll along the easy Palm Lake Loop and Willow Walkway provide excellent photographic opportunities to capture reflecting trees and leaves in the small man-made, but now spring-fed, pond.

View of the cotton-wood and willow-lined Hassyampa River bed

During the winter, the preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (trails close at 4:30).  An entrance fee is required.  For more information, visit the Hassyampa River Preserve.

Golden cottonwood trees reflect in Palm Lake

View looking northwest at sunset from the point at Tsegi Overlook, Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Looking for something to do this weekend?

I honestly can’t think of a bad time to visit, experience, and photograph Canyon de Chelly National Monument, but in late October and early November, this culturally and geologically rich place gets even more beautiful when a splash of autumnal color outlines the canyon floor below soaring Navajo sandstone cliffs.  Fall has come a little late to this area – as it has across much of Arizona this year – so this weekend would be the perfect time to see the finale of fall colors here!

Throughout the entire canyon, the cottonwoods are peaking as we speak, so no matter which overlook you stop at, you’re bound to bring home the beauty of this park on your memory cards.   My favorite place to shoot sunrise is from Junction Overlook, looking into the sun as it rises above Canyon de Chelly.  Great places to put your tripod at sunset are Tsegi Overlook and Spider Rock Overlook looking west at sunset.

Photographing Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto from the south or north rim respectively can make capturing a “correct” exposure difficult, even at sunrise and sunset.  Direct light skimming across the canyon on clear days tends to cast odd-shaped shadows on the walls and floor, resulting in a sharp contrast between highlights and shadows.  With such dramatic difference in the tones, U-shaped histograms are common…even in low light…

Pre-dawn light at Junction Overlook

If a blue sky is overhead, pull out your telephoto lens to isolate patterns and lines of trees at the bottom of the canyon.  Look for compositions that fall entirely within a deep shadow to capture more even lighting across the scene.  Cloudy days or during civil twilight (the 30 minutes before a sunrise and after a sunset) provide the best opportunity to record saturated colors.  Both types of light enable beautiful directional, but more even illumination across the canyon…making exposures much easier to manage!

If you have the time, hire a Navajo guide to take you inside the canyon for a magical experience during the day.  Depending on your tour, you’ll see the photogenic Antelope House Ruin, White House Ruin, and Spider Rock up close and personal.  Look for ways to include the yellow leaves of the changing cottonwood trees as a framing device to help create the illusion of depth in your photograph.

The Day Use area at the entrance to the Cottonwood Campground near the Thunderbird Lodge offers an unlikely, but outstanding place to photograph within a massive grove of colorful cottonwood trees.  Emphasize the height of a single tree or a group of them by getting close to the tree trunk(s) and pointing your widest angle lens upwards.

For more information about this national monument, visit www.nps.gov/cach.  Before you visit, consider also checking the Photographer’s Ephemeris tool (available at photoephemeris.com, where you can get a free computer download, $8.99 for the iPhone app, and/or $4.99 for the Android app).  This software program allows you to pre-visualize the light’s direction at a location using Google maps, which helps save you time when you arrive on-site.

Happy shooting,

-Colleen

Fremont cottonwood grove at the Day Use area near the Cottonwood Campground

If you’re interested in photographing autumn colors in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, I’d recommend you immediately stop reading this blog, grab your cameras, and hit the road NOW!  The colors in the upper canyon are past peak, so this week will likely offer one of the last chances of this year to photograph in one of Arizona’s most scenic canyons!

The sycamores, maples, cottonwoods, and Arizona grape are still showing some color along 89A starting at the renowned West Fork of the Oak Creek Trail (about 11.5 miles north of downtown Sedona) and north up to Pumphouse Wash (about 13.5 miles north of downtown Sedona).  Even though peak appears to have occurred last week – leaf drop is significant and browning out fast – there are still fantastic opportunities to record autumnal hues on these two canyon hikes.

The West Fork of Oak Creek Trail allows for an easy-going, meandering hike along a tranquil creek.  Even a short stroll along the path offers fantastic photographic opportunities (we often joke that you could point your camera in any direction here and capture a great image!).  Bring wide-angle, macro, and telephoto lenses to match the broad subject matter you’ll encounter.  Pack a polarizing filter to enhance or eliminate the reflections in the creek.  And don’t forget an extra lens cloth, water shoes, and a tripod to stabilize your camera during long exposures if you plan to get in the water.  Keep an eye out for poison ivy, which will appear red this time of year.  For additional information about the West Fork of Oak Creek, visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/red_rock/westfork-tr.shtml.

A hike through Pumphouse Wash offers a more strenuous outing, but you’ll likely be one of few people in the canyon, making it an excellent spot for those seeking solitude.  There are no formal parking areas, but two dirt pullouts exist – one south and one north of the signed Pumphouse Wash bridge – on the west side of the road.  The wash runs under this bridge.  It’s a bit of a scramble to drop into the canyon from the north pullout, but the definitive social path shows the safest way down.  Once in the canyon, head eastward.  A trail does not exist.  Instead, you’ll be rock hopping on volcanic and sandstone boulders of all sizes almost the entire route.   Plan on a little extra time for the extra effort you’ll put in.  The best color currently appears within the first 45 minutes of your trek.  Because the scenery can look busy and visually overwhelming along the wash, try a normal or telephoto lens to help isolate your subjects here.  A polarizer will help bring out the colors left in the leaves.

Areas like Grasshopper Point and Slide Rock State Park displayed patchy color, trending towards browning out.  Mother Nature may decide these areas won’t see a lot of color this year, but there are chances to photograph the occasional tree showing a vibrant branch or leaves gracing the ground with a macro lens.  For more information about these two areas, visit:

All for now, happy shooting!

-Colleen

Aspen leaves showing autumnal colors on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona

If my air conditioning bill is any indication, it’s been a really long and hot summer here in Phoenix, Arizona, so we’re anxiously awaiting the arrival of fall!  Weather forecasts indicate stormy days are ahead for the Grand Canyon State, as a cold front is expected to move through the area tomorrow.  Perhaps this is the change in season we’ve been waiting for?  Please?  Pretty please?!  With a cherry on top?!!

One of the first places in Arizona to see fall colors is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Situated at over 8,000 feet elevation, the Kaibab Plateau is home to a multitude of color-changing trees, primarily quaking aspen, Gambel oak, and Arizona walnut.  With the combination of warm days and cool nights, this area’s display of color typically peaks around the last week of September.

Not this year!

A visit to this area last week showed the development of color – on the whole – moving a little more slowly and appearing more spotty than normal.   As you drive in along Highway 67, you’ll notice a checkerboard of vibrant patches of yellow and orange aspens intermixed with completely unchanged green-leafed aspens among ponderosa pines.  Spots near the Warm Fire burn area and around DeMotte Park offer the best color en route to the national park right now.

It’s about the same story inside the park.  The burn areas are showing off palettes of yellow, orange, and even red-colored aspen leaves, and are likely at peak as we speak.  On the other hand, quick hikes along the Transept and Widforss trails revealed a lot of green.  Rangers suggested the cliffs along the Transept Trail covered in oak will likely start their peak show the second week of October (almost two weeks late!).  Check out either of these easy paths towards sunset with a wide-angle lens in hand to get one of the best views of autumn arriving to the Grand Canyon.

In search of autumnal signs, we also traveled along a number of our favorite dirt roads – namely Forest Roads 611 and 219 near the East Rim of the canyon – where some stands of aspens exhibited brilliant color, while others appeared comfortably dressed in their summer greens.  These spots offered seemingly endless close-up photography opportunities of multicolored leaves with a macro lens.

Some aspen stands are nearing peak color along Forest Road 219 en route to Marble Point, Kaibab Plateau, Arizona

Though the arrival of fall is late at the North Rim this year, there are plenty of photographic opportunities on the Kaibab Plateau and the Grand Canyon National Park worth the 7-hour drive from Phoenix.  Scenes of Wotan’s Throne from Cape Royal and Mount Hayden from Point Imperial at sunrise and sunset would not disappoint any landscape/nature photographer!

But when things aren’t going the way you planned, sometimes you have to push a little harder and change your perspective.  Though I expected to come home with memory cards full of lively trees in their peak fall colors, I instead came home with a handful of scouting shots related to autumn (as Galen Rowell once suggested, “If it looks good, shoot it.  If it looks better, shoot it again.”) and a memory card full of pictures showing a lone pinyon pine tree beneath the spectacularly clear Milky Way from Marble Point (at the end of Forest Road 219) during a moonless night.

Indeed, it is a photograph of a lively tree!  Just not one that turns color…

The Milky Way shines brightly above a lone pinyon pine tree at Marble Point along the East Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Happy fall and shooting to you all,

– Colleen

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