Current Hot Spots:  Areas near Superior and Globe.  Peachville Mountain and Silver King Mine area continue their impressive (and super early!) poppy display.   Paul Wolterbeek out at Boyce Thompson Arboretum posted some great photos of Peridot Mesa on the San Carlos Indian Reservation on DesertUSA (http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/az.html).

Mexican Gold Poppy

Mexican Gold Poppy near Saguaro Lake

We’ve also received reports from readers that the Black Hills Rock Hounding area near Safford (thanks Donna Clarke!) and Box Canyon south of Highway 60 (thanks Sue Penney!) are both showing poppies as well.

Up and Coming:  Saguaro Lake area about 2 miles south of the intersection of the Beeline Highway (Hwy 87) and the Bush Highway.  In a short “drive-by” visit, we counted over 11 different types of flowers in bloom, including young poppies (see photo on left), lupine, chuparosa, bladderpod, fiddleneck, filaree, desert marigolds, desert globemallow, and desert pincushion (see photo on right)

Desert Pincushion

Desert Pincushion near Saguaro Lake

Not Happening (Yet):  Cline Cabin Road, Devils Potato Patch, and Oatman.  Though normally an early blooming location at the start of the Arizona’s wildflower season, Oatman likely saw an annual-killing freeze during the snowstorm that hit northwestern Arizona in the middle of last week.  Though poppies and other annuals aren’t likely to show there this year as a result, it still may be worth a visit to see the perennials in a month or so, specifically for the brittlebush, which are less affected by the extreme weather conditions.

Happy hunting!
~Colleen

 

The poppies are coming!  The poppies are coming!Mexican Gold Poppy

While some northern states are still buried in snow, it’s almost 70 degrees here in sunny Phoenix, Arizona (gotta love winter in the desert!). Thanks to some healthy rains in November and December (not so much in January though), combined with mild but warmer temperatures, we’re starting to see wildflowers in the desert already.

Poppies, like the one on the right from a couple years ago at Florence Junction, are beginning to pop up along the roadsides, as are blooms of globemallow, brittlebush, and desert marigolds. The result of human hydroseeding efforts, these early bloomers suggest the wild bloom may be just around the corner…on the early side if this weather continues…

Our good friend, Paul Wolterbeek at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park reports:

“Check out Peachville Mountain (north of Superior, AZ and best accessed from the Silver King Mine Road off highway 60)  over the next two weeks for hillsides of Goldpoppies — from 5 miles away you can already see the first west-facing hillsides turning orange-gold. Poppies are blooming now, but peak color should be 10-14 days ahead. Judging from the size of the hillside swaths I saw today – could be breathtaking by next week (maybe even this coming weekend).

Lesquerella, also known as bladderpod. Photo courtesy of Paul Wolterbeek.

Today I hiked a section of Arnett Canyon south of Boyce Thompson Arboretum with my co-worker Gonzalo, who lead me to a nice (though small, isolated and remote) hillside of goldpoppies. Photographed ‘em with charismatic saguaros in the background. Not my best poppy JPGs ever, but still my first for 2012 so I’m pleased! Red Maids and Henbit were abundant, we also saw a few scattered Firecracker Penstemon, Bluedicks, Bladderpod (both yellow and the “purpurea” variety with white flower clusters); Blackfoot Daisies – and even Desert Lavender. One Desert Anemone growing in the volcanic rocks down by the dry creekbed was a welcome surprise. Blooming flowers were few, but unusually early this year for our elevation (2,400 feet); Gonzalo pointed out abundant lupine, phacelia and other annuals that will flower over the coming weeks. Spring’s already looking good!

Photographers: if you go, please be careful and walk lightly – don’t trample small shoots that are coming up, Feb. 8 is still quite early in the season, with many flowers yet to bloom – so please tread lightly over all the lupines-to-be, phacelia, mallows and others that aren’t showy yet, but soon will be.”

Wolterbeek – who’s definitely as wild about wildflowers as we are!! – also kindly sent us a list of the first signs he’s seen of spring within the state park, which included:

  • “Marah gilensis (WILD CUCUMBER), all over the park – watch for skyward-reaching vines and coiled tendrils the plant uses to climb above host plants it uses as ladders to reach sunlight. clusters of starfish shaped flowers now will turn into fruit shaped like a medieval mace.
  • Crossosoma bigelovii (RHYOLITE BUSH, aka ragged rock flower), a cool shrub endemic to areas with volcanic rock, rhyolite, such as you find with our towering volcanic cliffs at BTA that are remnants of picket post mountain’s volcanic past. rhyolite bush is flowering strong this week, in fact many are at peak now — early this year.
  • Lycium exsertum (TOMATILLO), larger shrubs all along the main trail which began flowering back in January – and are at peak right now.  Flowers are tubular and downward pointing — worthy photo ops when they’re being worked by native bees. watch for little red berries on these shrubs in a month or so.
  • Simmondsia chinensis (JOJOBA), a member of the boxwood family, and a common desert shrub known for the coffee-bean-sized brown seeds you can snack on if you’re hiking a desert trail from may-through-july when ripe. you can’t easily tell the sex of these plants during fall and winter – but its obvious now when they’re flowering. many of these are at peak at BTA now. flowers are nondescript, green and unshowy – but its an important native plant if you’re into ethnobotany.
  • Lesquerella purpurea (PURPLE BLADDERPOD), the very first of these began blooming this weekend right along the trail up above Ayer Lake. despite the name, look for white flowers.
  • Phacelia distans (PHACELIA, scorpionweed); a member of the waterleaf family, the very first scattered few of these are blooming along the ‘switchbacks’ section of trail down below picket post mansion, just above queen creek. expect to see thickets of this photogenic, fuzzy & blue/purple/violet flower by mid/late February.
  • Ephedra viridis (MORMON TEA), like jojoba, this one’s unshoy and innocuous, but look closely at the flower clusters and you’ll see they resemble pine cones. they’re related.”

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum will start up their excellent guided wildflower walks with Cass Blodgett starting the first weekend in March.  For extra photography help, Paul and I will return to the Arboretum on March 3rd for another round of FREE presentation and photo walks.   For details on these two opportunities, check out http://ag.arizona.edu/bta/.  We also have a full schedule of additional events posted on our Wild in Arizona website at http://www.wildinarizona.com/events.html.

Starting within the next week or so, we’ll start posting field reports based on Paul and my upcoming outings so stay tuned to our blog here!  Another great resource to bookmark is the DesertUSA Wildflower Reports at http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/wildupdates.html.

Happy color chasing!

~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

We’re excited to announce our first Book Signing Event with one of our valued book sponsors, Tempe Camera, on December 10th from 9 am to 5 pm.

Stop by to pick up your copy of our newly released book, “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, and How.”

Co-authors Colleen Miniuk-Sperry and Paul Gill will be on hand to sign books, share behind the scenes stories about the photos in the book, and chat about the 2012 spring bloom forecast.

In addition to the book signing, Colleen will be presenting two educational 30 minute sessions (times TBD) about “When, Where, and How to Photograph Arizona’s Wildflowers.”

And thanks to our book sponsors, we’ll also be raffling off great prizes from Wimberley, Think Tank Photo, Hoodman, and more throughout the day!

So come on down to Tempe Camera on December 10th to have some photo fun and gear up for the holidays and next year’s wildflower season! Friends, family, and photo enthusiasts all welcome at this FREE event.

Colleen and Paul look forward to seeing you there!

Yep, it's real!

Though we’ve had plenty of time to think about it – 18 months to be precise – we didn’t know how we’d react to seeing our first book in our hands.

Just seconds after the moving truck came to a halt in front of my house and the driver revealed the contents of his cargo, Paul grabbed a heavy, back-breaking cardboard box of 54 books off the truck, ran up the short driveway, sliced open the box as fast as he could with a key, and pulled out a single copy.  To smell it.  Nothing like fresh ink on glossy pages to prove an existence.

We didn't expect a moving truck to deliver our books! But 3200 pounds of books arrived on two very large pallets...

As I grabbed the now three-dimensional version of our book out of the same box, my hand covered my mouth as tears welled up in my eyes.  I whispered, “Oh my, look at what have we done.”

Then, celebratory hugs were in order, “We did it.  We really did it!!  It’s here!  Whoohoo!”

Jubilation turned instantaneously to panic for us two Type-A personalities, though:  quick, thumb through it.  Did any of the page numbers get cut off ?  (No, of course not, that’s just silly!)  How do the photos look?  (Wow, they look like photos printed on photo paper!  Two thumbs up to our printer!  Awesome!)  And holy crap, are all those boxes really going to fit in my garage?!  (Yes, so long as we re-stack them on the pallets…and let’s just hope lots of our friends have lots of friends!!)

Temporary insanity aside, both Paul and I now feel an overwhelming sense of gratefulness.  I’ll spare you an Academy Awards-like “thank you” speech, but we have an incredibly long laundry list of people to thank for helping us and encouraging us in seeing this book – our dream – come to fruition…we hope to be able to thank you each of you in person soon.

Shipping our pre-orders today. Thank you!

For those of you who pre-ordered the book:  THANK YOU!  We’ve signed and shipped your order to you late this afternoon, so be on the watch for it this week (U.S. based) or next week or so (international).  For those who haven’t ordered a copy yet or are considering gifts for the upcoming holidays, we have plenty of copies hot-off-the-press waiting to send to you (and all your friends! HA!)!

Whenever you get a chance to take a peek at it, we’d love to hear what you think so drop us a note either here, on Facebook, G+, or via email.

The truck didn't have a lift gate, so we had to unload all the books from the street to my garage.

Happy reading and happy shooting!  And most of all, thank you.

~Colleen

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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