Autumn on the Rim

View of the Grand Canyon near the Ken Patrick Trail, North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Wow, what a difference a year makes! Some of you might recall last year’s report from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon:  patchy and late. (See original blog post:

Not this year!

With the perfect mix of rain, sun, and cooler temperatures, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and surrounding Kaibab Plateau trees are showing off a brilliant palette of color and right on time.   Get your cameras out for a spectacular mix of yellow, orange, and red aspen, rusty Gambel oak, red maples, yellow New Mexican locust, red holly, and red wild geranium all peaking together!

But things are moving fast.  Like “limey-green-leaves-on-Monday-turn-a-rich-golden-yellow-by-Wednesday” and “Rich-golden-leaves-on-Monday-fall-to-the-ground-by-Wednesday” fast, thanks to below-freezing overnight temperatures in the meadows and valleys.  The show should last another week, but probably not much longer, especially if the high country sees any high winds in the days to come. (Continues below photo.)

Spotlight on aspen tree in South Canyon, Kaibab Plateau, Arizona

Spotlight on aspen tree in South Canyon, Kaibab Plateau, Arizona

You’ll start to see color as you drive along Highway 67 from Jacobs Lake to the park entrance.  A spin down any dirt road on the Kaibab Plateau will reveal seemingly endless photographic opportunities.  Early this week, we specifically explored FR610 to Saddle Mountain, which showed crazy good color along the road, particularly as we drove closer to the trail head.

Colorful leaves of autumn

Colorful leaves of autumn on FR610 on the Kaibab Plateau, Arizona

Inside the park, many of the previously burned areas have smaller aspens growing in between burned snags.  The hardest part is finding a safe pull-out (look for paved or previously used gravel spots and walk).  The “Y” turnoff for Point Imperial and Cape Royal along the North Rim Scenic Drive and numerous trails, including the Trancept, the Widforss, and Ken Patrick (towards Point Imperial), offer the best color right now.

Flagstaff – which I drove past en route to the Canyon – appears to be peaking at the higher elevations on the San Francisco Peaks.  The lower elevations were about 50% green on Monday, but made much progress before I drove through again on Wednesday (estimate ~10-20% green) so places like Lockett Meadow and the Bearjaw Trail are likely starting to peak right now.

The Verde Valley area is still green as expected for this time of year, but start looking for color around Montezuma’s Well, Beaver Creek, and even Sedona in the next two weeks or so.

Happy shooting!

Orange-tipped aspen in South Canyon, Kaibab Plateau, Arizona

Orange-tipped aspen in South Canyon, Kaibab Plateau, Arizona

The stormy monsoon season is in full swing here in Arizona, which means enough moisture has hit the ground to encourage the later-blowing monsoon wildflowers to show their brilliant colors.

Trip leader Ambika and workshop students Amy and Deanna capture their unique vision of lupines at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at the junction of Cape Royal Road and the Point Imperial turnoff.

A quick visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops (one of our valued book sponsors) last weekend revealed multiple species of vibrant blooms just starting to peak.  Those with some time in the next two weeks will certainly have healthy specimens to focus on (pun intended!), including lupine, fireweed, aspen fleabane, goldeneye, skyrockets, Kaibab paintbrush, goldenrod, wild geranium, Richardson’s geranium, and many more.

En route to the North Rim – roughly 26 miles from Jacob Lake – make a stop at the fence-lined tank (technically called “Deer Lake”) just beyond DeMotte Campground on the west side of the Highway 67 to find patches of flowers.  Keep an eye out for the blooms along the roadsides inside the park as well – they’ll be hard to miss!  A great spot to find a mix of various blooms is at the junction of the Cape Royal Road and the turnoff to Point Imperial. Pull far off the road to park and watch for traffic as you photograph here.

A detailed description for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon can be found on page 32-45 of our book/eBook, “Wild in Arizona:  Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, and How.”  If you or your friends haven’t picked up a copy yet, please visit the Wild in Arizona website ( to get your signed book, eBook, or discounted book/eBook package!

Happy summer shooting!


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

Wild geranium. Canon 5DMII, 100mm macro, ISO 400, f/5.6 @ 1/200 s.

When Paul and I decided to pursue this book idea last spring (more on that story in an upcoming blog post), we knew it was going to take combining our different skills to get the book completed.  Since then, we’ve “divided and conquered.”  Paul is responsible for most of the photography and all of the graphic design for the book, while I’m doing some of the photography and all of the writing.

Over the past week, Paul has been finishing the last round of edits to the maps, photos, and layout, while I’ve spent my time finalizing and “fact-checking” all of the different flowers, directions, and photographic instruction we provide in the book.  I had a handful of little details I wanted to check out in the field before we started our final edits, particularly the impact of the Wallow Fire, Arizona’s largest wildfire in history.

We’ve tracked this massive wildfire closely since it started in late May, as two of our favorite locations featured in the book – Hannagan Meadow and the Thompson Trail – fell within the burn area boundary.  Last Monday, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest started opening large chunks of the forest, giving us the chance to confirm before the book went to print whether or not these areas had burned.

I left at “0-dark-thirty” on Wednesday morning with my “assistant,” my wonderful mother, Jacque, and headed towards the White Mountains.  En route, we made a quick stop at Black Canyon Lake, where we were delighted to see a healthy mix of monsoon blooms such as wild geranium, yellow hairy aster, penstemon, Hooker’s evening primrose, and western dayflower along its shores.

Before traveling on to Hannagan Meadow, I joined a very special group of people who can say they’ve been locked in a porta-potty!   I spent about 10 minutes (felt like two hours) in the smelly confines of the primitive john, banging on the plastic walls and yelling for help until one of the fisherman nearby came to my rescue.  “Jam the handle up hard and all the way to the right,” he suggested calmly – a handy tip just in case you decide to visit the lake and nature calls.

Western sneezeweed sits on the edge of the burn area of the Wallow Fire a few miles north of Hannagan Meadow. Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm @ 19mm, ISO 400, f/20 @1/40 s.

After a quick spin through Overgaard to check on the common sunflowers (not much going on there right now), we finally made it to Hannagan Meadow.  Though the wildfire burned nearly 540,000 acres across the White Mountains, this idyllic place remained completely unscathed!

The Thompson Trail near Big Lake didn’t fare as well but wasn’t in as bad of shape as we had feared.  The creek bed of the West Fork of the Black River near the trailhead was predominantly untouched, save for the ridgelines above the trail.  As the forest regenerates over the next two to three years, disturbance wildflowers like lupine and fireweed will grow abundantly in the nutrient rich soil next to the western sneezeweed and aspen fleabane you see there now.  In other words, an amazing place to photograph flowers is only going to get better!

Rocky Mountain Beeplant near Flagstaff. Canon 5DMII, 24-105mm @ 90mm, ISO 1250 (windy and captured after sundown), f/18 @ 1/15 s.

With the majority of my work done early Thursday morning, my mom and I agreed we would drive as far west as we could to escape the constant downpour and lighting, even hail!  Our aimless wanderings landed us at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon under sunny skies.  Until that evening when we fell asleep to the sounds of crackling thunder and pitter-patter of rain hitting our tent.

The next morning, we toured the areas on the North Rim we recommend in the book, specifically DeMotte Park, Point Imperial, and the road to Cape Royal.  Golden-eye, goldenrod, and Kaibab paintbrush were blooming prolifically along the roads, as patches of skyrockets graced the lush meadows.  Unfortunately, I needed to be home by Friday evening, otherwise I would have stayed another week to capture the spectacle.

On the way home to Chandler, we made a brief stop at Jacob Lake Inn to stock up on their famous homemade cookies (when I go to heaven, I hope I’m surrounded by piles and piles of “Cookie on a Cloud”…YUM!), and then took a quick spin to Bonito Park near Sunset Crater National Park outside of Flagstaff.  The prairie sunflowers that normally blanket the field need about another week to fully develop, but a bunch of Arizona gilia is growing nicely on the hillside across from the meadow.

After all was said and done, we drove 1,119 in just three days!  Here’s our route:  The key for the various destination shown on the map is as follows:

  • A/G = Chandler
  • B = Overgaard
  • C = Hannagan Meadow
  • D = Thompson Trailhead
  • E = North Rim of the Grand Canyon
  • F = Bonito Park
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