Photograph of the Week: Sunset in Grand Canyon…

I know, I know…I haven’t done a Photograph of the Week in a long time.  Everything blog-related was pretty much put on hold while I was recovering from my busted foot.  Now that I can get around a little bit I feel more motivated to post AND I actually have a few things to post about.  So, to kick things off again I wanted to post a collection of pictures from my recent trip to Grand Canyon National Park showing four consecutive days of Sunset in Grand Canyon.

First Sunset: Bedrock City, Arizona…

Somehow, there’s always a lot to do the day of a trip.  Without fail, it seems like I’m overwhelmed with last minute random chores to get done when we are trying to get out of town.  Another reason why flexibility is the overriding theme to all my travel plans.  We didn’t make it all the way to the Grand Canyon on the first day and decided to stop for the night in Bedrock City just outside of Williams.  This was a fun, spontaneous decision that felt much more adventurous than the local KOA.  That first night we set up the teardrop, busted out the camp stove and made dinner as the sun was bearing down on the horizon.  While dinner was cooking, I grabbed the camera and snapped off a few shots of the sunset.

first night sunset- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 24-105 Lens – f6.3 – 1/160sec – ISO 200 – 35mm

 

Second Sunset: The Watchtower…

We camped at Desert View Campground, about 28 miles east of the main entrance to the park and Grand Canyon Village.  After driving through the main section and seeing what kind of circus Mather Campground is I was really happy we had made the decision to check out Desert View.  It’s a first-come-first-served campground so timing is key if you’re going to find a spot.  We got lucky and managed to grab what I believe was the best spot in the campground.  That first night in Grand Canyon we decided to check out the sunset view from The Watchtower, which is only a quarter mile or so from camp.  We hiked along the rim a ways to stake out a spot away from the crowds.  As sunset approached we still had a sporadic groups of tourists jockeying for a spot along the rim to snap shots of the sunset with their cell phones.

I set up on a promontory that got me out enough to be able to shoot the sunset without the tourists in the frame (I know, I keep saying “tourist” like I wasn’t one…hehe).  We waited…and waited…I was looking for a nice show.  There were nice clouds in the sky, the canyon was clear, visibility was great…we just needed the light to break through.  It never really happened.  That first night was a bust and the sunset fizzled out like a match that burned itself out.  The images for that night were more moody, with subtle light in the clouds and a misty stacked silhouette of purple canyon walls.

Watch Tower Sunset Day 1- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f29 – 1.3sec – ISO 320 – 22mm

 

Third Sunset: Return to The Watchtower…

We tried to take it easy for the second day in the canyon, I didn’t want to overwork my busted foot since I was just getting used to walking again.  We got up early that day and got to shoot the sunrise at from the cliffs at Desert View just a short walk from camp.  That night I wanted to get back to The Watchtower for sunset, I felt robbed the night before.  It is a great vantage point and the canyon view from there made for great photos but the show the night before was weak.  I wanted another shot at it and the sky was shaping up to have a lot of potential.

We came out a little later than the night before, it had been cold and windy the first night and we waited for a long time with nothing much to show for it.  Arriving later meant I lost my spot though, as it had been taken over by a large group of Asian tourists.  We hiked further down the trail looking for a quiet spot to set up and found a great little overlook.  That night the sun cooperated and gave us a little more of the display I was looking for.  My expectations were high, so even with a “nice” sunset I felt like the canyon was holding back.  We would have one more shot after this, but I was still happy with at least a couple of the sunset images we got that night.  My wife was shooting the D70s with the 24-105 lens and had much better luck since she could get in tighter on the scene we had that night.

Watchtower Sunset Day 2- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f4.2 – 1/40sec – ISO 320 – 19mm

 

Last Sunset: ShoShone Point…

We got the inside scoop about Shoshone Point from one of the Park Rangers working at The Watchtower.  He gave us clear directions and told us it was the perfect short, easy hike that I could do with my limited mobility and would give us a stellar view of The Canyon for sunset.  He added that Shoshone Point is one of his personal favorite vantage points on the South Rim and it is never crowded.  Sounded like the perfect spot!  What he didn’t tell us is that the location is available for events and we got there just as a full blown wedding was wrapping up.  The bridal party had taken over the point for wedding photos!

Luckily they wrapped up before sunset and everyone headed out leaving the point to Merelyn and I.  Shortly after that we were joined by an eccentric local photographer that seemed to be happy to have some folks to talk to.  We sat and waited.  Things were shaping up nicely but you never know, the clouds move one way or another and can blow the whole thing.  Then the show started and for the next 40 minutes or so I hopped and shuffled all over the point shooting the changes in The Canyon as the light moved.  The sun cast intense rays across The Canyon catching corners and edges and making for some dramatic shooting.  I shot with the wide-angle and my wife shot with the 24-105 and we both captured some great stuff.

Shoshone Point- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f22 – 1/15sec – ISO 320 – 10mm

 

When the Sun finally did drop behind the cliff the color in the sky changed completely and I dropped the exposure a little.  I had promised Merelyn we wouldn’t stay too long so we wouldn’t be hiking back to the truck in the dark, but I couldn’t leave the sunset before it was done and it had more story to tell.  Our photographer friend was there to the bitter end shooting a time-lapse of the sunset, so as the last of the viable shots for me slipped away we said goodbye and headed back down the dark trail to the truck.  Luckily it wasn’t much of a hike back and we did just fine.

Shoshone Point- Sunset in the Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f/14 – 1/5sec – ISO 320 – 10mm

 

Prints of any of these shots and more from my Grand Canyon trip can be ordered from the Wilderness Dave Photography Gallery site.

Birthday in Bedrock…

There’s a lot to write about after all that we’ve stuffed into the last 4 days…but it all starts in in the stone age.

It was my wife’s birthday this week (we won’t talk about how old she is) and since I wasn’t going to be on the John Muir Trail we wanted to take a trip together.  We settled on a short camping trip to the Grand Canyon and got all of the necessary things in order so we could head out mid-week.

There were a lot of big things in play this week that made the trip exciting.  First it was Merelyn’s birthday and this was all about her having fun.  Second, it was a test of my busted foot to see if I could handle a little easy hiking so I could start getting out again.  Third, I have really been after shooting at the Grand Canyon since getting back into photography last year and this would be a great chance to catch Summer storms in the canyon.  Last but not least, we rented a teardrop trailer for this trip to see if it was something we might consider purchasing in the future.  I’ll get into most of that stuff in separate posts, but this post is about Merelyn’s birthday in Bedrock.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

If you haven’t cruised up 64 just outside of Williams, Arizona towards the Grand Canyon then you’ve probably never heard of this gem of Americana.  Bedrock City was built in 1972 as an homage to the 1960′s Flinstones Cartoon.  It originally had live actors, a stage show and a variety of interactive displays but these days feels more like some surreal amusement park ghost town.  But that’s what makes it awesome!

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

We had a late start getting on the road and I told Merelyn she got to pick our campsite for the night since we weren’t going to make it to our ultimate camp destination in the National Park until the next day.  She did a quick look on Yelp and saw Bedrock City and we just had to check it out.  I mean seriously, what good is a vacation if you can’t make a spontaneous, impromptu stop at a defunct amusement park based on a beloved childhood cartoon?  Isn’t that what adventure is all about?

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

This place lived up to every possible expectation we could have had.  It was fun, scary, strange, amusing, exciting, creepy, playful, nostalgic and bizarre all at the same time and we loved it.  I limped and hobbled along in The Boot trying to keep up with Merelyn as she explored every building and posed with every display.  The place is deceivingly huge with buildings everywhere including Fred and Barney’s houses, a general store, post office, movie theater that actually plays the old cartoons, a police station, hospital, school and various other assorted buildings including a huge brontosaurus slide.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

It was her birthday and she got to choose the type of adventure we would have and from her ear-to-ear grin I don’t think she was disappointed.  We started our day in Bedrock and ended it at camp in the Grand Canyon.  The next few days were a perfect balance of excitement, exploration and relaxation…perfect vacation if you ask me.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

Photograph of the Week: Working the details…

Back in December, I shot up to Sedona to catch the first snow of the season.  It was a truly amazing day trip that resulted in some really beautiful shots.  The day was just perfect for photography.  The sunrise was bright and clean, the low wispy clouds clung to the base of the mountains and everything had a dusting of snow and frost.  Sedona photography at it’s best and we took advantage of it.

One of my favorite shots from the trip was not one of the spectacular sunrise directly, or one of the iconic rock features.  It was a simple shot, just north of the Bell Rock feature.  It was sort of a quiet moment for me in the frantic shooting that morning.  We had been scampering around since the sun first crested the horizon, dashing about to catch different angles while we had the window of opportunity.  Then I took a moment…just to take it all in.  It was a beautiful moment and I smiled at the pure, simple pleasure of being there.

As I took in my surroundings I turned away from the sunrise, something I hadn’t done yet, and there was this whole amazing scene behind me bathed in a warm glow.  I took a couple of short steps to frame a few branches from a nearby tree into the shot.  Shortly after that, I resumed my frantic shooting to grab what I could before the day pushed on.

Shooting in low light (sunrise/sunset) can be difficult.  The low angle light creates high contrast and vibrant colors but can be difficult to show without some “dark room” adjustments.  Our eyes do a much better job of working with high contrast than the camera does, so to get a photograph that mimics the experience it can take a little work.  For me, the biggest thing is to bring the shadows forward so that we can see what is hidden there.  To do this (in Lightroom) I push light into the shadows, then immediately increase the Black to restore contrast.  Increasing the clarity will also help bring detail out of the shadows and create contrast.  I rarely have to adjust the contrast directly as the shadow and clarity adjustments do it for me.

The problem with boosting light into the shadows is that you can lose detail in the highlighted areas.  In this piece, the low clouds on the right became a white blob, but by playing with adjustments to the Highlights I was able to get the detail back.  I don’t always boost the Saturation because it’s very easy to get a photograph that looks unnatural.  However, adjusting the Vibrance setting (especially in sunrise/sunset shots) will bring out the vivid colors that make low light shooting so fun.

Photograph of the Week - Original

At this point in the editing process Lightroom lets you fine tune the saturation and hue by color.  I don’t play with this often as it will also easily create a look that is unnatural and “over processed”.  But in some cases (like Red Rock country) where the colors can become either muted or oversaturated depending on the natural light, I will use these tools to push and pull to recreate what the scene felt like.

You can see from the original shot that the details are all there.  The light is much more subtle and the shadows disguise much of the section of trees in the middle.  You also don’t get the feel of the sunrise which was much more vivid in person.

The last thing I do once I have the colors and shadows adjusted is focus on detail.  Lightroom has fine detail adjustments that let me strip out some of the noise and Sharpen the finer details.  Sharpening the image will usually bring out even more noise, but by also increasing the Luminance to match the Sharpening I can drop the rough noise out.  This, to me, results in a much cleaner and more readable image.

Photograph of the Week - Sedona Sunrise

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D70s with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/160, F/9, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

 

…And the big announcement!

I finally created a virtual gallery for my work!  I’m really excited to introduce Wilderness Dave Photography where you can see (and purchase) the top photos from my outdoor travel sets.

Wilderness Dave Photography Gallery

Go check it out, I’d love some comments and feedback.  The gallery will be updated with new work as it is produced.  Every week I will feature a special price on the Photograph of the Week for my readers if anyone would like to purchase a print.  This week, use coupon code POTW4413 to get 40% off your purchase.

Petroglyphs in Chalk Canyon…

I have a little hiking group on Facebook.  It’s just a group for local friends who have expressed an interest in hiking.  It allows me to post my plans for smaller hikes in case anyone wants to join me.  I still hike alone a lot.

I don’t think anyone but me has posted anything in that group in a very long time.  And even when I do post something, there really isn’t much engagement there.  I’m sure most of the people in the group don’t even remember joining.  But I’m trying to change that.  There is some new blood in the group, new people that I know are active and up for an adventure.  They are bringing a pulse back to the lifeless body of my little hiking group.

A few weeks ago, I met up with Heidi (@Bananabuzzbomb) while Katie and Niko (of @SimplyAdventure fame) were in Phoenix.  The four of us did a quick hike at South Mountain.  Later, Heidi showed a lot of interest in wanting to hike more so I figured I’d add her to the group and put something together.  Her interaction in the group has enticed others to pay attention.  So I posted a possible hike and got a small group together to go check out a trail north of town.

I had been wanting to explore further up Cave Creek north of Spur Cross for a long time.  It seemed like the perfect hike for a small group.  I picked a decent hike along the Creek with the potential for a nice payoff at the end with some petroglyphs and possible ruins.  The hike would end up being 8 or 9 miles round trip and have varying terrain and multiple water crossings.  A good moderate hike to get to know some new fellow hikers.

Sunrise light at Spur Cross

We got an early start on a cold morning just as the sun was coming up.  I may not have made it entirely clear from the beginning, but I had never hiked this trail before.  I was going off of a pretty decent map and a trail description found online.  I didn’t know if there would be trail markers or not, or how easy the trail would be to follow once we got out of Spur Cross Recreation Area.  There is an expectation, when hiking with the person who has suggested the trail, that they are leading the hike.  This dawned on me shortly after we got started and I felt the pressure of needing to know where we were, where we were going and how far we still needed to go.  Every time someone asked, “is this the trail?” or “do we cross the creek here?” I felt like I should not only know the answer but be confident about it.

Crossing Cave Creek at Spur Cross

I quickly made it very clear that we were all in the same boat, that I had never been on this trail before and was learning as we go just like everyone else.  I’m not sure if that made them feel any better or not, but I wasn’t going to have them following me into the desert with some false sense of security that I knew where I was going.  We took turns leading and route finding, making mistakes, backtracking a little and continuing to refer to the map.

A little scrambling along one of our false routes

At one point, we encountered a couple of older gentlemen out hiking the same trail and looking for the same petroglyphs.  They seemed to be having similar routing issues as us, but they had a GPS.  So we compared notes and I tried to compare his GPS location (his maps sucked) to my map.  This worked well until the next creek crossing and we lost our route again.  We had been looking for a turn, a side trail to take us up an adjacent canyon from the creek but couldn’t locate it.  The guys with the GPS were confident that they knew the way.  And here’s my next mistake…I followed themWE followed them.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that most of the time the guys with the GPS really don’t know where they are.  Most of the people I’ve come across using GPS don’t even know how to relate their GPS position to where they are on an actual map.  I should have known better than to follow these guys and we missed our turn.  Once I realized this, I communicated that to the party and we all agreed it didn’t matter too much.  We’d just continue to follow the creek and, worst come to worst, we’d retrace our path along the creek to get back out.

Leaving Spur Cross onto an abandoned private ranch to look for the Petroglyphs

Missing our turn meant we missed a chance at the ruins.  But we could still find the Petroglyphs if we watched carefully.  Luckily, we spotted them quickly and were able to stop and take pictures and explore the area.  We found some great rock art along with several metates in the natural boulders.  The low lands around the creek would have served as the agricultural land for the Hohokam living on the hilltops in pit houses and rock structures around here about 800 years ago.

First sign of Petroglyphs

more Petroglyphs

More petroglyphs on a huge boulder

After the petroglyphs we made a half-assed attempt at climbing the rocky hill above the petroglyphs to make an attempt at finding any ruins but we were running out of time.  I know had a good hike and really enjoyed the trail.  I hope that my companions enjoyed it as well.  I know Heidi enjoyed it enough to sign up for another hike the following weekend on yet another trail I’d never been to and had no idea what we were in for.  But that’ll be another story…

This hike did teach me to be a little more prepared and to not take my role as planner lightly.  As the one planning the hike, I became the default leader and guide.  The expectation was that I would know the way and I didn’t.  This does make an argument about the virtues of scouting new trails before bringing others out.  But then that takes me back to hiking solo, which most people agree is not safe either.  I found the answer, at least in this case, was good communication as well as feeling out the mood of the group.  As soon as I felt tension or frustration in the group, we called it and headed out.

On the way back out we found the junction in the trail we had missed.  It was a really obvious junction with a sign and a map and everything (hell, it could have had red flashing neon arrows we still missed it).  I look forward to heading back out to the trails north of Cave Creek and exploring further…maybe as a solo scouting trip next time.

Old abandoned Spur Cross Corral

Chalk Canyon Petroglyphs Gallery…

Photograph of the Week: Catching the Sunset…

This Photograph of the Week I almost didn’t catch.

My wife and I had just moved everything she owns from Houston back to Arizona.  We have waited nearly three years to be living together in the same house.  We had solicited the help of her parents for the long drive across the southern states to Arizona.  Having been home for most of our first week together, a good friend invited us up to his place in Cave Creek for a visit.  We graciously accepted the opportunity.

I had promised we would be in Cave Creek by 6:30 and I am not one to keep people waiting.  I had been watching the clouds all day and the sky was promising quite a show at sunset.  A sunset that would probably hit it’s peak right about 6:15 or 6:20, just as we would be driving north to my friend’s house.  Before we left, I grabbed my camera hoping that we could make it to Cave Creek before the sunset completely disappeared.

Sure enough, as we left the house the sun was settling low and the intense evening light was bending into an array of warm colors.  The clouds that evening were hinting at a storm and made the perfect canvas for bold strokes of orange, red, pink and violet.  I found it difficult to keep my eyes off of the sunset and I’m sure everyone in the truck thought I was nuts as I was mesmerized by the torrid display.  I got us into the driveway just as the sun was disappearing, the oranges and deep reds and faded and the sky was washed with the afterglow of pink and violet tones splashed against dark stormy clouds.

At the risk of being entirely inappropriate and rude, I said a quick hello then darted back to the truck and grabbed my camera.  I rushed across the street from my friend’s house, which was luckily next door to natural desert, and snapped off a few choice shots.  It was hard to tell if I had caught enough of the light.  The pink tones were so subtle as the sun faded they could easily not show up.  Luckily, with some developing in Lightroom I was able to enhance the subtle tones in the finished image.  I almost missed this one, and certainly missed the grand show.  But what I did capture was something that I think turned out much more compelling than the blaze of full sunset at it’s peak.  The mood in this photograph plays a much deeper, more intricate melody.

Photograph of the week - Cave Creek Sunset

We truly have some of the most amazing sunsets in the world here in Arizona.  As a budding photographer, it’s heartbreaking to miss opportunities to capture something amazing.  But if you pay attention throughout the day, and you are prepared with your equipment at the ready, you’ll have the advantage.

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/20 sec, F/4.5, ISO-200, 24mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

You can now purchase Photograph of the Week images from the Wilderness Dave Photography Virtual Gallery.  The Gallery is set up to allow you to purchase prints or digital copies for personal use.

Amazing Sedona – Part II: Sunrise, Photography and Snow…

Only a couple of days after my Sedona trip with Tim I left for Houston to spend some time traveling East Texas with my new wife.  I flew out and the next morning we headed north in her little Honda Civic for Nacogdoches, a small town a couple of hours north of Houston.  The claim to fame of this little Texas tourist destination is that it is the oldest town in Texas.  Originally a settlement of Caddo Indians, the official town of Nacogdoches was founded in 1779 by Gil Y’Barbo with permission from the Spanish Government.

My wife and I spent a day hiking trails and exploring the small downtown shops and restaurants after spending the night in a really nice, rustic B&B cottage outside of town.  The history in Nacogdoches is rich and there are still some original buildings from the early 1800′s.  Outside of town are the Caddo Mounds, archaeological sites from around 800 A.D.

While in Nacogdoches the weather turned incredibly cold (for the southwest), reaching down to the low 20′s overnight.  I checked the weather back in Arizona and saw there was supposed to be a storm system moving in.  This put me on the lookout for snow.  Soon, the weather forecasts were calling for snow over the weekend in Flagstaff and Sedona, a few days earlier than the historic forecasts had estimated.  I immediately put a message out to my occasional hiking partner and photographer, Jabon Eagar exclaiming, “Snow in Sedona this weekend!  Time to play hookie!”

Jabon and I had been talking about heading to Sedona to catch images of fresh snow for months.  Jabon had been discussing this prospect with another friend for close to two years.  So when snow came to Sedona, we both were ready to drop everything and go.  It was starting to snow in the upper elevations around Sedona by Friday night, I didn’t get back in to Phoenix until Saturday evening and had plans for Saturday night.  Jabon and I laid plans to drive up Sunday morning, early, and be in Sedona before sunrise…and this time I meant it!

Once again, I found myself forced to leave a party early so I could get a few hours’ sleep before driving north for an adventure.  Jabon arrived at my place right at 5AM, I was already packed and had the truck running to warm it up.  Jabon’s buddy Mike was due to join us, but no one had heard from him and Jabon’s attempts to reach him went unanswered.  We soon left, figuring if he was running late he’d call and we could turn around and toss him in the truck.  We never did hear from him.

There was little traffic on the cold, dark drive to Sedona.  Aside from hitting a patch of black-ice at about 80 MPH (and totally maintaining control of the truck without spilling a drop of the coffee in my hand) and missing my exit onto 179, the drive was uneventful.  Even with lost time we hit Bell Rock just as the first light of the morning sun was beginning to endow the frosty morning mists with a supernatural glow.

misty fog clinging to the rock

We stopped the truck and quickly got out to chase the first photo-ops of the morning.  I ran across the road and scrambled to higher ground across frost covered red rock ledges looking to capture the mood of the view that was unfolding.  The thick, wispy clouds clung to the desert floor and gathered around the base of the red rock towers to the east.  As the sun climbed higher it gave life to the misty fog, like stormy seas crashing around these crimson battleships in the desert.

Bell Rock in the morning mist at sunrise

We were there for the photography that day, and Mother Nature was giving the performance of her life.  Jabon and I hiked on and off-trail looking for angles, framing compositions in the viewfinder, excitedly shouting back and forth, “The light is amazing from this spot!” “Look, the fog is clearing over there!” “This is incredible, I’ve never seen it like this!” “This is perfect!”

framing the light at Bell Rock

When we came off the trail, after exhausting every photographic consideration, the parking lot had filled with early morning photographers looking to snap their own versions of this amazing sunrise.  I was glad our ambition had carried us there first, before it got crowded.  There was thick frost on the ground, but we still weren’t high enough to be in the snow…and that’s why we were there.  So we loaded up and continued through Sedona and on in to Oak Creek Canyon where the snow had collected over the weekend.

I had to stop the truck several times before we made it to West Fork because the view along the road was too good to pass up.  We would stop, pile out of the truck and scurry along the narrow shoulder snapping shots as the light and shadow played with the mountain tops.  Then quickly back to the truck to move on so we wouldn’t miss the best light further up.

View of Oak Creek in the Snow

Jabon taking a shot at the first creek crossing at West Fork Trail Oak CreekWe finally made it to the West Fork parking lot, which was closed, and found a spot further up along the road where we could legally park.  We hiked back toward the trailhead along the roadside careful of the growing traffic on the narrow, winding roads.  We were not the first ones to the West Fork trailhead and we followed the footprints through the snow back in to the canyon collecting shots along the way.  Once we reached the first creek crossing, the foot traffic grew thinner…not many wanted to cross the frozen water.

bright light behind the cliff at West Fork Oak CreekWe took our time and watched for subtle changes in the light inside the canyon trying desperately to choose our shots wisely.  The snow was 6 to 8 inches thick and clung fresh and soft to the rocks and trees.  This was one of those perfect places where you could easily snap off thousands of photographs if you weren’t more discerning.  The combination of the brilliant red rock in the intense morning light against the stark, clean whiteness of the snow was a dramatic scene.  Then layer in the deep emerald of the tall evergreens, the electric blue of the sky all of it wrapped in the ever-changing misty morning clouds.

Living in southern Arizona and growing up in California, I haven’t had opportunity for much hiking in the snow.  I really enjoyed this hike!  Snow along a trail, even an easy one like West Fork Trail, completely changes the hiking experience.  Finding the route is challenging unless there are footprints to follow, the deeper snow forces you to pay closer attention to each step.  Snow covered trails also means fewer people in most cases, which is how I like it.  My wife loved snowshoeing in Tahoe for the same reasons.  I’ve collected better Winter gear and will be looking forward to more snow hiking.

white snow and bright sky at West Fork Oak Creek

Soon there was only one other set of footprints in the snow, only one person ahead of us.  We finally came across her as she was headed back, another photographer out to capture this pristine wilderness.  Soon after that we stopped near a large boulder along the creek and where I heated up water for hot cider.  We sat there for a while, watching the light change in the canyon and snapping off the occasional picture.  Jabon took some shots of the frozen creek and we both worked to find angles for shooting the icicles hanging from the huge boulder next to us.

Snowy trees at West Fork Oak Creek

Heading back out of the canyon, being scolded for hiking in a “closed” area.  Some of the other early morning opportunists had received violations for parking in front of the closed gate.  We drove higher up the mountain after helping an older couple get their car out of the snow bank long the road.  There was little more to see and the casual visitors were starting to get thick as the morning grew late.  Jabon suggested we head in to more remote country and offered to show me a set of ruins he’d photographed a while back.  He was anxious to get another opportunity to shoot them, especially with snow around.

Hidden Canyon Ruins in the snowWe had time so we headed down a muddy 4-wheel-drive road to a remote canyon where Jabon led the way into a small obscure canyon.  After climbing up the drainage, we reached the head of the canyon.  A rounded bowl lined with 100 ft sheer red rock cliffs opened before us.  Tucked unobtrusively under a recessed ledge at the base of one side of the vertical canyon walls is a small, semi-circular stone structure.  The lower portion of the walls are original, still held together with ancient mortar.  The top has been obviously reconstructed including the lintel above the entrance.  The interior shows recent use, and even relatively recent remnants of a camp fire.  The site was simple, but the setting was magical.  I was really glad we could squeeze this last little excursion in to the day.

View from Hidden Canyon RuinsIt was getting late after that and we’d had an incredible morning.  Both of us were anxious to get back and start going through our images.  I am really happy with what we captured in Sedona that day.  It was one of those trips that we’d talked about taking for a long time and it turned out to be even better than we could have imagined.  Luckily the first snow of the season was a good one and it laid down thick and clean all over the upper elevations around Sedona.  I don’t know how I’m going to be able to top this trip…but that won’t stop me from trying!

Trip Gallery:

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Jabon is another one of those great friends I’ve met through Social Media.  I found him a couple of years ago when I did a quick search and discovered that he and I were planning to take groups on the same hike on the same weekend.  I reached out to him about the possibility of combining our groups and we hiked to the Pueblo Canyon Ruins together a few months later.  Since then we’ve talked about many possible adventures and collaborations.  We also have done Cold Spring Canyon, a quick photo-hike to Tom’s Thumb and this Sedona trip.  You can check out more of Jabon’s photography on his website or visit his Facebook Page.

Amazing Sedona – Part I: Gear testing, Sunset and New Friends…

I haphazardly packed the back of the truck in the cold, dark pre-dawn hours Saturday morning as the dogs looked on through the glass front door.  I’m sure they were just as curious as I was about what possessed me to be up this early on a Saturday after only a few short hours’ sleep.  Friday night I had been out with friends enjoying our annual Christmas Party and had stayed longer than I had planned.  I had double-booked my weekend and needed to be in Sedona by sunrise to meet a new friend for a weekend of camping, hiking and gear testing.

Tim had arrived in Sedona early Friday afternoon ahead of me and claimed our campsite at the tiny Manzanita Campground along Oak Creek.  We had planned this trip on the spur of the moment realizing that we both were planning outings to field test new gear and figured it was the perfect opportunity to meet.  After a few phone calls and a handful of emails back and forth, we had reservations for a campsite and a loose itinerary.

I was in charge of figuring out our hike for Saturday since I am more familiar with the area.  I noticed that there was a nice, strenuous hike very close to our camp that would take us to one of only a few natural rock arches around Sedona.  Vultee Arch is a small natural rock bridge named after the owner of a small aircraft manufacturing company.  Jerry Vultee and his wife got caught flying in a severe blizzard over Wilson Mountain in 1938 and crashed on the north end of the plateau.  Between the crash and the resulting fire, neither survived.

Tim and I had both discussed our increasing focus on photography in our outdoor pursuits so the arch was a great fit, but I wanted to make it even more interesting so I proposed we plan our hike so that we’d hit the arch at sunset.  This would mean an afternoon hike, a nice pause while we waited for the light and grabbed some shots, then a night hike over the pass on our return.  Tim responded with, “Sounds good to me.  Night hikes are awesome.”

Between last minute packing, a longer than expected stop for coffee and fuel as well as not accounting for the extra distance from the my new house, I was running late.  I realized I wasn’t going to make it to camp before day break, but hoped I would at least make it to the lower end of Sedona’s Red Rocks by Sunrise.  I barely made it to the turn-off as the sun was getting ready to crack the horizon.  I stopped for a few pictures of first light and found a great old tree to use as foreground.

my sunrise shot near the turn-off to Sedona

I continued toward Sedona and made it as far as Bell Rock before I decided I needed to stop and capture more images of the sunrise.  I managed to take some really nice shots at Bell Rock as the sun climbed higher.  I decided to skip a stop in Sedona and head straight to camp, knowing I was running late.  There was really no reason why I needed to be to camp so early except that I had specifically told Tim that I would be.  That was enough reason for me to worry about being late.

Sunrise at Bell Rock, Sedona

When I got to camp, Tim was up and had been down by the creek.  After a handshake and an apology I unloaded my gear and set up camp as we visited like old friends.  We spent the better part of the day talking about gear, the outdoors, family, food and life in general.

Tim is one of a small handful of people I’ve now met in person after getting to know them through Social Media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.  It’s the modern version of finally meeting a pen-pal you’ve written to for years.  There is an instant familiarity, comfort and friendship that is merely extended by the shaking of a hand and the sharing of a meal…even more so when done around a camp fire.

more Oak Creek at sunrise at Manzanita Campground

It eventually came time to head out for our hike, we needed to make it over Sterling Pass and down to the arch by 4:30 if we were going to have a chance at being in position by sunset at 5:15.  I had studied the times and angles of the sun against the topography around the arch to insure that we wouldn’t lose the sun early due to some distant peak.  It looked as through we’d have light at the arch until at least 5pm.  We headed out at 2:30 to give us plenty of time to hike the pass and make it down in to canyon below the arch.  I did not have an exact idea of how difficult the hike up to the arch itself would be so we needed a little padding in the schedule.

Dead trees along Sterling Pass Trail

The marked trailhead for Sterling Pass was almost directly across the street from camp where we began the steep climb up and over the rocky pass.  Much of the area was still recovering from the Arch Fire that devastated this canyon in 1996.  The blackened skeletal remains of the formerly thick forest jabbed skyward through the lush new growth optimistically trying to regain it’s footing.

The rock and vegetation changed at the pass before we plunged back down the steep switchbacks on the other side.  The forest was much thicker on this side of the pass where it had clearly been protected from the fire.  My knee was reminding me throughout the descent that it is still not 100% and I was relieved a bit when the trail leveled out finally along the bottom of the canyon.

Sterling Pass on the way to Vultee Arch

We were on the lookout for the side canyon containing Vultee Arch and, with the sun chasing toward the horizon, we were getting short on time.  Finally we reached a point where we could see the arch, still drenched in the glow of the setting sun.  As we approached the rock ledge that house the plaque describing the arch’s namesake, I noticed we were not going to have light on the arch for as long as I had estimated.  This was going to significantly shorten the window for getting the photographs I was after.

I was feeling the pinch of time and when we found what appeared to be the small trail leading to the actual arch, I took off leaving Tim to find his own pace.  I aggressively scrambled through brush and cacti along the overgrown trail before finding the right spot to venture off-trail in an effort to find a unique angle for shooting Vultee Arch.  I waded through thick Manzanita and danced around prickly pear cactus and agaves as I climbed under and around the arch.

Sunset light on Vultee Arch, Sedona

The sunset light was well worth the effort and I was glad that we’d made the decision to visit the arch when we did.  The sunset that evening gave us an amazingly warm orange glow that accentuated the red rock of the arch.  Even the vegetation took on a supernatural glow as the sun cast the last of it’s fading light across our little canyon.  Tim caught up and found a perch atop the arch to watch the sunset and nibble on some trail mix as I scrambled precariously along all points collecting my shots.

Long view from below Vultee Arch, Sedona

View of the late sunset from the base of Sterling Canyon

When light had faded from the arch we hiked back down to the rock vista, made hot coffee and watched the remainder of the sunset.  Once darkness had pushed the last traces of light from the horizon we packed up and headed out.  The cold was kept at bay with the exertion of climbing the switchbacks back up to Sterling Pass.  As we crested the pass we were greeted with a rich, black, moonless desert sky deeply punctuated with brilliant stars.  We sat here for a while, with headlamps off, taking in the night sky.  Both of us live in larger cities where the night is never truly dark and stars never laid out so thick.

Some time later we strolled back in to camp and started dinner.  We ate well and talked late in to the night around the camp fire.  This is the perfect example of what I love about being outdoors.  We encountered very few people on the trail and all of them had bailed before light ran out.  We had the arch entirely to ourselves and experienced it in a way that very few ever would.  The desert was our playground and I reveled in it with a giddy, childlike joy.

When it came time to head home the next day, we said our good-byes and vowed to do this again soon. With any luck, the next excursion will include our wives and another amazing location.  I left Sedona that afternoon tired, happy and hoping for another adventure very soon.  Little did I know at the time, that I would be back to this very same area in only one week…

…but that’s another story.

Trip Gallery:

For more pictures from the hike check out Tim’s gallery here.

Humphrey’s Peak Hike…

Kachina peaks Wilderness - Inner Basin

A Little History…

Written in the Summit Journal found at Humphrey’s Peak:

As Sacred Peaks for the Hopi, Navajo, Hualapai, Yavapai, Zuni, Southern Paiute, Acoma and five Apache tribes; the Peaks are named by the Native Americans as: Nuva’tuk-iya-ovi (Place of High Snows) {Hopi}; Dook’o’oslid (Shining on Top) or Diichili Dzil (Abalone Shell Mountain {Navajo}.  These Peaks mark the southwestern-most boundary of the Dineta’s homeland.

The San Francisco Peaks were so names for the Patron Saint St. Francis of Assisi, by Spanish Franciscan Friars during their missionary work with the Native Americans in 1629.

Humphrey’s Peak was named in the mid-1880′s for Brigadier General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys who, during the Civil War, interpreted the survey information of the area which was collected by various previous expeditions.  He most likely never say the San Francisco Peaks.

Brig. General Humphreys had been part of the Ives Expedition as a civil engineer and Captain.  He entered the Civil War as a Major in 1861 and as of 1866 had been promoted to Brigadier General and Chief of Engineers.

Before joining the Powell expedition to survey the Rockies in 1874, American Geologist Grove Karl Gilbert (G.K. Gilbert) was the first geologist to join the famous George M. Wheeler Geographical Survey (Wheeler Survey) of the US west of the 100th meridian (1871).  During his work with Wheeler, Gilbert named Humphrey’s Peak after the civil war general.

Humphrey's Peak

Personal Background…

I’ve always wanted to hike Humphrey’s Peak.  Probably since my first glimpse of it’s impressive silhouette on a drive to visit Grand Canyon in the late 90′s.  It’s always been there, nagging at me, taunting me…but I’d never really thought seriously about hiking the Peak until this year.  As soon as I started thinking about it, I knew I needed to do it.  Especially when I started talking with Matt Mills (@ThePeakSeeker) about hiking Humphrey’s back in June.

I live at about 1,100 ft and, unlike Matt, I don’t get up above 10,000 ft very often.  As the highest point in Arizona at 12, 633 ft, I figured it would be  good idea to see what my body feels like at higher elevation before attempting the big one.  A few months back, I had the opportunity to hike Kendrick Peak (11,418 ft).  I camped at the base of the mountain and hiked Kendrick the next morning with absolutely no issues so I felt confident I would do fine on Humphrey’s.  I knew the trick would be to spend the night at the higher elevations in Flagstaff so I would have time to adjust.

I missed my opportunity in June, then again missed my opportunity in July.  It was very much looking like I was going to miss August as well.  I just couldn’t find the time to be able to spend the night in Flagstaff and hike the next day.  So I decided to chance it and do the hike without the overnight stay.  So I took a day off work, mid-week, got up very early and headed north determined to summit Humphrey’s Peak.

 The Trail…

Humprey's Peak TrailThe trailhead for the summit trail is at a large parking lot just below Snowbowl.  The starts out crossing a sloped, grassy meadow sprinkled with late season wildflowers.  I imagine it would be quite a sight in Spring.  It’s a nice easy walk under the ski lifts and toward the forest.  Even before entering the tree line, you have to start watching your step as the trail is creased and crossed with hard, slick roots.  In late Summer it rains almost every day on the Kachina Peaks, the high mountain gathers clouds and creates it’s own unpredictable weather.  Even in August one could expect anything from sunshine, to rain, to snow and hail.  I got lucky and it was a perfect day  but the ground (i.e. rocks, roots, etc) were still wet and slick from the previous afternoon showers.

Not long into the forest you cross the Kachina Wilderness Boundary and the trail begins the long switchbacks to the tree line.  The terrain changes several times making for a fun and interesting hike.  The rocky slope of the extinct volcano is exposed here and there where the mountainside has either slid away or proven to inhospitable for the forest to take root.

I kept up a pretty good pace through the switchbacks, elated at hiking in 75 degree weather in August.  I wanted to get to the summit quickly.  I had been told earlier, before I’d even reached the trail, that most hikers would be on their way back down already.  I was risking getting caught in a hell of an afternoon storm at the summit if I didn’t get this done quickly.  I wasn’t as much worried about weather as I was just excited to be finally hiking this trail.

Humprey's Peak TrailBefore I knew it, I had reached a sign post marking the edge of the protected area.  Everything above 11,400 ft is restricted.

It was right about this time I started to feel it.  My breath was getting harder to catch, my lungs just wouldn’t fill up and started getting this nagging headache.  The elevation was starting to announce itself.  I was now passing the height I’d seen at Kendrick and in to territory I hadn’t seen since hiking in the Andes.

What’s worse, I knew that I was not conditioned for this hike.  Not only had I spent most of the previous 3 weeks behind my desk working, but I had not spent the night at elevation.  This would be the first time I’ve gone from 1,000 ft above sea level to over 12,000 ft in less than a few hours without a plane.

As I cleared the tree line and made my way to the saddle, I got my first view of the Inner Basin.  The hike, to this point, was worth it just for that view alone.  I stopped at the saddle for a while, resting, trying to let my head adjust to the thin air.  I stripped my pack off and sat on the rocky ground gazing out over the wild canyon below.  The Kachina Peaks form a sort of “U” shape with the open top of the “U” roughly facing north.  Inside is the Inner Basin, a beautiful verdant slope fed by the near constant runoff from the rains at the peaks.  The view across the Inner Basin is made all that more amazing on clearer days as you can see Grand Canyon in the distance.

Kachina peaks Wilderness - Inner Basin

I could have sat at this spot all afternoon, and considered doing just that.  But just as I was talking myself in to a warm cup of hot chocolate or coffee, distant thunder and gathering clouds reminded me that I was on a time limit.  I gathered myself up and strapped on my pack ready determined to make the final push to the summit.

Humphrey’s is one of those summits with a sick sense of humor.  As I’m slowly crawling my way through the rocky trail, swimming through the haze that’s clouding my mind, thinking I’m nearly there the mountain reveals it’s cruel joke.  I had been warned, but with the elevation getting to me I had forgotten about the false summits.  At least twice I was tricked in to thinking I was near the summit when a new, higher, further summit appeared.  The real summit, once I saw it seemed very distant to me.  Without trees or some other context, it’s hard to tell distance on this terrain and my mind was already having problems.  If it were not for a couple and their dog just coming off the summit, I would never have been able to gauge the distance.  When I saw them, I knew the summit was very close and bolstered with renewed energy I quickly hiked the rest of the way to the top.

Kachina peaks Wilderness - From the summitAt the top there is a small rock wall built up, presumably to allow people to shelter from the sometimes vicious winds that tear at the peak.  There was also a small wooden bench, situated near the edge overlooking the inner basin.  I poked around the summit, dug through the ammo can holding all the souvenirs and mementos from other hikers.  The summit journal had plenty of entries in it and I quickly added my own.

With the thunder still threatening in the distance and a light rain starting to drizzle, I didn’t spend too much time at the top.  I couldn’t shake the effects of the elevation and I was anxious to get back down where my head would start working again.

The return hike started out pleasant enough, and I was happy to start feeling the fog lift from my mind.  I knew I had made a mistake by not spending the night at higher elevation before the hike.  I’ve never felt the effects of elevation the way I did on this hike, but it was a good experience and a good lesson.  Something I don’t intend to repeat if possible.

By the time I reached the truck at the bottom my feet were destroyed.  The hike down had really done a number on me and I could barely walk.  I actually ran the last mile or so of the trail because the mechanics of running were less painful than walking.  My feet really need more strength and conditioning work, especially if I’m going to try to keep up with Barefoot Jake this Winter.

All in all, this was a beautiful hike and reaching the summit via the main trail just made me want to come back and explore the rest of the trails through the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.  There are several trails that lead in and out of the Inner Basin and I would love to spend some time on those in the near future.  Who’s with me?

 

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Trail Photos…

Bear Mountain – Sedona, Arizona…

I am forcing myself to get outdoors.  

This summer’s heat in Phoenix has been miserable for me.  I don’t know why it feels so much more oppressive and suffocating than summers past, but it does.  More than I have in a long time, I find myself hiding inside and making excuses.  I don’t like excuses.

After a great week in Pennsylvania, where the weather was significantly better, I felt energized…recharged.  I also returned to Phoenix to find the weather was a little more reasonable and a storm system was providing some much needed cloud cover in the mornings.  So, for the first time this summer, I had a solid week of outdoors activity and I didn’t want it to stop.  So as the heat rose, I planned to head up north and get some trail time in around my new favorite stomping grounds…Sedona.

Originally, I was looking for a nice long canyon hike that would allow me to amble along in the shade of the high red-rock walls.  I day-dreamed of running along a dusty canyon trail through Cottonwoods, Junipers and Pine trees.  This, unfortunately, would continue to be a dream as I did my pre-trip research and found that afternoon thunderstorms were forecast for the weekend in Sedona.  Monsoon season thunderstorms in Arizona mean flash floods and a secluded canyon is not where you want to be.  So, as often happens…change of plan.

I browsed my Sedona Trail Map and found a few interesting options that seemed far enough off the beaten path to offer some solitude.  Early Sunday morning, I got myself packed and headed north out of town.  Sunday was also National Hammock Day, so part of my goal for the day was to find a good place to hang my ENO and soak in some classic Sedona views.

driving up 179

In Sedona, I made my requisite stop at The Hike House to review trail options and take a look at their gear selection.  Deb met me at the door and ushered me in to show off some of the new gear and chat.  Then we looked over the map and she agreed that it would be a bad time to do any canyon hiking.  In lieu of a canyon hike I wanted to summit something.  Wilson Mountain was out of the question because it would get hit the hardest by any lightning and monsoon rains.  I asked about a small, strenuous hike on the west end of town that climbed up into the southwestern corner of the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Bear Mountain summit trail is only a 5 mile hike round-trip.  That would make it a much shorter distance than I wanted to hike but with nearly 2,000 ft of elevation gain in the 2.5 miles to the summit, it is strenuous.  Knowing it was a summit hike and storms were due to make their way in, I grabbed a cookie (thanks, Deb!) and headed toward the trailhead.

Bear Mountain as seen from the trailhead

There were a few cars parked at the lot that serves as the trailhead for both Bear Mountain and the much shorter Doe Mountain hike.  There is a decent sized parking lot and restrooms here.  There is also an automated pay-station for the Red Rock Day passes (I don’t think the passes are required anymore, but for $5 it was better to have it and not need it).

Cactus at the start of the trailThis mountain looks much different on paper than it does in person.  On paper, there are a couple of obvious climbs but I was not expecting the exciting geological adventure this mountain offers.  The trail starts across the road from the parking lot in a relatively flat, cactus laden stretch of iconic red soil split by ribbons of deeply eroded washes.  It climbs slowly straight to the base of the mountain comprised of heavily eroded cliffs of Schnebly Hill Sandstone.  A steep 400 ft climb brings me to a distinct ledge of Apache Limestone that has resisted erosion enough to create a relatively level path along the wall of the cliffs above.The first dramatic views from Bear Mountain

It’s Sedona, so I’m already impressed by the views and stopping to take pictures.  The rocky trail is more narrow and overgrown through this section and I am careful to watch for the cairns as I find myself nearly following false trails here and there.  This shelf ends at a narrow cut in the mountain side where the trail begins another steep climb.  I’m excited to see a trail becoming more technical and interesting.  As I hoist myself up out of the ravine and on to the first plateau, I’ve left the cactus behind.  Though there are still Agave, the low-land cactus has been replaced with Manzanita…and lots of it.

rocky trail to scramble to the main deckThe views on this first plateau are impressive, but I know I’ve barely started my climb.  I was anxious to see more.  This is the first place I run in to fellow hikers on their way back down.  A hundred yards or so later I run in to another couple resting further up the trail.  The deck at this section of Bear Mountain is a transition from the Schnebly Hill Sandstone to the very orange Coconino Sandstone.  The scrubby Manzanita is thick across this deck, but still relatively treeless.  Following the cairns carefully, the trail climbs another 500ft or so through a maze of rock and brush across a steeply inclined deck.  The rock gets lighter as you climb eventually revealing a twisted section of sandstone, bleached almost white, turned on it’s side and eroded to reveal etched swirls and striations unlike anything else I’ve seen in Sedona.

This section of the mountain becomes very narrow with sheer cliffs falling into twisted red canyons below on either side.  You gotta follow the trail on the 3D map below to get a good feel for this narrow bridge of rock.  It really was amazing to walk a few feet in either direction and be staring down into steep canyons, each with very unique character.

This is also where the trees start to occur.  I found myself scouting for a place to hang the hammock on the return hike.  It was a meager selection at first, with solitary trees perched here and there.  After more climbing, however, the trees became a little thicker and stronger and options were starting to present themselves.

There is a plateau that sort of presents itself as a false-peak.  In fact, when I got the plateau there were a couple of guys there resting and they announced “you made it!” as if this was the summit and end of the trail.  Clearly, with mountain still above me and my GPS reading that I still had a quarter mile left to go, they were mistaken.  I spent a few minutes taking pictures and soaking in the view from the false-summit but I wanted the top and time was running short.

CLOUDS!This entire time I’d been hiking and watching the clouds far up to the north.  An innocent line of clouds that morning had slowly grown to a picturesque desert sky and then transformed into a black, shadowy mass pulsing with flashes of light and emitting a menacing growl from time to time just to remind me it was coming.  I picked up the pace and made for the summit.  The last push to the top is very different than the rest of the trail.  As I’ve seen in a lot of summit hikes, part of the trail is less traveled, rougher and the cairns are more important to keep on the right path.  The rock here is more broken and loose and the vegetation changes again becoming more scrubby with grasses and Yucca.

Love the flag in the wind and the clouds gathering above...The top is marked with a small pile of rock and a small American Flag.  I paused at the top looking down across the flat, open valley to the southwest.  I stood on a fractured and pitted ledge of stark white Kaibab Limestone at the precipice of a great canyon and watched two hawks chase each other and grapple in the sky below me.  Then as the thunder reminded me of my time frame, I grabbed a few shots of the lone flag at the summit and moved on.

One the way down I found a great spot to hang the hammock overlooking Fay Canyon where I could watch the storm roll in over Wilson Mountain toward Sedona.  I was strapped between two pine trees at a ledge just 20ft or so off the trail and watched a couple of hikers pass below me.  I had a little snack and some water while I rested and watched the clouds move across the horizon, grumbling deeply as it moved, white lightning splitting the sky.

Before too long, I packed up my stuff and returned to my march down the mountain.  I picked up the pace, jogging through the flat parts and scrambling through the more technical sections.  Before I knew it was back to the narrow climb to the main deck, quickly working my way down I was back to the foot of the mountain in no time and headed to the truck just as the first drops of rain were starting to fall.

I drove back into Sedona through intermittent rain.  I stopped in to the Hike House again to say goodbye and grabbed a smoothie for the ride home since I wasn’t really feeling up to a full dinner.

watching the storm come in from my hammock

Bear Mountain really is a great summit hike for Sedona.  It is a very unique experience in place where unique experiences abound.  I think next time I will want to hike Fey Canyon and Boynton Canyon, the two dramatic canyons on the north side of Bear Mountain that offered such amazing views.

Bear Mountain – Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Plenty of trailhead parking. From Sedona take Highway 89A west to Dry Creek Road.  Follow until it dead-ends and make a left on to Boynton Pass Road toward Boynton Canyon.  Another left at the next intersection will take you to the trailheads for Boynton Canyon, Fey Canyon then Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain.  There is a small parking area, bathrooms and a Red Rock Pass purchase booth at the trailhead.

Trail Length: 5 mile round-trip (as described here)
Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous
Open: Year-round but not suggested during winter when snow is expected.

View Bear Mountain by wildernessdave on Breadcrumbs

 

Kendrick Mountain Wilderness -or- Prelude to Humphrey’s Peak…

Kendrick Mountain

Humphrey’s Peak is the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 ft.  It’s been on my must-do list for a while now.  A couple months ago, I started chatting with Matt on Twitter about hiking Humphrey’s Peak in June.  My only worry was that I have not been at high elevation in a long time.  The last time I spent any real time above 10,000 ft was hiking the Mount Rose Summit (10,776 ft) in Tahoe in 2010.  Prior to that, my last experience above 10,000 ft was in Peru all the way back in 1998.  I’ve never really had trouble with elevation, but things change over the years so I needed to see how my body would react at elevation and I wanted to do it before making a run on Humphrey’s Peak.

Dirty TruckMy buddy Bryan does a lot of bike races (he was the reason I was in Prescott for the Whiskey Off-Road).  A few weeks ago he asked me, kinda of last minute, if I wanted to go camping with him for another bike race.  The race was a popular 104-mile relay called the Barn Burner.  The Barn Burner Mountain Bike Race covers a 26-mile loop that weaves in and out of the Kendrick Mountain Wilderness area, home of Kendrick Peak.  Kendrick Peak tops out at 10,418 ft and is part of the same volcanic San Francisco Mountain Range as Humphrey’s. It would be a perfect warm-up for hiking Humphrey’s Peak so I packed up some gear and set to drive out to Flagstaff.

That day I had some work that needed to get done before I could get on the road so I got a later start than I wanted.  I didn’t leave the house until close to noon.  By the time I was on the freeway headed north, it was already pretty hot and weekend traffic headed out of town was getting thick.  To make matters worse, there was an accident reported on the freeway about 10 miles ahead and all of us were stuck in a slow crawl up a long grade out of the valley.

That’s when the truck stalled.

I spent the next hour or so with the hood up on the side of the freeway as vehicles crawled by trying to figure out why the truck would have stalled.  I was certain my weekend was ruined and I’d be headed back in to town in a tow truck.  I had managed to get it started once or twice only to have it die on me again seconds later.  Eventually I got it started again and it was done stalling…probably water in the fuel line, but at least it was running again and I was headed north to the wilderness.

Hammock CampingA few hours later I was at camp at the C&C Ranch with nearly 4,000 other people in what was probably the dirtiest, dustiest piece of land in Arizona.  There were signs on the way in describing how the land had been destroyed by overgrazing and the soil was loose and devoid of nutrients.  The soil was so soft and dry that it would billow up in front of your vehicle like water as if you were driving through a shallow pond.

Crazy amounts of dust along with the crowded nature of the camp area convinced me to hike up above the flat into the trees with my hammock and camp above the chaos.  Before it got dark I wandered up to the tree line and found a good spot to hang camp, then walked back down to be “sociable” and have dinner with the race crew.

After a nice dinner and a cold beer, I headed up to my hammock and snuggled in for the night.  More and more I find myself enjoying this style of camping.  The temps got down to about 40 degrees that night and I slept like a baby.  I’m getting used to using a top-quilt and keeping warm with an insulated sleeping pad.

Early the next morning, I shuffled down off the hill and back to my truck to make some camp coffee (thanks to Coffee Brewers).  My plan was to wait until the bike race got going before heading to the trailhead.  The road I would take to the Kendrick Peak trailhead is the same road being used for a portion of the bike race and I didn’t want to be in the way, or creating unnecessary dust for the riders.  I headed out about 8:30 and was near the trailhead by 9am.  The first wave of bikers had made their way around and I couldn’t drive all the way to the trailhead without impeding the race so I parked off the road a half-mile or so down from the trailhead parking lot and hiked up.

Trailhead ParkingThe parking lot is well kept and big enough for nearly 20 cars.  It also has some posted trail and wilderness information as well as a permanent bathroom.  The trail wasn’t crowded but there were several cars in the lot and a couple of groups getting on the trail about the same time as myself.

Kendrick Trail MapI really love hiking in Northern Arizona.  The pine forests with thick green grasses and ferns remind me of a slightly drier version of the Pacific Northwest.  The trail is well maintained and easy to follow.  Though the 4-mile hike to the top is a continuous incline, it’s not terribly aggressive making the hike fairly moderate.  Hiking up the mountain, the trail weaves though Ponderosa Pine, Aspen, Oak, Fir, and Spruce trees and is home to Mexican spotted owls, mule deer, elk and black bear.  I didn’t get to see any real wildlife while I was up on the mountain, but the scenery was amazing even with large sections of the forest along the foothills still recovering from the 15,000 acre Pumpkin Fire back in 2000.

Kendrick Mountain TrailMost of the trail zig-zags through the forest, but occasionally opens up to offer views to the to the south as well as casual glimpses of Humphrey’s Peak to the east.  I kept a solid pace marching up the switch-backs, passing many of the hikers who were already on the trail.  Surprisingly, many of the hikers seemed to be in the over-fifty set.  With the exception of a young woman running the trail and two other women hiking together, I think I was the youngest hiker on the mountain.  When I reached the grassy saddle there were a couple of groups of day-hikers resting on fallen logs enjoying a mid-morning snack.  Smack in the middle of the saddle, surrounded by tall pines and green grass is the old, historic fire lookout cabin.

Built around 1911, the old log cabin is still in pretty good shape.  It was originally built as a shelter for the men working the fire lookout at the summit of Kendrick Peak.  It still has a functional door and glass windows.  Inside, the cabin is kept up with an old spring bunk bed, desk and storage chest with some emergency gear.  On the desk, along with other miscellaneous items, is a small notebook used as a trail sign-in book.

Kendrick Mountain lookout cabinThe trail splits at the saddle.  To the west you head up a rocky, narrow trail to the summit and the fire lookout building and can continue west along the ridgeline on the Pumpkin Trail.  To the northeast the Bull Basin Trail can take you down the north side of the mountain where it connects back to the Pumpkin Trail.  Having done this shorter trail, I would like to go back soon and hike the Pumpkin trail, hammock at the meadow next to the cabin, and then hike back down the Bull Basin Trail.

Kendrick Mountain TrailI left the cabin and headed up to the summit, so far feeling minimal effects from the elevation.  The hike from the saddle to the summit is less than half a mile and, though rocky, is not difficult.  At the top, the fire lookout dominates the peak.  In fact, you can see the massive fire lookout building from quite a distance (I was able to see it from camp that morning).  I’ve been to several fire lookouts in Arizona and this one is different than any of the others I’ve seen.

The first thing that makes this fire lookout unique in Arizona is that it is the only lookout post that does NOT have vehicular access.  The volunteers that work this post have to backpack the 4 miles in with all the gear and supplies on their backs.  There is a very small helipad near the structure for emergency extractions.  I hiked around the back of the structure and across to the helipad where several hikers were stretched out on the warm concrete like lizards soaking up the morning sun.  I pulled an apple out of my pack and soaked up the view from the peak while I ate my snack.

After a short rest, I noticed that most of the hikers had left.  So I secured my pack and walked up to the lookout building to meet the guy working there and have a chat.  It turns out that many of the Arizona fire lookouts are manned entirely by volunteers, most of which have no affiliation with the Forest Service.  I also discovered that they are typically in need of more volunteers on a regular basis.  The guy I was talking to, Ken, said he lives in Phoenix and comes up to man this post for about 5 weekends out of the summer.  He works a regular 9-5 during the week and uses this as his Summer getaway.  Where do I sign up??!!  I asked a few questions and managed to collect some contact information for the guy who manages the schedule for the volunteers.  I plan to call and get my name on the list.

Kendrick PeakThe lookout building itself has a propane stove and fridge, solar power, a bathroom, two double beds, a hammock and 360 degree views from one of the highest peaks in Arizona.  Sounds like the perfect Summer cabin to me!

I thanked Ken for the information and headed back down.  The total hike for me was nearly 9-miles round-trip because I parked further away from the trailhead.  The hike is typically about 7.5-8 miles RT with an elevation gain of nearly 3,000 ft.  The total trip took me about 3 hours. All in all, I never really felt any issues with the elevation even at the solid pace I was keeping.  Humphrey’s, here I come!

Side note: My phone battery has not been working properly lately so I have no track map.  I also had some technical difficulties with my DSLR right before reaching the saddle so I don’t have any pictures of the fire lookout.  Guess this just means I really need to hike this one again!