With our monsoons brewing, this is a great time of the year to capture awesome clouds and weather.
So we headed out to the Rim to see if we could capture some interesting photos. While we were actually thinking we would get fog after the previous day’s rain. We were just greeted with more rain, and a few elk.
We always consider it a gift whatever we might get. No matter what, it’s always a good day out and beautiful trek through the forest.
With everything going on in the world, I guess it goes without saying that everything changes. I’m not talking about the prices, lack of workers, or social upheaval. If you go someplace or do something long enough you are bound to see change, whether it’s at a restaurant, a golf course, or a favorite outing.
Considering this a blog for my photos, I’m not talking about restaurants or golf. We have heard of Black River for decades. We were told it had unsurpassed beauty and wildlife. So, finally, after so very many years of hearing about it, we decided to bite the bullet, buy the White Mountain Indian Reservation permits and check it out.
We began our drive from Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ in a cool 70F day and began to decent the long road to the river. Once we got to the ‘border bridge’ of the San Carlos Indian Reservation we stopped to check out the river at the only viewpoint from the road. We found ourselves in 98F heat and considering the hot and sandy environment, lack of scenery, and animals, we made the decision to turn around and head to the ‘U.S.’ side outside of Big Lake.
Once there we were greeted with cooler temps, including 39F overnight. Not having ever been to Black River, we were surprised to see the lack of views of the river. I suppose if we were to hike down the river with waders the scenery would improve. The Alpine / Big Lake side still wore the scars of the 2011 fire that rolled through Hannigan Meadow and Greer. The Black River had remnants of burned trees and heavy overgrowth along the river way.
We were further surprised to see the lack of open dispersed camping. Signs everywhere advised no camping in non-designated areas, only in the Pay-Park here spots. The campsites were dusty and trash ridden with no trash receptacles.
Everything changes. We have camped for years, pulling up in any stretch of earth and calling it home for the night. Over the years we have never paid for camping in the forest land we pay taxes on. We have found very little trash early on, but when we did, we always took home more trash than we came with and picked up anything we found. These days we travel for hours to a beautiful spot only to find heaps of trash littered everywhere. Heck, we find it on our road to our subdivision. Now, we have to pay for the pleasure of picking up others trash with no place to put it, other than take it home with us, and pay for it to be picked up.
More and more there are an increasing number of closed forest roads, gated areas we are no longer able to visit, other than designated spots where we have to listen to someone else’s generator. Sorry for the gripe. Everything changes. I’m glad we camped throughout AZ and saw all that nature has to offer. We will continue to do so, but with limited access from what we have become accustomed to.
We got a tip that we might be able to find coatimundi at Cluff Ranch in Pima, AZ, a locale they had been seen many times before. Having never seen a coatimundi, we were anxious to follow up on the lead and hopeful to get a great shot.
We stopped at Tucson Mountain Park along the way. It was sunny blue sky the entire time, but we weren’t there for sunsets, we were there for the animals.
At Tucson Mountain Park we were delighted and entertained as we watched these little ground squirrel brave the ocotillo thorns just for a taste of it’s ‘candy corn’ fruit.
When we got to Cluff Ranch in Pima, AZ, we hiked in to the spot we thought we might see coatimundi, parked ourselves and hid for several hours, waiting in silence hoping for an encounter. Unfortunately, not all animal outings are productive. They work to their own schedule and don’t tend to appear on command.
The heat was intense at 97F, particularly for us mountain dwellers, so we made our way back through Hannigan’s meadow toward Greens Peak in hopes of catching some osprey fishing.
We were rewarded with a 53F day, nearly 45 degrees from the previous day in Southern AZ, and fortunate to see some osprey, yet unable to catch that illusive shot of them fishing… but I’ll keep trying.
We planned well in advance for our trip to Toroweap Overlook, part of the North Rim Grand Canyon.
Toroweap (Tu-weep to the Paiute Indian) refers to ‘the earth’, and translates appropriately to ‘dry & barren’. It’s hard to imagine this long rough rocky 61-mile dirt road through sagebrush and salt bush can open up to something so enormous, vast, and beautiful.
As the Colorado River winds through the bottom of the canyon, the steep walls stretch out to the sky with abundant rock formations.
We got the camping permits 6 months in advance, as required, estimating that the end of March would be less crowded and have best potential for rainy weather and clouds, and not be too hot.
Truth be known, we hit the mark. We hoped for clouds and clouds we got. In fact, we got so many clouds that over the course of 3 nights and 3 days (that’s 6 sunset / sunrise shoots), we only saw the sun once.
Outside of that one time, the sun was behind a dense cloud bank and never made an appearance. And unfortunately, it never even lit up the sky.
While I was disappointed, it was a gorgeous spot to watch the sun rise over coffee, and end the evening watching it set (hoping the light would come).
Have you heard of Whitewater Draw? Whitewater Draw is a swampy marsh area in McNeal, in southern AZ, east of Bisbee and north of Douglas (pretty much the border of AZ / Mexico).
Because of the food sources (namely corn fields) and marsh ponds, the sandhill crane flock to Whitewater Draw in droves in the winter months, Oct – March.
They sleep in the ponds to protect themselves from predators. Every morning they lift-off and go to graze in nearby fields.
In the afternoon some come back (between 10 am – noon) to rest and socialize in the ponds.
Just before sunset there is a mass fly in when the cranes come back for the night.
It is a sight to see! The noise of the cranes is deafening. The shear quantity of birds is impressive to say the least.
We participated in a Photo Workshop put on by Arizona Game & Fish (AZGFD). We watched the cranes take off from a distance crossing the moon in their path.
George Andrejko, AZGFD’s professional photographer for more than 20 years, walked around with us through the walking paths, pointing out different birds, and ducks along the way. Where else can you get a one on one with such a gifted and renown Arizona photographer? It was a special experience, one I would do again in a heartbeat.
The mere $25 fee to participate goes to a good cause so that the AZGFD can continue to care for the site and put on more such events.
We not only learned about the site, but were able to speak with talented and knowledgable AZGFD personnel. We met new and interesting like-minded people, enjoyed the outdoors, and had a ‘show’ throughout the day.
The Mogollon Rim is probably one of our favorite places. It is not far from where we live, and offers exceptional views and a myriad of roads to explore.
One of our favorite vantage points we have dubbed, ‘Tree Saddle’. It was never more spectacular than after a heavy dousing of frigid rain. We stuck it out and were rewarded with amazing skies.
Funny, I feel I must caveat some of these photos… yes the sky was that red and magical, it was not ‘photoshopped’. I was giddy with joy for this tremendous sky as it rolled in and turned bright red. As a boater, I was reminded of the old adage, ‘Red skies at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.’
While the views along the rim itself are stunning, the forest roads along the rim are equally beautiful.
When the fog rolled in the following morning, we wandered the forest roads capturing eerie fog pix.
I was completely soaked and freezing as clouds went from great photos to completely enveloping me as I got doused trying to get one more pic. While weather can be cold and uncomfortable, it does make more intriguing photos. It was absolutely worth it, and euphoric to be in the presence of such amazing views.