My Recent Trip – Sedona Red Rocks

This fall has been a busy travel time for me as it is my preferred time to travel just after summer with beautiful weather, warm temperatures, and fewer crowds.  My travels took me from the Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona, to the coastline of southern Maine, and a trip to Europe to visit Lisbon and Dublin.  In this post, I’ll cover my trip to Sedona and in subsequent blogs cover my trips to Maine and Europe.

Returning to Sedona is always a special event filled with anticipation of enjoying the Arizona weather, hiking, biking, and of course taking some photographs.  On this trip, I flew to Sky Harbor (Phoenix) by way of Southwest Airlines connecting through Chicago, which was fairly uneventful with the exception of local thunderstorms possibly delaying my connecting flight to Phoenix and only having 20 minutes to enjoy my dinner.


Chicago Midway Airport

Flying into Phoenix is always amazing at night as the plane enters the greater Phoenix area and seeing all the city lights and highways filled with flowing traffic that quickly turns to darkness beyond the city limits.  I only waited about 15 minutes for my shuttle ride and we were off on the 2-hour drive north on I-17 to Sedona.  Pulling off exit 298 to drive the 7 miles to the Village of Oak Creek (Village) is a beautiful drive, but it was dark as it was nearly 11PM.  However, the night was clear and lights that from Cottonwood and Jerome to the northeast were visible.  Finally, as the shuttle passed the Red Rocks Ranger Station I knew I was just minutes away from ending my journey to Sedona.

The following morning, Thursday, I was up early still being on east coast time and took care of some personal business, but did note that the skies were hazy, not the normal clear blue skies that I’m accustomed to, nonetheless, it was good to take up the Arizona sun.  img_1256-2My first destination was Red Rock Crossing off Verde Vally School Road to take photos of Cathedral Rock.  Upon pulling into the parking lot for the Baldwin Trailhead the reason for the hazy conditions was apparent as smoke from a wildfire burning north of West Sedona near the Secret Mountains was clearly visible.   The fire was burning in very steep and remote area that limited firefighting efforts to aerial drops and ground personnel setting backfires to contain the fire.  The fire was eventually fully contained and suppressed.


Waiting to take a photo

I grabbed my camera gear and headed to the flat rocks along the banks of the Oak Creek below Cathedral Rock.  The location is popular for photography with iconic views of Cathedral Rock; however, I was still looking forward to taking some images as I suspected with recent rains that great reflections were a definite possibility.  I spent a few hours taking photos, including several long exposures of the Oak Creek with Cathedral Rock as a backdrop.  For most of my photos, I used my trusty Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens and my newly purchased Nisi filters.  I primarily used the 3-stop and 6-stop ND filters to create a smooth appearance of the Oak Creek.20180830-194135 -_DSC9434-Edit


Glowing wildflowers

My second day I decided to photograph sunrise from an area near the Red Rock Ranger Station in hopes of taking some images along the Dry Beaver Creek but was unfamiliar with the hiking trails.  Realizing the time and distance to the creek, I spotted a nearby ridge line and quickly proceed to find a vantage point for a sunrise image.  I managed to take several photos, but the images were lackluster.  Not every outing produces images, but I still enjoyed my morning exploring a new area.  I proceeded back to the ranger station and noted all the newly bloomed wildflowers from the recent rains and took several photos of flowers.  In particular were these wild yellow mini sunflowers that were amazing in the morning light. During this walk, I used my Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens as I prefer it for impromptu photographs.


Red rocks on fire

Later that evening, I drove to the Schnebly Hill Road trailhead to hike up onto a vantage point to photograph uptown Sedona during sunset.  Having hiked to this vantage point during previous trips, I quickly found my preferred location and set up my tripod for some sunset photos.  While waiting for sunset I took several photos of the surrounding Red Rocks during the “Golden Hour”, which locally is referred to as “Sedona Time” where the red rocks are lit on fire against the blue Arizona sky.  Most of these photos were taken with my 70-200 mm lens.  As the sun settled over West Sedona, the clouds added drama to the scene, in particular creating a stunning background for Capital Butte.


West Sedona

As the sunlight faded the lights from both uptown and west Sedona began to illuminate the scene below me.  I decided to hang around and grab some images during the “Blue Hour” following sunset.  My favorite time to take cityscapes as the urban lights complement the dark blue sky.  For these photos, I used my 24-70 mm lens.  After, I proceeded back to the trailhead under a beautiful starry sky overhead.  The Arizona night sky is so much brighter with more stars than the sky back home in Connecticut.

The following day was Sunday, the day before Memorial Day and I went out for a bike ride for my weekly treat of a raspberry mocha at Starbucks in West Sedona.  As I was returning to the Village, I noticed the long slow moving traffic proceeding north on Route 179 to Sedona.  Sedona is the second most visited place in Arizona after the Grand Canyon, so I decided to explore the nearby town of Cornville for the day to avoid the crowds.  I drove along the beautiful Page Springs Road with numerous vineyards along the Oak Creek to the Bubbling Pond Fish Hatchery.  A location I noted in previous trips, but have not visited.  I parked my car and grabbed my camera gear and proceeded to see what photographic opportunities waited for me.

At the hatchery, several large ponds raise fish to stock the adjacent Oak Creek and several nature trails provide opportunities to observe local wildlife, in particular, waterfowl and eagles.  While I did not spot any eagles, I did see numerous ducks in the fish ponds and some herons flying overhead.  img_1323Sorry, no photos as I did not bring my longer lens on this trip.  Along the backside of the property adjacent to some marshy fields, I spotted a large Western Tiger Swallow Butterfly.  I took several photographs of the butterfly and some dragonflies as well.  I meander over to the Oak Creek, but the banks were full of vegetation with only a few open spots that were taken up by people fishing.  Being monsoon the clouds started to thicken up and the wind picked up abruptly, so I proceeded quickly back to my car.  As I drove back to Sedona, I pulled over to capture an image of a thunderstorm over the Red Rocks of Sedona to the northwest from Cornville Road.


Mansoon rains over Sedona

Memorial Day was my last full day in Sedona and I made plans with my friend Terry Moore to hike on a new trail near Bell Rock and try to find a way to circumnavigate the upper slick red rock of Bell Rock.  As with most hikers, we proceeded up the north side of Bell Rock up onto the slick red rock along marked trails.  Then progressed to the west finding our way along some unmarked trails and ridgelines facing Courthouse Butte to our west.  This portion of the hike was the most difficult portion of our hike as the trials were unmarked and at times narrow; however, we did manage to get to the south face of Bell Rock where the red rock widened and flattened.


Looking south to the Village

At this point, we were treated to a fabulous view the Village to our south.  As we proceed to the east side of Bell Rock we ascended a short climb through a narrow passage through the rocks and then back down to the flatter wider portion of the slick red rock.  Finally, we made it back to the north face of Bell Rock and went back to our vehicle parked at the Courthouse Vista trailhead.  Being still early we decided to hike near Cathedral Rock from the Yavapai Vista trailhead.


This hike includes one of my favorite trails, the Hiline trail that takes you out to a fantastic vista looking across the open high desert to Cathedral Rock and toward West Sedona as well across Route 179 to Red Rocks near the Chapel of the Holy Cross.  The trail quickly ascends from the trailhead, but then levels of until the vista.

20180902-110446 -DSC_1045

Cathedral Rock from Hiline Trail

We decided to continue to Cathedral Rock descending down onto the open high desert and crossing over onto the Templeton trail.  The Templeton trail hugs the eastern face of Cathedral Rock until it merges with the Cathedral Rock trail.  Looking for more adventures and panoramic views, we ascended up to the saddle between the large rock pillars that make-up Cathedral Rock.  At the saddle, the panoramic views are fabulous as one can see the red rocks to the east toward Route 179 and the Red Red Crossing area off Verde Valley School Road to the west.  We descended back down Catherdal Rock trail sidling down the steep slick rock face to the Templeton Trail.


Easy does it!

As we were hiking back we could see thick thunderstorm clouds north of us near Wilson Mountain and they were moving toward us.   We picked up our pace frequently checking behind us as the clouds were closing in on us. We made it back to the parking lot without getting wet, but the thunderstorm clouds were overhead at this point and as we drove back to the Village the skies opened up with rain.  20180902-125418 -DSC_1059_AuroraHDR2018-edit


In all, we hiked approximately 10-miles enjoying the scenery as well as our conversations along the way.   I need to mention my admiration for Terry as he is 70 and still very active, what an inspiration.  It was a great day to end my trip to Sedona and looking forward to my return in January as I plan to run up to the Grand Canyon for some winter photography.  If you have any questions about where to go or what to see in Sedona, please drop me an email.

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