In May of this year the Slide Fire burned over 20,000 acres in Oak Creek Canyon, just north of Sedona, Arizona. One area of the fire was West Fork. The gem of Arizona and the most hiked trail in the state. The photography opportunities are endless along this trail. At the time I shared What If There Is No More? The trail opened to the public October 1st after several months of being closed due to the fire. The area had to be inspected and made safe although there are still warning signs that there may be falling rocks and logs. Not to mention the bears have once again made it their home. There are also warnings that the water in the creek is now toxic and to not let dogs drink the water.
Yesterday I went to West Fork as it is now the season for incredible autumn color the area is known for. But what would the trail look like this year? I had seen several photos and it looked promising that the trail was still very much intact thanks to the incredible firefighters who fought the blaze for weeks. I had heard the water level was quite low due to downed trees and, because it is a wilderness area, they cannot be removed. I was still hoping to make some images along the creek. The trail is 3.3 miles long one way and has 13 creek crossings. Just after the first crossing is the most photographed part of the trail. This particular image is a reflection of the red rock in the creek. Typically the reflection is a mirror image, however, there is so much ash and/or soot in the creek it is black in this area. I made the image on an angle for something different.
The fire was sporadic and seemed to jump around the area. There were areas where one tree completely burned and a tree very close was unharmed.
This image shows a completely burned tree, new growth of ferns and an untouched tree in the background. It was odd to see so many ferns completely green, as this time of year they have usually turned a reddish-brown. There were ferns that were a pale tan and I don’t know if they dried up during the fire or if that is how they turned for fall. Along with new fern growth, I saw several oak tree saplings about a foot tall. Of course, it will be years before they reach maturity.
Walking along the trail I saw three or four different species of wildflowers. Two years ago, when photographing fall color along this trail, I don’t recall seeing any wildflowers. A good sign the forest is healing.
A completely charred small log, possibly a tree limb, caught my attention as it looked silver in the sunlight. I couldn’t resist making an abstract image.
Although it was quite sad to see so much damage along the trail, I knew it was an opportunity to make some different autumn images. I found these leaves on this completely burned downed tree and though it made a very dramatic image.
On another log I found an oak leaf. The oak trees seem to have been damaged from the smoke, not necessarily the fire. The leaves are dry and brown and mostly fallen and the trees have an unhealthy look to them.
This single oak leaf seemed to be hanging on by a thread to what was left of a sapling that was about two and a half feet tall. But as you can see it too is turning brown instead of yellow. As there is already evidence of the forest healing itself, it will be interesting to see how the trail revives in the spring.
Sedona is known for its red rocks and even the soil is red. The soil along the creek is now black also making for a dramatic background to fallen leaves. Just as I was making one of many creek crossings, I looked down and saw this oak leaf completely blackened by the soil and a newly fallen red maple leaf. Definitely one of my favorite images of the day.
As I was heading back to the trailhead I caught a glimpse of this reflection in the very shallow creek. Reflections of the autumn color was rare with such a low water level.
I went to West Fork with a photography friend and one of her friends who also enjoys photography. All three of us managed to lose each other and the entire way back to the trailhead I looked for both of them. I didn’t see either along the trail and thought they must be waiting for me in the parking lot. It was about 3:30 or so and definitely time to stop and have lunch. After several minutes, one of them made it back to the trailhead. We sat at one of the picnic tables and waited for our chauffeur, as she had the keys to her vehicle and our lunch was inside. As we were sitting there chatting about what we saw, I kept looking at a scene that looked like an impressionistic painting. After looking at the scene several times, it finally occurred to me to get my camera out for one last shot. And probably my favorite shot of the day.
Here is a gallery of all the images: