West Clear Creek, Arizona: Deep Canyon Photography

December 19, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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“A river is water in its loveliest form, rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart.” 

                       - Roderick Haig-Brown

Our morning begins with a bumpy dust filled four wheel drive to West Clear Creek, 12 miles east of Camp Verde, Arizona.  Arriving at the Bull Pen Ranch trailhead,  I note only one other parked SUV and a striking aura of silence. Thanks to my adventurous brother, Brian, and our son-in-law, Todd Severson, for their great company and navigation throughout this memorable photography trek.  

Shortly into the hike, we’re excited to hear the unmistakable sound of cascading water.  A short “off-trail” hike brings us to West Clear Creek, after a  challenging stretch of boulder hopping and some bushwhacking. Here, we marvel at the vast size of the “creek,” the powerful flow of water and the beauty of the scene before us: Steep canyon walls laced with vivid greenery and rust colored leaves, fallen tree branches and large blue-gray boulders awash in clean white foam.   

To capture “the shot,” I end up wading into the river water, first up to my knees and ultimately to just below my waist. Initially, the water feels very cold, indeed. I don’t give it too much thought though, given my sense of awe and the prospect of some potentially unique landscape photographs. Often, for this kind of photography, I find it’s safer and easier to walk the riverbed with my sturdy tripod in hand, rather than trying to secure a safe perch at the precarious water’s edge.

Once acclimated, we are keenly aware of the large, yet intimate, sense of scale in the heart of West Clear Creek. This morning, Mother Nature’s color palette is especially rich in the subdued, indirect morning winter light. Mesmerizing canyon wall reflections gently shift and merge as we make our way upstream.

The meandering river gently twists and turns, forging its way through the deep, remote canyon. Every turn brings us to a fresh new inspirational scene. Some scenes are captured on my camera, others on cell phones and many more  as vivid memories. Today, my recollections of the West Clear Creek hike include the scent of late autumn, the sound of rushing water and the gentle touch of leaves wafting in the air.

Late in the morning, we venture from the shadowed canyon area back on to the official marked trail.  As if a light switch is turned on, the thick woods instantly come alive in bright sunlight, flickering autumn leaves and a long view of the path ahead.  Beyond the rich visuals, we’re grateful to warm up a bit under direct sunlight.

After shooting a few quick videos of yet another cascade, we turn back for our return hike. Our time for “serious fine arts photography” is concluded for the day, at least at this location. Discussion now turns to the impending change of seasons and planning for a return trip to this remote oasis.  Back at the trailhead parking lot, there are now four dust covered vehicles.

Camera Gear: Nikon Z7, Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8 G ED N Wide Angle Lens, Nikon FTZ lens adaptor,  Nikon Z 24-70 mm f/4.0 lens, B+W circular polarizer filter,  Gitzo Tripod, Swiss Arca Z ball head.

See also:  Autumn's Quiet Passage: Photos from Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, ArizonaAspens Aglow in Arizona Mountains: Tilt Shift Lens for Landscape Photography and West Fork Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona: Part 2 - Autumn

 


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