Spring Visits Walnut Canyon
A little late today (and in the middle of the week!), but last weekend I had a chance to escape to Walnut Canyon for a couple hours and got a number of nice macro shots which I wanted to share with you. Walnut Canyon National Monument is located just southeast of Flagstaff, and is well-developed without being intrusive on the natural scenery. The main trail is called the Island Loop, which winds around a horseshoe bend in Walnut Creek below, though from about two-thirds the distance up the canyon wall. The trail follows the level of an ancient community of pueblos built in the 1200s, nestled under an overhang in the limestone bedrock. The canyon is many-layered and several layers host these overhangs, so from the trail are visible many other pueblos on opposite walls or different levels which are not open for exploration.
As I’m sure you’ve read from me before, spring is taking a long time coming this year, but several small shrubs and flowers have felt the season before the larger oaks and put on a nice display for me. I was especially pleased by the ruby-red flowers of the hedgehog cactus, which reminded me of Phoenix even though the environment in the canyon is completely different.
The pueblos themselves aren’t the most picturesque (at least with my resources), but walking among and through the several open rooms in the evening is a great, peaceful experience. I recommend visiting on weekdays if you can, as the monument is very popular with tourists and the narrow trail can get quite crowded. The few times I’ve made the trip I’ve been very lucky in avoiding this, though perhaps it’s because I tend to get there right before the trail office closes.
Many of the distinctive plants growing in the canyon have little descriptive plaques nearby, and as I go through these more developed places I’ve been trying to pick up what information I can. The shrub above is called Mormon tea, apparently a stimulant when prepared properly. Others along the trail were snowberry, marked by small round leaves with crinkled edges and white berries; banana agaves, with their succulent, pointy leaves; and the prickly pear cactus, with broad round leaves and yellow spines. There are also many Gambel oaks, the most populous species in Arizona, whose leaves turn brownish-orange in fall.
Coming up from the trail is an exhausting process, as you suddenly realize you’ll have to ascend all the stairs you quickly came down in the beginning. The climb up does give an interesting look at the levels of the canyon between the trail and the top, and even in that space the plant life changes visibly. At the top are the more arid plants like agaves, cacti, and juniper, gradually turning into ponderosa pine. There is also a trail which winds along the canyon rim for a short ways and gives views of a pithouse and free-standing pueblos, though after so long they are little more than foundations now.
Walnut Canyon really is a great place to visit, but be sure to plan around the schedules of tourists and the deceptive mid-day heat in summer. As always these photos are linked to the new gallery, so feel free to give that a look and leave a comment if you enjoy my work!
I might also draw your attention to my new background scheme, which will display a larger, blurred-out version of the newest post’s featured image. I think visually it opens the site up quite a lot, so expect changes accordingly with each new photo post. Let me know what you think, or if you have any ideas otherwise, I’m always open to suggestions.