Abstract Red Mountain (with caterpillars)

Distant Crater
Happy Tuesday, dear readers! Over the weekend I made a trip to Red Mountain, which you might notice is one of my favorite places to hike around Flagstaff. This is for three reasons – It’s beautiful, it’s undeveloped, and it’s free. That’s more than I can ask when looking for somewhere to photograph. This is the first time I’ve been there with summer in full swing, and I got to see a few interesting things cataloged for you below.

Caught in the Sun
The mile-long trail to the mountain passes through what’s called pinyon-juniper woodland, named for its two prevalent trees, which were vibrant and shady in the clear afternoon sun. Pleasant though they are, the woods don’t have much in the way of color or focal points, making photos on the way up few and far between. There were a few flowering cliff rose shrubs lining the mountain’s outflowing wash, seen above, but they were the only ones showing off anything more than your typical green. I did find one curious tree (or rather, two) alongside the trail – a juniper and a pinyon pine had grown together, their trunks intertwining and branching into canopies at the same height, making a single conifer out of quite different species.
Together ForeverAbstraction in Lichens
After climbing the short ladder to enter the mountain proper, I started noticing something rather disturbing – the bushes all around the trail, called bitterbrush, were bedecked with what looked like macabre little grocery bags made of web. Some of these were quite large, and I could see hairy caterpillars both inside and on the webs, plus large quantities of trapped debris which looked like small flies at first, but which I later learned were the caterpillars’ droppings. After some research later on I identified these as the western tent caterpillar, which eventually metamorphose into a small brown moth. I’m not sure why there were so many in the canyon (or if they appear every year and I’ve just been lucky so far), but I took special care not to brush up against anything remotely near the web tents. Counting all the bitterbrush in the canyon alone, there must have been hundreds of these creepy tents, and thousands of accompanying caterpillars. I think in the case of most everyone including myself, a single caterpillar is fine but thousands spinning grotesque webs verges on unpleasant. For the sake of documentation I’ve posted a close-up below, squeamish readers beware…

Now, on to more enjoyable topics. The mountain in summer provides a great scene in orange and green, but I still find myself drawn to interpret my photos in black and white, with a little added color via split-toning. With that in mind you’ll find several duplicates in the gallery, where I found a scene to work in both color and monochrome. I won’t post them all here, but a few examples should serve to give you a taste of what I see while I’m there.

Wind of Ages
Imbalance MonoThree Pillars Mono

Warped by Weather
Tears of the Mountain Mono
Instead of the expansive vistas and old pines I planned for this outing, I ended up with many more texture and shape photos of the plants and rock all around. Red Mountain seems to inspire something unusually abstract in me, so you might find many of the pictures in the gallery lack a central focus but are instead meant as a more two-dimensional composition. For example, this broad area of gentle curves caught my eye, though technically there is nothing to see there –

Painted Cliff
You may also notice several repeated subjects, which I try to avoid anywhere else. There are some places in the canyon, though, that I feel need a certain kind of photo which I just can’t seem to perfect. Of special note are two scenes which can be found within a small slot canyon branching off the north end of the main basin. The one is a vertical branch, stripped of its bark and leaves, suspended in a stone fold with open sky above. I have attempted this shot more than any other, and I think I may have found the right angle this time. If you think otherwise, I’d like to hear your suggestions. The other is an open basin at the end of that canyon, where a pine and a juniper grow straight from the rock and behind them sits a boulder on a weathered pedestal, balanced above the flow of stone below. This scene, too, has been tackled from several angles, but I find decent pictures are easy to compose around it regardless of the viewpoint. Both of these can be seen below in monochrome.
Reach the LightOut of the Rock Mono
During this hike I tried to retrace the steps of last time, when a friend and I had found a way to the topmost level below the cliff-face. While wandering around looking for the lost trail I stumbled upon the small cave I mentioned in the last hike’s post, and this time I came upon it from an interesting angle which made the patterns of calcium deposits on the inside look like the contours of a giant throat. In scale it’s really just a cavity in the rock, but they can’t all be prehistoric cave-dwellings, now can they?

Throat of the Mountain
The cave meant I was getting close to where the trail rose out of the steep boulder fall and into the tree-covered upper slopes, but after trying in vain for some time I only found the way up once the evening was too far advanced to continue up then back down the slippery hillside. So from there I started back down, and then out of the canyon and back into the bright sunlight. The walk to the trailhead is beautiful as the sun is setting, casting all the trees and distant mountains into the definition of “golden hour” light. The shadows were long and the air was cool, and I was thoroughly satisfied with one of my more productive hikes at Red Mountain.

As always, each photo is linked to the new gallery, and all of these are available as beautiful prints to cover up that unsightly dent in your livingroom wall through the Store. Thank you for reading, and if you have a comment or question, please post it below!



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