Picture Canyon in Summer Green
What a productive week this has been! Today I have a new Picture Canyon gallery for you, and I might say it’s the most beautiful yet. The days have been getting warm here in Flagstaff and I needed an escape to cool off, though not one as busy and intense as Oak Creek. Naturally I turned back to the canyon, which is still within city limits and offers peace, shade, and cheerfully running water. Walking through the now-familiar floodplain at the head of the reclaimed river I noticed the bulrushes were growing again in full form, their green spears bunching everywhere along the river’s banks. Taking a cue from last time I began the hike on the north side of the canyon, eager to see what new sights would present themselves in the clear summer sun.
From the north rim there is an immediate view of the great waterfall which heads the canyon, now draped in trailing vines and rejuvenated lichens. There is also a large variety of plants growing in patches on the terrace-like slopes which are absent from the strictly vertical southern side. Among these were the now-flowering spiky-leaved evergreen shrub named Algerita, which I have photographed across northern Arizona, and a precious few blooming prickly pear cacti with flowers the color of sunset. Also to my delight were the many Gambel oaks now covered in leaves, which are a vast improvement from their skeletal branches in the last two hikes here.
I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to focus on this hike, which resulted in a lot of back-and-forth wandering, but once I reached the canyon bottom I decided to set out downstream further than I had gone before. I quickly realized that the barbed-wire fence across the river, which had deterred me during my first visit, was actually just an enclosure around a stretch of the river perhaps made to protect it from over-browsing deer. After following a pleasant little trail for a while the canyonsides finally dropped away, leaving the river to flow quietly out into the pine forest. Around this point I joined up with a better-traveled trail and soon found its marker, labeling it as part of the 800-mile Arizona Trail. This trail winds all through Arizona (as its name implies), and this is not the first time I have encountered it – it passes across the road in to Walnut Canyon, it went right by the middle-of-nowhere Bismark Lake, it winds around the west side of Mormon Lake, and it even crosses the NAU campus between the north and south sides. It was conceived and built in fairly recent times as a way to connect the deepest south to the highest north of the state, passing places of historic and modern interest along the way. Where it crosses the flow of the Rio de Flag there is a small wooden bridge, hidden monument to Arizona’s longest single trail system.
After turning back around towards the canyon I made my way to the slopes below the cave dwelling, which are covered in potsherds stuck in the loose dirt. I speculated in the last post that the sheer amount of broken pottery was due to a ritual “breaking” ceremony when the Sinagua here decided to move elsewhere, which I stand by for the lower canyon, but according to the wonderful resource site HikeAZ there were also pueblos built on the canyon rim, destroyed by vandals in the early 20th century, which I had not seen yet. Following a trail which picked its way around the right of the cave I soon came out on top, and right on the lip of the cave’s overhang were the clear remains of a stone foundation. Scattered all around, almost making up the hard dirt itself, were countless more bits of broken pottery exposed to the elements. Most were the simple redware which is common in the canyon, but there were also a few pieces of black-on-white and grooved pottery which hint that the people living here were quite prosperous, having time to decorate pottery, or were able to trade with other groups who produced the finer styles.
Tracing along the rim for a short while I came upon another foundation, not as well-preserved as the first, and a series of flat terraces which would have made good gardens for food crops and herbs. From these grassy shelves I got a great view of the canyon below, now shimmering in the last light it would receive before it was thrown into shade.
From the terraces I made my way back down to one of the main trails, intrigued by the pueblos and now poking about in the shadows under the rock. I found a few places in which the upper basalt shelf, which created the main cave, also opened into very low but also apparently deep horizontal crevices which may have been more accessible in the past. There seemed to be traces of fire-blackening on the roof of the larger one, and I can only guess at what its use may have been, if anything, to the old Sinagua here. Content with my archaeological findings of the day I started back down the slopes, intending to cross the river and head back up via the south rim, but I ended up spending more time trying to find the path I had followed which allowed me to get close to the main pool during my first visit.
Unfortunately I could not find the trail again, possibly due to the large new growths of canyon grape and standing bulrushes, but they did make a very nice contrast to the otherwise harsh stone walls. I turned around and followed the cliff face back downstream to where it allowed an ascent to be made, and along the way found two more petroglyphs which I had not seen before. The first looks like a deer with its neck outstretched, feeding from a tree maybe, and the second is a spiral cut through by a new crack in the rock, an interesting metaphor for the cycle of habitation here.
Now following the familiar trail up and across the south rim, I stopped at my favorite observation point to get one last look at the falls. I know I’ve taken this picture every time I’ve been here, but you have to admit the scene deserves it.
From there the walk out was a simple affair, small birds and insects making the sounds of a wetland night along the sinuous river path. Even though the times I’ve been here have all been late afternoon, and only a few months apart, the canyon continues to impress me with its sights and history. It really is a hidden jewel in Flagstaff, and one can only hope that it stays that way in the future.
As always each image is linked to the new gallery, so give that a look if you like. Also, you may notice I’ve been getting a little creative with the image layouts in the last couple posts. Is this working for you, my viewers, or would you rather I go back to posting large single images? Let me know in the comments, I’m interested in your thoughts on the matter.
Also also, this is the first set of images that will be spread through my new social network (links now featured in the Features menu above), so hopefully it all goes well. Those posts should go live as the evening progresses, so if you’re interested stop by your favorite site and leave a like, comment, or share with your friends.
And one last word – I’ve updated the D’ni Proverb of the Week (finally), and this week’s is quite nice, so check that out if you’re interested.