In spring, watch carefully as moving clouds shade portions of the landscape in checkerboard patterns. Look for moments when the shifting highlights and shadows isolate a rock formation from the others. These transient moments produce dramatic and unusual photos.
July through September, billowing monsoon clouds provide theatrical excitement. Dark skies frame glowing red rocks and after the storm’s pounding thunder and lightning, a brilliant rainbow often emerges. (A rainbow will center in line with your shadow, arcing across the sky opposite the sun.)
In late-October the red rock canyons begin turning brilliant fall colors. The autumn show starts in the higher elevations toward Flagstaff and progresses down to Sedona. By November, cottonwoods turn yellow, sycamores become burnt orange, and the bigtooth maples break into a variety of warm-shaded hues. Colorful cottonwoods and sycamores are easily photographed from the Midgley Bridge turnout just north of uptown Sedona on 89A. Walk the short trail beneath the bridge to the overlook. Below you will find a mixture of fall color intertwined with sparkling Oak Creek.
Bell Rock, the craggy dome 5 miles south of midtown on State Route 179, is an easy photo stop. It is also very popular, as it’s one of Sedona’s reputed “vortexes.” To photograph it without clusters of people climbing its flanks you will need luck or unusual conditions. For me, it took a hot afternoon in the middle of summer—with record-setting high temperatures. For a short while, Bell Rock stood beautifully quiet.
The best color is found in side canyons and shady, moist areas. Oak Creek Canyon displays yellow cottonwoods and burnt-orange sycamores, but few red leaves. Boynton Canyon and Secret Canyon have scattered maples near the end of the trails.
The West Fork of Oak Creek is best known for its autumn color, with a three-mile trail along a gently flowing stream. In peak season, October through November, arrive early to find parking. A great spot for a reflection photo occurs just before the trail first begins to cross the creek and about 50 feet upstream. Take State Route 89A north from Sedona for 10.5 miles, and turn left (west) at the curve into Call of the Canyon Picnic Area. Cick here for current pass and fee information.
Cave Springs also offers strong fall color options in an easily accessible grove of colorful bigtooth maple and sycamore stands adjacent to State Route 89A. From Sedona, drive 11.4 miles up Oak Creek Canyon. Turn left (west) onto the road leading into the Cave Springs campground. Use the small, dirt parking area just off State 89A. Walk south across the entrance road to a dry creek bed about 200 yards away.
When the colors change in fall, a walk along Oak Creek on Allen’s Bend Trail offers spectacular scenes and reflections. This is a particularly good spot where the trail follows the creek a short distance from its banks. After a half-mile the easy trail reaches a scenic place to turn around where tall cottonwoods contrast rich yellows against the orange sandstone. The combination with a deep blue sky is stunning. Drive north from the “Y” up State Route 89A for 2.3 miles and turn right into Grasshopper Point Recreation Area. Follow link for current pass and fee information.
Fresh snow transforms the red rocks, maybe into your next Christmas card. Snowfall usually arrives late in this area, February, March, or even into April. Early morning photography is the most productive because the snow melts rapidly under the sun. Cathedral Rock seldom has snow because of its lower elevation. Bell Rock is one of the easiest of Sedona’s distinctive sandstone landmarks to photograph on a snow day. Munds and Lee mountains, along with Courthouse Butte, make good backdrops. Watch where you step—ice often forms in shaded areas.
From Sedona, drive about 6 miles south on State Route 179 and use the northern Bell Rock parking area, on the left, or continue to the Bell Rock Pathway parking area, also on the left.