Red on the Rim

Author: Greg McKelvey

The Mogollon Rim, stretching from near Flagstaff to New Mexico, is more than a unique topographic and geologic feature.  It’s forests are home to numerous, albeit hidden Mountain Maple and small groves of Aspen trees.   Not the grand vistas surrounding the San Francisco Peaks and nothing like the New England hardwood forests, the Rim Country does have fall displays to fill the portfolio of any professional photographer, publication amateur enthusiast.  The question is where are they?

Take a Sunday fall drive on the USFS 300 road, and you will likely pass yellow flames of aspen, some even with ponds to capture the reflections.  The occasional sighting of small red maple trees is evidence that there is more. Some experienced folks know of a few isolated red and orange maple groves, many just below the Rim.  A few experienced photographers hike Horton and See Canyons for wonderful fall displays.  The more one explores, the more one finds.  Makes sense, yet not all that easy for the visitors.

Google Earth offers a shortcut that may well enhance the probability of finding exceptional fall shots!

Google Earth is a free program that uses the most up to date satellite imagery available.  Open the program and find your house and likely you will see your car in the driveway.  As they add new imagery, they do not discard the old!    With satellite data back as far 1992, their historical record of images may well capture a place at that unique time.  Such is the case in the hunt for fall colors in parts of the Mogollon Rim.

Note the difference in the image taken in June 2014 over the intersection of the Rim Road 300 and USFS 84 and the images captured in October, 2012.  See the red?

Perhaps not evident until zooming closer (see below).  The Mable and Aspen show on USFS 84 are known to many, often photographed and worth a revisit each year.   What was not evident is the extent of these colorful trees.  I have visited this location for more than 10 years , yet until I saw the  October 2012 Google Earth capture, I did not know how far I could find special color.  Mind you these are not the grand vista, yet are wonderful walks in the forest where my camera never stops clicking.

Red on the Rim 4

Note individual red trees.

To find the stack of images that Google Earth stores:

  • Open Google Earth
  • Navigate to a National Forest near your
  • Zoom in a bit to see roads and familiar places
  • Click on the date in the lower left hand side of the display next to Tour Guide a clock and find the 1992 button (this would be the oldest image on file).
  • Click and it opens a time slider at the upper left.
  • Slide to the right looking at the dates. Earlier images are in Black and White while many are taken in summer.
  • Surf and slide until you find the time of year you plan to do your work.

In the case of USFS 84 maple / aspen grove, the image from September 2010 and October 2010 shows nothing, but October 2012, wow the forest lights up.   From that base, we have found and visited locations,  some with splendid foregrounds and colorful skies were we would not have known to look.  I want to explore a new place each year, and I have a robust list of fall color locations worth checking.

Hey this might work in other places for other subjects.   Who knows?  I think I see carpets of wild flowers on one May image so far from a road that it not well photographed??

Greg McKelvey is a participant at Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

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