Posted by: kerryl29 | March 18, 2019

The Story Behind the Image: Wildflowers in the Monsoon Season

My previous post referenced common landscape photography expectations in Arizona as the means to making a point about the potential for being blinded to opportunities by superficially familiar settings.   As a result, I thought the story of how the image contained at the climax of this entry was made would be timely.

Seven years ago I flew to Phoenix as the prelude to a photo tour of portions of northern Arizona–specifically, Monument Valley, Lower Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I came in a day before the start of the tour and drove to Flagstaff for the evening, with the plan to drive to Monument Valley the following day.  I expected to arrive in Flagstaff by mid-afternoon, so when I was planning the trip I tried to find somewhere nearby that I could explore in the few hours of daylight I expected to have upon arrival.

Things played out more or less as anticipated.  My flight arrived in Phoenix a bit after noon, I picked up a rental car and began the roughly 2 1/2 hour drive to Flagstaff.  I drove through the saguaro-laden desert north of Phoenix and gradually began the slow, steady climb to Flagstaff (which is situated nearly 7000 feet above sea level; by comparison, Phoenix is a smidge over 1000 feet above sea-level).  Along the way, the vegetation changed dramatically, as the cacti were gradually replaced by tall pines.  About 50 miles outside of Flagstaff, the mostly clear skies I had encountered in Phoenix were replaced by clouds and the final half-hour or so of the drive was made through steady rain.

The rain had essentially stopped and it appeared to be clearing when I arrived in Flagstaff, though it was obvious that the rainstorm had blown through the city, as everything was soaking wet.  When I checked into my motel the desk clerk asked me how I’d liked driving through the rain.  I said it hadn’t bothered me (I’m used to driving in wet conditions), but that it had surprised me–I hadn’t really expected to encounter rain in Arizona, even though I knew it was the monsoon season.  The clerk pointed to a calendar.   “This is the 35th consecutive day of rain here,” he said.  That piece of information shocked me.  Monsoon season or not, five weeks of daily rain is a lot anywhere.

After checking in, I quickly made my way to the spot I’d selected, pre-trip, for exploration that evening:  Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument, which is only 15-20 minutes north of Flagstaff along US-89.  The entry road to the monument was effectively deserted, and arched around some tall stands of Ponderosa Pines.  I was looking through the windows on both sides of the car, when I caught site of something yellow to my right.  Peeking through the trees, I saw what looked like some kind of an open field.  The trees were too dense for me to tell from the vehicle, so I parked the car in a pull-out and made my way through the trunks; the forest floor was laden with pine needles and cones but I was still intrigued by the splash of color beyond.

As I moved closer, I could see that I was looking at a huge field of tall flowers.  Before I knew it I was standing amidst them…and what a surreal moment it was.  Here I was, in the “desert” state of Arizona, in late summer (this was in the second half of August), looking at one of the most impressive displays of wildflowers I’d ever seen anywhere.

I retreated to my car and retrieved my gear, then returned to the flower field.  Bees and other insects were buzzing around.  It had turned into a very pleasant early evening; the sky was partly cloudy, the humidity was nearly non-existent and the temperature was around 70 (F) degrees.  I made several images of the scene, one of which is below.

Sunflowers, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

This photograph has become one of my favorites, partly because of the mood it instills in me and partly because it serves as such a dramatic visual counterpoint to what pops into the minds of most people when they think of Arizona.  As someone who greatly enjoys seeing stereotypes explode, I can’t begin to convey how happy this makes me.



  1. A very pleasant story. I’ve tried doing the same thing (exploring) during my trips because I know it can lead to discovery. I wish I can be as lucky as your story and discover a magical scene along the way.

    • Thanks! Exploration is almost always worthwhile, I’ve found, even if it doesn’t directly result in what I will cursorily label a photographic payoff.

  2. This is a pretty scene. I relate toyour feelings. As I go through my photos I am a little surprised that though I forgetthe exact year, I can remember exactly where I was and how I felt at that moment when I took the photo.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      Totally agree–I have remarkably vivid reminiscences whenever I view any of my images. They invariably take me right back to the time and place that they were made.

  3. That is definitely a field of flowers worth stopping for!

  4. Totally new to photography but I really like this.

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