Sedona, Arizona: Exploring with Baby and Dog in tow in the Winter of 2016

September 27, 2018

Jamie, Maxx, Silas, and I took a hiking/photo trip to Sedona, Arizona during Christmas week 2016. The trip was an overall success but it took a lot of planning and being flexible with the weather as well as where we could go and not go with a baby and a dog.

I had been wanting to photograph the desert covered in snow for a long time. I can probably trace this desire back to a time when Jamie and I stayed at Red Rock hotel outside of Las Vegas and there was a photo set on the hotel walls of the Red Rock Canyon State Park (the Nevada one) covered in snow. I liked the juxtaposition of a desert which usually conveys dry, hot, arid environments and the newly fallen snow which conveys the cold and wet. It was also transformational. I had been to the park only when it was bright and sunny out and the ground was dry. Seeing the whole scene coated in snow brought out a new landscape and changed usually dirt covered sections from a dull brown to a bright blueish white. The plants and trees that do live in the desert also took on new forms.

Since Jamie knew I wanted to photograph a snow covered desert, she planned a trip to Sedona in the winter. Sedona is beautiful all year round but in the winter even more so. She had already wanted to go to Sedona so it was a win-win for us. The first challenge was to find an available place to stay that allowed dogs. We decided to book The Butterfly Garden Inn which is just north of Sedona on AZ 89A. They have some cabins which allow dogs and they have heat via a gas fired ben franklin stove.

I worked the graveyard shift before the vacation so I actually slept during the day when I got off and started driving in the evening towards Arizona. I drove all night and we arrived in Sedona just as the sun was coming up. The first place we stopped was the parking lot next to Bell Rock Bell Rock Access Trail, Sedona, AZ 86336. It had just stopped raining and the ground was slightly wet as we got out to stretch and walk Maxx. These photos show the typical Sedona landscape; Red rock outcroppings and formations and evergreen trees. A fog was setting in and it was a quiet morning.

Sedona with fog

Silas wanted to get out and see Sedona.

From there we set off to find breakfast at a restaurant where we could bring a baby and a dog. We ended up at The Secret Garden Café. They have a patio that is partially covered and allows dogs. It was still early but we wanted to find our cabin and get familiar with its surroundings. As we drove up Arizona State Route 89A we passed Midgley Bridge for the first time. We would end up coming back here several times. The bridge crosses Wilson Canyon where it intersects with Oak Creek and the parking lot serves as multiple trailheads. As we drove up further, we saw the swollen creek just full of water. We could tell that the water levels were above normal based on the amount of creek crossings that were impassable. Once we arrived at the Inn, we were assigned a cabin with a secluded entrance and plenty of space to park right near the door. We unloaded anything we didn’t need to keep in the car and set off for a quick hike.

Midgley Bridge

Midgley Bridge with Oak Creek in the background

The first place we stopped was Bootlegger Picnic area but the trail that starts from there required a creek crossing so that was not possible. Next we stopped at Encinoso Picnic site. From here, I loaded Silas in the backpack, Jamie leashed up Maxx and we were off. Almost immediately, it began to lightly rain but not enough to cause us to turn back. Further up the trail however the trail got confusing. Different maps pointed to different cutoff locations for switchbacks up the mountain. No location was obvious from looking at the trail. I wanted to push on as I had trekking poles and GPS so we would cross the trail eventually. Jamie however wanted to turn back so we bailed and went back to the car. It was an ok hike for the travel day and a good warm up to introduce us to the area. In all, we hiked just 1.9 miles.

December 23rd GPS on Alltrails

Those waterfalls in the background very rarely run

The next day was Christmas Eve. The Inn delivered breakfast to us in a basket left on a hook on the porch. We visited the Midgley Bridge Picnic area and then had lunch at the Wildflower Bread Company in town. That was the extent of our exploring because a storm was rolling in. Maybe I would go on a hike without a baby but definitely not with a baby in tow. So we hunkered down and watched as the first few snowflakes fell; slowly at first and then turned into a full blown winter storm.

Our cabin just as the snow started to fall

When we woke up Christmas day, the ground was covered with at least a foot and a half of snow and the car had at least two inches of snow on it too. Fortunately, I had the foresight to purchase an ice scraper and that snow fell right off. The Subaru has heated mirrors and windshield wipers so those were no trouble either. Once we gathered the courage, we piled in the car and set out. Our destination was the same one we stopped at on the way in; Bell Rock. The road was icy but fully plowed. The scenery however was completely changed. Up near the higher altitudes of our Inn, the Oak trees were completely covered in snow. This changed the landscape from one of dull browns and blues to one of shear white. The parking lot at Bell Rock was full so we moved to the adjacent one at Little Horse Trailhead. Down here, there was less snow but almost every rock or tree had at least some snow on it. It was like nature decorated for Christmas just in time.

Christmas morning at the Butterfly Garden Inn

Every scene is transformed by the snow

The area around Bell Rock is decorated just in time for Christmas. Silas is sleeping of course.

From here we linked up a half dozen trails and did a 5.9 mile hike over mostly flat or rolling terrain. It wasn’t too cold and Silas and Maxx both had a great time. The path took us to Bell Rock, around Baby Bell, across the highway via a tunnel system, to a view of Cathedral Rock off in the distance, across the highway again by more tunnels, and back to the car.

December 25th GPS on Alltrails

The snow seemed to stick mostly to the trees around Bell Rock

Silas finally woke up for the last parts of the hike

After the hike, we went straight back to the Inn. No restaurants were open on Christmas day so we hunkered down and played toys with Silas and consumed food we had stocked up on the days before. The power went out a couple of times but fortunately the gas powered stove kept us warm even without power.

On the 26th, Jamie planned for us to visit the Red Rock State Park (the Arizona one this time). They don’t allow dogs so we had to day board Maxx at the local Bark N Purr Pet Care Center. So once we consumed breakfast at the Inn, we dropped off Maxx and proceeded to the State Park. They charge a small fee to park and from there you can park in one of many lots but we drove all the way in to the visitor’s center. It should be noted that the park sits in a little bit of a depression and because of this, there was almost no snow in the park. After we took a quick survey of the visitor’s center, we set off on a trail that would take us out of the park. We ended up hiking more outside the park than in it. The trail we connected with is Baldwin trail. It is a loop that took us right next to Cathedral Rock. Once we hiked back into the park, we took some additional trails and saw some of the old architecture within the park. People use to have a vacation house there before the land was donated. In total we hiked 6.7 miles.

December 26th GPS on Alltrails

Cathedral Rock with a light dusting of snow

Silas gets hungry, even resting in the backpack

We visited the shop at the visitor center and bought some shirts and went to get some food at the Old Sedona Bar and Grill. Then we picked up Maxx and went back to the cabin at the Inn to rest up for our final day.

On the 27th, we packed up the car and said goodbye to our cozy cabin in the woods. We went to Midgley bridge which was packed now due to so many people wanting to photograph from there. We got some photos and decided to take a final hike from there. We hiked up Wilson Canyon which Connected with Wilson Mountain trail (the same one we started from the other side of the mountain our first day). Then we had a decision to make. We could go up the mountain but Jamie wasn’t keen on that idea. We could go down the mountain, or we could take a spur that should loop around. We took the spur only to soon realize it was not well traveled and the only prints in the snow were from deer. At some point even though GPS said we were right on the trail, only bushes were in front of us. Faced with trampling through bushes with a baby on my back or turning around, we decided to turn around. We took the spur back to the junction and then went down Wilson Mountain trail towards Midgley Bridge. And that’s the story about how we lost the trail in the snow with dog and baby in tow. In all, we hiked 3.9 miles.

December 27th GPS on Alltrails

The final basket of breakfast goodies from the Butterfly Garden Inn before we checked out

Jamie and Maxx hiking up the Wilson Canyon trail

The view from the Mt. Wilson spur with the bridge off in the distance

On the way out of town, we stopped at Red Rock Café and grabbed a bite to eat. They had only one table that you could sit at with a dog so we took that one. We all loaded up on carb heavy breakfast type food to recover from the only moderately strenuous hike. Then we piled in the car and made the much too long drive all the way back home in Orange County California.

Silas enjoys coloring his menu at the Red Rock Cafe

You can see many more photos at the Gallery and remember you can support Shez Photo by purchasing prints and other products from there as well.

Photo of the week 9-27-2017

September 27, 2017

Blood orange moon

Blood orange moon due to Canyon Fire smoke. Taken with no filter and no post processing.

This week there was a lot of smoke blowing over at altitude from the Canyon Fire just south of the 91 freeway and east of the 241. This caused the moon to glow a color very similar to a blood orange. Jamie decided to capture this image at first using a mirrorless camera with a moderate zoom. The results were that the image didn’t do justice to what her eyes could see. She called me up and I suggested using the Canon SX530HS. This camera has drawbacks to be sure. For one thing it shoots only in jpeg and it has a very small sensor. However, the 50x optical zoom has a 35 millimeter equivalent focal length of 1500mm. On a full frame SLR this lens would be so big, you couldn’t easily pick it up but on this camera it’s all lighter than any SLR body.

So Jamie set up the camera on our gorilla pod, zoomed in all the way and used the timer function to eliminate movement from pressing the shutter. Then she set the white balance to daylight and took the shot you see above.

Photo of the week 4-9-2017

April 9, 2017

This past weekend, we hiked in on the upper Aliso Canyon trail in Chino Hills State Park in search for wildflowers. The plan was to hike about a mile in and a mile out but that soon turned into more than double that before we came across any wildflowers. The park is overgrown with invasive mustard plants. Their yellow color is still pleasant but it’s literally everywhere you look. Finally we found some poppies and other wildflowers up on a hill. Jamie was carrying the Canon EOS M5 while I had the SX530 however up on that hill, all I had access to was my cell phone. This is the photo I captured of Jamie hard at work photographing the flowers close up.

Jamie is taking photos of the wildflowers in Chino Hills State Park

Photo of the week 4/1/2017

April 1, 2017

While we were in Sedona it started snowing so I stepped out of the cabin to photograph the newly fallen snow. When I came to the window, Jamie was holding Silas and he was waving to me.

In order to get this shot, I over-exposed by 1 and 1/3 stops. This allowed the bright lights in the background to become even brighter while allowing the back lit subjects to appear normally exposed. This is because I was using evaluative metering that looks at the whole scene. If I used spot metering, I could just point the center at the subjects and half press the shutter to lock in the exposure.

I was standing outside in the snow when shooting this and I actually shot it quite crooked but fortunately rotating photos after the fact is very easy. I like the framing that the window ads as well as the feeling of looking in from outside. Maxx is just a dim shadow in the lower right.

Jamie, Silas, and Maxx in the window

Picture of the week 3-24-2017

March 24, 2017

Jamie, Silas, Maxx, and I visited Sedona, Arizona during the week of Christmas in 2016. On the way up it was raining but that storm soon cleared and another colder storm brought almost a foot of snow. One of the days while driving back to town from our cabin at the Butterfly Inn, Jamie snapped this photo. She took the photo from the moving car using a Canon G9x. Jamie shot the photo at F/5 1/1000 second and ISO 125.
Sedona, Arizona after snow storm 2016

Dog Friendly vacation in Big Sur

September 16, 2015

Jamie, Maxx and I went on a road trip “off the grid” to Big Sur. We also spent two days on the way up in Cambria. Before you ask, Jamie is about six months pregnant. This made the trip all the more exciting and challenging. We went on this trip as a much needed vacation, a last chance to get away before becoming very busy with a newborn, a dog vacation where Maxx got to walk or hike every day, a fitness/adventure vacation for us, and finally a chance to get some great photography in some of the premier destinations for landscapes in California.


The maps here detail almost all the locations we visited in case you want to visit them and see this amazing natural beauty for yourself.

Morro Rock

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

WR Hearst Memorial State Beach

Salmon Creek trail and Salmon Creek falls

Pine Ridge Trail

Mission Trails Park

Carmel Beach City Park and Carmel Meadows

Vicente Flat Trail from the Kirk Creek campground

Pfeiffer State Beach


Some other places we stopped at include:

Elephant Seal Rookery

Bixby Bridge

Moonstone Beach boardwalk

Fernwood Resort


Click any link to jump to that section

Morro Rock

Our first stop on our trip was to a dog friendly beach which also happened to be the site of a massive rock outcropping jutting out into the ocean in the form of Morro Rock. The formation functions as the northern tip of Morro Bay. We did a simple out and back walk along the beach, taking photos along the way. The first thing I noticed was the vast increase of birds on the beach compared to other more southern beaches. This would be a theme that continued right up the coast. Maxx had fun since it had been a long time since he went to a beach. There were a few off-leash dogs but none caused Maxx any trouble. The turn around in our walk was the point where dogs were allowed up to. The portion north of that point did not allow them. We were only at this stop for a short while but we managed to capture the birds and the rock itself.


Moonstone Beach boardwalk

This beach in Cambria allows dogs on the boardwalk but not on the beach below. This is fine because all the views are really best from above. The boardwalk runs the length of the beach and on any given sunset, it is crowded with photographers trying to capture the hues of twilight and the effect they have on the coastline. Jamie, Maxx, and I walked the entire length of the boardwalk at some point or another in our stay in Cambria.




Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

Cambria was the location of our first night in a hotel. We stayed in Mariner’s Inn for two days which gave us time to walk right from the front of the hotel over to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Cambria is billed as the “Pines by the Sea” and Fiscalini embodies this with rich undergrowth leading into dense pine forest and then heading straight out into bluffs overlooking the shoreline. Here we saw more dogs and the only issue is the lack of shade on the bluff side of the trail. We saw more birds including the very common blue jay and some turkey vultures overhead. We also saw the very scenic coastline which repeats itself up for hundreds of miles. We made sure to bring plenty of water which was a good idea because even by the coast, the heat began to sink in and the one public restroom had the water shut off due to drought conditions.


I could have brought out the 5D Mark II but I opted to bring the newer SX 530 HS instead as it is much lighter in weight and can hang from my neck on a hike and not bother me. Basically it trades weight for quality in the optics and ISO capability. However it was a trade I was willing to make and it proved a good decision because most of the images from this “prosumer” camera still came out satisfactorily. Jamie shot with a borrowed G7x.



WR Hearst Memorial State Beach

For this relatively short beach, I did opt to bring the bulkier 5D Mark II along with a borrowed 16-35mm lens. Again dogs are allowed on this beach on leash but they are not allowed on the pier. The beach is covered in all sorts of interesting driftwood and sits next to a sheer rock cliff in the distance. We didn’t stay here long but I did sit around long enough to capture an HDR shot via three exposures bracketed and also a long depth of field shot of some driftwood with the ocean and cliffs in the background. Hearst Castle is just across PCH from here but we didn’t visit it because I’m sure they don’t allow dogs on their tours.



Elephant Seal Rookery

Just up the coast from Hearst Memorial State Beach is a vista point which is extremely popular with the elephant seal population. It’s so popular that there is a permanent display there with information on every facet of Elephant Seal life you could ever want to know. The most important thing they do however is lay around in the sand.




Salmon Creek trail and Salmon Creek falls

On our way up PCH towards Big Sur, we passed the Salmon Creek trailhead and decided to make this the first of our tougher hikes. We slowly worked past many technical sections to the falls but neither of us went all the way up to them because the last 20 feet or so requires either scrambling up a sheer rock face or crossing the creek on a wobbly piece of metal set up for that purpose. We turned around and started up the steep trail. It is a mixture of wooded and full sun on the trail and we made it about 1 mile in before we turned around. The views of the valley even from 1 mile in are amazing and I’m sure it just gets better from there.



Pine Ridge Trail

This trail is the almost entirely forest including many redwood trees. The parking for this trailhead is in a fee area. You fill out the envelope and stuff the money in the box yourself. Jamie did this and then we set out. The trail starts very adjacent to the campground for Pfeiffer State Park although on the other side of a small creek. We eventually crossed the creek and started the ascent. The trail narrows and becomes slightly technical as it ascends. Once past a certain point, the trail is almost entirely washed out. We decided to turn around here. I might have been able to get by but not with a dog and not with a pregnant hiker. The drop off next to the trail is extremely steep. Hopefully the trail is repaired soon because as it stands now it is impassable at this point. Even though we were forced to turn around, the trail is worth it even for the part that is hikeable. There are many interesting plants and trees on this trail and even a few locations where the breeze comes down in small draws in the hillside and provides cooling if you stand in just the right spot. We found one of these locations and took the opportunity to have snacks and give Maxx water. You can see the ocean from this trail through two different valleys.



Mission Trails Park

Located off Rio Road across from the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum, this park was a small yet worthwhile detour on the way to Carmel-by-the-Sea. It is dense with a myriad of plant life and includes a maze of trails that can be as steep or as flat as you choose. Of course, I turned onto every uphill I could find. Dogs are allowed on leash and the environment is perfect for them because of the ample shade.  I mostly photographed plants and berries at this park.




Carmel Beach City Park and Carmel Meadows

We parked near the Beach on Ocean Avenue. From there we traversed the whole dog friendly beach near the sand. There is a golf course right on the shore here and the start of the famous 17 mile drive is blocks away. This was probably one of the hottest treks we made on the trip as we made our way over to Carmel Meadows. By the time we made it, Jamie and Maxx were beat so they took refuge in the shade while I ran back across the beach again to the car to pick them up. Then I really worked up a sweat. This area is dominated by Pelicans and many of them spent a lot of their time resting in the lagoon that forms when the Carmel river does not have enough flow to make it all the way out to the sea. When they were not resting, they were hunting their next meal.



Bixby Bridge

On the way back from Carmel-by-the-Sea we stopped at several vista points which overlook the Bixby Bridge. This bridge is very often used in every type of media you can think of. This is because the smooth arches of this bridge fit in perfectly with the landscape of the coastline it nestles in next to. Jamie and I took turns exiting the car to photograph at this extremely popular spot. I think about 10 cars must have come and go just the short while we were there.



Vicente Flat Trail from the Kirk Creek campground

This trail was extremely difficult and yet rewarding in so many ways. The trail is well maintained but also very narrow in areas with steep drop offs. Dogs and people alike will have to deal with stretches of full sun with nice shady areas mixed in. The views however are amazing and worth the ordeal. This trail eventually leads to a campsite exactly 5 miles in. Jamie and I turned around before that since we were doing an out and back day hike. This still took us above 1,500 feet starting at about sea level. The elevation gain is mostly up front on this trail and you quickly see yourself above the trees that just recently towered over you. The trail is not very technical despite the steepness.





Pfeiffer State Beach

Locating this beach is hard but it is famous for the rock formations that are smack dab in the middle of the coastline. Sycamore Canyon Road is unmarked and currently just has a sign that says “narrow road”. It is the only ungated road on the west side of PCH in the area however. Once on the road it narrows to one lane with turnouts. The 10 minute drive down this road is worth it because the beach is amazingly picturesque. In fact it is so popular despite being unmarked that parking usually fills up by noon. I took Maxx for a run on the beach and explored down the coastline to find a cache of cairns that somebody or more likely many people set up.

The rock outcroppings are full of holes that the water has dug out through them so that each time the water comes crashing in from the waves, they flood and shoot water out in every direction. Many people come here to photograph the sunset through the holes in the rocks.

One benefit of camping out on this beach was that my solar charger finally got enough sunlight to be useful. It was also good to have a more restful day at the end of our trip and hiking so much each day.


Just past the cairns was a small wooded section and I captured a photo that I quite like almost by sheer chance. The light was coming in at such an angle that it formed individual rays as it was broken up by the trees near the beach.





Fernwood Resort

This campground allows dogs in some but not all of its sites. It is located down a steep one way road off PCH in a dense redwood grove. The map of the camp shows deer and that depiction is accurate as deer graze nightly down the sides of the Big Sur River. In the spring the river has enough flow to support tubing, when we went it was just strong enough to provide a constant flow of cool water to the area. We stayed in a tent cabin that had no electricity. Therefore it was a challenge to charge the batteries for our phones. Jamie quickly resigned to just having me keep my phone charged. I tried to supplement the car charging with a solar charger but the camp was just so shady that I only got a minimal charge this way.

Jamie and I had S’mores every night we stayed. Maxx enjoyed being able to be outside on a long lead instead of his short leash. Overall I would recommend the resort.

So that’s it. That is our trip and our photography from it. Check out a few additional shots we captured over in the gallery.


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