March 30, 2017

This article originally appeared on March 20, 2013 at WildernessDave.com and was reprinted with permission. The photo at the end of this blog by David C. was the winner of our Spring 2014 Celebrate AZ Water Photo Contest from over 1,000 entries. The contest provided a stunning opportunity to celebrate the importance and wonder of water in Arizona and to reflect on one of our region’s most precious resources. 


The plan was to hike a 12-13 mile loop down Second Water to Boulder Creek then up the trail along the creek to return via Lost Dutchman Trail. I was looking forward to hiking the creek and shooting some fun angles in Boulder Creek Canyon.

Normally, Boulder Creek is a thin stream that casually babbles it’s way down the canyon. Crossing is not terribly difficult and the multiple creek crossings are part of the fun. What I hadn’t really planned for was the late Winter storm that rolled through Arizona (and much of the southwest) dumping tons of rain and dusting the local peaks with snow. I stuck to my plan and headed out to Lost Dutchman State Park figuring I’d hike my designated route, in the rain if need be, and explore this part of the Superstition Mountain Wilderness.

When I hike, the “plan” isn’t much more than a loose sketch…an idea of where I’d like to end up depending entirely on what I might find along the way. I try to allow a lot of wiggle-room in my agenda and very rarely think of my proposed route as “set in stone.” Adaptability and flexibility are the name of the game. My dad used to say something to the effect of, “Plan B makes for better stories.” He was usually right.

I had to slog through muddy, mucky trails and cross many drainage washes running with water. There had been so much rain, the ground was soft enough for me to sink a couple of inches with each step in places. For a good section of the downhill side heading into Boulder Creek Canyon the drainage ran down the trail itself (very happy I had my Ahnu waterproof boots with me on this one). Once I reached Boulder Creek I realized I might need to rethink my plans. The creek was swollen and brown with runoff and moving fast. I had already passed one group that had turned back at the creek, but I wanted to see it for myself.

I tried desperately to follow my side of the creek looking for any sign of a trail, or a safe place to cross. I followed a sole set of footprints up the boulder strewn creek fighting through vegetation until I was finally choked out. I sat on a large boulder in the middle of the creek for a long time thinking about what I wanted to do. As I munched on a snack bar, I considered the option of crossing the creek to look for the trail. I considered heading up the canyon wall on my side to see if there was a trail higher up. All of these considerations were sketchy at best and if the storm decided to let loose with another downpour I could find myself trapped on the wrong side of the creek or, worse, caught in a flash flood.

Boulder Creek, Superstition Wilderness, in flood stage after a rare rain/snow event illustrates how fleeting water is in the desert. The week before, and a week later, this same creek was barely a trickle of water. This photo was the winner of the Spring 2014 Celebrate AZ Water Photo Contest from over 1,000 entries.

Eventually, I succumbed to reason and figured the smart thing for me (or anyone) hiking solo out in these conditions was to head back. I reluctantly headed back the way I came, fighting through the same brush and still looking for a missed opportunity to cross the creek. When I came back to where the original trail met the creek I tried my luck at crossing again but found nothing I deemed safe. So I decided to make the best of it and get the camera equipment out to play with.

The storm hadn’t given me much of a sky to shoot. It was very gray and overcast, very little definition and the light was diffused and too soft to create dramatic shadows. My immediate thought was that it might be a good opportunity to play with slow exposure shots. A slow exposure might give me a little boost of light in the scenery. It would also allow me to play with the moving water effects that I always thought looked so cool. I shot a few canyon shots then started playing with exposure times. I took a few shots right down by the creek repeating the same shot with different exposure times to see what I would get. The new shutter remote I got worked perfectly for being able to stabilize the camera on the tripod and get the shot without the risk of shaking the camera.

I eventually climbed up a small boulder cliff adjacent to the creek to get a better view of the canyon downstream. I snapped a couple of shots then turned the camera around and shot almost directly below me catching a scene where the creek was choked with smaller, colored rocks and desert riparian shrubs. The chocolate milk color of the storm-swollen creek softened the scene and when I slowed the exposure the movement of the water created a nice silky effect. The result was magical.

This really turned out to be my personal favorite of this entire set. I love the colors, I love the contrasts, I love the composition. The lichen on the granite rock below me provided some really nice interest and texture to balance out the detail in the rocky side of the creek. The movement of the water flows nicely in a diagonal across the composition dividing the two opposing scenes. It just feels really nice to me. I intend to have this one blown up on a tall canvas wrap for my office.

If I had not been forced to abandon Plan A and turn back, this shot would never have happened. I’m happy to see where Plan B took me.

Celebrate AZ Water with us and see all the other amazing places you can visit and explore.


From time to time, Water – Use It Wisely features guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. David Creech is a successful business owner and entrepreneur based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He shares his personal story and lifelong passion for travel and rugged outdoor adventure through his blog at WildernessDave.com. David’s focus has been on trip stories, gear reviews, and photography.

To see more amazing pictures of his trip to Boulder Creek, visit Dave’s gallery of images.