Whitewater Draw Landscapes


Winter Symphony. Long parallel magenta clouds stretch like a musical staff across the winter sky near Whitewater Draw, Arizona.

The sandhill cranes are the main—but not only—reason to visit Whitewater Draw. While the immediate area is pretty flat, there are mountains in the distance in nearly every direction. Arizona, of course, is frequently blessed with colorful skies that often can be exploited by compositions that show a lot of sky, such as the image above.

Since Whitewater Draw is one of the few places in southern Arizona with water—albeit ephemeral—it is also a good place to take advantage of reflections:

Remnants. The remains of a long-dead tree emerge from the mud in a shallow pond in Whitewater Draw, Arizona.

The preceding two images were both taken during the same two afternoon visits that I described in the previous post. The following images, in contrast, were taken during a morning visit about a year later. The big difference here is ice:

Pastel Ice. The light of a winter morning turns the mostly iced-over wetlands of Whitewater Draw shades of pink and lavender in southeastern Arizona.

Once the sun rose a bit and the cranes had left to forage for the day, the thin patches of water on the ice still made for some interesting images even though the sky was blue:

Broken Reflections. A tree reflects off patches of water in the frozen wetlands of Whitewater Draw in southeastern Arizona.

In this environment I found my 500mm lens to be useful for isolating small details either against the water or with their reflections. Since the colors change rapidly as the sun rises, there are lots of color combinations—and especially warm/cool contrasts—to exploit:

Morning Twigs. A row of leafless brush catches the morning light at the Whitewater Draw wetlands in southeastern Arizona.
Icewater Draw. The remnants of a shrub stand frozen in the Whitewater Draw wetlands in southeastern Arizona.

Before this blog moves on from Whitewater Draw, I did want to slip in one last wildlife image. Even without the sandhill cranes, Whitewater Draw is a popular birding spot: I found a species list online with just over 300 species listed. For my part I saw green-winged teals, northern shovelers, mallards, killdeers, vermillion flycatchers, white-winged doves, loggerhead shrikes, Copper’s hawks, and murmurations of yellow-headed blackbirds. And here is a Say’s phoebe:

Winter Phoebe. A Say’s phoebe perches on a twig trapped in the frozen surface of the Whitewater Draw wetlands in southeastern Arizona.

Besides the pretty bird—with its feathers fluffed against the cold—I like the bent twig that forms an arch above the frozen water and the shadow that stretches into the far corner of the frame. The color palette is nice, too.

Technical notes. The photographs in this post were taken with a Nikon Z7. The first photograph was taken with the very capable Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S (a lens that I have since replaced with the Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S). The fourth photograph was taken with the Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S wide open at f/1.8 to better isolate the tree from the background; the tree is far enough away that the effect of the shallow depth of field is subtle, but still helpful. The other five photographs were taken with the AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR; obviously 500mm is not the focal length for sweeping vistas and it is used here to isolate smaller details in the landscape. All were processed from RAW in Adobe Lightroom Classic.

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