With autumn winding down and winter just around the corner in northern Arizona, it was our last chance to attempt a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R) hike across the Grand Canyon. Several years ago we tried the R2R2R but strong winds drove us back as we neared the North Rim. Although we were only about 3-1/2 miles from the finish, it was the prudent thing to do. Later that year, we tried again but a problem with my iliotibial band turned us around after only a few miles and we settled for a shorter hike.

Jump forward a few years and the knee issues have gone into remission. With fine weather expected and the moon just a few days past full it was time to try again.

We left the South Rim on the South Kaibab Trail (elevation 7260′) at midnight with a temperature in the low 40′s and 20–30 mph winds. Hats, gloves, and vests/parkas were required for this initial descent. At times, the wind was so fierce that we wondered if we should continue. By the time we had descended to Cedar Ridge (6060′) the wind had diminished enough to allow us to shed some of the excess gear.

With the bright moon high overhead and headlamps we were able to easily travel downhill. Traveling in the dark with a bright moon and no other hikers around is an amazing experience. It’s so quiet! We traveled quickly and arrived at the Colorado River (2480′) at 3:30 a.m. Temperatures were in the low 60′s and we took a long food and water break at Phantom Ranch before starting up the North Kaibab Trail through Bright Angel Canyon.

First light high on the canyon walls.

First light high on the canyon walls.

A short distance up stream from Phantom Ranch is “The Box.” Traveling through The Box can be the hottest part of the hike with its high and close walls of granite but it was still dark and pleasantly cool as we traversed this section of Bright Angel Canyon. The last time we were here, spring snow melt had resulted in so much water rushing down the creek that boulders were constantly moving, grinding, and crashing into each other underwater resulting in a raucous cacophony of sound. Not tonight; the gentle flow of water resulted in a delightful sound that was mesmerizing in the dark.

North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon.

North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon.

We arrived at Cottonwood campground (4080′), about 8 miles from Phantom Ranch, shortly after sunrise. We learned that the water had already been shut off for the season which meant there might not be any drinking water available uphill from here. Luckily, water was still running at the Roaring Springs Pumphouse Residence (~5200′) and we refilled here.

Supai Bridge on the North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon.

Supai Bridge on the North Kaibab Trail in Roaring Springs Canyon.

From Phantom Ranch to Roaring Springs Residence the North Kaibab Trail is a gentle uphill climb. The trail leaves Bright Angel Canyon just past the Residence and ascends Roaring Springs Canyon which is a much steeper section of trail. The trail is narrow and perched on a nearly vertical wall with steep drops to the side. It can be very intimidating.

Supai Bridge in Roaring Springs Canyon as seen from North Kaibab Trail.

Supai Bridge in Roaring Springs Canyon as seen from North Kaibab Trail.

The trail crosses the narrow canyon at Supai Bridge and begins a series of steep switchbacks to the top. Along the way, you pass through Supai Tunnel (6800′). Not surprisingly, the water here had been turned off for the season. We arrived at the North Rim (8240′) at 12:15 p.m., where we had a leisurely lunch. Already very tired from the long climb, we now had to reverse and do it in the opposite direction.

Coconino Overlook on the North Kaibab Trail.

Coconino Overlook on the North Kaibab Trail.

As we descended Roaring Springs Canyon we stopped often to take photographs as the light was much better in the afternoon than it had been in the morning.The trees in the bottom of the canyon were still showing autumn colors and the narrowness of the trail as it hugged the canyon cliff was much more impressive. We stopped again at the Residence to refill our water bottles, drink, eat, and rest.

Narrow trail and steep cliffs in Roaring Springs Canyon.

Narrow trail and steep cliffs in Roaring Springs Canyon.

Darkness descended upon us down canyon from Cottonwood Campground and, once again, we traversed The Box in the cool darkness, arriving at Phantom Ranch at 8 p.m. Many campers were hanging around waiting for the cantina to re-open so they could visit the bar. I was definitely interested in a beer but thought better of it. Instead, I lay down on the picnic bench to rest and, not too surprisingly, fell asleep, awakening around 9 p.m.

Narrow trail, steep cliffs, and autumn colors on the trees in Roaring Springs Canyon.

Narrow trail, steep cliffs, and autumn colors on the trees in Roaring Springs Canyon.

After drinking lots of water, consuming as many calories as we could, and filling our water bottles, we departed Phantom Ranch around 9:30 p.m. and began the long and steep climb back up South Kaibab Trail. Clouds during the evening prevented us from getting any useful moon light so we were on headlamp lighting only. Once again, winds became strong and gusty as we ascended and we donned the warmer clothing.

Finally, at 3:15 a.m., we arrived at the South Rim. It had taken us 27 hours and my goal had been 24 hours. Although I was slightly disappointed at how slow we had traveled I was very happy that my third attempt at R2R2R had been successful. Total: 42 miles and 10,540 feet of ascent.

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There was a partial solar eclipse October 23, 2014, that was visible across most of North America. Patches of cirrus clouds moved across the sky all day but the sun was always visible. To safely view the eclipse, we donned our solar eclipse glasses and sat back to enjoy the show. At our location, the maximum coverage was about 50% of the solar disk.

20141023_1528_P1030528This photo was taken using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 zoomed to 600mm (equivalent) focal length with an ND3 neutral density filter. The ND3 reduces incoming light by 10 stops. Even with the filter, I had to shoot at f/8 (the smallest aperture for this camera and a shutter speed of 1/2000 second at ISO 100 to get a reasonable exposure.

The large sunspot near the center of the solar disk is AR2192—the largest sunspot in several decades. The combination of solar eclipse and massive sunspot made for an interesting image.

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The aspen have been at their peak color for about a week now. In just a few more days the leaves will fall or be blown away and another fall leaf season will come to an end. We didn’t want to miss the show so we rode our mountain bikes up the Inner Basin Trail to the Waterline Road to enjoy the fabulous colors.

A few years ago the upper portions of the Inner Basin trail underwent some re-routing and the trail now twists and turns through a near surreal stand of aspen as it ascends from Lockett Meadow to the Waterline Road. The landscape has been described as a Monet-like scene when the leaves turn colors in the fall.

Here are a few photos from that day. It just doesn’t get any better than this: beautiful fall colors, mild temperatures, clear skies, and light winds.

Inner Basin Trail.

Inner Basin Trail.

Inner Basin Trail.

Inner Basin Trail.

Inner Basin Trail.

Inner Basin Trail.

Waterline Road near Bear Jaw Canyon.

Waterline Road near Bear Jaw Canyon.

 

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The Slide Fire started on May 20, 2014, and was fully contained 16 days later. In the aftermath of the fire, Coconino National Forest closed much of Oak Creek Canyon for safety reasons. Four months later, on October 1, the restrictions were lifted and recreational activities resumed.

We wondered how much—or how little—of West Fork Oak Creek (WFOC) had burned. There had been some information during and just after the fire indicating that in the lower section of the canyon there was only light to moderate burn severity and only over a small percentage of the canyon. (Detailed map from InciWeb.) Farther up in the headwaters there had been widespread low intensity burns.

Typical burn scar seen in the lower reaches of West Fork.

Typical burn scar seen in the lower reaches of West Fork.

So, finally, we hiked up WFOC to see for ourselves. The information was essentially correct and only small portions had burned and at low intensity. The canyon had survived. But there was still significant damage. Because of the burned areas farther up canyon, heavy rains this summer caused a lot of soil and ash to wash into the creek and flow downstream.

The creek channel was filled with silt and black ash. Where once the creek bottom had been smooth sandstone it now had several feet of silt and ash with deep channels carved through the silt.

This will slowly evolve back to its original state as winter rains and summer thunderstorms over the coming years flush out the silt and ash.

On a brighter note, we did see a late crop of ripening berries along the creek. Tasty!

A late season crop of ripening blackberries along West Fork.

A late season crop of ripening blackberries along West Fork.

One of the most significant changes occurred at the end of the West Fork Trail. The trail ends around 3.3 miles from the trail head where the canyon narrows and deep water is found from edge to edge. To travel farther upstream requires wading through water that is thigh deep in places. Most hikers turn back at this point; a few hardy hikers accept the challenge of water and no trail and continue upstream for many miles.

End of West Fork Trail in 2012 with water-filled channel.

End of West Fork Trail in 2012 with water-filled channel.

End of West Fork Trail in 2008 with water-filled channel.

End of West Fork Trail in 2008 with water-filled channel.

End of West Fork Trail in 2014 with silt-filled channel.

End of West Fork Trail in 2014 with silt-filled channel.

That has changed now as silt fills the slot canyon and a firm trail now exists where it once was only water.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Over the weekend tropical moisture and an area of low pressure interacted to produce showers and thunderstorms—and even a few severe thunderstorms—across northern Arizona. A quick look at satellite and radar data convinced me it was worthwhile to drive down the hill from Flagstaff to Sedona to capture some lightning photos.

A rainbow arcs across the skies of Sedona and in front of Cathedral Rock.

A rainbow arcs across the skies of Sedona and in front of Cathedral Rock.

Light rain began to fall as I approached my first photo location and a horizon-to-horizon rainbow appeared. As I arrived, the southern end was quickly fading while overhead and to the north the rainbow remained brilliant. And, then, for just a brief moment, the southern end brightened again and a swath of color painted itself across Cathedral Rock. In another moment it was gone. Note, also, that there is a supernumerary rainbow visible in a portion of the bow. Supernumeraries are the closely spaced greenish purple arcs on the inner side of the primary bow.

Lightning and sunset colors over the Verde Valley.

Lightning and sunset colors over the Verde Valley.

As these storms moved to the northwest it was time to reposition and hope for some lightning. The first image shows a thunderstorm moving across the Verde Valley and the storm is lit up from below by the lights in the town of Cottonwood. Sunset colors are still faintly visible in the west and stars can also be seen. This was followed by a bolt with numerous downward stepped leaders and a brilliant return stroke.

Lightning bolt with numerous branches.

Lightning bolt with numerous branches.

Not too bad!

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Earlier this year we hiked through the upper reaches of West Clear Creek canyon. After driving as far as possible on rough forest roads, we hiked the remainder of the distance to the Tramway trail head. From here, it was a steep descent from the canyon rim to the canyon floor.

The start of the steep descent into West Clear Creek.

The start of the steep descent into West Clear Creek.

We hiked downstream for a few hours then turned around and headed upstream, passing our original descent trail, and exiting the canyon using the Maxwell Trail.

One location in the canyon was especially wonderful. First, there was a short and narrow side canyon with vertical walls that lent a sense of isolation from the rest of the canyon and world. Second, we found a peach tree with small peaches. How this tree came to be in this canyon is unknown but the most likely explanation is someone ate a peach and tossed the pit—and it grew in this most unlikely of places.

On that trip I carried a small camera that was unable to do justice to the amazing side canyon. So on this return trip I carried a different camera along with a tripod so I could attempt to get some better images. And we were also interested in the peach tree.

A peach tree deep within West Clear Creek canyon.

A peach tree deep within West Clear Creek canyon.

The tree had many peaches and the branches were weighted down as a result. I grabbed a peach and bit into it—and was surprised that it was dry and hard. Not juicy at all. And no real taste or flavor. But, you know what? You can’t tell that from the photographs. They look wonderful, don’t they?

[Edit: 09/10/2014. We took one peach home with us and allowed it to ripen in a paper bag for several days. The result was juicy and delicious!]

A small stream trickles down the steep walls on the side canyon.

A small stream trickles down the steep walls on the side canyon.

Side canyon in West Clear Creek.

Side canyon in West Clear Creek.

Water splashes into a small pool in a side canyon in West Clear Creek.

Water splashes into a small pool in a side canyon in West Clear Creek.

When we visited the side canyon earlier this year it was dry. Now, however, an above normal rainfall this summer has produced a small stream of water that cascades over the edge and into a small pool of water. Here are some of the images taken that day.

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Another planetary conjunction occurred yesterday (31 Aug 2014) with the close placement of Mars, Saturn, and the Moon in the evening sky. It’s only been a few weeks since the planetary conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky so we’ve had an interesting few weeks for sky watching.

Mars and Saturn were joined by the crescent Moon to form a triangle in the evening sky. Using “The Photographers Ephemeris” I was able to determine that I could get a photograph of the triplet as they hung in the sky above Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona. But if only it were that easy. After arriving at my predetermined spot I still had to move around to get a good setup. A bit of travel southward along the Templeton Trail…followed by some climbing up…then down…then back to the north…and finally I get a few minutes where they lined up with the spires of Cathedral Rock. Whew!

Conjunction of Mars, Saturn, and the crescent Moon.

Conjunction of Mars, Saturn, and the crescent Moon.

With that done, I retreated back down to the parking lot before it got too dark and spent another few hours photographing the Milky Way as it lined up with Cathedral Rock.

Milky Way and Cathedral Rock.

Milky Way and Cathedral Rock.

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Earlier in the morning I was shooting images of the conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter. I had noticed that there were early morning clouds draped across Mount Elden. I wasn’t ready to put the camera away yet so I headed over to Buffalo Park so that I could get a better view of the clouds, mountain, and the quickly changing light as the sun began to rise. I was rewarded with this image of the clouds obscuring the peak of the mountain while rays of light were intersecting the clouds at different points with amazing colors.

 

Early morning clouds on Mount Elden.

Early morning clouds on Mount Elden.

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On 18 August 2014 there was a planetary conjunction in the morning sky when the planets Venus and Jupiter appeared next to each other with the distance separating them considerably less than the size of the full moon. Jupiter was rising a bit higher each morning while Venus was dropping closer to the horizon. For several days before and after the conjunction the two planets so close together made a spectacular image in the morning sky.

Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky.

Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky.

For three days I shot photos of Venus and Jupiter. I then took the images from each day and created a layered image. Next, I shifted each image up/down, left/right until the planet Jupiter lined up. The result was that the composite contains a single image of Jupiter along with three images of Venus. This makes it easy to see how the two planets were shifting relative to each other over the course of three days.

The previous conjunction of Jupiter and Venus was 26 May 2013 and was, in fact, a triple conjunction and included Mercury. The next conjunction of Jupiter and Venus will occur on 01 July 2015.

The photos were taken from Mars Hill where Lowell Observatory is located and look over the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, the worlds first International Dark Sky City.

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Several days of cool and rainy weather across northern Arizona meant that there would be a chance of low clouds and fog in the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon under almost any condition is photogenic and rightfully named as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Natural World.” But it acquires a degree of surreal beauty when draped with clouds and fog infused with early morning light.

After browsing several weather sites to check on the latest radar, satellite, temperature and humidity data we decided that we would head out for the South Rim of the Canyon early the next morning. After awakening around 3 a.m., we were on the road by 4 a.m. and arrived at Desert View overlook around 5:30 a.m. Sunrise was 5:45 a.m. so this gave us some time to find a location and start taking pre-sunrise photos.

Fog in the Grand Canyon.

Fog in the Grand Canyon.

The fog was confined to a small side canyon located next to the Desert View overlook. This was remarkable as one side of the point of land was filled with fog while just a short distance away it was clear allowing a view deep into the canyon and the Colorado River below.

Sunrise light on the cliffs of the North Rim.

Sunrise light on the cliffs of the North Rim.

As the sun slowly climbed higher in the sky it began to produced dappled light on the cliffs on the North Rim. The higher elevation of the North Rim resulted in the clouds obscuring the cliff tops.

Sunrise and low clouds over the Grand Canyon.

Sunrise and low clouds over the Grand Canyon.

After an hour of shooting it was time to pack it up and move on to our next activity. We arrived at Grandview Point and started down the steep Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa. This is an amazing trail and the engineering is wondrous. We returned to the top by noon to avoid the heat of the day and any potential for thunderstorms.

Rainbow in the Grand Canyon.

Rainbow in the Grand Canyon.

But now that we were back on top it was thunderstorms that I wanted so that I could photograph lightning. Although a few thunderstorms developed the lightning was unimpressive and distant and I was not able to capture any images. On the other hand, I was able to get a nice image of a rainbow below the rim. Because it was early afternoon and the sun was still high in the sky, the anti-solar point was well below the rim and so was the rainbow. It lasted only a few minutes and then it was gone.

Clouds, fog, beautiful sunrise, a great hike, and a rainbow. Not bad for one day.

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