Arches and Slot Canyons in Capitol Reef National Park

A narrow but shallow section giving a view of the sky.

Just like our previous trip, this was a spur of the moment decision. Except, this time, there were no campsites available at Capitol Reef National Park. In fact, all campsites were reserved for months in advance. This is quite different from our last visit here in 1988 (a long time ago, I know) when we just rolled in to the campground and grabbed a great site. Those days are long gone, I think.

We did some research online and found a nice Bed & Breakfast located just a few miles outside of the park; we made reservations for three nights at the Sunlit Oasis B&B in Notom, Utah. It’s very nice and we enjoyed our stay there.

We arrived at the B&B in late afternoon and sat down to dinner a few minutes later—then watched the fading light on the eastern hills. With a really nice wraparound deck, we found ourselves outside watching the darkness settle in until it got just a bit too chilly.

Sunset view from the deck at Sunlit Oasis Bed & Breakfast.
Sunset view from the deck at Sunlit Oasis Bed & Breakfast.

The next morning, we were off early for a day of hiking in the park. Our plan was to do a couple of short hikes in different sections of the park. What we did, instead, was one long hike.

The Elijah Cutler Behunin Cabin in Capitol Reef National Park.
The Elijah Cutler Behunin Cabin in Capitol Reef National Park.
Narrow section of Grand Wash in Capitol Reef National Park.
Narrow section of Grand Wash in Capitol Reef National Park.

We started in Grand Wash—a canyon with some narrows along the short hike. Early morning provided deep shadows in the narrow sections so I spent a fair bit of time shooting photographs. At the upper end of the wash is another trailhead and parking area. Instead of turning around, which was our plan, we continued up the Cassidy Arch Trail. Whereas the Grand Wash Trail has little in the way of elevation gain, Cassidy Arch trail wastes no time in climbing up out of the canyon onto the upper sandstone benches. Apparently, the arch is named after Butch Cassidy who may have had a hideout in these regions.

First view of Cassidy Arch.
First view of Cassidy Arch.
Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef National Park.
Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef National Park.

Along the way, a couple passed us carrying ropes and other technical gear. We learned that they were headed to the arch to start a series of seven rappels into the slot canyons below. Sounds exciting! I managed to get several interesting photos of the two as they descended into the canyon below. Afterwards, we could still hear them as they set up for subsequent rappels but we were unable to see them.

Rappelling below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.
Rappelling below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.
Rappelling below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.
Rappelling below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef N.P.

We returned via Grand Wash in mid-afternoon. By this time, the sun was high overhead and there was little in the way of shade or photogenic scenery. After returning to the car, we drove farther into the park and along Capitol Reef Scenic Road towards Capitol Gorge. The last time we visited this park, this road was gravel. It is now paved. Progress!

Our plans for the next day were a bit more ambitious. We found a couple of interesting slot canyons that had their starting points just a short distance from our B&B, then traveled westward and into the park. The middle and upper stretches of these canyons had many narrows and slots. One might even have water in this dry year. We chose Burro Wash which has less water. On this trip, it had none.

The beginning section of Burro Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.
The beginning section of Burro Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.
Some climbing moves are required to get past the chockstones in Burro Wash.
Some climbing moves are required to get past the chockstones in Burro Wash.

The first part of the hike was through dry grasslands and sandy washes but soon enough we entered the confines of the canyon. Several locations had chockstones blocking the route and we had to find ways to climb up and over. Most were pretty easy; some were trickier. The narrows got really narrow. Several times we just barely had enough width for a boot at the bottom and we had to turn our shoulders slightly sideways. On top of that, the slot was actually tilted a few degrees so you could not stand up straight. What fun!

Approaching the first set of narrows in Burro Wash.
Approaching the first set of narrows in Burro Wash.
Wide enough to walk. Not all the narrows and slot sections were this easy.
Wide enough to walk. Not all the narrows and slot sections were this easy.
Narrow and tilted! Burro Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.
Narrow and tilted! Burro Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.
Looking back at what we had just traversed. This required ducking under some rocks and climbing others. And it's tilted.
Looking back at what we had just traversed. This required ducking under some rocks and climbing others. And it’s tilted.
A narrow but shallow section giving a view of the sky.
A narrow but shallow section giving a view of the sky.

Eventually, we reached a chockstone that was more challenging that the rest. We took a lunch break at this spot. A few minutes later, a younger hiker ambled by and found a way up and over the chockstone. He returned about 15 minutes later and said we JUST HAD TO SEE THE NEXT SECTION! With his help, we ascended the large chockstone and found ourselves in a very narrow, deep, and dark slot. After a short distance it ended in an open area with a large pouroff — and no way to continue. After a short time spent enjoying this spot, we returned to our lunch spot and packs.

End of the trail. Behind is a tall pouroff preventing further travel.
End of the trail. Behind is a tall pouroff preventing further travel.
A deep and dark section of the slot canyon in Burro Wash.
A deep and dark section of the slot canyon in Burro Wash.
A wavy section of the canyon on our way back out.
A wavy section of the canyon on our way back out.

Clouds had begun to build. There was no threat of rain reaching the ground — and certainly no threat of a flash flood — but being in a slot canyon with rain nearby is never my idea of a smart thing. Fortunately, the clouds cut down on the intensity of the sun and the hike back out through the grasslands and sandy washes was much more comfortable than it would have been otherwise.

We arrived back at the car and began to put our gear away. I took off my shoes to empty out the sand and was astounded at how much sand was in them. How was it even possible for this much sand and my feet to coexist in the shoes?

Petroglyph panel in Capitol Reef National Park.
Petroglyph panel in Capitol Reef National Park.
Orchards and meadows in the main visitor area of Capitol Reef National Park.
Orchards and meadows in the main visitor area of Capitol Reef National Park.

We left early the next morning and drove westward through the park and then on Utah 12. It’s been several decades since I’ve been on this road and it was fun to see again. There are some great views from many locations along the highway.

A section of Utah 12 northeast of Escalante.
A section of Utah 12 northeast of Escalante.

We stopped in the small town of Escalante for lunch and then continued home.

Fun trip!

Mars InSight Lander Launch

NASA successfully launched its Mars InSight Lander earlier today. The goal of InSight is to study the crust, mantle, and core of Mars. Unlike previous Mars expeditions, this is not a rover but will stay in one place. The lander will use instruments to delve deep beneath the surface and seek information on the processes that formed the terrestrial planets.

Because the launch was scheduled for the pre-dawn hours, it was possible to see it even in northern Arizona. At least, I hoped so. So I was out and ready for the 4:05 A.M. launch from Vandenburg Air Force Base launch site. The selection of this launch site was unusual as most missions to the planets use the Kennedy Space Center launch facilities in Florida. This was the first interplanetary launch from Vandenburg.

I scanned the western and southwestern horizon after the launch but was never able to see anything. Hmmm…not a good sign. But a quick review of the camera images showed that I had captured the launch. From this distance, however, it wasn’t very bright.

Each exposure was 15 seconds in duration and were combined into a single image. The path of the rocket can be dimly seen against the sky.

Mars InSight launch.
Mars InSight launch.

There had been some speculation that the deposition of ice crystals into the high reaches of the atmosphere might produce noctilucent clouds. Didn’t happen. The rocket exhaust had time to completely disperse before the morning sunlight hit the upper atmosphere about an hour later.

Spring Snow—2018 edition

Spring snow. It seems to happen fairly often around here. We just had a May storm that dropped snow on the new crab apple blossoms. I’ve written similar blogs before in 2014 and 2015 and there have been other events in recent years.

The NWS recently posted a tweet that shows 54 years out of 118 (46%) have had snow in May. So—not rare at all. Quite pretty, in fact.

Here are a few images of the snow sitting on crab apple and forsythia blossoms plus the not-quite-blooming iris.

Snow and crab apple blossoms.
Snow and crab apple blossoms.
Snow and forsythia blossoms.
Snow and forsythia blossoms.
New snow on iris.
New snow on iris.

Most of the snow was gone by afternoon. The next morning we did a trail run up Schultz Creek Trail. It’s a shady location and there were still patches of snow. After many weeks of running on dry, dusty trails the damp trail that morning was fun.

Trail run on Schultz Creek Trail.
Trail run on Schultz Creek Trail.

A Quick Visit to Chiricahua National Monument

It was a classic spur-of-the-moment decision to visit Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona. Neither of us had any plans for the next few days so off we went. We made online reservations for the last remaining spot in the campground before departing Flagstaff.

It’s a long drive to to CNM—especially if you take secondary highways and avoid the Interstate as much as possible. We arrived in late afternoon to pleasant temperatures and quickly set up camp. There were evening programs about the “Buffalo Soldiers” who had been stationed in the Chiricahua Mountains for a period of time on our first night; on the second night it was a talk about the Apache culture.

View from Massai Point. It would have been grand to be here for sunrise.
View from Massai Point. It would have been grand to be here for sunrise.

We only had one day for hiking and decided to do the Chiricahua Canyon Big Loop. With some of the side trails that we did the total hiking for the day was close to 10 miles. There is a lot to see on this grand loop.

This is why this is called the 'Land of Standing-Up Rocks'
This is why this is called the “Land of Standing-Up Rocks.”

As with most landscapes, the best time of day for photography is the “Golden Hour.“We started after—and ended before—the Golden Hour so photographs were taken in the harsh midday sun. Still, the rock formations in the park are very interesting even when they aren’t particularly photogenic.

From the AmericanSouthwest web site:

The formations at Chiricahua are similar in size and shape to the sandstone spires of Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks in Utah, although without as much color – the rocks are grey or brown, but often with a covering of bright green lichen. They were formed by erosion of compacted pumice and ash, resulting from a huge eruption around 27 million years ago. The 1.1 mile Heart of Rocks Loop route winds through some of the most impressive groups which include several examples of balanced rocks – boulders perched precariously on top of much thinner supporting columns.

A great view while eating lunch.
A great view while eating lunch.
A narrow and shady stretch of trail.
A narrow and shady stretch of trail.
Narrow trail.
Narrow trail.
The 'Grotto'.
The “Grotto”.

By late afternoon, we had reached the more popular portions of the loop trail (Echo Canyon and Wall Street) and the shadows were getting longer resulting in more interesting photographs.

And that was it —two days of driving for a day of hiking. It was worth it.

Bright Objects in the Night Sky: Venus, Mercury, and the Moon

A bit over a week ago (18 March 2018), we had a triple conjunction in the sky. Venus and Mercury had been in the evening sky for a few weeks—and now a crescent Moon was going to join them in the evening. Weather permitting, I was interested in capturing images of this event. I headed out towards the Mormon Lake Overlook which would give me a good view of the western sky as well as the possibility of reflections of these sky objects in the shallow waters of the lake.

While waiting for the sky to darken, I was treated to a few minutes of sunset colors on some interesting wave clouds. More on that below.

Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.
Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.

The Moon and Venus are easily visible in this image taken at 7:20 P.M. MST while Mercury is a bit harder to see to the right and above Venus. A second image taken at 7:29 P.M. shows all three bodies quite clearly. And, as I had hoped, there were reflections in the water.

Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.
Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.

This is how Venus and Mercury looked earlier in the month.

Venus and Mercury in the evening sky.
Venus and Mercury in the evening sky.

Now, back to the wave clouds.

Long and thin wave clouds in the evening sky.
Long and thin wave clouds in the evening sky.

Although they look like jet contrails, these were actually long and thin wave clouds. As the sun began to set, the colors were briefly quite amazing.

Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.

It was an fun evening: Interesting clouds and a triple conjunction.

It was also cold…