Did you get a chance to see the lunar eclipse?

The weather across northern Arizona was excellent with cloudless skies. It was a bit cold, however, with temperatures in Flagstaff falling from the lower 20s at the start to the upper teens at the end.

For a quick review of how a lunar eclipse occurs check out the Wikipedia and the NASA Eclipse sites.

 

Lunar eclipse of 14-15 April 2014.

Lunar eclipse of 14-15 April 2014.

Total Lunar Eclipse from 0445—1038 UTC on 15 April 2014 as seen in northern Arizona. This is a composite of nine images taken approximately at P1, U1, U2, Max Totality, U3, U4, and P4, plus additional images between U1 and U2, and between U3 and U4. The time of each image is given in UTC. The definitions of the P and U numbers are given in the Wikipedia article and also shown below:

LunarEclipse

The images were taken with a Nikon D700 using various f-stops, ISO settings, and exposure times. A Nikon 80-200mm f/4 lens was used for all images. Although this is a vintage manual focus lens it it produces remarkably sharp images. For a discussion of this lens, check out this site.

 

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Not too far from the highway and only a short walk from a challenging forest service road are some amazing panels of rock art. Welcome to Red Tank Draw.

The draw is a deep wash draining from Rarick Canyon on the Mogollon Rim into Wet Beaver Creek, often carrying cold snow melt in the early spring. But today the flow of water was quiet and gentle. It’s been a warm and dry winter, after all.

From an article in the Red Rock News:

“Petroglyphs are the main attraction but multicolored lichens growing on the sheer rock walls can be found here as well, some forming designs as intriguing as the etchings.”

“As ancient as the rock art, lichens are the unlikely combination of a fungus and an algae (although sometimes a fungus and a cyanobacterium)”

On this warm spring day, we wandered up and down the draw examining numerous panels of rock art. We’ve been here before and knew where to look so we went for our favorites.

Rock art panel containing the "sabre tooth cat" along with colorful lichen.

Rock art panel containing the “sabre tooth cat” along with colorful lichen.

This panel is often referred to as the “sabre tooth cat” panel. It looks like a sabre tooth cat but is probably a more common feline predator such as a bobcat.

The premiere panel of rock art found in Red Tank Draw.

The premiere panel of rock art found in Red Tank Draw.

But the best panel is found on a large sandstone wall that has evidence of geologically recent rockfall. As the sun moves westward and shadows creep across this face the rock art becomes more impressive until, finally, a single spear of light pierces across the rock wall.

 

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With exceptionally clear and dark skies it was a good time to capture an image of the zodiacal light. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this astronomical phenomenon.

Zodiacal light is a faint, roughly triangular, diffuse white glow seen in the night sky that appears to extend up from the vicinity of the Sun along the ecliptic or zodiac. It is best seen just after sunset and before sunrise in spring and autumn when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon. Caused by sunlight scattered by space dust in the zodiacal cloud, it is so faint that either moonlight or light pollution renders it invisible.

With no moon and Flagstaff’s dark skies, it’s pretty easy to see the zodiacal light.

 

Zodiacal light seen over the Kachina Wetlands near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Zodiacal light seen over the Kachina Wetlands near Flagstaff, Arizona.

And speaking of dark skies, Flagstaff became the World’s First “International Dark Sky City”  way back on October 24, 2001. From the Flagstaff Dark Skies site:

In 1958, Flagstaff pioneered the world’s first lighting ordinance designed to preserve the night for astronomy. Since 1958, Flagstaff astronomers have mostly relied on quiet, friendly diplomacy to protect the night sky…

Flagstaff’s dry, clear skies and dark, cloudless nights drew Percival Lowell to town in 1894. The townspeople deeded the eccentric, wealthy Bostoner a pine-clad knoll atop the mesa immediately west of town as an observatory site, and built him a wagon road to reach it. The area became known as Mars Hill because of Lowell’s famous passion for the red planet.

An exposure of 30s, ISO3200, f/4 was enough to bring out the details of the white glow as well as its reflection in the waters of the Kachina Wetlands. At the top of the image is the bright planet Jupiter.

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One morning earlier this year bright sunshine followed an overnight snowfall and created an opportunity for interesting photographs. I had been aware of this old gas station on Route 66 in Bellemont, Arizona, for several years and had been looking for the right setup for photographing it. So, shortly after sunrise with long shadows still playing across the landscape and fresh fallen snow I was able to get this image.

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For those of you with a sharp eye and great memory, you might recognize this as the gas station that briefly appeared in the movie Easy Rider from 1969. In fact, if you look closely enough at the image, there is a poster from that movie taped to the window of the door.

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The 7th Annual Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill Race was held this weekend on the slopes on Humphreys Peak and within the boundaries of the Arizona Snowbowl. This is a winter race with runners using whatever sort of foot traction suits them. Some wear Kahtoola microspikes as minimalist equipment. Others use snowshoes. And some use skis—both downhill and telemark style. It’s an interesting contest as the runners can easily outpace the skiers on the way up—but skiers have the advantage on the downhill. Still, the fastest competitors were the runners.

Providing the rhythmic drumming during the event was Flagstaff’s very own Sambatuque.

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I”m still in the long process of scanning slide file from the pre-digital era. This week, I scanned some images from a trip to Utah in the spring of 1988. On our first travel day, we stopped at Fisher Towers to spend the night. While eating dinner the sun slowly sank in the western sky. And, then, for just a few minutes the colors on the towers was intense. Quick! Find the camera and fire off a few shots. It didn’t hurt that the moon was in the image to lend some balance.

Fisher Towers at sunset.

Fisher Towers at sunset.

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Although Death Valley National Park is only a six-hour drive from Flagstaff I have never visited the park. That finally changed the first week of January when we made a four-day visit. We left Flagstaff well before sunrise so that we could arrive in the park around noon time and then spend the afternoon visiting sites and hiking.

One of our first stops was the well-known Zabriskie Point. Many photographs have been taken here—as well as a movie by the same name—and these images should look familiar as a result. From there we went to the visitors center to get some ideas for the afternoon. We ended up on Artists Drive—known for its multicolored rocks.

Zabriskie Point.

Zabriskie Point.

 

Artist's Drive.

Artist’s Drive.

 

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Warm temperatures and bluebird skies beckoned us to ride on the Black Canyon Trail near Rock Springs, Arizona, late last week. We arrived to a nearly empty parking lot at the trail head. In fact, we only saw a few other mountain bikers and a couple of hikers during our five hours of riding. It’s probably more crowded on weekends and holidays.

Looking down on the Aqua Fria River from the Black Canyon Trail.

Looking down on the Aqua Fria River from the Black Canyon Trail.

The trail starts with a moderate climb before descending down and across the Aqua Fria River. As long as there has been no significant rain (or mountain snow) the river is shallow and easily crossed on a bike. If the water is high, it’s time to turn around.

 

Crossing the Aqua Fria River. It's not deep.

Crossing the Aqua Fria River. It’s not deep.

The trail climbs steeply after the crossing but after a bit the grade relaxes. But only a bit — there is still a lot of climbing.

Black Canyon Trail.

Black Canyon Trail.

The trail can be done as an out-and-back or, if a shuttle is arranged, as a point-to-point. We did the former and ended up riding about 18 miles for the day.

Late afternoon on the Black Canyon Trail and we're almost finished.

Late afternoon on the Black Canyon Trail and we’re almost finished.

By late afternoon, we were approaching the end of the ride. We stopped for a few minutes on this convenient bench and let the warm afternoon sun slowly sink behind the hills to our west. With the ride complete, it was time to drive back to Flagstaff where there is still snow on the ground.

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Winter has arrived in northern Arizona with snow and very cold temperatures. On this morning (09 December), the temperature fell to -9°F in Flagstaff and -23°F at Grand Canyon Airport. That’s getting cold enough for West Fork Oak Creek to start freezing over allowing wintertime travel. It had snowed a few days earlier and with fresh powder this had the potential to be an interesting hike and photo trip.

Dry grasses poke through the shallow snow.

Dry grasses poke through the shallow snow.

But the creek wasn’t frozen enough. Where there were rocks or logs crossing the creek was possible — if not easy. But in spots where one had to cross an expanse of ice — well, no, not yet. Nothing quite like stepping out onto the ice and having it crack in spider web fashion under your feet — with knee deep water below. So, we were unable to travel more than about 1 1/2 miles upstream before returning.

Snow and ice in West Fork.

Snow and ice in West Fork.

We ran into only one other group of hikers on the trail. Although from California, they have lived in cold climes before and were not daunted by the cold and snow in the canyon. But they, too, turned around at the icy crossing.

Giant icicles hang from the sandstone walls of West Fork Oak Creek.

Giant icicles hang from the sandstone walls of West Fork Oak Creek.

There will be other chances later in the winter when the ice may be safely passable. Or, maybe not. It’s always a bit of a mystery on what we will find when we arrive at West Fork Oak Creek.

 

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We woke up to a foggy morning in Flagstaff and a quick check of satellite data clearly showed widespread fog across northeastern Arizona but not across the remainder of the state. We quickly broke out of the fog and into sunny skies as we drove south of the Mogollon Rim for a trail run with our running group.

Visible satellite image showing widespread areas of fog across the west.

Visible satellite image showing widespread areas of fog across the west.

Intrigued by the fog, I traveled to the Grand Canyon in the late afternoon in hopes of getting some interesting photographs. At Yavapai Point on the South Rim there were few visitors. After all, who wants to see a canyon filled with fog! Visibility was on the order of a hundred meters or less and driving was an interesting challenge.

Fog at Yavapai Point, South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park.

Fog at Yavapai Point, South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park.

Leaving Yavapai Point, I drove east on the Rim Drive to the first pullout. Moments later, the fog briefly cleared and I could see the North Rim above the top of the fog. Then, just as quickly, it filled back in. A short while later, this clearing repeated itself. This time I captured an image that shows a vast expanse of fog filling the canyon and the North Rim just barely peeking above the fog.

A break in the fog along the South Rim, Grand Canyon.

A break in the fog along the South Rim, Grand Canyon.

A sea of fog fills the Grand Canyon and the North Rim peeks above the fog.

A sea of fog fills the Grand Canyon and the North Rim peeks above the fog.

Then it was time for some fun. I set the camera to take long exposures and shot a photo every time a car drove by. The red streaks of the vehicle tail lights and the fog being illuminated by the lights created interesting images.

Vehicle tail lights illuminate the fog on the South Rim, Grand Canyon.

Vehicle tail lights illuminate the fog on the South Rim, Grand Canyon.

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