Autumn hiking in Oak Creek Canyon

It’s been a relatively warm and very dry autumn so far across northern Arizona. For example, Flagstaff recorded 0.42″ of rain for the months of September and October combined—normal is closer to 4 inches (4.04″). This combination of warm and dry might be responsible for the less-than-stellar autumn colors in the aspens and other trees. Or, perhaps it was actually pretty colorful and I just happened to go out at the wrong times. Either way, it’s been a bit of a challenge for me this year to get the high-impact, really colorful photographs.

A previous post highlighted some of the photographs of aspens taken across the higher elevations and also provides some comparison with previous years.

More recently, I’ve been shooting images in Oak Creek where there are plenty of maple, oak, sycamore, and other types of trees to provide a nice mix of colors.

Maple leaves in Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple leaves in Oak Creek Canyon.

While wandering around looking for autumn colors, we saw this. I’ve walked by this rock face in Oak Creek Canyon several times and never noticed the name etched in the rock.

[Dr. B. Frankson Rugby, N.D.]
[Dr. B. Frankson Rugby, N.D.]
We also found ourselves hiking up the North Wilson Trail in Oak Creek Canyon with hopes for some maples. Those we did find were not particularly photogenic because they were surrounded by dead/burnt trees—courtesy of the Brins Mesa wildfire of 2006. On the other hand, I enjoyed this view from the Wilson Bench near the intersection of North Wilson and Wilson Mtn. Trails.

A view of Sedona from Wilson Bench.
A view of Sedona from Wilson Bench.

On our descent I enjoyed the quickly shifting patterns of light and shadow on the opposite side of Oak Creek Canyon. Perched high up on the canyon walls is the area known to rock climbers as “The Waterfall.” Visitors to Oak Creek Canyon during the spring snowmelt season have often looked up from the road to see water cascading down this rock face. They may not have known that it is also a world-class rock climbing site.

"The Waterfall" rock climbing area in Oak Creek Canyon.
“The Waterfall” rock climbing area in Oak Creek Canyon.

As we descended the North Wilson Trail I was able to see that some of the best color was—where else—along Oak Creek and in the parking lot from which we had started. We still had some time so down to the creek we went. The light was very soft with no hard shadows or bright spots and autumn colors were nicely reflected in the waters.

Oak Creek.
Oak Creek.
Oak Creek.
Oak Creek.

I’ve always skipped the North Wilson Trail in all the years of hiking around here. Now, I wonder why. It’s a steep trail, for certain, but very interesting views in all directions.

Storm Chasing and Photography—Spring 2017

We spent about a week doing storm photography across the central and High Plains in mid May. Below are summaries with photographs.

May 15, 2017

A strong southwesterly flow aloft continues across the midsections of the country so that adequate wind shear is present across large areas. The best shear, however, is across the northern High Plains and upper midwest, with less shear across the central Plains. A dryline is present across western Kansas and southward with adequate moisture to the east and a plume of moisture has moved northwestward into western Nebraska, western South Dakota, and northeastern Wyoming.

After looking at too much model data, we decided to head to eastern Wyoming with hopes of storms developing over the Laramie Range and then moving to the northeast. Finding ourselves in Lusk, Wyoming, in mid afternoon, it became clear that the northern storms were too far away to reach. A storm we had passed earlier near Chugwater continued to develop so we backtracked south from Lusk to Lingle, then southeastward. We ended up in endless light rain and some small hail until we reached Mitchell, Nebraska. I took a few photos here of a weakly rotating updraft then headed east and north to watch the storm.

It wasn’t very impressive. We headed back to Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, for a hotel and dinner. As we left the hotel, new storms to the west were producing continuous in-cloud lightning and occasional cloud-to-ground lightning. We went north of town and spent about 15 minutes photographing the storm and lightning.

Two-image panorama of a weakly rotating storm updraft.
Two-image panorama of a weakly rotating storm updraft.
Laminar bands preceed the main storm while continuous in-cloud lightning lights up the storm.
Laminar bands preceed the main storm while continuous in-cloud lightning lights up the storm.

We left the storms and headed back into town for dinner. While eating, we got to enjoy the storm as it moved across town with heavy rain, small hail, and gusty winds.

Continue reading →

A Return to Death Valley National Park

My first visit to Death Valley National Park was in January 2014. At that time, I noted that “…I would like to return—soon—and visit many of the other wonderful locations in Death Valley National Park…” Well, it turned out “soon” was more than three years later but we finally made a return visit.

With the significant amount of rain that has occurred across the American Southwest this winter I was hopeful that there would be another wildflower “super bloom” comparable to that which occurred in 2016. But either we were too early or it just doesn’t happen two years in a row. So we were disappointed with the scarcity of wildflowers.

Dante's View of Panamint Range and Badwater Basin.
Dante’s View of Panamint Range and Badwater Basin.

Continue reading →

Summer Vacation 2016—Part IV: Mount Baker

It was finally time to move to another area in the North Cascades and we decided that Mount Baker would provide some interesting hikes.

We departed the Cascades Pass Road and returned to Marblemount NPS Ranger Station to refill our water bottles. Unfortunately, their water system had problems and was not safe to drink. It’s interesting that all the campsites and campgrounds we visited either had no water or had water problems. Luckily, we carried a 5-gallon jug of water and still had enough for a few more days.

We stopped at the USFS Ranger station on our way to Mount Baker to get water…and it was closed for scheduled maintenance. But there was water available outside so we finally had a chance to refill.

Panoramic view on the start of the trail with <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Shuksan' target='_blank'>Mt. Shuksan (left)</a> and <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Baker ' target='_blank'>Mt. Baker (right)</a>.
Panoramic view on the start of the trail with Mt. Shuksan (left) and Mt. Baker (right).
Wildflowers along Ptarmigan Ridge Trail.
Wildflowers along Ptarmigan Ridge Trail.

Continue reading →

Summer Vacation 2016—Part III: Northern Cascade Mountains

We thought that we were almost there and that it would only be a short trip from the Columbia River Gorge to the Northern Cascade mountains. Wrong, again. There’s a lot of terrain to cover between these two locations. So we drove east on I-84 until we could cross the river on Highway 97 then north to Yakima, Washington. We stopped to load up on current maps (our highway maps of this area are old!). The good folks at the Visitor Center recommended a visit to Leavenworth—a Bavarian-style city. So we did. It was…um….interesting.

And, still, we had a long ways to drive.

We stopped in Winthrop—which had a nice grocery store—to stock up on food supplies for the next several days. Heading west we encountered several campgrounds—all full to capacity. It’s the beginning of the weekend so we weren’t too surprised. We finally drove down a Forest Service road to a trail head and decided this would be our camping spot for the night.

We’re finally in the Cascades. Dang—that took a long time to get here!

Sunrise on Liberty Bell Mountain.
Sunrise on Liberty Bell Mountain.
Sibley Creek on Cascade Pass Road.
Sibley Creek on Cascade Pass Road.

Continue reading →