Last week we had a cold front race across the state that was generating showers and a few thunderstorms along the leading edge of the frontal boundary. As this front passed through Flagstaff we had some thunder and lightning while it was snowing. Thundersnow is not uncommon around here and we typically see a couple occurrences each year.
The past week has been bountiful for photographing objects in the night sky. These objects include Mercury, Venus, Mars, the Moon, and the Zodiacal Light.
In mid-March the planet Venus was an evening object but was dropping closer to the horizon each evening. At the same time, Mercury was rising higher each day. On 18 March 2017, they were roughly side by side and presented an interesting spectacle in the evening twilight.
The following night I returned to Kachina Wetlands but later in the evening to capture the Zodiacal Light. The 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.
The last major snow event around here was a multi-day storm from January 19–25 that put down about 36″ of snow in town. The Kachina Peaks received anywhere from 5 to 7 FEET of snow. Since then, the weather has been pretty quiet with no storms. The snow in town had melted away and the snowpack in the mountains had melted/sublimated substantially.
Finally, however, another snow storm moved across the area earlier this week bringing about 16″ in two days to Flagstaff and about 18–24″ across the peaks. Time to hit the slopes.
Our original destination was the area known as Allison Clay but that idea was abandoned because of the amount of trail breaking required to get there. Instead, we went for the nearer destination known as Flying Dutchman. A few skiers had already broken a trail to the top of the area so we had an easy climb. Thanks, guys!
Here are a few images from the downhill runs.
Will this be the last chance for good skiing? Or will we see another big event in March?
Earlier this month we spent an evening in Moab, Utah while on our way from Flagstaff to Leadville, Colorado. The purpose of our trip was a multi-day ski trip to the Uncle Bud’s Hut which is part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut System.
We arrived in Moab in late afternoon and did a quick check in at our hotel. Then we left for some sunset and twilight photography in Arches National Park. The sun was already low in the sky and I decided to stop at the first interesting spot. From here we were able to watch the sunset colors on Balanced Rock as well as the moon rise behind it.
I would have preferred to be farther away from the rock so that the moon would appear larger compared to the rock but I’m not too disappointed with the images that I did get.
After a fairly unusual late Fall and early Winter—in which we were far more likely to have rain than snow—”Real Winter”showed up and made a powerful statement. The six-day storm total for snow in Flagstaff was 36+ inches which allowed this event to slip into the Top 10 multi-day snow events.
The downside to such an event, of course, is dealing with snow removal. No sooner would we clear the driveway and sidewalks than a snow plow would throw a 3 to 4 foot berm of hard snow on the driveway. Sigh. Does this qualify as a “Sisyphean Task?”
Enough work. Time for play. And so we headed for the San Francisco Peaks and the Kachina Wilderness for some backcountry skiing. The peaks received in the neighborhood of 7–8 feet of new snow. Dreams of deep powder motivated us!
We arrived at the Arizona Snowbowl ski area lower parking lot and headed towards the Humphreys Peak Trail. We broke trail through the deep snow—and only veered off the trail once—for about a mile before picking up an established ski track from downhill skiers. This provided a much easier route. We broke off from the trail and followed a set of ski tracks up to the area known as Flying Dutchman.
This area had already seen a fair bit of ski activity and the snow cover was carved up. We wanted fresh powder so we continued up through the trees—once again breaking trail through deep snow. The trees vary here from tightly packed to open glades and skiing down requires navigating from open glade to open glade and minimizing the trees. Easy to say—harder to do.
We continued up to the B-24 bomber crash site where we decided to stop. Above this point the trees thin out quickly and the threat of skier-triggered avalanches was present. We had lunch, peeled climbing skins off our skis and headed down. We had gained almost 2100 vertical feet since leaving the car and it was time to convert all that potential energy into kinetic energy.
At this elevation (~11,400 feet) there had been significant riming on the trees. So much rime had accumulated on the branches and needles that the trees looked like large heads of cauliflower. Rime had also accumulated on the upside-down landing gear of the B-24. This is the only piece of wreckage that is visible in the winter. Everything else is buried.
There are not many pictures of the downhill descent. Too much fun to stop and take photos!