The late February full Moon presented an opportunity to photograph the Moon rising between the dramatic Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple in Grand Canyon.
Moonrise was about a half-hour before sunset. This meant that the distant walls of the canyon would still be illuminated by late afternoon Sun. On the other hand, the eastern horizon was still pretty bright as the Moon rose from behind Wotans Throne. So bright, in fact, that it was difficult to see the Moon. As a result, I got better results about 15 minutes later as the Sun moved lower and the Moon moved higher in the sky.
The second shot was taken just a minute or two before sunset and only the uppermost portions of the canyon rim remain illuminated by the sun. In addition, Earth’s shadow can be seen just above the horizon.
Bonus shot: While waiting for the Moon to rise I took photographs of hikers ascending the South Kaibab Trail just below and above Ooh-Aah Point.
In late January we had many days of snow with over 40″ falling in about 11 days. What a great chance to ski down Skunk Canyon. I’ve been here many times walking, running, and mountain biking—but never skiing.
In the morning, it was quite cold—the overnight low temperature was +9°F—and the snow was very dry; Swix Blue Extra Wax was perfect for getting a bit of grip and a good glide. There was a broken trail part of the way into the canyon but mostly we had untracked snow and broke our own trail.
At the point where Skunk Canyon briefly gets very narrow everyone but me turned around. I had never been to Fisher Point in the snow and I was probably not going to get another chance for a while so I continued. There were some old, snow-covered ski and snowshoe tracks here and folks had probably come in via Walnut Canyon and the Arizona Trail. But no one else was there while I visited.
I turned around to retrace my steps and within a few minutes was having issues with the rapidly warming snow sticking to my skis. I was no longer able to glide and several inches of heavy snow were clumping to the bottom of the skis. Wow! This was going to be a long slog back to the car. I was pretty tired when I finished and the deep powder was already a distant memory.
And that’s what skiing in Flagstaff is like. Once the storm ends and the sun comes out there is only a very brief window of a few hours. Get it while you can.
My first and only visit to Coyote Buttes and The Wave was in June 2004. A coworker had permits for two back-to-back days but was unable to use them. The BLM permit system was quite different then from what it is now. Getting multiple-day permits was not unusual. Nowadays, getting a permit at all requires a fair bit of luck and perseverance. I consider myself fortunate to have had a chance to visit this amazing location.
We arrived at the trailhead in mid-day with temperatures, as I recall, in the upper ’90s. It was mid-June and the North American Monsoon and rainy season had not started. Even so, there were clouds and a few rain showers in the area.
We hiked out to the rocks and made good time arriving in the late afternoon. There were a few other visitors but they left after a short time and we had the place to ourselves for the next several hours. Really—there was no one else there. Hard to believe!
We wandered around for hours taking photographs and picnicking and enjoying the solitude. For a few brief moments, one of the rain showers produced a rainbow but I was too slow to move the camera gear and get the shot.
As the sun dropped in the west and temperatures began to cool we finally left and began the hike back to the car. Somewhere along the way we realized we were on a different trail—or perhaps no trail at all—but our starting point was still obvious and we continued on.
The next morning we decided we did not want or need to hike out there again so we did not use our 2nd day permit. Instead, we travelled down Buckskin Gulch—a place we had heard about but not yet had a chance to explore. It was a great hike and we did not regret our choice.
Here are photographs (shot on Fuji Provia slide film and recently scanned) from the afternoon that we spent at Coyote Buttes and The Wave.
Pumphouse Wash is a canyon that is ignored by most of the people who drive past it every day. It is located in the upper reaches of Oak Creek Canyon right at the bottom of the well-known switchbacks. No matter—its best quality is that very few people hike it.
During heavy rains and snow melt there will be water flowing down the canyon. Otherwise it’s a dry wash with a series of pools. The canyon is narrow with steep walls. It’s full of boulders strewn in the stream bed that have been washed down in great floods. The plethora of boulders makes hiking in this canyon a slow, arduous process. One must hop from rock to rock for miles.
But the rewards are worth the effort. You won’t encounter many other hikers. Maybe even none. And there are beautiful pools and narrows if you travel far enough up the canyon. Late in the spring the pools are still deep and clear and inviting enough for swimming. By early summer, however, they have warmed and filled with algae and, maybe, not so inviting. Timing is important.
So we recently hiked up from the bottom of the switchbacks up to the confluence with a small side canyon that comes in from the east. No name is given on the maps for this feature—not to be confused with James Canyon farther upcanyon. This is about 2 ¼ miles from the start and it took us about 2 ½ hours. That’s less than one mile per hour. There was no one else around—although we could hear hikers farther downstream owing to the echoes off the canyon walls. We stopped in the shade and had a leisurely lunch followed by a swim in one of the deeper pools. And then back in the shade for more lounging.
But eventually it was time to go. It was now mid afternoon and the sun had moved around to the northwest leaving us in shade for most of the trip down canyon. Good thing, too, because it had been sunny and hot on the way up and we were worried about running out of drinking water. Also, with the canyon floor in the shade it was easier to take photos of the pools of water and the short section of narrows.
And, then, there was that magical moment when the light created a perfect situation. The sun lit up a section of the canyon floor which was reflected upwards to an overhang. The reflected light on this overhang was beautiful—but this illuminated overhang was reflected in a pool of water surrounded by deep shadows. Amazing! Move a little closer and the pool and reflection did not line up. Move a little farther away—same thing. Just one spot—and it was perfect.
A few weeks ago, we chose to run the Sycamore Rim Trail. Our start location was the Pomeroy Tanks trailhead. From there we headed in a clockwise direction and reached our turnaround spot on the top of KA Hill.
We reversed our direction and once again passed by Pomeroy Tanks but kept going for another mile to Sycamore Falls. Alas, the falls were dry and no water was flowing down the stream. But back at Pomeroy Tanks there was water and still some flow through the numerous pools. It was very picturesque but it was now late morning and all I had was a camera phone.
We decided to return a few days later and to shoot photos in the early morning light. The pools were still mostly in deep shadows at this early hour. And, since it had been a cold night, there was still a touch of frost on the abundant grasses around the pools.
With calm winds the surfaces of the pools were like a mirror reflecting the deep blue sky. It was worth the return trip.