I awoke before dawn on New Years Day and was greeted with clear skies and a crescent Moon with the planets Venus and Jupiter shining brightly in the eastern sky. I drove out towards Mormon Lake anticipating great—albeit very cold—conditions for some sunrise snow photographs. On the way to the lake I encountered low clouds and patchy fog and there was nothing to be seen upon my arrival. It was already too close to sunrise to head back north or west so my only option was to wait and hope.
I missed the sunrise but about 20 to 30 minutes later the clouds cleared and the San Francisco Peaks were amazing. Low clouds and fog remained around the base of the peaks.
As the sun rose higher the side-lit rime ice on the wild grasses (i.e., weeds) at the Mormon Lake Overlook began to glisten and glow.
Temperatures were hovering in the low single digits and I was cold after standing around for about an hour. Time for breakfast and hot coffee.
The next day we hiked into West Fork Oak Creek knowing that the trail would be snow packed and there would be a dozen water crossings on ice—hopefully solid enough to support us. After several days of below freezing high temperatures and near or sub-zero overnight temperatures we were hopeful for safe ice.
There are several locations where water drips down the cliffs even at these cold temperatures resulting in wonderful icicles and bizarre ice sculptures on the ground.
We hiked to the “end” of the trail where it enters a narrow, rock-walled section of canyon often called “The Subway.” This was our turnaround spot.
On the way up the canyon we had not run into any other hikers. What a treat!
A previous post displayed photographs of storms and weather that occurred during July of this year’s North American Monsoon. Here are photographs from August (plus the first day of September).
Cumulus and Cumulonimbus
A search for wildflowers and thunderstorms brought me to Rogers Lake west of Flagstaff. It’s a lake only ephemerally during springs with heavy snow runoff. But it makes a grand place for photographs when a wide-open vista is desired. Earlier convective storms were pushing an outflow boundary southward with new convection developing on the boundary.
There was just enough vertical wind shear on this day to allow some storms to briefly exhibit supercell characteristics and deviate to the right —which brought this thunderstorm near the edge of the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Fog and Smoke
Sometimes the unexpected can be magical. When fog forms in Grand Canyon the visitors may be disappointed but there is the potential for amazing photographs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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?
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.
We stopped in the small town of Escalante for lunch and then continued home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have traveled up to the South Rim of Grand Canyon several times in the past few weeks to get interesting weather and cloud photographs.
Two weeks ago, we spent two nights at the South Rim waiting for a winter storm to arrive and drop some snow on the higher elevations of the canyon. The storm went too far south and Grand Canyon got nothing but some clouds and a bit of fog. Flagstaff, on the other hand, got about 8″ on snow—which we had to clear from our driveway when we returned.
The other goal on that trip was to catch the rising nearly-full moon as it climbed above Cape Royal on the North Rim. That worked out well as the clouds had dissipated by late afternoon. This image was shot as a 12-frame panorama (6 across, 2 rows) resulting in an image of ~200 megapixels. There is a lot of detail in the full-resolution image!
As the sun fell lower in the sky, shadows raced across the canyon bottom while some of the higher towers and buttes remained in the sun—resulting in some interesting lighting and abstract patterns.
Our final morning had some wave clouds forming downwind of the Kaibab Plateau and being lit by the rising sun.
A few days ago we had a widespread rain event—even though rainfall amounts were not particularly large. Most importantly, measurable rain fell in Winslow. This meant that there was a possibility of fog forming in the Little Colorado River (LCR) Valley and drifting into the eastern reaches of Grand Canyon. I arrived at Lipan Point on the South Rim before sunrise and could see some low-lying fog in the LCR well east of the canyon. As the sun rose and the land began to warm, the fog began to lift and move towards the canyon. Eventually, it reached the Palisades north and east of Desert View Overlook. And, then, it began to spill over the sides evaporating only a short distance below the rim.
The fog soon swept across Desert View Overlook. I headed over to Desert View to shoot photos of Desert View Watchtower in the fog—but the fog was so thick I had to get very close to even see it.
I went back to Grand Canyon again the next morning but there were clouds along with some drizzle and light rain. However, there was a 2–3 minute period in which some clouds had a bit of sunlight color. Yes—that’s a pretty long round-trip drive for 2–3 minutes of good photography. Nobody ever said it was easy…