It’s March and the days are getting longer and warmer. The recent epic snow in Sedona has melted and most of the mud is gone to be replaced by perfect trail conditions. Melting snow from the higher terrain continues to flow down Dry Creek and Oak Creek and the runoff in the creeks is impressive.
A few afternoons ago, I headed up to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. My hope was to catch the nearly-full rising Moon as it appeared from behind Cape Royal on the North Rim. I was successful last year and I wanted to try it again — and get it even better.
A winter storm was winding down and there were breaks in the clouds by mid afternoon. But the breaks didn’t happen in the right place or right time to capture the moon rising above Cape Royal.
So it was time to switch to the backup plan and I ended up photographing the clouds and fog that were moving across the canyon along with all the fresh snow on the South Rim.
Flagstaff’s February weather has been very active with rain and/or snow recorded on seven days out of the first fifteen. Several days of snow on the Kachina Peaks covered the trees with a thick coating of rime ice and lots of new snow on the slopes.
And then we had an “atmospheric river” that produced a significant amount of winter rain with about 1.5 inches falling in the Flagstaff area. The runoff in Oak Creek and its tributaries was impressive.
And the forecast for the next week or so is a continuation of stormy weather with lots of snow for the higher elevations. I believe the long-anticipated El Niño has finally arrived.
Over the weekend we had an extended period of rain in the Flagstaff area. Normally we would see snow at this time of year.—it is, after all, the middle of winter. Rainfall amounts were sufficient (1.35 inches at Flagstaff airport) to cause large increases in the flow of Oak Creek where gauges recorded a rise from ~2.4 feet (30 cfs) to 9.6 feet (6900 cfs). Other streams were running high as well.
I though it might be interesting to look at Lake Mary and Mormon Lake to see if lake levels were increasing as a result of the runoff. Indeed, they were, but not quite as much as I had hoped. Still, water rushing down Newman Canyon, a normally dry wash, into Upper Lake Mary was impressive.
Back in December 2004, we had a much bigger rain event. Lake Mary was frozen and the water rushing down the hillsides flowed across the top of the ice. The immense weight of the water caused the ice to break with thunderous booms. That is what I was hoping to experience. Didn’t happen because there was no ice this time.
My next stop was Mormon Lake. As I drove towards it the sun was able to break through the thinning clouds to my south. I took a quick look in the rear-view mirror to check for rainbows.
And, there it was. A winter rainbow in Flagstaff. Not rare, but certainly not common.
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!