The planet Venus has been quickly rising higher in the sky each evening so that it approached Jupiter in a planetary conjunction.
Here are the planets Jupiter and Venus on the evenings of 22 November, 23 November, and 24 November—the evening of closest approach. In this 3-image composite Jupiter is held fixed and the daily motion of Venus is shown relative to the planet Jupiter.
The next image shows the two planets and their reflections in the waters of Lower Lake Mary.
It was mid-October and that made it a good time to head to southwest Utah for some autumn mountain biking.
We left Flagstaff around 8:30 a.m. and arrived at the Wire Mesa Trailhead on Gooseberry Mesa about 4 hours later. After a quick lunch, we jumped on the Wire Mesa trail. Good news! They are upgrading the parking lot with a fence and possibly other amenities.
This was our first time on Wire Mesa Trail. It’s a nice loop with some great views of Zion National Park and the cliffs of Gooseberry Mesa.
The next day we visited the Gooseberry Mesa trails, starting on Windmill, then North Rim and out to the west end of the mesa. This route wanders between the edge and then through ramps, chutes, small hills, all on a high-traction surface. The geologic name for this rock is Shinarump Conglomerate.
The return to the trail head included a quick jaunt on Yellow Trail. Great fun! We then returned to North Rim and connected with Practice Trail. The photos shown here are very similar to photos taken on earlier trips to this mountain biking area. See, for example, the trip reports for April 2015 and October 2016.
We had planned on a third day of riding but instead opted to do some hiking in Zion National Park.
The weather was perfect with clear skies and light winds in northern Arizona to photograph the transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun.
From Wikipedia: “A transit of Mercury takes place when the planet Mercury passes directly (transits) between the Sun and Earth, becoming visible against the solar disk. During a transit, Mercury appears as a tiny black dot moving across the disk of the Sun.”
Mercury is small so it is difficult to photograph a transit without using a telescope or large telephoto lens. I photographed the transit using a (1) full-frame Nikon DSLR and a 70–300mm telephoto zoom lens, and (2)a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 “bridge camera” with a 600mm [equivalent] zoom. The Nikon takes vastly superior images; the Lumix has more zoom. And the better results came from the Lumix.
The photograph above shows the first image taken as the Sun had partially cleared the cliffs. Subsequent images were stacked and aligned on this image so that it shows a sequence of positions during the transit.
The last transit of Mercury was 09 May 2016; the next will be 13 November 2032. The image above is from the 2016 transit.
Transits of Venus are easier to capture because Venus is much larger than Mercury and also closer to Earth. The last two transits of Venus were 05 June 2012 and 08 June 2004. The next transits of Venus will not occur until 10–11 December 2117 and 8 December 2125. Above is an image of the 2012 transit with a bird also “transiting” the sun.
It was a dry summer (driest on record in Flagstaff) and autumn hasn’t been too wet, either. And, yet, the autumn colors have been good. Very good, even, with leaves staying on the trees well into mid- and late October.
In early October, the aspen were changing colors on the north side of the San Francisco Peaks.
A week later, the leaves had already peaked along Waterline Road and were falling from the trees and covering the road.
Most of the time when we hike West Fork Oak Creek we do it from the bottom up. Only once before have we done top-to-bottom and that was back in 1999. We were new to northern Arizona and had read (Tyler Williams, Canyoneering Arizona) that this could be done in very long, hard day. He was right about the long and hard. We have since referred to that epic day as our bootcamp hike.
The passage of time can dim the memories of how hard and unpleasant things were. So here we were in 2019, twenty years later, and we wanted to do this hike again but with some modifications. We were not planning on hiking the entire length of the canyon. Instead, we would simply head down canyon and turn around when we had enough.
It didn’t take long to realize that even this would be a challenge. There is no maintained trail—and not even much of any hint of a trail at all. The vegetation was so thick we had to bushwhack our way through it. Remember that the Slide Fire in 2014 burned through this area (mostly low intensity) and this thick vegetation may be the result of the burn and regrowth. And there was lots of poison ivy. After the first few attempts to get around it we gave up and just plowed through it.
It took us about 2 1/2 hours to reach the first set of narrows about 3 miles down canyon. Just below the narrows is the confluence with Casner Cabin Draw—which ended up being our turnaround spot. We had some commitments that evening so we did not have unlimited time for exploration. Maybe that was a good thing!
I had just been looking at some old photographs from that 1999 hike so I remembered a few locations and took new photographs in the same spots. The tree on the right has grown substantially in 20 years.
We did not encounter any water in the stream bed until the narrows and even then it was a small pool only a few inches deep and a few feet wide.
I’ve also included a photo (a scanned Kodachrome slide) from that 1999 hike showing one of the “must swim” cold pools of water.
We enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the upper canyon.