An Early Season Hike up West Fork of Oak Creek

It’s only the second week in April and that is still early in the season for hiking up West Fork of Oak Creek. There are numerous water crossings along the 3.3 mile maintained trail; these are usually easily crossed on stepping stones or small logs placed across the stream. Beyond the maintained trail, however, there are several water crossings that are simply too large for stones or logs and one must wade through the water. This early in the season the water is still chilly—and there was even some residual snow in the shadier parts of the canyon.

West Fork Oak Creek ("The Subway")
West Fork Oak Creek (“The Subway”)

We were especially interested in learning how the canyon had fared during the heavy rain events that occurred in January and February. Flagstaff, for example, received three times its normal precipitation (6.51 inches vs 2.16) in the month of February. And there were other periods of above normal flows in Oak Creek; e.g., mid January, early February, mid February, and an extended period in March that corresponded to snow melt at higher elevations.

USGS gauge data for Oak Creek showing several high flow periods this winter.
USGS gauge data for Oak Creek showing several high flow periods this winter.

Our interest ties back to the Slide Fire that occurred in this area in May 2014. In the aftermath of the burn, heavy loads of silt and ash flowed from the higher elevations and into the canyon. This turned a beautiful canyon with deep pools in the sandstone into a ash-blackened, silt-filled creek. For those who have long cherished the beauty of this canyon the results of the fire were heartbreaking.

Silt and ash have been flushed from this swimming hole in West Fork Oak Creek.
Silt and ash have been flushed from this swimming hole in West Fork Oak Creek.

But we knew that, in time, rain would scour out the ash and silt and return the canyon to its former pristine self. But normal rains were simply not enough to accomplish this. This would require sustained above-normal amounts of water. We traveled up the canyon in early January but, even then, most of the silt from 2014 was still there. But the heavy rains were about to start.

Another narrow section of West Fork Oak Creek that has been cleansed of silt and ash.
Another narrow section of West Fork Oak Creek that has been cleansed of silt and ash.
This large pool was filled with silt after the fire. Now it is finally clear again.
This large pool was filled with silt after the fire. Now it is finally clear again.

We were very happy to find that the heavy rains and runoff had finally cleared the canyon of silt and ash. Black, muddy shores and beaches were cleansed and replaced with deep, light-colored sand. Silt-laden pools were scoured out back to the sandstone bottoms and filled with beautifully clear water.

Large pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
Large pool in West Fork Oak Creek.

The canyon had finally recovered from the aftermath of the Slide Fire.

Spring Conditions in Sedona

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.

Crossing Dry Creek on the new Outer Limits Trail.
Crossing Dry Creek on the new Outer Limits Trail.
High water flows down Dry Creek as seen from the recently rerouted Girdner Trail.
High water flows down Dry Creek as seen from the recently rerouted Girdner Trail.
Bridges can be useful when the water is this high.
Bridges can be useful when the water is this high.
Footprints.
Footprints.
Massive tubr blowout!
Massive tube blowout!

 

Winter Storm in Grand Canyon

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 slowly departs Grand Canyon.
A winter storm slowly departs Grand Canyon.
Late afternoon sun briefly illuminates portions of Grand Canyon.
Late afternoon sun briefly illuminates portions of Grand Canyon.

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.

A Variety of Winter Weather

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.

Rime covered trees in the Kachina Peaks.
Rime covered trees in the Kachina Peaks.
"Flying Dutchman." It's steeper than it looks.
“Flying Dutchman.” It’s steeper than it looks.
"Allison Clay."
“Allison Clay.”
Weeds in the snow.
Weeds in the snow.

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.

Pumphouse Wash—a normally dry wash—running at high volume.
Pumphouse Wash—a normally dry wash—running at high volume.
Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point: a popular swimming hole when quieter water prevails.
Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point: a popular swimming hole when quieter water prevails.

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.

Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) Moves Across the Winter Sky

Comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto has just made its closest approach to Earth this week. With one evening of clear skies forecasted before the next storm system moves into the area, I went out earlier this week (02/11/2019) to capture images of this fast-moving, blue-green comet. The Moon was up in the western sky with 38% of the disk illuminated. This caused considerable brightening of the sky and made it challenging to capture fine details of the comet.

Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto).
Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto).

From Universe Today:

Discovered by Japanese amateur Masayuki Iwamoto as a +12th magnitude fuzzball moving through the constellation Hydra the Water Serpent on the night of December 18th, 2018, Y1 Iwamoto is a fast mover. It’s great to see that amateur astronomers can and still do discover comets, as the robotic competition posed by automated surveys such as PanSTARRS makes such an independent discovery tough these days…

At its closest on February 13th, Comet Y1 Iwamoto will appear to move seven degrees a day. This translates into a fast apparent motion of about 2/3rds the apparent diameter of a Full Moon, every hour.

The comet was easy to find with a pair of binoculars but was not visible to the unaided eye. Its position on this evening was near enough to the bright star Regulus that I had no trouble aligning the camera.

The following image and animation show the motion of the comet during a period of just over one hour.

A one-hour composite of C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) showing the rapid motion of the comet.
A one-hour composite of C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) showing the rapid motion of the comet.

Time lapse movie showing the motion of C/2018 Y1 during a period of one hour.

Comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto will make its next passage through the inner solar system in 3390 AD.