Winter in Moab, Utah

On a recent trip to Colorado we made a stop in Moab, Utah. This is a place that hosts a large number of tourists each year, including visitors to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, which are located close by. The town also hosts large numbers of mountain bikers and off-roaders. At least that’s the case during the warmer months of spring, summer, and fall.

The Windows area of Arches National Park at sunset during the winter.
The Windows area of Arches National Park at sunset during the winter.

In the winter there are fewer visitors and the trails are mostly empty. It’s a great time of year to visit if you don’t mind the cooler temperatures, shorter days, and occasional snow and ice on the trails and roads.

Frozen streamside in Negro Bill Canyon near Moab, Utah.
Frozen streamside in Negro Bill Canyon near Moab, Utah.

We took advantage of the low-crowd season to hike a few trails in the area, including Negro Bill Canyon and Corona Arch. On both trails we saw only a few other people. With so few people, it’s easy to set up a tripod and get some great photographs and not worry about hikers, bikers, jeeps, or other distractions finding their way into your images!

Trail running in Sedona

Although we had a lot of snow in Flagstaff and northern Arizona in December, it’s been completely dry since then and the snow has slowly vanished. We’ve taken advantage of the dry weather and done a lot of trail running in Sedona. It’s always warmer there, of course, because of the lower elevations. But even there they received measurable snow in late December and, as a result, many of the trails are still muddy and some still have patchy snow in the deep shadows.

Still, it’s been a great chance to try out some new trails. We’ve been aware of the growing number of non-system trails (i.e., trails that are not part of the Forest Service network) and have been interested in trying some. The Forest Service has also recognized that some of these trails should be brought into the system.

One of these is Aerie Trail which starts from the Boynton Canyon Trailhead and heads in a generally westerly direction, passes by the Fay Canyon Trailhead, then heads towards Doe Mountain. You can connect this trail with Cockscomb and make a nice loop. Although parts of the trail were exceptionally muddy, other sections were dry. These two trails can be combined into a short, ~6 mile loop.

Aerie-Cockscomb Loop
Aerie-Cockscomb Loop

Another loop we’ve done a few times is the Munds Wagon–Cow Pies–Overhang Loop. This loop has some amazing views from the top of the saddle and some great running sections on the Overhang section. Keep your eyes open for mountain bikers!

Mitten Ridge--BearPaw--Hangover
Mitten Ridge--BearPaw--Hangover

So many trails … so little time!

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Correction (10 March 2011): The USFS document referenced above does not include the Aerie Trail in their list of non-system trails.

30 Below Zero in Northern Arizona

Yes — it does get this cold in northern Arizona from time to time. Not often, though.

This morning (01 January 2011) the temperature fell to -30°F in Bellemont, Arizona, where the National Weather Service office is located. At the Flagstaff airport it reached -19°F and the Grand Canyon National Park airport fell to -28°F. Even colder was the automated site at Greenbase, located between Williams and Parks, which fell to an astounding -38°F.

The record for this date in Flagstaff is -21°F (1919) and the coldest temperature ever recorded in Arizona is -40°F at Hawley Lake (07 January 1971).

So what can you do when it is that cold outside? Well, you can toss a cup of boiling water in the air to see what happens!

Boiling water and frigid air. An interesting combination.
Boiling water and frigid air. An interesting combination.

Video here.

First, the boiling water flashes to steam then the vapor freezes into small ice and snow crystals. For some detailed explanation of how this happens, check out these two links:

Physics and Chemistry of Fresh Water

Which freezes faster, hot water or cold water?

By early afternoon, the temperature had risen to 25°F resulting in a range of 55°F in just a few hours!

Winter storm visits West Fork Oak Creek

A powerful winter storm moved across Arizona in the last week of the year with substantial snow falling in the high country and even some snow flurries in the desert. In West Fork Oak Creek about 8-12 inches of snow fell in the canyon followed by very cold temperatures. The result was spectacular. Snow was draped across all the trees and even clung to the massive sandstone walls of the canyon. Water dripping down some of the rock walls fell and froze on whatever lay beneath creating some amazing ice art.

A winter storm brings substantial snow and icy streams to the West Fork Oak Creek.
A winter storm brings substantial snow and icy streams to the West Fork Oak Creek.

Blue skies, brilliant red sandstone walls, and a fresh cover of snow in West Fork Oak Creek.
Blue skies, brilliant red sandstone walls, and a fresh cover of snow in West Fork Oak Creek.
Water dripping down the sandstone walls falls onto grass creating a work of ice art.
Water dripping down the sandstone walls falls onto grass creating a work of ice art.
Frozen blades of grass shimmer in the faint winter sun in West Fork Oak Creek.
Frozen blades of grass shimmer in the faint winter sun in West Fork Oak Creek.

Additional photographs of West Fork Oak Creek can be found at DavidBlanchardPhotography.com

Early winter ice and snow in Pumphouse Wash

Not too far south of Flagstaff lies Pumphouse Wash, a beautiful and narrow canyon that cuts through the Kaibab limestone and Coconino sandstone. The canyon drains from the upper elevations of the Mogollon Rim into the headwaters of Oak Creek. Most of the time Pumphouse Wash is dry with occasional pools but it can run very full during the spring snow melt and after heavy summer thunderstorms.

Shortly after a light snowfall in late November I took a walk up the wash hoping for some interesting photographic possibilities with snow and ice. I wasn’t disappointed. The first image shows a small pothole scoured by the erosive actions of the occasional flood waters. It was filled nearly to the brim with rain and snow melt, perfectly blended with leaves and pine needles, and then frozen in time.

A mixture of rain and snow melt with leaves and pine needles all frozen in time.
A mixture of rain and snow melt with leaves and pine needles all frozen in time.

Elsewhere in the canyon a sycamore tree had shed its leaves among the boulders of the wash and upon these leaves some snow was still in place.

Snow atop fallen sycamore leaves in Pumphouse Wash.
Snow atop fallen sycamore leaves in Pumphouse Wash.

Although it was a sunny day in northern Arizona very little of that sun was able to penetrate into the confined narrows of Pumphouse Wash. And I had the canyon to myself that day.