The weather across much of the country has been very dramatic the past few days with snow storms, ice storms, strong winds, and brutal cold. Across Arizona we experienced exceptionally cold weather as the Arctic air mass settled in across the area. Strong northeast winds at the surface and aloft helped to drive the cold air across the Rocky Mountain barrier and deep into the southwest.
The northeast winds also created some fantastic wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks, located to the north of Flagstaff. Normally, strong southwest winds roll across the Peaks and the best wave clouds are located to the northeast but this wind reversal resulted in a reversal of the wave clouds as well.
Even more interesting were the clouds that were forming just below the tops of the peaks. Strong winds from the northeast drove cold air into the Inner Basin on the east side then up and over the top of the peaks. As the air ascended thin wispy clouds would form. Just as quicky the air descended on the southwest slopes and the clouds evaporated.
The rapidly changing clouds and detailed structure were fascinating to watch. A time-lapse movie clearly shows this incredible dance of the clouds as it moves across the Peaks.
Fall has arrived in northern Arizona and the leave are turning colors and, in some cases, have already fallen. We went on a mountain bike ride on one of our favorite section of the Arizona Trail the other day so that we could view the aspen trees in their autumn glory. A cold front had passed through a day earlier and it was quite cold that morning with temperatures only in the upper 30s. So we bundled up with a few extra layers, caps and gloves, and off we went.
The only problem was that the rain from a few days earlier had left the trails pretty muddy and with the cool weather they had not dried yet. Suddenly we found our tires and bikes caked with mud. Eventually it became too difficult to ride as the mud accumulated on the tires, in the brakes, derailleurs, and anywhere else mud can collect. And that’s a lot of places!
So we abandoned the ride to return another day. Still, it was a pleasant enough day with plenty of color to view in the aspen trees in Flagstaff at 8000 feet and 38 degrees — especially with the new snow on the San Francisco Peaks.
Did you get a chance to view the Perseid meteor shower this year? It peaked on the evening of August 12-13 but meteors were visible for many days preceding the peak. With the moon just a few days past new and setting early the skies were very dark for optimal viewing. A maximum rate of more than 100 meteors per hour has been reported with this years event. This compares with a more typical maximum rate of about 50-80 per hour. So this was a better than average event with higher numbers as well as very dark skies.
But to make things even better there was a three-way planetary conjunction taking place at the same time. In the western sky after sunset an observer could see the planets Venus, Mars, and Saturn close together along with the crescent moon.
For the meteors, I used a 28mm wide angle lens, ISO 3200, f/4.0, and 30s exposures. I set the camera to continuous shooting mode and let it run until the card filled a few hours later. I then reclined on a lounge chair with a sleeping bag draped over me.
Even though I saw a large number of meteors with my eyes — and some of them were spectacular long-path events with residual debris trails — the camera captured far fewer because the field of view of even a wide angle is not wide enough to view the entire sky
A previous post talked about mountain biking in Flagstaff along the high elevation sections of the Arizona Trail. Not too far away is another section of the Arizona Trail — this time at an elevation of about 6500 feet. The vegetation is different — and quite green because of all the rain lately — and the trail is more open.
This particular section of the Arizona Trail starts along Old Walnut Canyon Road on the north boundary of Walnut Canyon National Monument. It travels through Ponderosa Pine then moves into Pinyon-Juniper with wide open vistas. There are old homesteads along the trail with collapsed buildings and old toys in what was once someones yard.