New Years winter storm

A band of clouds envelops the San Francisco Peaks.

A very cold storm system moved across the southwestern states on the last day of 2018 bringing snow to both the usual locations but in the lower elevations and the desert as well.

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.

Clouds and fog clear away shortly after sunrise to reveal the San Francisco Peaks.
Clouds and fog clear away shortly after sunrise to reveal the San Francisco Peaks.

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.

Rime ice glows in morning sunshine.
Rime ice glows in morning sunshine.

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.

Natural ice sculptures in West Fork Oak Creek.
Natural ice sculptures in West Fork Oak Creek.
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.
West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.

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.

Sunlight reflected off canyon walls and then reflected again on the ice.
Sunlight reflected off canyon walls and then reflected again on the ice.
West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.

On the way up the canyon we had not run into any other hikers. What a treat!

Spring Snow—2018 edition

Spring snow. It seems to happen fairly often around here. We just had a May storm that dropped snow on the new crab apple blossoms. I’ve written similar blogs before in 2014 and 2015 and there have been other events in recent years.

The NWS recently posted a tweet that shows 54 years out of 118 (46%) have had snow in May. So—not rare at all. Quite pretty, in fact.

Here are a few images of the snow sitting on crab apple and forsythia blossoms plus the not-quite-blooming iris.

Snow and crab apple blossoms.
Snow and crab apple blossoms.
Snow and forsythia blossoms.
Snow and forsythia blossoms.
New snow on iris.
New snow on iris.

Most of the snow was gone by afternoon. The next morning we did a trail run up Schultz Creek Trail. It’s a shady location and there were still patches of snow. After many weeks of running on dry, dusty trails the damp trail that morning was fun.

Trail run on Schultz Creek Trail.
Trail run on Schultz Creek Trail.

Big snow on the peaks

Clouds swirl around the snow covered Kendrick Peak.
Clouds swirl around the snow covered Kendrick Peak.
Sunset colors illuminate the Kachina Peaks.
Sunset colors illuminate the Kachina Peaks.

After five days of snow the skies finally cleared showing several feet of new snow on the peaks of northern Arizona. Late afternoon shadows race across the meadows of Brannigan Park while sunlight continues to illuminate the high peaks.

Winter has arrived in West Fork Oak Creek Canyon

After a pair of back-to-back snow storms followed by sub-zero (°F) overnight temperatures we decided it was time to visit West Fork Oak Creek Canyon and see how the ice was developing.

As anyone who has hiked in this canyon knows, the trail crosses the creek more than a dozen times before the end of the maintained trail. In the summer it’s a simple matter of either stepping on the stones or just walking in the water. Getting wet is not an option in the winter leaving the stepping stones or walking on the ice if it is safe.

Most of the crossings we encountered had a mixture of stones and thick ice and we had no trouble crossing the stream. For additional traction we were using our Kahtoola microspikes.

Icy walk along West Fork Oak Creek.
Icy walk along West Fork Oak Creek.

The very cold temperatures and patches of open water resulted in surface hoar (i.e., fern-like ice crystals directly deposited on snow, ice or already frozen surfaces) developing and creating some interesting textures.

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