Sunday, August 12, 2018

Alpine Pond, Sunset and Campground Trails, Cedar Breaks National Monument UT, July 14, 2018

Just about one month since I hiked here. This was part two of a two night trip into southern Utah. On the first afternoon, I arrived in Zion and just hung around the Watchman Campground and hiked the Watchman trail, twice. The next day, I headed up to Cedar Breaks, with the intent of doing some hiking, then volunteering for the star party (they have one every Saturday night, in the summer).

Despite my any visits here, previously, I had never actually camped at Cedar Breaks. I always just stayed in a motel down in Cedar City, an easy half-hour drive down the mountain. But because I was an official NPS volunteer, they were willing to put me up in a campsite.

Had to do some hiking before checking in, though, since I arrived before check-in time. I decided to hike the Alpine Pond trail, which I had done before, but not on my trip, the previous month. It may not be until the Colorado Columbines over the red amphitheater rocks that any of the shots are actually from the Alpine Loop trail. Also, the sunflower field was from a large meadow that's east of the trail. I walked back from the Alpine Pond trailhead to the Point Supreme Trailhead via the road, because I wanted to be on the correct side (for lighting purposes) for those sunflowers.
My photos were organized by flower type, however, so the first few shots were not from that hike, but from one of the others.

I went through my shots and organized by flower type, so the order is lost and I can't tell you for sure on which of the three short trails I walked that I saw each of these flowers. The exception would be the large meadow of sunflowers, which was just west of the main road that passes through the monument.
The flowers were obviously blooming in greater number and variety than the previous month, was is to be expected. The week was there this time was supposed to be their "Wildflower Festival," which presumably is scheduled for just such a consideration (though, admittedly, I did not hike the Alpine Loop trail, last time. Still, it seemed like the flower variety was pretty limited on the parts I could see, including the large meadow. The most prominent flower that time was the Aspen bell, which does not stand out like the sunflowers, to be sure.
After my hike, I was able to check in. I forget the site number, but it overlooked another large meadow, to its east.

It's a nice little campground, though it looks like some construction is underway. I didn't ask anyone what it was about.

The sites are sufficiently spaced, though I think there's only one flush toilet and shower per gender. It was pretty empty the night I was there, so that wasn't an issue. If the place is fully booked, that might be an issue.

A nice engineered feature of the campsites here is that you pitch your tent on worn river pebbles, so any water that does fall on your tent drains down rather than potentially running between your tent and the ground, so that helps keep you dry if it rains, which it did, heavily, while I was there.

The regular nightly fee of $24 is up a few dollars from last year, and relatively expensive for a small park. On the other hand, it includes a shower, which could otherwise cost more than a few dollars each, if you had to go elsewhere for a shower. That was a lifesaver for me, considering how hot and humid the previously night down in Zion had been.
Maybe an hour or so after getting my tent pitch, some pretty serious rain came down. I stayed completely dry, however.

I had bought a new tent about a month previous, since I had ambitions for perhaps a few more camping trips this year than last year, and my old tent, purchased from Sears, in the late 1980s, was showing its age. I had serious doubts as to how it would hold up in the rain.
Bought the new tent during REI's "friends and family" Memorial Day sale, although I'm starting to think I probably could have gotten it for less, even without the sale and coupon, had I bought it from elsewhere. At any rate, it's an ALPS Mountaineering Meramac 3 tent. The selling point for me was the oversized shock cords, and, of course, the use of clips rather than a sleeve for the shock cords.

There's nothing revolutionary about that, but it was a step above what I had. Much easier for one person to pitch the tent, that way.
The tent has a large amount of mesh on the walls, so it gives you no privacy without the fly. If it's fair weather and you're just trying to keep the creepy crawlies off of you, you can go without the fly. With rain likely as I set up, of course I used the fly.

Lots of breathing space between the fly and the tent, so I think this would breath decently. Nice long reach of the fly, to keep the water off the tent body. I also bought the fitted "footprint," to keep the tent floor off the dirt.

I was completely dry inside, after a multiple hour deluge of monsoonal moisture.
Unfortunately, the clouds never really dissipated after the rain, so even when the rain stopped, it seemed likely that no astronomy was going to happen that night. To be safe, I did drive my car with my telescope the short 1/2 mile or so to the visitor center, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't need it.

Instead, I used the time to hike the Campground and Sunset trails. Actually, I think there are two Campground trails, because one is paved and presumably ADA compliant, while the other is single-track, and has steeper grades. The single track also takes you further from the road, so that's nice. The nice view of what I assume are common yarrow were from that hike. There was also a large boulder, with hollows on the top that filled with water. A bird was bathing in it. It was a pretty sight, but my photographs did not do it justice.
Once at Sunset Point, I spent some serious time, on the chance that maybe the sun would peek under the clouds and give us some magic. That did not happen.

I did get to chat with several interesting individuals who also watched for sunset. I learned some about various cameras, as well. That was a nice plus to the trip.
Once the sun was well below the horizon, and whatever colors we were going to get were passed, I walked back to my car, then drove back to my campsite. Used my new headlamp on occasion, which was another nice plus.

Went to bed under clouds. Got up at about 3:30am, to pee. Zipped out of the tent, and was greeted by a wonderfully dark and clear sky. So I did my business, then hopped back in the car to drive back to the visitor center parking lot. There were too many trees, and the light from the restroom was too bright to take night sky shots from the campground.

Of course, I knew I was racing the sunrise, so I didn't bother with trying a lot of different lenses. I basically just shot at ISO 1600 and f/2.8. Don't remember if 20 or 30 seconds. And even with that, after three or four shots, clearly, the horizon was getting brighter.
They came out okay, though a little vignetted (meaning the lens shield seems to be impinging on the corners of the frame). That happens if I'm not careful about making sure the lens shield is completely mounted, so that might be it.
These weren't the shots I was planning for. I was actually thinking I might hike out to Ramparts Overlook and get some shots of Bristlecone pines, silhouetted against the Milky Way. But I knew I had no chance at getting any significant hiking in before the dawn.
Once the horizon got sufficiently bright that I figured I had no chance at getting serious Milky Way without getting an overly bright horizon, I packed it up and drove back to my campsite.

It was still only about 4:30am, local time. But I was awake, so I decided to break camp in the dark. Hopefully, I did not disturb my neighbors.
The early start meant I could get back to the LA area by early afternoon, and, not insignificantly, beat at least some of the Las Vegas to LA traffic you get on any given Sunday. Major plus.

Despite not getting a chance to do any astronomy outreach, I thought this trip was a good one. I got some interesting shots in Zion, the night before. I got to stay at the Point Supreme campground, to see how I liked it (I liked it a lot). And I got to do some new hikes, short though they were. Got some nice conversations along the way, too.
There were other destinations nearby that I thought I might visit that I didn't have time for. However, Cedar Breaks is pretty near by, and I may be able to return later in the year. Not 100 percent sure, though, since I have tentative plans for a trip to eastern Utah during the time when I had been visiting the Cedar City area for the aspen. Anyway, we'll see.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Watchman Trail, Zion National Park, UT, July 13, 2018

Drove up from the LA area to Zion on Friday, July 13. This was mainly because of the planned public star party at Cedar Breaks scheduled for the next day, but also because a friend had taken a picture of the Milky Way, rising above the Watchman area back in late winter, and I wanted to get my own!
There was serious monsoon weather all over the Southwest. I hit a heavy downpour as I approached the Valley Wells visitor center (I-15, between Baker and Primm, near Cima Road). All of the rest areas between Las Vegas and Los Angeles had been closed for an annoyingly long period of time, but, finally, both northbound rest areas were open, as was southbound Valley Wells. I was sort of looking forward to stopping there for the first time in what seemed like a year, but the downpour was serious enough that I drove on.

My only stops that day were at Barstow and St. George. Well, and La Verkin. I realized after I left home I didn't have a towel, so I stopped at the Family General Store, where Utah Highway 9 makes the sharp right turn, out of town, and begins an incline, up towards Virgin. I knew there was a )free) shower in the Cedar Breaks campground that I was staying at the next day, and I was pretty sure I was going to get pretty sweaty from my hiking, tonight, and could really use a shower, tomorrow.

There had been some pretty serious downpours around Zion earlier in the week and as I drove through the Gateway town of Springdale, there was plenty of evidence of dirt having been pushed off the road. I also saw that parking in town was no longer free. I pulled into one lot just to check the price: Flat $20 for the lot nearest the entrance. I don't know if the other lots or along the street have different prices, but $20 seemed kind of steep. If it costs almost as much to park as to enter, I figure more people will try to enter and find parking in the limited area between the gate and Canyon Junction. In any event, my arrival this day was late enough that it wasn't an issue. Only a few cars in front of me, and I had a campground, and the guaranteed parking spot that came with it.
Pitched my tent, then debated my options. I had been toying with the idea of a night ascent of Angels Landing, but the shuttle runs late enough that I'd have had to walk several miles back on the road to get back to my campsite. Also, it was really dark, upcanyon, and I didn't want to get stuck in a downpour. So then it was between scouting the Pa'Rus trail or the Watchman Trail, for where I might hope to set up my camera for some skyscapes. I went with the Watchman.
Yeah, it was hot, and humid, and not very pleasant. But the view was nice. It's supposed to be about 3.3 miles, roundtrip, though I'm not sure where they measure it from. I'm sure it's an extra mile or mile-and-a-half or so longer if you're starting from the Watchman Campground.

As with my Arch Rock hike of the previous month, I got to where I though I might take some shots then pulled out my phone and launched my planetarium software, to see where the Milky Way would be, later that night. Of course, this was pretty speculative, since, at the time, it was pretty cloudy, and getting cloudier.

Later that night, it did seem to clear, so I returned on this hike after dark, with my headlamp. It worked fine. In fact, I discovered that the spiders in Zion have a very reflective set of eyes, and you could see the spider eyes even if the spider was hiding under rocks. I also saw plenty of beetles, a scorpion, and assorted other insect life. Oh, yes, I also ran into four deer, who didn't know what to make of me. Hopefully, they all got safely off the trail, once they finally did decided to move.
There's quite a bit of ambient light hitting the cliffs of Zion from the campground, visitor center, and Springdale. I kept the exposures relatively short so as not to overexpose the clouds or the foreground. Not all that many stars to see, unfortunately. But it was still a nice diversion, in advance of what I hoped would be a star party, the next night, at Cedar Breaks.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mount Pinos, Los Pades National Forest, July 4, 2018

This from way back on the Fourth of July. Day off, and I thought perhaps I could still catch the Iris bloom at the meadow near the parking area at the end of the road.
Although I first "discovered" this meadow in mid-July 2010, I knew this was a relatively dry and warm winter, so I figured the bloom would be earlier. Similarly, I had also been here in late June one year, and even then, the bloom was not as thick as my first visit. So I know there's a lot of variability, depending, I assume on the precipitation, how cold the winter was, how quickly the summer heats up and so forth.
This year, I felt that the iris density as definitely still not as much as my first visit, and spent blooms seemed to outnumber active blooms. However, at least at the northern end, the iris bloomed relatively thick.
I took a lot of pictures in the meadow, many with the busy swallowtail butterflies, that see to like the iris. I walked carefully, trying to minimize my impact on the flowers. Then I retreated and walked the short trail to Mount Pinos' "summit."

The hike there is not particular steep or interesting. It's mostly flat. But there are several meadows with plenty of mariposa lilies. This is probably the most reliable place I've been to for finding this flower. As you can see, some look more purple-tinged than others.
Indian paintbrush is the other most common flower on this route. They were not as thick as on previous hikes in the area, but still plentiful.

It's an easy two miles or so to the summit. From there, there's the possibility of continuing on, to Mount Abel (or other destinations, but that's the one I'd been to, in the past). However, I needed to get back reasonably early, for family purposes. So I spent only about fifteen minutes around the overlook, snapping pictures and enjoying the rest bit, then returned the way I came.
As is my habit, I stopped at the Pilot/Flying J truck stop, which is right of I-15. There used to be a Denny's there but it was closed. The truck stop's grill and fountain drink dispensers were also down (the latter due to being out of C02). It seemed like a hell of a way to be prepared for the Fourth of July, but maybe this stop is just not that busy, any more.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Seven Magic Mountains, Jean/Sloan, Nevada

When I first saw the "Seven Magic Mountains" signs along I-15, with their (what I call) "recreational brown" background, I thought that perhaps a new hiking area had been developed. Only later, I discovered that the neon-colored rocks were the mountains, and the "hike" would be a few hundred yards off the freeway. It's east of I-15, about five miles north of the Jean exit, and seven miles south of the Sloan exit.

This bit of "public art" has been standing since May 2016. Originally intended to be displayed for two years, its stay has been extended through the end of 2018, and may stay longer.
I'm actually not a fan of rock standing, in general. In fact, I think it absolutely detracts from the sense of place when people feel compelled to leave evidence of their passing, in the form of a pile of rocks. I kind of hate what has happened at Burbank Peak, for example.

But I suppose if you're going to do a bright, random pile of rocks, sure, why not? It's a big desert, and if I want to ignore them, I can drive on by, looking the other way.
However, as I drive I-15 on the way to or through Las Vegas quite frequently, and occasionally do use the casino in Jean as a bathroom break, I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually actually stop here.

On this Friday, I had gotten a reasonably early start, so traffic wasn't an issue. Also, the winds were whipping, so folks weren't staying too long. Well, sure, you still have plenty of people trying to get selfie and expressive poses in front of the rocks, but it wasn't obnoxiously crowded, as I had seen, in the past.
I have to admit, once I was standing there, yeah, the colorful rocks were kind of cool. And if I was so inclined, maybe a skyscape shot from there might look interesting (although the website says no tripods are allowed onsite, so that wouldn't be possible, anyway). As it was, I just snapped some cell phone shots, stretched my lets for about fifteen minutes, then continued on my way.

Anyway, I'm several hiking events behind in my posts, so I figured I'd get this one up, today. More to follow soon, hopefully!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, June 7, 2018

For having visited Joshua Tree as often as I have, I somehow managed never to make it to Arch Rock. Arch Rock, as the name implies, is a rock arch. Unlike most arches (that I am aware of), this one is composed of granite. However, for whatever reason, Joshua Tree granites are often pretty crumbly, which is, I assume, how this arch formed.
Just a few weeks ago, I came across a Milky Way shot with Arch Rock, and decided that I would have to not only visit this place, but visit it at night, with the summer Milky Way as a backdrop. This last weekend was going to be my chance: I was coming to the area for some astronomy outreach at Sky's the Limit, a private observatory just outside the North Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park (literally, just outside, as it is surrounded on two sides by the park boundary). I could then drive up here after the event.
Of course, I wanted to see the place in daylight, first to make sure my plan was feasible.

The trailhead for Arch Rock is within White Tanks campground. It's a small, 15-site campsite, with vault toilets but no running water, and no ability to make advanced reservations. Well since I couldn't guarantee myself a spot there, I had to reserve a motel room. The Motel 6 in Twentynine Palms was my choice, as it's relatively cheap, and quite close to the North Entrance.
So I checked into my motel room in the mid-afternoon, after coming through a brief but tremendous downpour, that had mud and standing water across parts of Highway 62. Drove to the campground, which is on Pinto Basin Road. From the North Entrance, you drive about five miles, then make a left at the road that goes all the way to Cottonwood Springs, and I-10. But you only need to drive a little over 2 1/2 miles to get there. You'll pass Belle Campground on your left, first. Then there's Twin Tanks backcountry trailhead, on your right. A half mile after that, White Tanks Campground is on your left.
If it's between 7am and 10pm, you can drive into the campsite and park as a day user in a small lot across from the trailhead, which is near site #9. Otherwise, you should park off, but adjacent to, the main road, at the entrance to the highway. There's room for a few cars just east of the turnoff, and room for several more cars a bit further east. Alternatively, it's only about 1/2 mile past the large, paved lot that's at the Twin Tanks backcountry trailhead.
From the trailhead, it's an easy 1/2 mile to the arch. Take care to stay on the actual trail, as use trails cut all over the area, and the desert is slow to heal from these detours.

At the arch, I took a few cell phone shots from both sides of the arch, then launched my planetarium app (Sky Safari 5 Premium) so I could see where the Milky Way would be later that night. I determined that, yes, I could manage a shot of some interest later that night.
Came back around 10:30pm, parked outside the campground and walked in, then took about 30 shots around the arch, mostly from just a few vantage points, but with a couple of different lenses and different ISO and exposure times. The fastest ISO I used was 6400, which looks okay at laptop computer screen size, but shows significant grain very quickly, if you zoom in. With very wide angle lenses, I shot between 15 and 30 seconds. Again, at computer-screen sizes, even up to 30 seconds with the Tokina 11-20mm zoom shows pretty sharp, untrailed stars. With the 14mm Sigma, I shot only up to 20 seconds.

I wore a cheap headlamp to light the way during my walk, and the red light function of the headlamp, handheld, to quickly "paint" the arch for foreground illumination in some of the pictures.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Henninger Flats, Angeles National Forest, CA 6-29-2018

This was back on Friday, June 29. Had a late start to my day, so only managed about eight miles roundtrip. Started from Altadena Drive, near the entrance to the Nature Center. That adds probably 1.5 miles each way to the distance from Pinecrest, which I think is supposed to be 2.7 miles. So figure a little over four miles, each way. Also, because I wanted to make sure I broke 200 floors of climbing for the day, I walked somewhat past Henninger, then walked the dirt road around the flats to the west end, so I'm pretty confident I broke 8 miles for the day.
Because I have had a lot less time for hiking the past few years than I have in the past, this makes it one of my longer walks in a while. It did feel good to get some mileage on my feet.
Although I brought my dslr, I only shot with my cell phone. I got a new one, a Samsung S9. My old one was an S5, so I figured I was due. Haven't read the instructions, so I'm sure I'm not getting the most out of it. But the camera seems pretty good. You can definitely get some decent closeups.
It's a little late at this altitude for wildflowers. The sunflowers were only scattered. The most numerous flower was just the drab white of California buckwheat. Some patches of phlox near the top, as well as some pearly everlasting, just at and past Henninger. A few rather pale lupine, also near the top. Some number of fragrant Spanish broom. And a flower that came in bunches of yellow, though I'm not sure which one it is.
Oh, and I see the photo of phacelia, which again was mostly only near Henninger. I also see a photo of sticky monkey flower. They were also pretty common.
Along the way up, I saw several signs for something called the "Henninger Flats Project." My best guess is that this is the installation of a few water tanks above Henninger.






It may not be obvious from this shot's display, but it looked like a snake crossed here.
Saw a few deer around Henninger, as well.
A view of Mount Harvard, from just west of Henninger. I'm probably too late, temperature-wise, for a hike to Mount Wilson.

Ah, some evening primrose, which I saw several of, along the way.

I've had a few other hikes since last I posted. Will need to work on getting those blogged and illustrated.