Saturday, September 16, 2017

Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Henderson NV

Not really a long hike, but it is a point of interest, if you happen to be in Henderson, and want to take a little walk.
From I-515/US95/US93, Exit at Galleria Street, and head approximately two miles east. The Bird Sanctuary will be on your left. There'll be a small sign indicating the turn. The address is 350 East Galleria Drive, in Henderson, of course.

It's surprisingly easy to not notice these ponds from the street, because of the relative flatness of this particular area, so watch for the sign.
These ponds are settling basins; reclaimed water slowly seeps into the ground here, to recharge the groundwater. So, obviously, these are not natural ponds. Still, they look nice, and provide migratory birds with a welcome resting area during their journey across the Mojave Desert.

Both paved and dirt paths run between the ponds, of which there are around nine of them. There are a couple of "blinds" to watch the waterfowl through, and a platform or two.
I didn't bring my longer telephoto, and my wife wasn't going to take a really long walk, but we did want to see this place. It's a potentially nice-place to walk and bird watch. It can also get really humid in the summer, because all of that open water evaporates really fast in the desert.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse, Rexburg, Idaho

I travelled up to Idaho Falls for the total eclipse of the sun. Me, my wife, and my Prius. We stayed two nights in Idaho Falls, then drove over to Rexburg on the morning of totality. Not really a hiking adventure, but it was highly cool. I may try to write a longer post, with more photos, at a later date.
The two total eclipse shots are crops of slightly compressed .jpegs, taken with a Nikon D3400, and a Tamron 70-300mm zoom, shot at 300mm. It was transferred to my phone using Nikon's Snapbridge, which resizes the files down to 2 gb. I then cropped using what ever basic photo editing software comes on a Samsung S5. It's possible I'll have a slightly sharper, and maybe better colored photo if I crop from the full-sized files. However, at the moment, I can'tell find that SD card. That's a story in itself.
Just tossed in one partial phase shot, from before totality. More details if I manage to do some editing. And I'll type on a laptop, which will be much quicker and easier.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cape Royal, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Short walk I took on the morning of Sunday, June 18. Cape Royal is at the end of the road that runs along the North Rim. Google maps says it's about a 46 minute drive to cover the 22.7 miles from the North Rim Lodge to the parking area. From the North Rim Lodge, you head north on AZ-67 about three miles, then make a right at the sign that points to Cape Royal and Point Imperial. Drive 5.4 miles more, then turn right (or stay right) towards Cape Royal. (The left would take you to Point Imperial). Continue about 14.2 miles to the end of the road.
There's a large parking area here. Vault toilets and a picnic area are also here.

From the parking area, there's a short, mostly paved trail, which the Park Service says is 1/4 mile, each way. I suspect if you do the detour on to the top of Angel's Window and the little area adjacent to the fenced overlook, it's more like 2/3 of a mile, roundtrip. It's also essentially flat, with no significant gain or loss of altitude along the way. In other words, yes, very short, but slightly longer than the distance implies.

I have a mixture of shots here, both from my cell phone and using my Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 lens on my Nikon D3200 dslr. The 3200 is a 3-4 year old model; they're up to D3500 now, I think. The 11-20mm is newer, an upgrade Tokina brought out to succeed their 11-16mm. This one gives you a more standard "upper" end, but still has the superwide 11mm at the shorter end, which gives you those nice, panoramic landscapes, and capture those nifty Milky Way shots from dark sky locations. It was something around $500 when I bought it, but I really wanted the wide field and f/2.8 speed.


At the same time, I'm still amazed by how good the cell phone shots look. This is a Samsung S5, which, again, is about a 4 year old model. It can't do anything other than wide to super-wide angle shots, but it does those well, as long as the lighting is sufficient. To compare, the slightly wider-aspect shots are from the cell phone, while the more standard-shaped shots were with the dslr.

I hadn't managed to make it to Cape Royal last year, so I really wanted to see it, this time. I had to do it quick, because I had to be somewhere else, soon. But, as I said, it's a short walk. And it was definitely worth it. I would agree with many who say it's the best view from the North Rim.
Given the shortness, you'll probably want to hit the other sights on this segment of road. There's a very unimpressive foundation of a Pueblo dwelling, just a bit further back down the road, and an overlook, nearby. That's literally a five minute stop

For a longer (but still not very long) hike, you'll also have passed the trailhead for Cape Final, which I did hike last year. That one was 4.4 miles roundtrip.

The other option in this area is to drive over to Point Imperial (which I did, the next day, on my way out of the park). There are also some trails that run on either side from Point Imperial, and on back towards the Kaibab Trail and the North Rim Lodge area. I may try to hit some of those other trails, next year, if I'm able to make it back here, again.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Grand Canyon National Park, North Rim Star Party

Saturday, June 17. This is my second year on the North Rim for the opening of the star party, there. Last year, I was just there for the first night. This year, I stayed two nights. At this rate, I"ll be staying for the whole thing by the time I'm 60. :D

The Grand Canyon Star Party is an annual event, that takes place on both rims of the Canyon. The North Rim is much quieter, however. There's just a small veranda on the back of the Lodge, with room for maybe a dozen telescopes (depending on how large the telescopes might be). There are a few hundred guests at the various motel and cabins on the North Rim, and a few hundred more in the single campground on that rim. Obviously, not all come out to look through the telescopes, so it's usually a manageable number, spread out among those dozen telescopes.

This may be one of my favorite events of the year, just because of the location, and the crowd. It's a large, but generally well-behaved and well-informed crowd. Obviously, I do a lot of public astronomy, and some nights go better than others. Some nights, you feel like you're talking to yourself, because you're describing the object to the people in line, but as soon as you finish talking, someone in line asks, "What are we looking at?" Just last night, I had someone ask me three times, "What are we looking at?" and I said, "Saturn," and, "This telescope is pointed at Saturn, the one over to the right is pointed at Jupiter, and the one to the left is on the moon?" But he kept asking what we were looking at. So I said, slower, louder, and more clearly, "This telescope is pointed at Saturn." And he asks, "So you're looking at a star?" "NO," I say, "This telescope is looking at Saturn." "So you're looking at a star?" "NO, WE ARE LOOKING AT SATURN."
To some extent, yes, it's my job to "interpret" the object to the level of knowledge of the viewer. But if you don't know that Saturn is a planet, then why bother asking what we're looking at? There's no possibility that you'll know what we're looking at, if a simple answer like, "Saturn" makes no sense to you. But that's at a different location, with a different crowd. That doesn't happen at the Grand Canyon.
Took a short walk around the North Rim area before the star party on Saturday. Did a few other short hikes, as well. But the main point of the trip is to volunteer with the telescope. People at these sorts of events really appreciate the views, and we have a lot of fun showing them things we can't see from home that we can see a dark sky location, like Grand Canyon National Park.
I picked up Jupiter about an hour before sunset on Saturday, and stayed on that until the sky got darker. Swung over to Saturn, once it cleared a tree. Then, once it was really dark, swung to the southern horizon for Omega Centauri, which is an amazing site, even from 36 degrees north latitude, if the sky is dark. It's far larger and star-studded than M13, the Hercules globular cluster, but lies so far south that you need a low, clear, dark southern horizon to have any chance to see, and, even then, you've only got a few hours during any given May or June night to catch it (or maybe really late in April or March!).
That's my C11 in the previous picture. Here, I'm just shooting over the Canyon. The airport lights are red and run along the horizon. There was also a fire, burning in the mountains beyond the South Rim. But the Milky Way still looked nice. In this shot, the flashing lights of an aircraft appear to be an arrow, shot by the centaur, Sagittarius. Probably around ISO 1600, f/2.8, and 15 or 20 seconds.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mojave National Preserve Spring 2017 Star Party, Memorial Day Weekend 2017

Although I was already off Xeloda (I'm a middle-aged male, so if you're curious, you can do a google search and get a pretty good idea of what I was being treated for) for several weeks when I took this trip, the side effects have not yet worn off. After going off, I am still very sensitive to sunlight. I also got a blister on each of my big toes (like an ingrown toenail). After brief search of side effects for that drug, I found it was also a common side effect.
I started this post to talk about the side effects, but decided against delving into so much detail. Suffice to say at this point that I still have not been able to do much hiking, but I remain confident that I'll be able to start that up later in the summer. For now, this is just about the night sky landscapes I shot, while at the Spring 2017 Mojave National Preserve star party. The Mojave National Preserve Conservancy and the Preserve administration co-sponsor these twice a year at the Black Canyon Group and Equestrian campground, near the Hole in the Wall visitor center and campground. Telescopes are provided by Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers.
All the Milky Way shots here are with my Tokina AT-X Pro DX, 11-20mm f2.8 lens, attached to my Nikon D3200. The camera is probably about four years old. Since it came out, Nikon has rolled out a D3300 and D3400, among others. So it's by far NOT the latest in dslr technology. It's possible newer cameras would have higher iso capabilities and better noise reduction technology applied. The lens, however, is relatively new, and brand new to me.
For those of you who aren't dslr shooters, the f2.8 means it's a pretty fast lens. the 11mm at the lower end means it's an extremely wide angle lens. It's not as wide a few as if I was shooting the FX format, but my camera is DX, meaning it's a smaller sensor that detects the picture. It would be about the equivalent of a 16mm lens on an old 35mm film camera.
I shot wide open, at f2.8, and 11mm to get the full breadth of the Milky Way. The first two shots were at ISO 1600 and 25 seconds. The latter two were at ISO 3200 and at 20 seconds, or less. These were shot as .jpegs, with the only processing being the resizing to smaller sized files, for faster loading. I'm using a relatively stable tripod, with no clock drive. The camera's just sitting on the tripod. If the shot were blown up enough, you'd see some star trailing. However, at reasonable computer sizes, the shot looks pretty clear. I could probably have exposed for nearly a minute with relatively minimal trailing. Definitely could have shot 30 seconds.
The point of this is, with this lens and not the latest camera set up, anyone can get some pretty interesting astrophotographs. Cameras are sensitive enough to get Milky Way shots that would have taken real practice and processing, not so long ago. Play around with different foreground lighting and framing, different exposure lengths, etc., and you can definitely get shots worth sharing.

The first two shots are of the central Milky Way, near Scorpios and Sagittarius. The third is of the northern Milky Way, near Cygnus and Lyra. The fourth was to the northwest. The Las Vegas light dome is incredibly obvious in that direction.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hike 2017.015 -- Antelope Valley California Poppy State Reserve

A combination of my medical condition and the various family obligations I have had over the past few months have essentially eliminated my hiking opportunities. I'm figuring maybe in late-May, I'll be starting a more regular regimen of hiking.

Other than the occasional walk around developed parks or Griffith Park, this was my last adventure. It was late March, and the poppies were blooming nicely. They were extremely thick in some areas of the Reserve, but spotty or non-existent in others. For this shot, I used my phone's camera. I had recently read an article in Outdoor Photographer about how ultra wide lenses were best for immersing yourself into the scene: Get low and right into the action. So this, I did. I was very happy with the result.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hike 2017.008 -- Lower Rubio Canyon and Lower Little Santa Anita Canyon

Hike Monday, February 20. As I type this, I'm sitting at a PC in the waiting area of Toyota of Pasadena. Basically, the only time I both have a plethora of free time and access to my blog is when I'm waiting for my car to be serviced. Unfortunately, I had not yet uploaded any other hike photos besides this one, so this is the only one I can write about, today.
It's basically the same hike as the last one I posted, except cloudier. On that day, in fact, it was so cloudy that I decided it would not be worth it to continue to the Thalehaha Falls overlook, because I wasn't sure if the visibility would extend even from the overlook to the falls.

The shot below, of Ribbon Rock and Moss Grotto falls, shows that idea. No, I'm not using a fog filter. Yes, it was that foggy. So I turned around, there.

Ironically, by the time I got back to the trailhead, the fog was already lifting. Likely, I would have been able to see Thalehaha. Nonetheless, I turned around that day, and returned a bit later, as the previous post shows.
I like foggy days. It makes even familiar things look different, and the clouds just seem to absorb the sound, so it's quiet. This hike was no exception.

Yet, the hike was over, too soon. It's less than two miles, roundtrip. I wanted to do another hike. I'm not sure why, but, apparently (as I look over these pictures), I settled on Little Santa Anita Canyon. That's the trail that heads up to Mount Wilson. The whole thing is about eight miles each way. Haven't walked the length of that in a couple of years, now. Maybe this summer, again.
Of course, I had no intention of going that far, today. I was mostly just thinking of going to First Water. That's a roughly three mile roundtrip. There's a pretty good climb in altitude involved in that, because they had to reroute the trail a number of years ago. It goes high around a slide area, then descends back down, again.

On this day, they prospect of the gain just didn't appeal to me. Also, I got diverted by a thought.
I've probably hiked this trail dozens of time. On days when the water is running high, you can see several waterfalls down in Little Santa Anita Canyon. I wondered if there was a reasonable way down there.

I also noticed that there's a little bit of a "peninsula" that drops down from the main trail, shortly after passing the dam. There's a use trail that follows down there, but I had never walked it, before. On this day, I finally did.

I followed the trail along the ridge of the peninsula, to its end. By the time I got to what seemed to be the last dropoff, I was only about fifty feet above the canyon, maybe less. But, from there, the drop looked steep. I didn't have the motivation to try to make it down there, concerned about maybe slipping and not being able to get back up. But it was a fun diversion.
Obviously, I was not the first person to come this way. In fact, there's actually a little memorial plaque along the way.

After I got back home (following my hike), I goggled the name on the plaque, and got a hit on "Find a Grave." The description of the plaque's location didn't really align with reality, but perhaps that was their intent.
The rest of these shots are from that hike, on the way out to the end of the point, and back to the trailhead. Roughly five miles for the entire day's hiking. About three miles for my Little Santa Anita Canyon section.

One of these days, I may try going further down, but probably not. As I get older, I get less willing to take actual risks on my hikes. I know I'm not going to get a life-changing photo out of the effort, so I don't want to risk a life changing fall!
I would also like to be able to walk upstream from canyon-bottom level, from the dam on up. But I don't think that's possible.

I've got a disturbing number of hikes I haven't blogged this year. I thought, given my slower hiking pace, I'd be doing better. But my work schedule and other obligations are keeping me from having the time to resize and upload photos, then actually do the write-ups.

I do have a picture from the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, one of my more recent hikes. It was a pretty good year out there this year, but the bloom is now largely over. Still, I hope to be able to share some of those hikes, with you. Hopefully, soon.
Overall, the last few months have been inconvenient, but not as bad as feared. The oral chemo I've been on has made me ridiculously sensitive to sunlight, so I am really leery about hiking in the sun. Even with a floppy hat and long sleeved shirts, my skin can get "burned" and "splotched," right through the shirt. The skin peels around my nose and forehead, despite spf 30 and the floppy hat. So as the days get longer and the sun gets higher during the day, I've been hiking less and less.

The pills also have an unpredictable effect on my bowel movements, which makes me reluctant to hike where I don't have a good alternative for relieving myself. That's limited my hiking a great deal. Nonetheless, the side effects overall have not been too bad. I still have plenty of hair on my head, and I haven't vomited even once. I did experience nausea and stomach discomfort a few times, but, compared to what others experience, especially those on intravenous, I have nothing to complain about.
I start my final round next Thursday. A few weeks after that is the Mojave National Preserve Star Party. Not sure if I'll try hiking or not on that trip, but I certainly do hope so.

June is the Grand Canyon Star Party. I hope to spend the first few days of that on the North Rim. I went last year (just for one night), and had a blast. But it was a heck of a long drive home. So, this year, I'm hoping to enjoy two nights on the Rim, and stop in Las Vegas on the way home. That'll break the drive up, nicely. Anyway, that's my late spring plan. We'll see how this plays out.