Monday, July 20, 2020

More Comet NEOWISE c/2020 F4

One of my more detailed single images from the current apparition. I took this one on Saturday night (July 18), about 9:38pm, on Las Vegas Blvd, way north, about 6 miles "north" of U.S. 93. U.S. 93 is "The Great Basin Highway." It leaves I-15 and heads up towards Caliente, Alamo, and, eventually, near Great Basin National Park. Meanwhile, I-15 continues northeast, towards Mesquite, St. George, etc. There's a Love's truck stop at this intersection. From past experience, I knew there used to be a frontage road that paralleled I-15 from here and continued to the northeast. It's changed since my last drive, so now the road is more nicely paved. After about six miles, a dirt road crosses the paved road, and there was a wide clearing on right side of Las Vegas Blvd, that probably gets used for camping and what not. I think this is the street view from Google. Stopped there, and gazed and photographed.

Inexplicably, someone in a pickup truck pulled off about fifteen minutes after we did, and idled about twenty yards behind me, with his headlights on. Didn't seem to affect the photos much, but definitely affects your night vision. I don't understand how clueless people can be.

I brought my Bushnell "Astroscan" knock-off (a 4 1/2" rich field reflector, shaped like a pear) and 8x42 binoculars, and my Nikon D750. Astronomical twilight ended around 9:30pm, so I aimed to be there at "maximum darkness," but with the comet at least somewhat high. The first picture posted was taken at about 9:38pm. The second, at about 9:16pm. Both shot at ISO 1600 with my Nikon D750. First shot is with an 85mm lens at f/2, 13 seconds. The second in the post was with a 20mm lens at f/2, 10 seconds. Modest Lightroom processing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Comet NEOWISE c/2020 F4

Some recent pictures I've taken, not in chronological order. The first was from Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 33 Hole Picnic area, on Saturday, July 11. Early in the morning, when the comet was to the northeast before sunrise.
Monday, July 13, from about one mile up Mount Disappointment Road, Forest Service Road 2N57. By the 13th, the comet was visible in the evening sky. Mount Disappointment Road is where I started my last blogged hike, to San Gabriel Peak. The road is for authorized vehicles, only. But you can walk or bike up it. I walked. This put me several hundred feet above Red Box Junction, with a clear view to the northwest, where the comet was. It stayed somewhat left (west) of Josephine Peak.

I hiked up there once more, a few days later. Haven't posted any pics from that trip, yet. Might get around to that, later.
This one was Friday, July 10, from Angeles Crest Highway at the Silver Moccasin Trailhead. It was another early morning shot and my first view of NEOWISE. I was just looking for somewhere with northeast visibility. This one worked pretty well, although the ridge in that direction was somewhat higher than me.

All of the preceding shots were with my Nikon D750 and my Sigma 105mm macro. That's just my longest fixed-focal length lens, and it's relatively fast. However, given the photography situation, with a bright sky, speed was really not necessary. So, for my last shot, I used a Tamron 70-300 zoom, with a maximum aperture of f/5.6, at 300mm.
This last one was from my front porch. Tuesday, July 14. Unlike the other ones, I used my Nikon D3400. It's a crop sensor, so it gives more magnification for any given lens. Also, since it's a crop sensor, the vignetting (darkening corners) I got in my other pictures is less of an issue on this one.

I shot most of these at ISO 1600 Because of the bright sky, the longest exposure I used was about eight seconds, and I'd bet none of the ones I'm posting were longer than 6 seconds.

Comet NEOWISE is currently visible after sunset, to the northwest. You need a clear horizon. Dark skies will let you see more, and the comet will be naked eye, but not necessarily super obvious. It's currently setting about 9:30pm -10pm local time. Earlier if you have a rise to your northwest. With binoculars, a tail should be evident, even from a moderately light polluted location. With binoculars, your view should look somewhat like the photographs. Naked eye, it's more smudge-like. But still cool, if you enjoy this sort of thing!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

San Gabriel Peak from Near Red Box Junction

Hiked Friday, July 3

My holiday weekend started early, on Friday. Had only partially formulated idea of which hike I might take. Didn't leave home until mid-afternoon, but this hike was on my mind, as one I had done after work on a couple of occasions, so I knew it wouldn't take long, but might have a nice view at the top.
My first time up was blogged here. A later trip was blogged here. The mostly identical hike to Mount Disappointment is here.

One thing I definitely remember from my first time up was the plethora of poodle dog flowers, which, I later learned, are often the first plant to colonize after a fire. I think this area burned as part of the massive "Station Fire," of 2009. Well, by 2011 (my first hike here), there were still plenty of snags (burned but standing tree stumps), and but Spanish broom (a highly invasive exotic) and poodle dog bush (endemic, but also very opportunistic) was thick.

This time around, I saw no poodle dog bush. Looks like it has all been succeeded by other plants. Spanish broom was still common around Mt. Disappointment, however.
Although the start of this trail is crazy steep and pretty narrow, I knew the parking area was relatively small, and not as heavily used as the one further up Red Box Road. That one provides an alternate (and easier) way up to San Gabriel Peak and Mount Disappointment, but is mainly useful for getting "easily" to Mount Lowe. But, as noted earlier, it's more heavily used. It also requires a section through a tunnel, which doesn't seem like the best place to hike when you're trying to socially distance.
Because of the late start, the sun was getting low by the time I neared the top. As a result, photos taken looking west (like the first one in this post) have a lot of glare. Photo processing cut that a little, to more like you might see with polarized sunglasses), but it's still has glare. That one's looking back over Mount Disappointment, by the way.
The second shot was a very modest zoom of the DTLA skyline. The third was of a snag. Then, there's looking a bit southeast, with Mount Harvard (with antenna) on the left, and the Santa Ana Mountains, off in the distance.

Next, it's looking down south, towards Mount Lowe. Then Mount Wilson, obviously. You're several hundred feet higher than Mount Wilson when you're atop San Gabriel Peak.
Last shot was of Josephine Peak (left) and Strawberry Peak.

The hike is about 4 miles, with 1600 feet of elevation gain. Tacking on Mount Disappointment adds a bit over half a mile, I would guess. I had no interest in doing that, today.

The trailhead is off of Red Box Canyon Road, just a third of a mile or so up from Red Box Canyon. To your right as you head up the hill, a sharp turn to a paved road leads has a small parking area near the bottom, and an even smaller parking area up, about fifty yards, adjacent to the locked gate for Mount Disappointment Road. I suspect some use the road as a bike route up. It can also be a longer, shallower climb to Mount Disappointment.

The trail is down from the gate, on your left, if walking towards the gate. Very steep and narrow at the start. Wider and more opportunities for social distancing as you get a mile or so up.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, NV, Petroglyph and Cowboy Trails

Hiked Saturday, June 27.
This was actually one of my first hikes upon my "return" to the Las Vegas Valley. I've been back numerous times, since then. This seems to have been my second time there is blogged, here. Looks like a few trips blogged here, too.

Among the things that have changed since my first visit is that there's a paved road to a small parking lot at the top of Nawghaw Road, in Henderson (south of Democracy Drive). Several alternate ways there now, and you can probably use your gps to find an all-pavement route to the trailhead, now. Used to require a longer walk, too.
The trail itself has also changed. What used to be "Trail 100" is now "Petroglyph Trail." What used to be Trail 200 is now "Cowboy Trail." And the trail to the petroglyphs now starts from the south side of the parking lot. Previously, it went down to the east, into a wash then upstream.

Now, you walk the "high" way, along the crest of a rounded "ridge" for about 1/2 mile, before dropping down into the wash. That's just a rough distance, by the way; I didn't measure.
Once you do drop into the wash (hopefully, following the proper, switch-backy trail), you'll see a wooden barrier "downstream," and a sign that they are doing habitat restoration down there. A connector trail, number 101, used to meet the old Trail 100 further down there, so you could connect to the rest of the Sloan Canyon and Henderson trail system. Now, it looks like 101 continues to the paved Nawghaw Road. There's a paved bike path that parallels the actual road. Didn't notice if the hiking trail just goes up the bikepath or parallels that, too. Regardless, if you found the upper lot closed or full, you'd park "down there" and could walk up towards the parking lot, adding some climbing and another mile and a half or so to your hike, roundtrip. On my first few trips to Petroglyph Canyon, parking "down there" was a requirement, at least for non-high clearance vehicles.

Looking upstream from the wooden barrier, there's a sign that indicates you're on the Petroglyph Trail. It also tells you that dogs are not allowed on this trail.
I was starting relatively late-morning, say around 9:30am. Temperatures were already well above 90. But the lot was pretty empty. I guess most hikers and joggers came earlier, or not at all. During my entire hike, I was passed by exactly one jogger, and that was it. Again, the summer temperatures worked in favor in terms of letting me do a socially distanced hike.
This morning temperature was still cooler than my previous afternoon/evening of hiking, however. This meant more active wildlife. Lots of lizards, and a fair number of small rodents, which I'm pretty sure were white-tailed antelope squirrel. Very distinctly white-tailed not like the normal brown-tailed ones I have seen elsewhere. There was also a trio of hawks, squawking and apparently challenging each other.

Oh, yes, and while I didn't post any pictures, I saw LOTS of tarantula hawks, visiting a mesquite tree, I think. The night before, I saw a couple of HUGE tarantula hawks, but didn't try for any pictures then, either.
It's kind of interesting that, each time I come here, some petroglyphs I see all the time, and others I seem to discover for the first time. So when I compare pictures from different visits, some images appear repeatedly, while others appear only once.
Part of the variability is due to the time I'm hiking. The angle and direction of light as I walk affects which petroglyphs become more prominent, or even visible.
This time, there was a rock I couldn't find. After passing the main gallery, after the trail bends to the right, there used to be a rock on the left side of the canyon with a couple of images. Didn't see it, this time. Again, I don't know if that means the rock's not there any more or I just couldn't find it, but I did not see it.
After about 1/8 mile of heading west, there was signage for the Cowboy Trail, on the right. As I mentioned earlier, it used to be just Trail 200. Also, at that point, if you went further up the existing wash instead of turning on to Trail 200, the signage used to indicate you were now on Trail 300. This time, I did not see any mention of Trail 300. I don't know if that means it's been decommissioned or just isn't signed (at least on this side) any more.
Made my way on up to the pass, with the big volcanic plug on the left. I like the view here. But you can't see the Strip from this pass. You'd have to head a bit higher up on that mountain rise to see that.
However, technically, in this section of the Conservation Area, off-trail travel is not permitted. So I've never made it up any higher.

I did see a drone flying around this area, once. That is also not permitted.
I saw this nice big Great Basin Collard Lizard on the way down Trail 200.

After less than a mile, Trail 200 reconnects with Trail 100. I return this way almost every time, because it means less retracing of footsteps, and because it means I don't need to slide down the dry waterfalls I climbed up on the way to the Petroglyphs. Only one of the waterfalls is Class 3 (requiring hands and feet, and the lifting of at least one point of contact of contact to make the scamper up the small drop off), and it's not particularly hard to descend, but I still prefer not to.

Once back on Trail 100, I'd say it's a bit less than 1 1/2 miles back to the parking lot.

All Trails gives the total hike distance as 4.4 miles total, with 564 feet of elevation gain. Not intrinsically difficult, but you will have to make the one scramble. Also, the wash bottom is sandy, and the heat can be significant. But still generally one of my favorite hikes in the area. I think I still prefer Black Mountain, Trail 404, but this one is shorter and easier to fit into limited time, especially if the heat is high.