Archive for July, 2009

Sunset

July 27th, 2009 | Category: Arizona

North Rim scenery

July 26th, 2009 | Category: Arizona

Here are some more of my scenery shots from our recent visit to the north rim.  David took the ones of me (of course!).  You can click on any image to enlarge it.

This is the gorge of the Colorado river just upstream of the grand canyon. This area is also known as Marble Canyon.  You must go across this to get to the north rim from the Flagstaff area; in fact, unless you’re coming from Las Vegas or Utah, you’re going to see this. Note all of the colored oxides in the surrounding cliffs. To see the bridge you’ll go across, look in the gallery at the bottom of this post.

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We reached the North rim lodge at sunset (although we stayed at the Kaibab lodge).  There are few places to stay up there, and they fill up months and even years in advance.  We were incredibly lucky to et two cabins for two days just by showing up at the place and asking.  We had intended to camp, but i came down with some nasty food poisoning and was too sick to camp.  Luckily, it didn’t last too long.

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At almost 9000 feet, the sky is much clearer than at lower altitudes.  You can see the milky way in all its incredible glory.

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When the sun hits it, the canyon glows.  A bend of the colorado is visible in the center (click on the image to enlarge).

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The weather is incredible. It can be sunny where you stand, and yet you can watch 20 thunderstorms rolling across the landscape.  I love how the rain pours out if this cloud like a mushroom stem.

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Note the arch to the right.

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Plants & Animals at the North Rim

July 25th, 2009 | Category: animals,Arizona

We visited the north rim of the Grand Canyon recently.  From Flagstaff the south rim is only 1.5 hours away.  It’s only 10 miles across the canyon to the north rim, but it’s a 215 mile, 5-hour drive to get from the south rim  to the north rim lodge.  For this reason it only gets 10% of the visitors that come to the canyon each year.

The drive was memorable.  Leaving Flagstaff‘s heavy forest of ponderosa pine, we soon passed through a transition zone of scrubby oak trees, then shrubs mixed with cactus, and finally into a barren and blasted desert. Continuing north, we went through the painted desert, whose magnificent cliffs frame the Colorado where it arrives from Utah.  At that point the river has cut an impressive symmetrical canyon that is of interest in itself, yet it pales in comparison to “the” Grand Canyon.  Vermilion cliffs national monument forms breathtaking scenery for the westward portion – it looks like mars.  A sudden rise in altitude, along with hairpin turns in the road, brings you through a small transition zone like Flagstaff’s, then abruptly into the ponderosa forest.  This forest – the Kaibab - is thicker and wilder than the Coconino forest around Flagstaff.

The north rim is more enjoyable than the south rim, because there are far less people, less development, more trails and less roads.  Pretty much everything about it is better!  The one exception is the long drive from Flagstaff.

I’m going to break this up into sections, because there are too many images to put in one post.  First, let’s do plants & animals.  I didn’t really get a lot of them, being so sick for most of the time (I had a wonderful case of food poisoning).  Plants sit still and are easier to approach… so there are more of them.  Luckily, I can go back pretty easily.

You can see from these that the north rim is more lush and heavily forested than the south rim.  This is a picture taken by my brother-in-law David; that’s me in the lower left corner.

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There are beautiful meadows in the Kaibab forest around the rim.  We arrived within the blooming season, but if you come too early or too late, you will not see this kind of thing.  But if you time it just right, there are flowers everywhere.  Because of the flowers, there are hummingbirds everywhere; they are as common as starlings on the east coast, and much more common than robins.  Although you can hear them constantly, they are hard to see because they are so small and fast.  Crows and ravens are also everywhere up here.

BTW, this is really what is looks like – no color saturation enhancement here!

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The forest around the rim has been heavily damaged by fires in the last ten years or so.  It seems as if half of the forest burned down.

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All of the images above and more are included in the gallery below.

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Lava river cave

July 17th, 2009 | Category: Arizona

I don’t know why it’s called government cave on some maps, but most people call it lava river or lava tube cave.  It’s in the coconino national forest northwest of Flagstaff, only about 30 minutes away from the city.  You can see the USFS’ web site for more info.  The tunnel starts small with very rough going, but eventually becomes the size of a subway tunnel.  If you look carefully and use a good flashlight, there are subtle colors in the rock walls.  The floor is very much solid rock and looks like what it is – a frozen liquid.  It’s clear that it came out of the earth with the consistency of oatmeal and then froze.  Chunks of rock fell from the ceiling while the stone was a slurry and are now embedded in it like a twig in lake ice.

I’ve been in a few lava tubes in Hawaii, and had supposed that they would be the largest.  This tube is much larger than the ones I’ve seen, and very long.  It is a good bit of exercise to go to the end and back.  One nice thing about this tube – it’s a cave you can’t get lost in.  There is only one branch and it meets the main chamber again.  The only thing that could go wrong is that you definitely could break a leg or get a bad abrasion in there – rocks are sharp, oddly shaped and wet near the entrance.  And it’s really cold down there – it’s almost freezing all the time, even when it’s 90 out.  This cave is not tamed in any way – no lights, paved paths or gift shop.  Just a hole in the ground in the woods.

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A visit to Anderson Mesa

July 16th, 2009 | Category: Arizona,Lowell

My sister and brother-in-law visited and I wanted to show them some cool science stuff, so we went out to the Anderson mesa where Lowell has its current research telescopes.  This area is not open to the public, so it was a real treat.  Of course, I’ve been there many times, but it always excites me.  These telescopes are a little antiquated and small by modern standards, but still very impressive.  Real science is produced here every year, even every day.  Scientists use these instruments to look for near-earth asteroids, comets, examine the atmospheres of planets, and to look for planets around other stars.

Here’s the LONEOS 25-inch telescope dome.

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The LONEOS telescope.

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My brother-in-law David near the scope.

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The 72-inch Perkins telescope.  The man in the red shirt is Bruce Koehn, Observer and telescope operator extraordinaire.

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Walnut Canyon

July 15th, 2009 | Category: Arizona

Walnut Canyon is a national monument featuring ancient native American cliff dwellings.  It is only a few minutes outside of Flagstaff and an easy morning or afternoon trip.  If you’re in the area you can see this between breakfast and lunch, but you will never forget it.  There are only two marked trails here, and both are short, easily accessible trails.  All you need is a bottle of water and a camera.

The canyon would be a great place even without the cliff dwellings, but they are a wondrous sight.  There are hundreds of them in this photo, but they are so well camouflaged that they are invisible.  These people lived like cliff swallows!

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In the next picture some of them are a little more obvious…

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Turkey Vulture

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These well-camouflaged lizards are everywhere out here.

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Shitpot Crater

July 01st, 2009 | Category: Arizona

Did that get your attention?  Well, that’s what it’s really called.  Wikipedia has a perfect description of how this crater got its name:

The naming of the mountain is a bit of lore from the Old West. C. J. Babbit, an 1880s rancher and early landowner of the mountain, expressed his opinion that the mountain resembled a pot of excrement, and this became the accepted local name. When viewed from certain angles on the ground, the combination of the smooth round shape of the cone, the dark lava spatter on the rim, and the long dark lava flow extruding from the base do indeed resemble a toilet catastrophe. Mapmakers refused to spell out the full name, and the mountain has been shown on maps and other literature with the abbreviated name.

Down in this post I have pictures of the flow from space and from the rim of the crater.  The crater is in the shaded region, within the blue circle.  Drive up route 89 from Flagstaff, well out of the pines and into the desert. Pass both signs for Wupatki National Monument (a cool place I’ll write about some other time).  There is a forest (dirt)  road on the left-hand side.  Take it under the power lines about one mile from 89,and  about 6 miles after that you’ll see the unmistakably conical shape of SP.  There are a number of other volcanoes in the region – actually, the area is pimpled with volcanoes – but none are as perfect as SP.  Don’t forget your sunscreen and hat.

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The scenery from the forest road.  The desert is in bloom, and that’s Humphreys Peak, Arizona’s highest, in the background.

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The approach to SP.  You can see the black rock around the rim.

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Here’s a view (with beautiful Holly) as we started climbing the western edge, where there’s a gentler grade for the first couple of hundred yards.  Note the car in the background.

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In the background is the overflow of SP.

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At this point we reached the real slope of the crater.  It is a 45 degree angle, and essentially a pile of small gravel.  It is very difficult to climb, although on the western side there is more vegetation.  The plants hold the cinders together which makes for easier going.  It is a very fragile surface; it worries me that people (myself included) will destroy this beautiful place.  As we climbed, our feet dug into the soil, sending little avalanches down the slope.  The unvegetated area near the base has probably been worn away by people who started to climb, them gave up.  The base of the mountain is at 6200 feet; the top is almost 7000.  The difficulty of the climb, the desert heat, thorny plants, the time required, and the thin air are probably too much for most out-of-town tourists, most of whom probably give up at this point.

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There is a lot of animal life in the desert, if you look for it.  I think this is some kind of “earless” lizard, but I don’t know my lizards that well yet.

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There are a lot of these big locusts, which have bright yellow wings, red legs and are very pretty when they take flight.  On the ground, their camouflage makes them very hard to see.  Even if you see one land, it will seem to melt away right in front of your eyes.  If you get too close they explode into flight like pigeons and are rather startling.  Since you can’t see them, it becomes a common experience as you walk through the region.

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Flowers are everywhere.

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Finally, the rim!  that’s Humphreys peak in the background again.  The SP crater is several hundred feet – maybe 300 – deeper than the rim.  I didn’t climb down; I think it would be a technical climb, and the friable rock would make it very dangerous.  It is a giant echo chamber.  It’s a fun surprise to find that your voice echoes for a couple of seconds if you shout.  Birds flying in the crater cry and it echoes.

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The vista was amazing; every point of the compass has a different view.  Northward it is almost a prairie; eastward lies the painted desert; to the south lie the San Francisco peaks (with Mount Humphreys), and to the west are seemingly endless small volcanoes and gently rolling grass-covered hills.  It is worth the effort to get to the top.

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View to the north.  Beyond the horizon lies the Grand Canyon.

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View to the south.  Flowers on the crater rim in the foreground; Colton crater in the middle, and Humpreys peak in the background.

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View to the east.  on the horizon, to the right, you can see a straight line that marks te boundary of Wupatki.  I guess it’s greener to the left because the adjacent ground is ranched and either fertilized by cattle or irrigated.  In the foreground you can see some extruded lava that squirted out of the ground like toothpaste.  There are many examples of this at the summit.  The crater stopped erupting about 71000 years ago; it’s hard to believe that some of the lava forms still look so fresh.

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Lichens on extruded lava.

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I walked all the way around the rim, a difficult and sometimes dangerous trip because of the jumble of shattered lava and the precipitous heights.  If you fell here, you’d roll a long way through razor-sharp plants and unforgiving rocks to wind up in a deep pit with no escape.  This view from the eastern rim looks out to the west.  As a gauge of the crater’s size, that’s Holly on the horizon.  Click on this image to enlarge it; you’ll see a speck on the other side – that’s Holly.

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Another distance-gauging image.  The car is in this picture – can you find it?

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Did I mention that we had the place all to ourselves?

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Reluctantly, we started down.  We took the northern slope down because we wanted to see a different side of the volcano.  It is heavily forested, and since everything is flowering it’s also pretty.  We could hear quail calling in the underbrush.

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Holly is taking a picture of something on the ground.  Look at that perfect 45 degree slope!

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You don’t walk down, you slide down – you almost ski down.  I’d take a step forward and slide about six feet, sinking into the cinders over my ankles.  I fell a couple of times, once falling on a pointed rock that could have done real damage if it hit me on the head.  I did my best to avoid sliding over plants.  Sharp plants of all sorts clawed at us on the way down, but fragrant flowers, birds, endless blue skies and great views made it all worthwhile.

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Here’s a satellite image of SP with its distinctive lava flow.

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Here is that same lava flow seen from the crater rim, facing northeast.

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Here’s Holly down in the lava field.  It’s over 100 feet thick in places, a jumbled profusion of jumbled, cracked lava.  It’s like a coral reef; countless crevices make homes for all kinds of animals, including tarantulas.  They make distinctive burrows in sandy areas, also inhabiting abandoned lizard burrows.  Like all good monsters, they come out only at night.  Sooner or later I’ll go in search of them.

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