Sunday, May 20, 2012


May 20, 2012 Annular Eclipse from Grand Junction, Colorado
Nan and I followed the annular eclipse throughout this evening from our home in Grand Junction. We weren't in the "ring of fire" zone, but according to a diagram I found on the website, we were right at the edge of the ninety percent zone. It was still very impressive.

We experimented with a few different ways to view the eclipse. I built a simple pin-hole viewer out of a shoe box, but the projected image was really small. The photo below shows Nan holding it as the eclipse approached local totality. If you click the photo, you should be able to see the tiny crescent shape more clearly. We also projected the eclipse through binoculars onto our backyard fence, but the image was a little fuzzy. We had the greatest success stacking three layers of photographic negatives together and holding them up about a foot in front of our eyes to view the eclipse directly. This is probably a no-no, but if you don't think ahead and buy a pair of "eclipse glasses," then you try to make do. The photo above was taken through the negatives and shows an unusual effect, multiple images of the eclipse radiating out from the bright central image. The only explanation for this that I can think of is that the sunlight was refracting and reflecting between the three different layers of film. If anyone has a better explanation, I'd like to hear it. Again, if you click the photo, you should be able to see the eclipse images more clearly.

Nan holding a pin-hole projector for the May 20, 2012 annular eclipse
It's a busy few weeks for astronomical phenomena. Coming up on Wednesday, June 5, Venus will perform a transit across the face of the sun. We'll try to come up with a better projection system for that one and share the photos. In the meantime, happy stargazing!

Monday, May 14, 2012


Flowering cholla cactus, Gunnison River and Uncompahgre Plateau
I was cutting our meager lawn on Saturday morning and almost ran over a baby rattlesnake with the lawn mower. I may have clipped him with a wheel on the previous pass because he was coiled up in a posture of pain when I noticed him and stopped the mower. As I approached for a better look, he withdrew his spade-shaped head and lunged at me repeatedly with fangs extended. It would have been intimidating if he weren't only a foot long. I needed to move him out of the way, but I wasn't going to get my hands anywhere near him. I went in the garage to get the pooper-scooper, carefully scooped him up, and deposited him over the fence into the neighbor's yard. Hey, at least over there I wouldn't run him over again. I looked in on him with every pass, and I worried that I really had injured him because he stayed in his coil of pain for quite a while, but eventually he extended his head, and on the next pass he was gone.

We have lived in Grand Junction for seven years now, and this was my first experience with a rattlesnake. Scout and I occasionally scare up garden snakes on our walks, but they slither quickly away. This little fellow bravely stood his ground. I was so surprised to see him that it didn't occur to me to try to kill him even though he could someday be a threat to neighborhood kids, dogs and cats.

It's not in my nature to harm living things. If anything, I try to encourage the presence of local wildlife. Finches, mourning doves and hummingbirds visit our feeders. Chipmunks and mice eat spilled seeds. Lizards of all shapes and sizes bask on our patio. Toads burrow into the edges of our lawn. Mule deer graze the scrub grass behind our house. Foxes and coyotes dash past during early morning walks. Scorpions startle us in dark corners. And praying mantises and walking stick insects live in our summertime flower pots. For me, the word "desert" used to conjure up images of barren, desolate spaces devoid of life, but living here, I know better.

It didn't occur to me to get a photo of the baby rattlesnake, so the desert scene above will need to suffice. It's from a hike that Scout and I did on Sunday morning while checking out potential camping spots for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. The view is looking south toward the Uncompahgre Plateau from a sandstone ridge high above the Gunnison River, with a flowering silver cholla cactus in the foreground. Click the image to see it full-size.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fisher Towers Hike

Ancient Art and Stolen Chimney - Look closely for the climbers!
Before the heat of summer renders it too miserable, I want to try to hike as many of the nearby desert trails as possible. Scout and I were thwarted in our attempt to hike the Negro Bill Canyon trail near Moab back in March and ended up hiking the Poison Spider trail instead. So when I emailed my friend John Sasso to see if he would be interested in taking a hike this past Saturday, I was thinking Negro Bill. But John emailed me back to say there was too much poison ivy along the trail and that he knew about it from painful personal experience. I checked and came up with two alternatives, Fisher Towers or Corona Arch. Of course, John had already hiked both, and in the case of Fisher Towers, he had actually climbed the Titan tower. I have driven Highway 128, which is the scenic way to Moab from I-70, and passed Fisher Towers many times but never stopped to get a closer look. This would be a good opportunity.

The Cobra, with Ancient Art and Stolen Chimney in the background
Scout and I picked John up at the crack of 9:45 and headed west out of Grand Junction. John had suggested that we get some lunch at the Hogi Yogi in Moab, and I misunderstood him to mean that we would do this after the hike, not before. When I said so, he said that I should stop at one of the truck stops so he could pick up a sandwich, but the closest one was at the Highway 191 exit, which is the non-scenic way to Moab. I had eaten a big breakfast before picking him up, so a nasty truck-stop sandwich was the last thing I wanted. We reached a compromise and drove all the way in to Moab, only to find that the Hogi Yogi, which has been in operation at least since Nan and I started going to Moab in 1992, is now the Cabo Grill. In disappointment, John and I continued south and turned in at a... truck stop. But it turned out to be a truck stop that offered huge custom-made sandwiches, at great prices, while you waited. Who knew?

The Titan - John Sasso bivouacked at the base of the gendarme 'thumb' when he climbed it
We reversed course and took the turn onto Highway 128 at the north edge of town. We passed Negro Bill Canyon, and I was happy we weren't hiking it that day because the parking lot at the trailhead was full and people were parking along the highway. Pedestrians were taking their chances crossing the highway, and I could just imagine what a nightmare the trail would be. We continued until we reached a turn-off for Fisher Valley and Onion Creek, which we quickly discovered was wrong when we reached a stream crossing. I hadn't printed out the directions to the trailhead because I figured John knew where we were going, but he was a little fuzzy on exactly how to get there. Back on the highway, we reached another turn-off just a few hundred yards farther up, and John announced that we were on the right track. We parked in a spot right at the trailhead, and John ate his sandwich in the shade of a juniper tree while Scout and I got organized for the hike.

Scout's ears flying in the wind - Note his summer puppy cut and the Titan sign
It was hang-on-to-your-hat windy, which helped to keep it somewhat cool considering our nearly 1:00 starting time. I heard voices on the wind and looked around to see where they were coming from. I craned my neck and looked straight up to see climbers on a familiar-looking rock formation. I asked John if it was the one from the Citi TV commercial, featuring climbers Katie Brown and Alex Honnold, and he said that of course it was; he had already told me all about it on the drive. That's news to me, I thought, but what a sight! The trail angled around the formation, called Ancient Art, giving us a better perspective of the climbers and the Stolen Chimney route they had climbed to reach the final pitch featured in the TV commercial.

Along the climber's trail below Ancient Art, there were a few dramatic-looking hoodoos. According to John, the one with the thinnest neck is called The Cobra and it has been climbed successfully. To look at it, you would think anyone putting their weight on it would snap the top of it right off.

'Now what?!' - Scout at the top of the Fisher Towers ladder
The trail rounded a windy corner with excellent views of the Titan tower and proceeded onto a narrow ledge below sheer walls of converging sandstone. The trail abruptly ended at a metal ladder leading down several rungs to where the trail began again. There was no way Scout was going to climb down a ladder. John went down to look for an alternative route farther up into the notch formed by the converging walls. A minute later, he popped out on the sandstone above us and said he thought Scout could make it down the way he had come up. Scout and I followed him back to where a five-foot drop led through a narrow slot to the bottom of the ladder. John went down first and I followed, but when I whistled Scout to come, he realized that I intended to hoist him down and he backed out of reach. The more I coaxed him, the farther he backed away. I could have had John climb up and get behind Scout to herd him to me, but we decided against it and turned around instead. Maybe next time.

Trail looping around canyon notch, with Castle Rock and The Rectory in the distance
As we passed Ancient Art again on our return, we heard whooping from other hikers on the trail. One of the climbers had just stood up on the tiny summit, like Katie Brown in the dizzying final moments of the TV commercial. We just missed seeing it, but I felt I already had an idea of what it would be like.