Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Unseen Canyon

More stuff from our recent trip to the Grand Canyon...  Since I'm getting into the time-lapse stuff now, I took something in excess of 4,000 pictures, mostly with my XSi, some with Melinda's too.  What has been interesting through the decades is that most people look in from the edge and see the macroscopic view of the Canyon.  Since it is mostly hidden in an inner gorge, most likely don't even realize it was carved by the mighty Colorado river.  Even fewer know that the length and breadth of the Canyon has a network of trails that are popular with hikers and trod by mule trains to haul supplies and visitors alike.  I made a point of bringing my William Optics 11cm refractor to the rim for some real telephoto views.  It is amazing what I was able to catch in an hour or two of imaging!

The South Kaibab Trail is a popular route for those going down to Phantom Ranch.  It is a shorter hike, about 7 miles to the River, with some spectacular views along the way.  This time of year, the inner canyon suffers hellish temperatures and most hikers headed down leave early to avoid the worst heat.  After first focusing the scope, I pointed to the "Tipoff" and right away caught some hikers going down meeting up with a mule train of riders coming up.  A mule train travels amazingly quickly, so trail etiquette  has hikers yielding to the mules.  Clicking the image will load the nearly full-resolution image.  Note that while obvious here, the mule train was barely visible to the unaided eye, and of course, the hikers could not be seen at all.

Similarly, a few miles up-trail above Skeleton Point,
I looked for and caught a couple hikers also headed down the trail.  Note that all these images were taken from Yavapai Overlook, a couple miles west of the Kaibab trailhead, so these mules and hikers are easily a number of miles downrange.  I thought the 770mm focal length scope performed pretty well!  The picture at right shows the same image of the hikers on the South Kaibab, but at the full camera resolution, showing all the details the system was able to capture.

Glancing down to the Bright Angel Trail just below Yavapai Overlook was a spot of greenery where I spotted some hikers headed up that trail.  I started taking a set of pictures for a time-lapse, and without even realizing it, caught another mule train headed down!  While it seemed pretty busy, I think it was a matter of the early-morning traffic a good part of the way down avoiding the heat...

And speaking of Phantom Ranch, the destination of most of the mule riders and hikers, another group of Canyon explorers also visits - river rafters!  There is a beach a few hundred yards upstream where expeditions can eat meals and take advantage of other services available there.  At left is shown some small inflatable rafts that were paddling away from shore to catch the river currents to continue downstream.

A few miles downstream is another spot of river visible (only these two spots of the river are visible from Yavapai).  I was looking for the above inflatables to cross across this view, but instead these big banana boats came drifting through!  The boats are just visible to the unaided eye, but again, if you didn't know there was a river there, you likely wouldn't detect the boats either!  I've been told the solar panels are for the emergency telephone for use on the lower Bright Angel trail...

A couple days later, I went out to the eastern part of the Park, to Lippan Point, to try to get better views of the rafts going down the rapids.  From that vantage point there is a much better view of the Colorado river, including Unkar Rapids and part of Hance Rapids.  I caught a pair of big rafts going down Unkar, one of which is shown here.  Click on the image to see it clearly in the midst of the rapids...

And just to return to an astronomical theme, I'll close out with a couple of wide shots of the northern sky from adjacent to the Canyon.  We didn't quite stay late enough into the week to take advantage of the moon lighting up the Canyon - it was pretty black when imaging the sky over it at night.  On night one, shown at left, we had a very nice display of banded airglow from the observing field at the Star Party.  Like last year's display, I'm thinking it is because we're close to Summer Solstice and the airglow, caused by solar excitation, is discharged over the hours of darkness.  A few nights later I headed to the rim for more pictures.  Though we had a few clouds, lots of details were still seen.  On the northern horizon at center, the North Rim lodge lights can be seen at center, and to the right of the lights, the small light dome of Page, Arizona can be spotted.  Above the lights of the lodge is a satellite appearing to track through the Double Cluster and below Cassiopeia Constellation.  The Space Station had passed in a very similar orbit about an hour before, so I'm thinking it is likely a supply ship that I know was headed to a rendezvous with ISS.  Above the trail of the satellite is an airplane that appears to be flying in formation...  If there was any airglow on this later night, it was just marginally detected, if at all.

It was fun to use the scope to reveal some of the goings-on in the Canyon that few know about.  In the past 23 years of attendance, I've used my big binocs to show people some of these scenes, but I've never tried capturing them, but it is neat stuff!

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