Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Comet fire aftermath

I went out to the location of the Comet fire on Sunday, one week after the fire. I wanted to see if there were still lots of small dust devils picking up the ash. The loose ash might have been blown away, though. On Saturday, there were storms around Tucson. Late in the afternoon, they pushed out a big gust of wind in our direction. You can see the leading edge of a dust storm moving out from a rain storm on animated radar. I could tell within a few minutes when the dust was going to hit us and went out front to get a picture.

I did some things to make the dust stand out which also made the other colors very bright.

Anyway, all that wind on Saturday might have blown the loose ash away. I saw 4 large dust devils on the way out there, and it was about 105F at Queen Creek, so I know conditions were right for dust devils. I didn't see any out there, but I think the results are inconclusive.

Humidity is creeping up. There were some low clouds.

Fire damage.

There is speculation that the Comet fire was started by target shooting. In fact, the forest service had a guy on the road stopping people and making sure they weren't planning to do any target shooting. A news reporter at the fire last week said that bullets cause sparks when they hit rocks, and that starts fires. Bullets are usually made of lead, though, and contrary to what you see from Hollywood, it's pretty darn difficult to get a spark with a piece of lead. If target shooting starts fires, I think it's because of what is used for targets (e.g. propane bottles) and the shooters' cigarettes.

Favorite targets; beer cans and propane bottles.

After watching for dust devils for a while, I drove out Hewitt Canyon road for a while to enjoy the scenery. I got out of the truck to take a few pictures, but it was too hot in the middle of the day to do much of that.

Corral and windmill

Cholla, Roblas Butte, and a cloud.

Click below to see all of the pictures.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Comet fire

I left the house Saturday afternoon just planning to go for a drive. It seemed a little warm for hiking, though it was only about 100. So far, it's been pretty cool for June. Anyway, I left the house and headed east. I could see some smoke in the distance. I thought it might be coming from near Gold Canyon, but smoke always looks closer than it is. Turns out the smoke was about 20 miles away.

I was thinking about going someplace near Florence Junction, and the smoke happened to be in that direction. I decided to see if I could get within view of the fire. I've driven by a few fires in the past but have never gotten any pictures. This looked like it might be a good opportunity to get some pictures. It was away from the highway, but not too far away.

It turns out that it was just north of Comet Peak, which must be where it got its name. I've been meaning to climb Comet Peak for a few years. This would be the perfect opportunity. Usually, it would be a really bad place to go hiking because it's one of people's favorite places to shoot their guns. There's a ban on shooting guns in the desert now (fire danger) and nobody was going to be doing that with all the fire fighters out there.

I think this truck was here just to keep looky-loos from blocking access to a water tank.

I parked far away from and upwind of the fire and well off the road. I didn't want to be getting in anybody's way. The route up Comet Peak was steep with lots of loose rock. It would be exciting on the way back down. It was only about a 300 foot climb, then a short hike to get to where I had a view of the fire.

The fire was burning in the bed of Queen Creek, which is dry right now but full of trees.

Some flames are visible now and then.

My view of parts of the fire was blocked.

Looks like the fire might have started at the base of Comet Peak.

Generally, the wind was blowing the fire away from me. Of course, it was blowing all different directions around Comet Peak. I didn't want to be up there if the fire started coming my way.

Dropping fire retardant.

I stood at the top for about half an hour taking pictures. A big plane showed up and I got a video of it. I wanted to get some pictures of it in action, too, but I smelled smoke and decided it was time to leave.

I don't know what the first plane is dropping. Doesn't seem like enough of anything to have any effect.

Click below to see all of the pictures.


Friday, June 08, 2012

Venus transit

Lately (for the past 15 or 20 years), I am of the opinion that house cats are pretty much useless. In fact, they are probably less than useless. I might feel differently if we didn't have any, but we do. Still, somebody found a use for one. It was a dead one, too. Well, come to think of it, dead house cats probably aren't quite as useless as live ones. I mean, at least you could use a dead one for a doorstop if you wanted to. Try doing that with a live one. Anyway, when this artist's cat died, he used it to make a cat quadcopter.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with desert exploration. It turns out that there is a connection, sort of. I also found a use for something that many people probably thought was useless. Remember when we had a solar eclipse a couple of weeks ago? I didn't have a way to photograph it directly, so I made a cheesy little box to view a projection. It worked, sort of. I told myself that I should be better prepared next time something like that came up. Two weeks later, when Venus made its last transit of the sun for the next 117 years, I was still unprepared. I knew that Venus would be too small to show up using my cheesy little box. What to do, what to do.

I figured that I would make use of something that most people probably consider to be useless. You've heard me talk about the brown cloud in the past. It's a layer of pollution that gets trapped over Phoenix, usually in the winter. I had been seeing in the mornings for a few days recently, though. I planned to go somewhere with a good view of the setting sun and use the brown cloud as a filter so I could photograph the transit.

While waiting for the sun to get low enough, I took pictures of other stuff.

I went out the Hieroglyphics Trail, on the south side of the Superstition Wilderness. It was another great day to be in the desert. The temperature was below 100 and there was a nice breeze most of the time. At the beginning of my hike, there were no gnats. I thought that might be because of the breeze. After a while, the trail went along the lee side of a hill and there was no wind at all, but still no gnats. That was really really nice.

I got there a little early and took pictures of random stuff.

Fusion powered cholla monster. Move over, Godzilla.

Finally, with minutes to go before sunset, enough sunlight was filtered out that I could get some pictures.

In some of the pictures, you can barely tell that there are some sunspots. I think the camera may not have been focused. Well, autofocus wouldn't work and the sun was too bright to use manual focusing. I'd better get ready before the next celestial event. Click below for all of the pictures.


Back to doing treasure hunts

I got back into doing Photo Point photography again on Saturday. The ones that I'm working on now are in a part of Tonto National Forest that I've never visited before. Well, I probably haven't visited most of it. It's huge. Anyway, I was near the Agua Fria National Monument, along Bloody Basin Road.

I think this used to be a ranger station.

It wasn't an extremely hot day to begin with, and I was at about 4000 feet, so it was only about 95. The breeze felt really nice, except I spent most of my time down amongst trees that blocked the breeze. It was a nice day to be wandering around the desert. The gnats weren't too bad out there, either.

I didn't realize how dependent I was on saguaros until I looked at these pictures. How the heck can I tell if they're straight? There's nothing out there that can be counted on to be horizontal or vertical. Well, then, I guess it doesn't matter.

I didn't have to do much walking around until I got to the last set of pictures to be taken. The road leading to the area was in bad shape and I didn't want to get stuck out there. I parked and walked about half a mile. By then the sun was low enough that it wasn't a real problem.

As usual, I got started on the way out there kinda late. That turned out to be a good thing since I forgot to put sunscreen on. I only got about a third of the pictures I thought I would be able to get in one day, so I'll be out there again soon. Click below to see all of the pictures.