Lunar Eclipse

This Lunar Eclipse, also known as “Blood Moon,” is also known as a “Supermoon,” and this year it occurs during a “Flower Moon,” because it occurs in May, during the peak of the flowers’ bloom in the northern hemisphere. Whatever you call it, it was spectacular here in the Big Bend due to amazingly clear skies on the night of May 15-16.

Eclipse at full coverage.
As the earth’s shadow begins to uncover the full moon.

FIRE!

This past March there was a devastating fire in Big Bend National Park, which burned mostly the upper elevations of the Chisos Mountains, an island of mountains within the park. The trails were closed for many months, and when some of them finally opened up in August, I made a backpacking trip up to see the results of the fire. I also made a second backpack trip to the eastern side of the high Chisos a couple of weeks ago. The fire had burned much hotter, and over a larger area than I expected. Trees were not burned just along the ground where the fuel was located, but all the way to the tops of the trees. The following is a photo essay of the results of the fire:

First view of the fire damage as I crested the ridge above the Blue Creek drainage on the western side of the mountains.

A few grasses beginning to gain a foothold in the burned ground. Normally the grass here is a foot high or more, making it difficult to see any patches of barren ground.

Looking back toward Emory Peak, nothing was left unburned.

On my second visit late in September, I hiked in through Boot Canyon, one of the most pristine areas of the high Chisos Mtns. It contains most of the water and wildlife to be found, including a stand of beautiful maple trees that produce wonderful fall color in early November.

The beautiful maples in Boot Canyon were burned to their very top branches. Many will not live. A few, however, have begun to sprout leaves from the bases of their burned trunks, and may survive. Who knows how long it may be before they grow to their former glory and grace this canyon with their magnificent reds, yellow and golden colors.
A few flowers beginning to gain a foothold in the burned earth.
Many of these trees along the trail are burned to the core and will not recover.
Don’t be fooled by the green grasses that have returned…every tree visible in the panoramic image has burned all the way to the top branches.

All is not ugly…flowers are proliferating as a result of seeds cracked open by the heat of the fire:

Hope! As the grasses have begun to recover, so have the flowering plants, which help hold the soil from erosion during the fall rains.

And with the flowers, it stands to reason that the butterflies would follow:

A fairly rare Hummingbird Moth hovering among the flowers.

And the highlight of my trip: a pair of peregrine falcons doing a love dance above the cliffs of the east rim of the Chisos Mountains:

And the sun rises over the Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico, as it continues to supply the burned and barren earth with life-giving energy for recovery:

“Patience”, defined:

My previous post is a look at our backyard friend, the Rio Grande Leopard frog. He is one of two in residence at our pond.

Today, as I watched him sunning himself on a rock near the waterfall, a honeybee (with a death wish) caught my eye. Now, frogs eat flying insects, of which a bee is one. The following sequence demonstrates the rewards of patience:

Rio Grande Leopard frog, keeping a sharp eye on the honey bee, who is already tempting fate.
The bee lands on the frogs back, then walks up to between the frog’s eyes to lap up some of the water on the frog’s head. Bad idea.
The bee tires of the frog and finds a small puddle of pond water to fulfill his needs. Another bad idea.
In the blink of an eye, the frog does a jump-move to line up his prey in his gunsights.
A burp of satisfaction…even with my camera in the “spray and pray” mode (shooting at 8 frames per second), the frog’s tongue and its sticky glue-like coating had the bee ingested, so fast my camera could not catch the action.

Oh, well, I think I’ll go get some lunch. Thanks for watching.

Frog Friday

Since Stephen Gingold is confined to a sunless Friday due to an allergy to anti-tick meds, I thought I’d post a couple of pics in absentia on his behalf. These guys are Rio Grande Leopard Frogs, and have recently taken up residence in our backyard pond. Most folks don’t realize that even in the desert, where there is water, there are usually frogs.

Strawberry Moon

The first full moon after the Summer Solstice is known as the Strawberry Moon.

In ancient times, each full moon of every month had a name, usually associated with astronomical events, harvests, or other seasonal connections, and not relating to the actual color of the moon. The first full moon following the Summer Solstice, and the last full moon prior to the Autumnal Equinox, are known as Strawberry Moon, signifying the start and end of the strawberry picking season.

The full moon of tonight, June 24, would therefore be a Strawberry Moon.

Outer Mountain Loop – Big Bend NP

My friend Ken, his son Derek, and his grandson Alec made a trip to Big Bend to hike the classic “Outer Mountain Loop,” a 4-day, 3-night epic backpack journey across the high trails of the Chisos Mountains, down into the high desert south of the Chisos, and finishing at the trail up Juniper Canyon and back into the high Chisos. At least, that was the plan…until a 1300+ acre fire in the high Chisos complex shut down all hiking and camping on the central and eastern sections of the mountains. With the trail closures, we opted to cut the trip a day short and do the hike without the return across the mountains.

Ken, Alec and Derek at the trailhead in the Basin area of the Chisos Mountains. The Laguna Meadow Trail, and connecting Blue Creek Trail, were not affected by the fire, so the first day (and second day) were as originally planned.

Ken, Alec and Derek at the Trailhead
Trail through the red igneous “dikes” from the high Chisos, down Blue Creek Canyon to Homer Wilson Ranch.
Line cabin of the Homer Wilson Ranch at the location of camp #1.
Greater Earless Lizard watches as we pass by.
Turks Head Cactus in full double bloom along the trail.
After a dry spring, a recent rain rewarded us with a plethora of blooming cactus, such as this Strawberry Pitaya (Hedgehog).
Campsite a quarter mile east of the historic Homer Wilson Ranch line cabin.
Beautiful setting of blooming Cane Cholla and Strawberry Pitaya on the trail between Homer Wilson and the spring at Fresno Creek, about 7 miles east of camp.
A look back down the switchbacks of the Dodson Trail at the first saddle, at about 5,000′ altitude (a climb of about 900′ above our campsite).
Engelmann Pricklypear cactus in bloom along the trail.
The landmark “Elephant Tusk” as seen from the Dodson Trail just before we drop down into the Fresno Creek drainage.
The water flowing through the Fresno Creek bedrock is welcome to hot and tired backpackers Ken and Derek, as well as another very rare pleasure…SHADE.
Ken admires a not-so-shy Garter Snake enjoying the cool water in the spring.
Campsite the second night out, at the foot of the Chisos Mountains, which rise to a height of 7400′ above our campsite at 4600′ altitude.
A beautiful night for stars, the Milky Way rises in the southeast after midnight above our camp.
The ruins of the Dodson Ranch, a homestead in this very rough and remote area where a family ranched sheep and goats before the creation of Big Bend NP in the late 1940’s.
Ken, Derek and Alec next to an Agave, or Century Plant, in full bloom below the southeast rim of the Chisos Mountains.
After our hike out to the Jeep at the Juniper Canyon trailhead on day 3, we made a short drive down to the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon, where the Rio Grande River cuts through a fault that resulted in a 1500′ uplift, creating the canyon (Mexico on the left, the US on the right, as you look upcanyon).
Our third night on the trail was a short hike into the “Taj Mahal Hoodoo,” where we spent a loud, wet and windy night with thunderstorms dancing all around. No stars this night.
A really large Ocotillo, in full leaf and bloom, near our campsite.
Typical sunset as seen through storm clouds in the Chihuahua Desert.

We had a great time wandering around together through the desert, an unusually cool trip for this time of the year. This Outer Mountain Loop is not for novice hikers, as it requires a lot of planning to insure adequate water for multiple people. Be sure to use the expertise of the Big Bend National Park staff in making plans for this trip.

The Christmas Star

 
Last night was the “grand conjunction” of planets Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets were just .1 degree apart in the sky just after twilight. This is the closest conjunction of these planets since March 5, 1226. The most significant grand conjunction occurred in 7 B.C., and another in 3 B.C. , thus scientific support for the reference to this as a “Christmas Star.”

As twilight fades, stars of the night sky begin to appear, drawing attention to the magnitude of the brightness of these two planets in conjunction.

A pastor friend of mine offered the following information regarding the connection of this conjunction to Christmas:
“The last time a “grand conjunction” between Jupiter and Saturn occurred was 1226 A.D. Previous to that was 7 B.C., which was followed up by a very similar conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 3 B.C. Johannes Kepler, a major figure from the scientific revolution which began in the 17th century, the scientist who first correctly explained the motion of the planets, referred to this as a “triple conjunction” because of the alignment of Jupiter, Saturn and the sun. He pointed out that this triple conjunction occurred three separate times in 7 B.C., a view confirmed by modern science. For dedicated, serious ancient stargazers like the Magi, this might have been just enough for them to saddle up their horses – or their camels – and take the long, long ride to Israel to check it out.”

The magnified conjunction, showing Jupiter and its four largest, most visible moons on the left, and Saturn to the right.

Epitaph for Wild

With the coming of the Christmas holiday, and the new year right around the corner, it seems fitting that I share a poem that I wrote 30 years ago about my feelings toward Gaia, or the health of our planet, and where we’re going as caretakers of this marvelous creation. This year of 2020 can either be one of despair, or it can be one of awakening.

I wrote this poem sitting on a rock in the high desert as a clearing storm painted a rainbow across the early morning sky, and the photograph below was taken at that time on a Minolta 35mm camera using Kodak Kodachrome 64 transparency film. The words came flowing out, sitting on that rock, and writing on an old notebook with a stub of a pencil (you do remember pencils and paper, don’t you). It really was a time of reflection, and discovery, and hope:

Epitaph for Wild

There’s a Kingdom where the ravens play with rainbows
And the mountains kiss the sky,
As the dancing crimson sunbeams paint the heavens
Where the Angels learn to fly;
Where the silence of a moonbeam echoes wildly
Through the caverns of my mind
And this cool September morning fills my marrow
With a high desert high.

A siren’s song is taunting from
The pinnacles and valleys of this land;
The desert’s silent melody is calling
Like a lover or a friend,
And yet this fickle lady wipes my footprints
From her shifting, blowing sand
As though I never was…so like
The flicker of a firefly on the wind.

I walk among these canyons where the
Ancient Shaman lived, and loved, and died;
I feel Him walking with me, I see His tears
And hear His mournful cry;
But not a sorrow for Himself,
Nor for a son, or for a daughter’s child…
These tears are shed for Mother Earth,
For Bear, and Hawk, and Wolf, and Father Sky.

The Shaman’s cheeks are pitted, as from poisoned tears,
So like the acid rain
That falls upon the scorched earth where the
Graceful raptor’s shattered bones are lain;
Where once God’s mighty warriors of the mountains roamed,
Long absent from their dens,
As wildness lies bludgeoned unto death…
What a treacherous lot we call men.

Behold, the changing colors in the clouds
Forever heralding the rain,
The lifeblood of the desert, coursing
Wildly through her arteries again;
Life has been renewed and resurrected,
All forgiving of the pain;
It seems to me a promise,
Not a legacy of ages lived in vain.

There’s a Kingdom where the ravens play with rainbows
And the mountains kiss the sky,
And the dancing crimson sunbeams paint the heavens
Where the Angels learn to fly;
Where time and space rejoice in singularity
As once it all began…
And starlight waltzes lightly with my soul,
As God proclaims, “I Am”

©1990 Bob Freeman

This planet has endured and evolved, and will continue to do so in spite of our treatment of her, and will adapt and change and continue to evolve with or without us.
As we move into a new year, with new opportunities for understanding, and new opportunities for change, we must do so, or we will find that we really will have lived in vain. I still choose to see the glass half full.

Gemenids

This year’s Gemenid Meteor Shower did not disappoint. Featuring a projected 103 meteors per hour, there were a few really spectacularly long, bright streaks across the Milky Way. Unfortunately, I was not able to capture those because of timing or camera orientation, but here are a few that did come across my lens on a chilly but clear midnight vigil:

Look carefully to find 6 meteors

As Neil deGrasse Tyson used to say on his nightly PBS show, “Keep looking up.”