Sunday, July 23, 2023

The Marvelous Night Sky - Astrophotography

The Milky Way is extra bright in summer and fall because we can see the galactic core, the center of our universe, easily. One evening, my friend Jenny and I headed to Ward Charcoal Ovens near Ely, NV. We had it all to ourselves on a calm, cloud-free night. Yay! We put a tea candle in each of the charcoal ovens and then tried a variety of photos with various light painting options to light up the ovens.

Can you see Jenny in the door of the oven?

We thought  it would be fun to put ourselves into some photos for scale. These ovens are big!

We had so much fun taking photos. When we left, we finally looked at the time and realized we would be getting home the next day. :)

Another evening I decided to check out the night life of tractors. I was a little surprised to hear some squeaking from one trailer. I guess they aren't always quiet, lol.

I was also surprised by all the green airglow. Apparently you can see it in the darkest night skies. It may also be more evident when there is more aurora activity, which is caused by more solar activity. Our sun is the most active it's been since 2002.

Another view

Then I headed down to some sunflowers. It's such a good sunflower year!

I tried for various angles, not sure what would be the most captivating. 

I could just stay out there so long with the gorgeous flowers under the beautiful Milky Way.

 Just seeing the Milky Way gets me excited. I've been wanting to learn more about astronomy, so I've gone to five astronomy programs at Great Basin National Park this summer. They're held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights. On one off night, a couple of the astronomers offered to help Desert Boy get his telescope working properly. He had been given one but couldn't figure it out. Fortunately, with the expert help, he was soon seeing really cool objects like binary stars, globular clusters, nebula, and more.

I was having fun taking photos at the same time.

Desert Boy was even able to show some other people things through his telescope. He can't wait to use it again--but now we're in a cloudy pattern, so he'll have to wait a few nights. It won't be long until he can explore more of our marvelous night sky.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Snowy Great Basin National Park Hikes in June


Near mid-June 2023, the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive opened. Most years it opens before Memorial Day weekend (last weekend in May), but this year there was so much snow it opened later. Desert Boy and I decided to go for a hike on the Alpine Lakes trail. Even at the trailhead, there was so much snow!

We didn't think to wear microspikes/exospikes/Yaktrax. Desert Boy fell down several times. I had a hiking pole and that helped me stay up.

When we got out of the trees more, we found patches where the snow had melted. But overall, we estimated that about 80% of the trail was covered with snow!

The orange blazes on the trees helped us know where the trail was.

Close to the lake we arrived at the sign showing the trail up to Wheeler Peak. That definitely was not in the plans for us that day! We could see plenty of snow ahead just on the way to Stella Lake.

To my surprise, as we approached the lake, I saw a lot of open water.

The lake wasn't entirely snow and ice free, though. We went to the corner with the most ice and snapped a selfie.

Desert Boy wasn't interested in a swim for some reason.

Some of the snow had a pinkish tinge to it, an indication that watermelon algae was present. As the saying goes, "Don't eat the pink snow!" Okay, maybe it's a different color that the saying refers to. But it's still not a good idea to eat the pink snow, it may cause some digestive troubles.

I was just slightly enamored with the lake and had to take one more photo from this vantage point.

As we walked around the lake, I spotted the viewing bench in the water. Desert Boy gamely jumped up on it for this humorous shot.

Desert Boy was wearing some new boots and was getting a blister. He found a tiny patch of ground and applied a bandaid.

The trail between Stella and Teresa Lakes was hard to follow, and we got lost for a bit.

But then we found our way, and soon were seeing Teresa Lake!

The lake was really full.

I was intrigued by the ice layer near the lake's edge. 

Desert Boy was trying to kick off an "iceberg" and managed to plunge his foot into the lake.

He posed on another water-logged bench.

As we left the lake, we found some deep snow. We met another hiker coming back from the Bristlecone Trail, who had turned around despite having microspikes because he felt it was too dangerous. 

This twisted tree is along the trail back to the parking lot, and looks extra cool surrounded by snow.

I was delighted when Desert Boy decided he liked hiking and wanted to go on another hike, up Bald Mountain. We started from the Summit trailhead. We did not find many flowers, despite it being the second part of June. A few snow buttercups lent a pop of color to the landscape. At this point, the clouds were just grazing the tops of the mountains.

This might be a golden mantled ground squirrel. It was not very afraid of us.

As we headed up Bald Mountain, we encountered lots of sun cups, or patterns in the snow that had melted out in roughly the shape of cups.

In quite a few of them, we found this bug, which we've seen other times on the hike up to Wheeler Peak.

To my surprise, we also saw a bunch of grasshoppers.

It was a windy day, and as we climbed higher, the wind got stronger. The clouds got lower. We decided it was time to turn around.

It was a lovely morning in beautiful scenery.

The aspen were just starting to leaf out. You can see which way the wind blows. 

The top of the mountain is missing!

It's fun seeing everything with more snow on it than usual. 
At the time of this posting, mid-July, there is still a fair bit of snow above 10,000 feet. It's interesting to see how different things look this year, including plants flowering much later, and stream and lake levels higher than usual.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

2023 SuperBloom in and near Great Basin National Park


With the amazing snow we had this past winter, we knew the wildflowers would be good. We just didn't know how good they would be! The Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza saggita) was amazing up Baker Creek.

The contrast with the snow on the mountains made the colors pop even more!

I love seeing cactus bloom, as the delicate flowers make such an interesting contrast with the spiky spines. Here's Pediocactus simpsonii, and I have to admit that I know it by it's scientific name and not it's common name. But I looked up the common name for you, and here's what I found: Simpson’s Footcactus, Mountain Ball Cactus, Simpson´s Hedgehog Cactus, Snowball Pediocactus. So there are plenty of common names to choose from!

Over in Spring Valley (and quite a few other places), the globemallow put on a spectacular show.

The bluebells are numerous and especially pretty after a rain.

I think this is Engelmann''s Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii). So beautiful on a cloudy day.

The flowers are gorgeous.

The superbloom of Arrowleaf Balsamroot was also found in part of the burned area on the Osceola Ditch Trail.

Although it's so cool to look at the sea of color, I also like taking a closer look at individual flowers. I think this is a Hemipteran (true bug).

And here's a ladybug hiding out.

I've been wanting to take more Milky Way photos with flowers, but have been struggling with wind making the flowers blurry. Here are some Prickly Poppies with the Milky Way.

And some Palmer's Penstemon with the Milky Way. Even though the photos aren't turning out how I want, it's still beautiful to observe the night sky in such gorgeous conditions.

A closeup of the Palmer's Penstemon, those sexy beasts!

The Arrowleaf Balsamroot also decorated Strawberry Creek.

A friend shared a Facebook post about an unusual flower in Spring Valley. I was intrigued and investigated and found it to be Toano Milkvetch, which has a limited distribution. Nevertheless, it was easy to find in 2023 along the sides of the highway!

Most milkvetch grows low to the ground, but Toano Milkvetch gets over a meter high!

And then I saw some in a different color and had to stop again!

The white verion of Toano Milkvetch! You can even see the highway in this photo.

The Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia polycantha) has been flowering well this year.

Up in the meadow in South Fork Baker Creek, the shooting stars are amazing in early July.

They are such delicate flowers. It sure would be fun to be lying next to the shooting stars and look up into the night sky and see a real shooting star. (Of course, they grow in kind of wet soils, so maybe this is better off as a dream than reality.)

Groundsels are blooming well, but what really caught my attention were the aphids, the oval dark insects on the plant. They are true bugs (Hemiptera), and I'm organizing the Hemiptera BioBlitz at Great Basin National Park August 15-17, so paying extra attention to them. About 5,000 species of aphids are known, with several hundred recognized as pests. Some are specialists, only feeding on one species of plant, while others are generalists. What I find is cool is that the aphids such sap out of the plant, making honeydew. Ants have a mutualist relationship with the aphids, climbing up the plant to suck the honeydew (free lunch!) and protecting the aphids from predators. 

One more superbloom photo to close out this post. I am trying to put more of my flower and insect photos on iNaturalist, especially since the timing of some of these flowers is so late this year. It's great to record the phenology (timing) of the plants so we know how they can vary. I hope you have been able to see some beautiful flowers this summer!

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