Happy Winter Solstice! This evening, a group of runners, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts celebrated the return of the light at the Mt. Pisgah Sighting Pedestal, Eugene, Oregon. During sunset, we also witnessed a simultaneous moonrise – the December Cold Moon. What was really cool was that by looking back through the pedestal to the east the moon could be seen cresting the horizon. The setting sun and moonrise were approximately 180 degrees opposite!
The first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. from coast to coast in almost a century occurred today (August 21, 2017). It was a must-see event. In my home town of Eugene, Oregon, the obscuration (amount of the sun’s disk that’s obscured by the moon) was 99.3%. We were geographically about 40 miles south of the shadow’s extent for complete darkness, but our location did not disappoint. Below are four photos, taken with my camera, showing the progression of the moon crossing in front of the sun’s disk.
A total eclipse is a phenomenal natural spectacle. To us humans both objects appear to be the same size in the sky, this is because our star (the Sun) is 400 times wider than the moon and it is 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon. Even in the cosmos, such a splendid matchup of size and distance for intelligent life to observe is likely a rare occurrence.
This composite photo shows the trees and valley thirty minutes prior to (left) and at the height the eclipse (right). During this time the sky became very dark and there were no bird sounds. The temperature also dropped 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit!
From my vantage, I could see about 20 miles south and about 40 miles north. The northern view was dark, the southern direction was sunny; in between this gulf of sixty miles was a gradient between the darkness and light. My wow moment was realizing that such an immense shadow, and on such a grand scale was made by the moon which is indeed very, very big.
A high point of summer is witnessing the Perseid meteor shower. Every year in mid-August these cosmic bits of dust and ice streak into the Earthâ€™s atmosphere giving a heavenly spectacle to those on the ground. These â€˜shooting starsâ€™ can be seen once every minute and are best seen away from city lights. This year provided an extra challenge because of smoke from forest fires in southern Oregon.
My family grabbed the camping gear and we made our way to the crest of the Cascades in hopes of clear views. Our first stop was at 7,400 feet; unfortunately smoke shrouded the sky and nearby mountains, viewing that evening was very limited.
The next day the winds shifted and skies were clearer. For the second night, we selected a lakeside view at about 5,500 feet. We found a quiet peninsula on the water – the sky theater was open before us and we had front row seats!
As the sun lowered on the horizon it passed behind a thick grey-brown wall of smoke from the forest fires. The pre-show sunset was visually stunning.
For 20 minutes everything around us had a red hue (shown), then the sun completely disappeared behind the wall of smoke. The sky darkened.
Along the shore were gatherings of families, hikers, and campers. On the lake, kayakers began to raft up (shown). Everyone was eager for that eveningâ€™s performance. A voice from the water curiously asked if the smudge in the eastern sky was the Milky Way? We turned, behind us the great cross-section of our galaxy began to reveal itself. Someone shouted from the shore, â€œI saw one!â€ A wave of audible oohs and aahs was heard from the various groups of people who had seen a meteor streak across the sky.
We laid back on the smooth glacially-carved boulders that would be our theater seats for the evening, and for the next 3 hours were amazed by the variety of meteors that zipped across the heavenly stage; some meteors were micro-sized blips, others were graceful streaks, some dramatically required the length of the entire sky. At about midnight sleep was getting the better of us and we returned to our tents.
I tried to capture some of the Perseids with my camera, out of 80 photos that night this is the best I could accomplish.
Later that night I woke up and walked outside my tent where I could see the sky clearly. The Milky Way was overhead and amazingly bright. I shivered in the nightâ€™s cool temperature while looking up. A streak appeared across the star field of the Milky Way; it was bright, then not, then bright again, it rotated about 8 times before disappearing. What an amazing night!
In 1996 a forest fire decimated an area in central Oregon that was roughly 5 miles wide by 3 miles long. Much of the fireâ€™s southern advance was stopped by the immense shoreline of Waldo Lake â€“ a glacially carved body of water that is 10-square miles in size!
The titanic forces of fire and ice have affected this magnificent landscape in dramatic and beautiful ways; all of which are best experienced from the trail.
Here are some photos from a two-day, 8-mile backpacking trip along Waldo Lakeâ€™s north shore and deep into the burn zone of the Ringdon Lakes area.
Hiking along Waldo Lake’s north shore. Waldo Lake is considered to have some of the purest water in the world. The lake was named after Judge John Breckenridge Waldo, who is considered to be the â€œJohn Muir of Oregonâ€ for his work helping to conserve large tracks of forests in the Cascades.
Scampering over and under the â€œblowdown;â€ these are trees that have been blown down by the wind. In this case, the blowdown are the trees that burned in the 1996 fire.
Passing one of the many ponds that dot the northern shore of Waldo Lake.
We exited the burn zone and made camp. Shown are several youthful members of the group seen enjoying the shallow and cool waters nearby.
If you think youâ€™re too old for backpacking? Just look at Jack, at 70 years old he celebrates life by getting outside.
A view of the evening sky as seen from our campsite. That night we heard only nature’s sounds…which included the buzz of mosquitoes.
The night sky was dark on this moonless night. Note the prominent stars of the Big Dipper, in the right of the image, is Polaris (the North Star) and the Little Dipper. To locate Polaris, all you have to do is to find the Big Dipper pointer stars, which are located at the outer part of the Big Dipper’s bowl (seen at the bottom of the image). Draw a line from these and go about 5 times the distance to Polaris.
In the morning, the trail led us north, deep into the burn zone of the Waldo Lake Wilderness. The devastation from the fire continued for miles, but new growth was all around us as we hiked. Also observed were several types of bees, a wasp, woodpeckers, and a small toad.
Lake Kiwa is shown in the background. The trail junction (not shown) was partially hidden by a fallen tree that also served as the post for the trail sign. The path returning us to Waldo Lake was heavy with blowdown; this two-mile trail required twice the time because of the number of downed trees we had to climb over – more scampering!
Lower Rigdon Lake offered us the visual treat of a deep blue and some much-needed shade for a short break. Near the top of the hill is Upper Ringdon Lake.
Coming down from the Ringdon Lakes; in the distance is Waldo Lake. Note shown, but interesting; there were areas on this section of trail that frequently crossed flat rocky areas where glacial scouring makes could be seen.
Returning to the shoreline trail we enjoy the sights of Waldo Lake’s varied and picturesque scenery.