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Friday Fitness Hike, Monsoon Edition

Today’s hike started at the Wagner Trailhead.  Bob, Janet, Linda, Amy, and I hiked the Wagner to the Granite, and turned onto a trail unofficially known as the “Cowboy” trail.  Ranger Amy hiked out perhaps halfway with us on the Cowboy Trail before turning back to open the visitor center.

Bob took this photo of the four of us just prior to Amy turning back.  (The colors are a bit off today.  I haven’t quite gotten the knack of getting the white balance right when converting RAW files.  The skies often ended up more purple than I wanted them to be.)

Here’s another version of the above photo with possibly more accurate colors.  (I might be starting to figure out some of the problems I was having with the RAW conversion.)  Marie tells me it’s better, but Marilyn likes the one above.  So I’m leaving them both here for those who’ve already looked at the one above and have decided they like it.

The Cowboy Trail eventually runs into the Pemberton at the north end of the park.  Linda mentioned that she had not seen that part of the Pemberton yet.  Below is a view of the McDowells from the portion of Pemberton that’s also a service road.

This photo was taken from the Pemberton perhaps less than a mile from the intersection with the Delsie Trail.

We saw this large buckhorn cholla at or around the time that we turned onto the Delsie Trail.

As we hiked the Delsie Trail, we saw interesting looking clouds off in the distance.  We had already been hearing distant thunder for much of the hike.  We could see rain off in the distance.

Linda took this photo of some yellow flowers and me taking pictures of the storms far off in the distance.

Linda also took this photo of Bob and Janet.  Tom’s Thumb is visible in the distance above and slightly to the (viewer’s) right of Bob’s hat.

I didn’t think we’d be hiking in the rain today, but I was wrong.  Here’s a photo of Bob, Linda, and Janet hiking fast once it became clear that heavy rain was on the way.

When it started to rain hard, I put my camera under my rain jacket that I had stuffed in the outer compartment of my pack.  Strong winds made the rain come down sideways.  My clothing was soaked in under than a minute.  We were hiking into the wind – I put my sunglasses on for a while in an attempt to keep the rain from getting in my eyes.

After a while of trudging through the rain, my eyes began to sting.  I think the rain dissolved the salt accumulated in my hat and was washing it into my eyes.  Eventually, the rain starting coming merely down instead of coming at us sideways too.  I was able to see again.

Bob and Janet got well ahead of us while I was hiking somewhat more slowly due to not being able to see very well.  Linda hiked with me.  We talked about the lightning and thunder we were seeing and hearing.

After what seemed like a very long time, we got to the Granite Trail and then the Wagner Trail.  During that time the rain abated, but did not completely stop.

We frequently hike across washes and sometimes even through them on our hikes, but we almost never see them with any significant amount of water.  Today was different; there was enough water running in them that we nervous about fording them.

The photo below shows the last significant wash that we had to cross on the Wagner trail prior to getting back to our vehicles.

When we got back to the Trailhead, we were met by Ranger Amy and Mark, another park employee.  They had been concerned about us because we were out hiking during a monsoon.  We assured them we were okay and, after chatting a while, we got in our cars and drove home.

But driving home wasn’t as easy as normal.  As we were leaving the park, we saw that Sheriff’s deputies had stopped traffic on the road leading to Rio Verde.  Linda decided to return home by way of Fountain HIlls, but that proved to be a problem too because there’s a good sized wash between the park entrance and Fountain Hills.  Linda took this photo of me studying the wash to see if I could cross it.  A truck is crossing it there.  After seeing that truck and several other vehicles cross, I decided that I could cross too.  (And I did.)

Linda decided to turn around and wait for the deputies to reopen the section of road leading to Rio Verde.  She took this photo while she was waiting.

 

 

Friday Fitness Hike

Bob and I met at the Wagner Trailhead today for the Fitness Hike. Ranger Amy showed up briefly to tell us that she had a sore throat.

Textured clouds made for a brilliant sky just prior to sunrise.  I’ll admit to enhancing the sky in the photo below; the real thing was colorful too, but perhaps not quite as saturated.  I could easily dial it back a bit, but I happen to like this edit.  Marie is usually quite critical of such things, but she likes it too.

The sun rose while we were talking to Amy.  She pointed it out, so I turned around and snapped a few more photos.  Here’s one of them:

Our plan was to hike out to Rock Knob.  We took Wagner to Granite and the started up the wash that parallels Bluff.  Just after that first little scramble up some rocks, I encountered a Western Diamondback who promptly slithered into a nearby hole.  Bob and I could easily see into the hole though.  Here is one of Bob’s photos of the snake:

I wasn’t very quick on the draw as I had reassigned the button for setting the flash, but for me, being able to set the metering mode quickly is more important than the flash.  But I finally found the menu option for turning it on and managed to get this shot:

Bob climbed up and around the snake, avoiding its hole.  We proceeded on up the wash.  We crossed Pemberton, staying in the wash leading up to Rock Knob.  Below is a view of Rock Knob from that wash.

As we made our way northward to go around Rock Knob, we came upon a very impressive looking saguaro.  Bob and I spent perhaps ten minutes in the area taking photos of it from various angles.  Here’s one with Bob standing next to it.  You can get a good feel for the size of this saguaro from this shot.  Note, too, that each of the large arms have arms of their own!

One of the hazards of walking in an area with lots of Teddy Bear Cholla is that, sometimes, one will stick to your shoe.  I got this one out with the aid of a stick.  One of the past rangers who worked at the park, Crash, told me that a pocket comb works great for removing cholla.

The blue and white gaiter I’m wearing helps to keep sand and other detritus out of my shoes.  Even so, a few grains of sand managed to work it’s way into my left shoe and found it’s way down between the first and second metatarsals.  I now have a small blister there.

Here is a view looking up the saguaro.  If you look closely, you can see a large nest off to the left.

Here’s a view of that same saguaro with Rock Knob behind and off to the right.  I think we’re looking roughly southward here.

When we got to the Preserve side of the fence, we saw a very bleached bone sitting on a rock.  Here, Bob is taking a photo of it.

Here is a closer view of the bone:

An interesting looking rock…

Bob noticed this tortoise along the way.  I would’ve walked by it without noticing it.  Bob said that he gave it some water and it perked right up.

Some flowers, thanks to the recent rain that we’ve gotten.

 

Hedgehog Cacti:

A view of Rock Knob from a vantage point to the west.  We’re looking east, towards the park (from the Preserve) here.

There used to be a pretty good road in the Preserve which lead back to the Rock Knob Trail.  The preserve managers churned it up so that it’s impassable by most vehicles now.  It was even hard walking on it.  It was easier to walk in nearby washes.

Once we got back to the park boundary and crossed the fence, we took the Rock Knob Trail to Pemberton.  We took the Bluff, Granite, and Wagner trails back to our vehicles.  We hiked exactly ten miles today.

 

Sunset over the McDowells

I got this photo earlier tonight from the top of my roof.

At the Intersection of Pemberton & Boulder…

Below is a photo taken during last Friday’s Fitness Hike.  It had been a while since I had been on that section of the Pemberton and that was the first time I saw this sign.  The Boulder Trail isn’t really new; people have been using it for years.  It’s even been on the Park’s master plan for some time, but up until about a month or so ago, was not an official park trail.  It leads up to the Marcus Landslide Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Friday Fitness Hike

Today’s hike started at the Trailhead Staging Area in McDowell Mountain Park.  We had a small group today consisting of Bob, Janet, and myself.  It was humid and partly cloudy when we started.  We had cloud cover off and on during the hike.

We started by hiking clockwise on the Pemberton Trail.  We made a brief stop to look at the old homestead site and walked around the watering hole.  The water level was lower than I remember it being in the past.

Below is a view from the Pemberton, shortly after passing the intersection with the service road leading to the competitive track area.

I think this is a group of Hedgehog cacti just a short ways further on along the Pemberton.

Bob and Janet beside a healthy looking saguaro:

A scared bunny.

Me, looking through a stand of buckhorn cholla:

Another healthy looking saguaro, with the McDowells off to the left:

Bob and Janet, with Rock Knob behind and to the right.  We’ll be going to Rock Knob next week!

A baby saguaro arm:

At this point we had reached the Bluff Trail and proceeded to go down it.  Here’s a view looking back up the Bluff Trail.  Part of Rock Knob is visible just to the left of the big saguaro in front.

We turned right when we got to the Granite Trail.  Along the way, we saw another saguaro that’s growing a bunch of new arms, even more than are shown in the photo below.

Right next to that saguaro was this ocotillo:

Granite took us back to Pemberton, which took us back to the Trailhead Staging Area.  We covered eleven miles total today!

 

 

Fountain Park Photos

On Saturday afternoon, Marie, Marilyn, and I visited the Fountain Park.  I went with the intent of scouting a good location to set up the tripod for taking a nighttime photo of the fountain.  I wasn’t sure whether I would get a chance to do it on Saturday, but I brought along my NEX-7 and the tripod just in case.  I brought a small point and shoot camera, the Sony RX100 for my scouting.  All but the last two photos shown here were taken with the RX100.

We got there shortly after 5:00pm, but before 5:15.  The fountain was not running.  It normally starts on the hour and runs for fifteen minutes.  It does not run, however, if it’s excessively windy.  It was fairly windy when we got there, so perhaps that’s why it wasn’t running.  You can see the wind blowing her hair in these photos of Marilyn:

I took photos of the fountain lake for a while and of some of the plants along the Overlook Trail.  When I got back down to the car, it was 6:00pm.  So I hiked back up the trail and took some more photos.  Here’s one of the fountain.

When I got to this cactus, I knew I had found a spot from which I wanted to try to get a photo of the fountain at some point.  The sun was mostly behind the clouds, but was still pretty bright.  My Sony RX100 was in auto-HDR mode for this shot.  The HDR images that it produces are often fairly bland, but they often contain enough detail for what would normally be either overexposed or underexposed areas for me to be able to do something with the image later on.  That was the case here.

As I walked back down the Overlook Trail, I got this shot where it appears that the sun is trying to split the clouds.

When I got back down to the grassy area near the lake, I found that Marie had found a tree to play on.

When I was done taking these photos, it was starting to get dark.  We were only about twenty minutes away from the seven o’clock fountain.  The sky still looked cool, so I grabbed my NEX-7 and the tripod and headed back up the Overlook Trail to the spot next to the saguaro that I had identified earlier.  I took a bunch of bracketed exposures of the fountain.  I messed up on the first few sets because I had forgotten to take the camera off of auto-ISO.  Fortunately, I still had some time left, so I set the camera on ISO 100, and was able to take the exposures which formed this photo, below.  I took eleven exposures total, ranging from +5EV to -5EV in one stop steps.  I only ended up using seven of them because I didn’t see anything useful in the top two and bottom two.  I describe more about how I created this image in an earlier post.  (Note: I’ve since re-edited the image and have put a new one here in place of the original.  The original is still available in that earlier post.)

Here’s another HDR shot of the fountain.  This was from one of the sequences shot using auto ISO.

I’m still going through the images that I took that day.  If I find anything else worth showing, I’ll add it to this entry.

Fountain After Sunset

I wasn’t very happy with the Fattal tone mapping on my HDR Fountain photo.  I experimented with different tone mapping algorithms and parameters to those operations and eventually settled on Durand.  According to Parameters for tone mapping operators, Durand “produces the most realistic pictures. No extreme effects, but very nice output with lots of details in the picture.”  I used the following parameters with Durand:

  • Base Contrast: 4.4
  • Spatial Kernel Sigma: 7.0
  • Range Kernel Sigma: 5.1
  • Result Size: 6000×4000
  • Pre-gamma: 0.52

I didn’t change any of the levels or gamma in Luminance HDR.  Instead, I used GIMP and treated the HDR result as if it were an image that came out of my camera.  I employed the usual techniques of making layers, creating layer masks, and setting the layer modes to achieve the effects that I’m after for certain portions of the image.

Here’s the result:

Fountain after Sunset, tonemapped using Fattal

The parameters for the Fattal tone mapping in the photo below are as follows:

  • Result Size: 1536×1024
  • Pre-gamma: 1.00
  • Alpha: 0.10
  • Beta: 0.94
  • Color Saturation: 0.90
  • Noise Reduction: 0.00
I didn’t change either gamma or the levels after the tone mapping operation.  Instead, I edited the image with GIMP, duplicated the layer and set the layer mode to multiply.  This worked fairly well, but for the upper half of the image ending up darker than I would have liked.  So I created a graduated selection which ran from mostly invisible at the top to fully opaque about a third of the way from the bottom.  I set this as the layer mask on the “multiply” layer.  The image looked much better.
There was a large halo around the big saguaro in the foreground just along and slightly above the horizon.  I found the exposure from the original seven used to create the HDR image, scaled it to the correct size and then copied it over as a new layer.  I created a layer mask with the halo area and then adjusted the transparency until it looked right.  The color wasn’t quite right along the horizon (and still isn’t, but it’s better), so I used curves to increase the amount of red in that area and decrease the amount of green.
I discovered that, when using Fattal, choosing the result size makes a big difference.  I had been choosing a result size of 6000×4000 which was the size of the exposures that came out of the camera.  But doing this resulted in an image that looked over-sharpened when viewed at a scaled resolution.  I tried for a long time, but failed to come up with a set of parameters which looked really good with that large result size scaled down to something smaller.  If you view the 6000×4000 result unscaled, it looks pretty good.
The image below will look best if viewed at its native resolution of 1536×1024.  It will probably not look too good if the device upon which you’re viewing it scales it to some other size.

Another Snake!

Marilyn, Marie, and I went to the Fountain Park late in the day today.  I had hiked up the trail overlooking the fountain to try some more HDR photos.  The sun had set and it was getting dark.  Marilyn and Marie came up to meet me and, as we were nearing the bottom, we saw this rattlesnake slithering across the trail.  I got my camera out and after fumbling the first few photos – I still had the ISO set at 100 and the exposure compensation set to -5.0 EV – I finally got a couple of shots that weren’t all black.  This is the better of the two.  I used the flash for this photo; I think it turned out okay anyway.

Friday Fitness Hike

It was raining today as I drove out to the Friday Fitness Hike at McDowell Mountain Park.  It was still raining when I got there.  Linda had already arrived.  We rolled down our windows, said hello to each other and wondered whether anyone else would show up.  We didn’t have long to wait as Amy, Janet, and Bob all showed up within the next few minutes.   The rain wasn’t bad, just a light drizzle.

We hiked the Wagner Trail out to Granite, where we turned right.  Along the way, on Granite, I learned that the new trail which leads up to Granite Tank has been given a name; it’s now the “Delsie Trail.”  Apparently Delsie was one of the matrons of the old P-Bar Ranch.  Much, if not all of McDowell Mountain Park, and much of Fountain Hills too, was once part of the B-Bar Ranch.

According to the River of Time Museum,  the B-Bar ranch was operated by Henry Pemberton in the early 1900s.  Operation then passed to the Coles and then to Delsie’s husband Lee Barkdoll in 1935.  Lee died in a train accident a short while later.  Ranger Amy tells me that Delsie operated the ranch after Lee’s death, marrying Lee’s friend Dick Robbins in 1939.  She had a busy life, driving kids on the ranch and the nearby reservation into a school in Scottsdale.  She’d drop the kids off and then go to her job working at a cafeteria in Scottsdale.  Later in the day, she’d drive the kids home, and do whatever needed to be done for the ranch.  Delsie and Robbins ran the ranch until 1955.

We hiked the Delsie Trail today, taking it all the way to Granite Tank.  Along the way, Amy stopped to show us a plant known as The Queen of the Night.  It doesn’t look like much in the photos below, but Amy assures us that it has a very spectacular flower which only opens after dark.  In the photo below, Amy is telling us about this Night-blooming Cereus.

Here is a better view of this otherwise unremarkable plant with Four Peaks off to the left.

A bit further up the Delsie Trail, Amy turned around so that she could open the Nature Center on time.  It was still drizzling, but we stopped to take pictures before she turned back.

As we hiked further up the Delsie Trail, we noticed that some of the barrel cacti had bright red needles, perhaps due to the rain.

The Delsie Trail connects to the Pemberton Trail at Granite Tank.  We turned left and hiked a short way to where we could see this crested saguaro:

The rain brought out a lot of color that we don’t normally see when it’s dry – which is most of the time.  This photo is from a little ways further along the Pemberton.

A short while later, we came upon this “quadruple” saguaro.  It’s one plant that appears to have split into four very long arms when the plant was quite young.

Bob noticed the sun starting to make its presence known and suggested that I get a photo.  Bob is good at spotting these shots.

We saw this dead tree just as we came upon Stoneman Wash.  We decided to hike Stoneman Wash today.  If you’re going to hike this upper section of wash, the best time to do it is just after a rain because it firms up the sand.  It’s still a wash, but it’s not quite as loose as normal.  It can still be quite bad, however, if equestrians have been out with their horses.  Janet and Linda suggested this photo.

We came across this unusual Palo Verde tree as we were hiking Stoneman Wash.  I thought it odd that the tree had a dead looking spot above which were living branches.

Ranger Amy, who in turn double checked with Ranger Kevin Smith at Spur Cross, tells me that the colorful plant in front of the Palo Verde is a Turpentine Bush.  We saw many of them on the hike.  The rain seems to have brought out the color in them.  Amy tells me that they have yellow flowers when they bloom.

Here is my attempt at photographing water droplets on a Palo Verde branch.

Linda had the idea for this shot.  She took the photo too.  I think it turned out very well.

Bob and I walked right past this snake, a Western Diamondback, and had trouble seeing it even when Linda and Janet were pointing right at it.  I had a hard time photographing it too as I took one shot where I missed the snake completely!  This shot, however, came out fairly well.  Notice though how well the snake blends in with the gravel of the wash.

Here’s a 1:1 crop showing more detail:

We ended up hiking Stoneman Wash all the way to the Bluff Trail.  Once we got to Bluff, we turned left and headed back on the Wagner Trail.

Large black ants were out in force today.  I guess they like the moisture too.  Bob had been bitten by some black ants earlier in the hike.

I got this photo just after taking a few shots of the ants.  I really like the clouds in this shot.

We hiked a little over nine and half miles today in only a little over three hours.

 

 

 

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