The Ring of Fire, October 2023

A Hiking and Photography Road Trip Featuring the October 14, 2023 Annular Eclipse

A high point on this road trip was photographing the annular "ring of fire" solar eclipse.
A high point on this road trip was photographing the annular “ring of fire” solar eclipse.
Among the best things I did on this trip was hike to and photograph the "Subway Cave" in the Coconino National Forest near Sedona, Arizona, with my photographer friend Scott AndersEn.
Among the best things I did on this trip was hike to and photograph the “Subway Cave” in the Coconino National Forest near Sedona, Arizona, with my photographer friend Scott AndersEn.

You can see companion pieces to this entry, The Dark Road (link) and Somewhere in the Night (link).

I asked my neighbors to look after my dogs Hawken and Summer. I left Byng, Oklahoma at around 8:30 a.m., intending to drive to Gallup, New Mexico and stay the night.

I photographed this Route 66 sign in Moriarty, New Mexico. Abby and I stayed in Moriarty on the first night of our first vacation together.
I photographed this Route 66 sign in Moriarty, New Mexico. Abby and I stayed in Moriarty on the first night of our first vacation together.
One of the long stoppages on Interstate 40 was caused at least in part by this wrecked semi.
One of the long stoppages on Interstate 40 was caused at least in part by this wrecked semi.

I left Gallup at sunrise, and drove to Zuni, thinking I might have better luck than last time photographing the Pueblo, but I forgot it was Indigenous People’s Day, and everything was closed.

Petrified Forest National Park

I photographed the lavishly restored Painted Desert Inn at Petrified Forest National Park.
I photographed the lavishly restored Painted Desert Inn at Petrified Forest National Park.

I discovered a trail at Petrified Forest National Park that I hadn’t hiked, the Blue Mesa Trail. While it wasn’t especially difficult, it was exactly the thing I needed after a day and a half of driving.

The paved trail leads steeply away from the top of Blue Mesa into a beautiful area of badlands.

This is the view at the top of the Blue Mesa Trail.
This is the view at the top of the Blue Mesa Trail.
Pale blue and grey erosions decorate the Blue Mesa Trail.
Pale blue and grey erosions decorate the Blue Mesa Trail.
I only saw a few pieces of petrified wood.
I only saw a few pieces of petrified wood.
Clouds decorate the horizon in this longer view from the Blue Mesa Trail.
Clouds decorate the horizon in this longer view from the Blue Mesa Trail.
The dust color of these erosions is blue to almost purple.
The dust color of these erosions is blue to almost purple.
This view of the Blue Mesa Trail from an overlook shows how vast, empty and beautiful this part of the country is.
This view of the Blue Mesa Trail from an overlook shows how vast, empty and beautiful this part of the country is.
This tighter view of the Blue Mesa Trail shows the winding path through the formations.
This tighter view of the Blue Mesa Trail shows the winding path through the formations.

I rolled into Flagstaff by late afternoon, and had dinner with long-time friend and fellow photographer Scott AndersEn.

Boynton Canyon and The Subway Cave, Sedona, Arizona

Scott said he wanted to hike the Boynton Canyon Trail to The Subway Cave in the Coconino National Forest near Sedona, Arizona, for years, but had never found or made the time. We met at the trail head just before sunrise.

Scott holds a camera and an action cam as we start our hike.
Scott holds a camera and an action cam as we start our hike.
Your host poses at the trail signs.
Your host poses at the trail signs.
First light greets the cliffs above our trail.
First light greets the cliffs above our trail.
Scott makes a frame of the early light on the cliffs of the surrounding canyon.
Scott makes a frame of the early light on the cliffs of the surrounding canyon.
Morning light rapidly matures on the canyon faces.
Morning light rapidly matures on the canyon faces.
We were not at all surprised to see these hot air balloons rise to our south. It was a still, chilly morning, perfect for ballooning.
We were not at all surprised to see these hot air balloons rise to our south. It was a still, chilly morning, perfect for ballooning.
Scott uses his 200-500mm lens to photograph the balloons we saw. I was surprised by how heavy this lens was.
Scott uses his 200-500mm lens to photograph the balloons we saw. I was surprised by how heavy this lens was.
Autumn was just starting to settle in to these woods.
Autumn was just starting to settle in to these woods.
A dead branch hangs silhouetted against a perfect blue sky.
A dead branch hangs silhouetted against a perfect blue sky.
Pine needles lay on a boulder.
Pine needles lay on a boulder.
Scott managed to cut or scrape all four of his limbs at one time or another.
Scott managed to cut or scrape all four of his limbs at one time or another.
The subtle color of the woods was quite lovely.
The subtle color of the woods was quite lovely.
This handsome cliff marked the end of the Boynton Canyon Trail.
This handsome cliff marked the end of the Boynton Canyon Trail.
This view is from the top of the cliff near the Subway Cave.
This view is from the top of the cliff near the Subway Cave.
We ran into lots of people on this hike, including this couple who used the word "dope" a lot, as in, "this trail is dope." I believe the woman's name is Melanie.
We ran into lots of people on this hike, including this couple who used the word “dope” a lot, as in, “this trail is dope.” I believe the woman’s name is Melanie.
This is me getting to the Subway Cave by following a sandstone bench around a corner.
This is me getting to the Subway Cave by following a sandstone bench around a corner.
This ledge looked sketchier than it was. Many hikers and I followed it around to the Subway Cave.
This ledge looked sketchier than it was. Many hikers and I followed it around to the Subway Cave.
That's me on the right after climbing around the ledge. Scott, who doesn't get along with heights, decided to scoot up a slope we nicknamed "the chute."
That’s me on the right after climbing around the ledge. Scott, who doesn’t get along with heights, decided to scoot up a slope we nicknamed “the chute.”
This is Scott blundering his way up "the chute" to the Subway Cave.
This is Scott blundering his way up “the chute” to the Subway Cave.
This is the view looking into the Subway Cave.
This is the view looking into the Subway Cave.
This view looks out from the back of the Subway Cave.
This view looks out from the back of the Subway Cave.
A pair of hikers walks around the ledge to exfil the Subway Cave.
A pair of hikers walks around the ledge to exfil the Subway Cave.
I am always happy when I am on the trail. Scott AndersEn made this image of me near the Subway Cave.
I am always happy when I am on the trail. Scott AndersEn made this image of me near the Subway Cave.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

At Valley of Fire State Park in southeastern Nevada, I had brilliant sun and gorgeous autumn skies for a couple of nice hikes. My first stop was "The Beehives."
At Valley of Fire State Park in southeastern Nevada, I had brilliant sun and gorgeous autumn skies for a couple of nice hikes. My first stop was “The Beehives.”
Valley of Fire is popular and beautiful.
Valley of Fire is popular and beautiful.
Valley of Fire is full of small sandstone arches.
Valley of Fire is full of small sandstone arches.
This view looks back at the road from "The Beehives."
This view looks back at the road from “The Beehives.”
A steel staircase leads to AtlAtl Rock, a famous ancient pictograph panel.
A steel staircase leads to AtlAtl Rock, a famous ancient pictograph panel.
The sunny Arizona sky was putting on quite a show for me in Valley of Fire State Park.
The sunny Arizona sky was putting on quite a show for me in Valley of Fire State Park.

Despite 70-degree temperatures and a decent breeze, I was still hot, and understand perfectly why a couple of the trails at Valley of Fire are closed during the summer months.

The White Domes Loop Trail leads down to a short section of slot canyon. I often prefer to put the trail to one side or the other of a trail like this because I think it encourages the viewer to want to go around the corner with me.
The White Domes Loop Trail leads down to a short section of slot canyon. I often prefer to put the trail to one side or the other of a trail like this because I think it encourages the viewer to want to go around the corner with me.
The left-to-right motion of this image says, "walk into the light!"
The left-to-right motion of this image says, “walk into the light!”
This concrete trail marker has seen better days.
This concrete trail marker has seen better days.
Everyone sees something different when they look at this natural arch. I think it looks like a bird skull.
Everyone sees something different when they look at this natural arch. I think it looks like a bird skull.
I love the smooth transition from light to dark in this image.
I love the smooth transition from light to dark in this image.
The sky just kept performing for me.
The sky just kept performing for me.
This is the end of the Rainbow Vista Trail.
This is the end of the Rainbow Vista Trail.

Photographing the Annular Eclipse in Northwestern New Mexico

I didn’t have a plan of any kind for the eclipse, other than wanting to be somewhere it was the full eclipse. Because it was annular and not total, I had in my thoughts that it wouldn’t be as popular as was the Great American Eclipse had been in 2017, but that assumption was completely wrong.

This couple from California were the first people photographing the eclipse I saw by the roadside on my drive north from Gallup.
This couple from California were the first people photographing the eclipse I saw by the roadside on my drive north from Gallup.
Everyone I met on the trail of the eclipse was friendly and glad to see me.
Everyone I met on the trail of the eclipse was friendly and glad to see me.
I saw a larger number of eclipse viewers at an open turnout at Newcomb, New Mexico, and decided that was as good a place as any to be a part of the event.
I saw a larger number of eclipse viewers at an open turnout at Newcomb, New Mexico, and decided that was as good a place as any to be a part of the event.
One nice eclipser had a 10-pack of lens filters for photographing the sun, and offered me one, which I gratefully accepted.
One nice eclipser had a 10-pack of lens filters for photographing the sun, and offered me one, which I gratefully accepted.
The moon approaches full annular eclipse status.
The moon approaches full annular eclipse status.
You host poses for a photo made by a friendly fellow eclipse-watcher in Newcomb, New Mexico.
You host poses for a photo made by a friendly fellow eclipse-watcher in Newcomb, New Mexico.
Viewers used various methods to safely view the sun as the eclipse approaches.
Viewers used various methods to safely view the sun as the eclipse approaches.
This man had a large reflex telescope.
This man had a large reflex telescope.
At least one couple used dedicated solar viewing devices.
At least one couple used dedicated solar viewing devices.
Other viewers made do with what they had, like this eclipse-glasses cut in half and affixed to a camera lens with painter's tape.
Other viewers made do with what they had, like this eclipse-glasses cut in half and affixed to a camera lens with painter’s tape.
We all signed a large piece of foam used for eclipse projection.
We all signed a large piece of foam used for eclipse projection.
A man uses a welder's mask to attempt to photograph the ring of fire.
A man uses a welder’s mask to attempt to photograph the ring of fire.
The moon finally centers between us and the sun, showing the much-anticipated ring of fire.
The moon finally centers between us and the sun, showing the much-anticipated ring of fire.
As I was leaving a woman asked me if I wanted a "celebratory cookie," which she made the night before. I did, and it was delicious.
As I was leaving a woman asked me if I wanted a “celebratory cookie,” which she made the night before. I did, and it was delicious.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

After the eclipse, I had plenty of time to find someplace to hike before driving to Tucumcari for the night, so I made my way down the the Bisti Wilderness, which is part of the larger Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in northeastern New Mexico.

In the previous four times I visited Bisti, I never saw more than two or three people. On a couple of occasions (here and here), I didn’t see anyone else. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I rolled into the parking area to see hundreds of people, many of whom had set up camp, with tents, teardrop campers, and RVs. They had all come to see the eclipse.

Hundreds of people came to the Bisti Wilderness to see and photograph the eclipse.
Hundreds of people came to the Bisti Wilderness to see and photograph the eclipse.
The people in this group alone add up to more people than I saw in my previous four visits to Bisti put together.
The people in this group alone add up to more people than I saw in my previous four visits to Bisti put together.
I love the surreal scenery at Bisti.
I love the surreal scenery at Bisti.
Despite five visits, I feel like I could explore Bisti/De-Na-Zin, and nearby Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness for days and days and never get bored.
Despite five visits, I feel like I could explore Bisti/De-Na-Zin, and nearby Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness for days and days and never get bored.

A note to myself and my readers hiking at Bisti: if you want to find the formation known as the “alien eggs” (also known as the “alien hatchery,” the “alien egg factory,” the “cracked eggs,” and more), follow the wash, the main one that skirts a fence to the north, until you see a natural gate of red stone the wash runs through, then simply turn right, and there it is.

Since there were people everywhere, it was no problem to get them in a photo of the "alien eggs" to establish scale.
Since there were people everywhere, it was no problem to get them in a photo of the “alien eggs” to establish scale.
The "alien eggs" has become a photographer's "must do" item, and has thus gotten less interesting, so I expect my next visit to Bisti/De-Na-Zin will be to an entirely different area.
The “alien eggs” has become a photographer’s “must do” item, and has thus gotten less interesting, so I expect my next visit to Bisti/De-Na-Zin will be to an entirely different area.
A nice couple from California made this picture for me, and I returned the favor. Despite the crowds, I was glad to be there.
A nice couple from California made this picture for me, and I returned the favor. Despite the crowds, I was glad to be there.
I constructed this four-frame eclipse illustration by blending in Photoshop.
I constructed this four-frame eclipse illustration by blending in Photoshop.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to have a look at the two companion pieces, The Dark Road, and Somewhere in the Night.