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Trip Report: Ring of Fire | Annular Eclipse 2023 in Utah

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WOW! What a trip! 😎


It was so great to see everyone, old friends and new friends alike! Our family had a heckuva good time on this one, exploring an area we've never been, and seeing a celestial event like no other.


Massive thanks to everyone that made the big drive to hang out with us:

@theksmith @johnpa @J2DXPLR @Visket @Alexis


For this trip, we congregated near Mexican Hat, Utah, which was just a few miles from the centerline for the path the moon's umbra would take as it transited from the PNW down into Central America - pass right right through the Four Corners region. Just 6 hours away and with plenty of trail options to explore, it was a natural choice!




We selected John's Canyon for the trip - it was rated as a moderate trail and would serve as a good "gatekeeper" to filter out the Prius drivers and get away from the big crowds that would descend on the region. In the below map, I marked where we stopped to view the eclipse - note the blue centerline for the umbra - we were approx 3-4 miles from "center".




John's Canyon Trail was rated as moderate - but we found it to be very easy. It was a smooth dirt road for the most part, with a few minor dips. Any stock, 2WD high clearance SUV would have no issues on the trail all the way up to the John's Canyon Waterfall, where you'll need some flex and good clearance. From that point on, the trail is more "traditional 4x4" territory.


We meet up "early" in the morning at 7am MDT, just 30 minutes before sunrise at a 7-11 in Mexican Hat. The trailhead was a quick jaunt up the road about 4 miles. As we passed through the area you could see the local authorities prepping for a crowd. The EMTs and LEOs had set up a base camp on the corner and there were port-a-potties around. Further up the road we ran into small crowds of RVs, van lifers, and campers. 


As we stopped to air down, the sun rose.




Our sleepyhead friends know how to boogie! They caught us up just as we were stopping to air down. The sun had just broke over the canyon walls behind them, illuminating their dust wake. 




Airing down and enjoying the rising sun!




In terms of weather.... what weather?




This is a look west from the trailhead at Cedar Point. The famous Muley Point is hidden behind this formation.




@Alexis taking in the views:




Along the way we saw a great many things! The trail was fun, winding through the canyon, hugging the walls. There were interesting boulders and petroglyphs along the way... and of course plentiful views of the Goosenecks below through which the San Juan River has slowly carved out the canyons over the millennia. 






Look closely - this view of these petroglyphs is from the road - they're easily the largest I've ever seen.




This rock face was perfectly flat and approximately 30-40 ft across.




We stopped here for the eclipse, just inside of the "new" Bears Ears NM.




Here's a view looking north. What a great place to witness the eclipse!




A photo of the spot on iPhone:



We watched the eclipse just over this ridge:





Speaking of eclipses:




Full annularity at approx 10:29 am MDT




Now - we all know the moon isn't perfectly round (neither is the Earth for that matter). It's a spheroid and has mountains and craters. If you look closely at the below photo, you can see those mountains and high-points at the southern pole of the moon interacting with the edge of the solar disc:




During a TOTAL Solar Eclipse, this would result in something called Baily's Beads, which you can see with the naked eye during a Total Eclipse (not safe during an Annular Eclipse).


Another shot of the mountains at the edge of the solar disc:




Moving out of annularity: 




One last shot:ADCreHf4OE5g_EKr9miPo47Hyrc-BUIBRi5rgIwk\\


During the eclipse, we noticed the air temperatures began to fall as the moon's shadow passed over us. We also noticed a red shift in the light around us. You can see this if you look closely at this Timelapse:




After the festivities and some lunch - we spent about 3 hours sitting and marveling - we headed down the trail a bit to John's Waterfall.










After the waterfall, some of the group split off to head deeper into the canyon to camp. The rest of us made our way back out the way we came.


All in all - a wonderful trip. I really enjoyed hanging out with you all and sharing in this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle!




Edited by 4x4tographer
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Great write up and fantastic photos, especially of the eclipse!

What set up did you use to take the eclipse photos?


I tried the “back alley” method of trying to use my iPhone to take a picture thru a welding helmet lens.  
Let’s just say mine sucked compared to yours.  I was in the Grand Canyon on a nice flat rock on Windy Ridge.


Thanks for posting these






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3 hours ago, jgaz said:

Great write up and fantastic photos, especially of the eclipse!

What set up did you use to take the eclipse photos?


I tried the “back alley” method of trying to use my iPhone to take a picture thru a welding helmet lens.  
Let’s just say mine sucked compared to yours.  I was in the Grand Canyon on a nice flat rock on Windy Ridge.


Thanks for posting these



Thanks Jim! My first time with solar photography - pretty happy with the results. 

You can get some pretty decent results with a tripod, camera and lens with a long focal length, and a solar filter.  I have a few telescopes, but for this trip they were far too bulky to pack into the Jeep along with the entire family.


These particular shots were taken with my trusty old Nikon D800, which is a full-frame DSLR. My Nikon has been relegated to nighttime astrophotography duty and I have a semi-permanent clip in light pollution filter from Astronomik. The filter probably has no real relevance here, but it was installed (too lazy to take it out!)


The lens is a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, which is the longest focal length "non-telescope" lens in my collection. To keep things safe, I picked up a Thousand Oaks solar filter from Agena Astro that is sized for my particular lens (77mm filter size).


I LOVE the D800 as it was one of the first heavy hitting high-megapixel full-frame professional cameras on the market @ 36.6MP. This allows you to really get a lot of detail in "normal" photography and also allows you to really crop in to offset the fact that you might not have a super long lens.


Here's a shot that is NOT cropped, to give you an idea of how much latitude you get when cropping with it.




And the same shot cropped down to probably 10% of the original image frame.




A much longer lens is more ideal that relying on raw MP count. Maybe @J2DXPLR will post up one of their captures. They were also shooting on a D800 and I believe a 500 or 600mm Tamron lens. The difference is extremely impressive and I think they have a lot more detail since they didn't need to crop the snot out of their shots. 😊 You can see the sun spots in their images - it's AWESOME.



Edited by 4x4tographer
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Always amazed with your detailed write up and gorgeous photos @4x4tographer!


@jgaz We shot the eclipse using our Nikon D800 with the Tamron SP 150-600mm lens plus a solar filter. Same setup we used for the total solar eclipse in 2017. Unfortunately, our D800’s 10 pin remote port was broken so we were not able to use the Nikon MC-30A Remote Trigger Release, we used the timer instead to reduce vibration.


Here is one of the shots taken during the early stages of the eclipse with sun spots showing and the uneven surface of the moon.



Here is a composite of the handful of our favorite shots from the whole event.




Here are some photos of our setup.



Edited by J2DXPLR
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@4x4tographer and @J2DXPLR  

Thank you both for the pictures and the information .  
I barely understood a lot of it but definitely know now why my pictures didn’t really turn out.


You both have some excellent shots!



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What a cool trip! Awesome pictures as usual Ryan, actually I'm very impressed. Thanks for the write up too! 

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passing through monument valley:




arrived in Mexican hat early Thursday and explored a few nearby trails, including previewing a short section of John's Canyon.






later in the afternoon i met up with @johnpa and @J2DXPLR to check out the Moki Dugway and Muley Point East. @J2DXPLR and myself camped right next to the San Juan that evening.






everyone patiently watching the ball of fire in the sky:




i got a few photos of the eclipse with my little Canon S110 point-n-shoot camera and just holding the solar glasses in front of the lens.








this is what happens when you don't use the tripod:




it was neat to see how the eclipse affected shadows, the color temperature of the ambient light, and the lens flares in some of the photos.


this was a shot during "full annularity" - check out the lens flare near the bottom right of the photo:




thanks to everyone for coming and especially @4x4tographer for organizing and leading this adventure - i had a great time staring at the sun with you all!



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Wonderful trip report and description of the event!! Thanks for sharing!  

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Looks like it was a HUGE success...   Thanks for sharing...  ;)

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