The Rough Riders and Scouts Venture Out to Mojave Heights During the Annular Eclipse

December 22, 2023


By Allison Thomas

The Westerners Rough Riders group hiking along a wide red rock ledge in the Mojave Heights trail above Boynton Canyon during the Solar Eclipse.

On October 14, 2023, at 8:00 a.m., a small eager group of hikers - consisting of two Rough Riders and four Scouts - were looking forward to having an adventure on the Saturday hike with leaders Kelly-Leigh Thomas and myself. This year we had the added attraction of the pending annular solar eclipse. 

Had we started our hike in the traditional direction at the Boynton trailhead, we would have been in a wonderful box canyon - under the canopy of trees - during the annular eclipse rather than out in the open. By reversing our hike we were able to complete the vertical climb of 1,500 feet at the beginning of the hike ensuring that we would be on the open face of red rock for a good part of the eclipse. 

When we made the decision to hike Mojave Heights in the reverse direction, we heard several objections. “Why are we hiking it backwards?” “This isn’t the way we usually do it.” It is always an interesting discussion when we try to switch things up and do things differently. 

On this Rough Rider hike, we were armed with a few pairs of certified solar eclipse glasses. We had run into some hikers who were not aware that regular sunglasses are not enough eye protection for an eclipse. We instructed them to not look directly into the sun without the special viewing glasses. Even during an eclipse, the sun is too bright. Sharing the glasses, we took turns to view the moon’s path, stopping every so often to get an updated view. Our enthusiastic group was full of excitement and anticipation of the impending astrological event’s arrival at 9:30 a.m. It did not disappoint. 

The annular eclipse occurs as the moon moves in front of the sun but does not cover the sun completely. A total eclipse has the moon line up perfectly, between the sun and the Earth. As 9:30 a.m. approached, an ever so slight darkness fell - along with a noticeable coolness to the air. This annular eclipse had some sunlight leaking around the edges of the moon creating a Pac-Man effect. The lunar changes were fascinating to watch as it slowly covered larger and larger chunks of the sun, creating amazing crescent-moon-shaped sun shadows on the rocks and vegetation. 

The Mojave Heights loop hike included two slots that were a challenge to descend, some narrow ledges that had to be crossed, and a variety of climbs. This Rough Rider hike was so named - a number of years back - after our Scouts, who were developing the hike for the Sedona Westerners, encountered a Mojave rattlesnake on the trail. The trail name serves as a kind of warning to hikers. The Mojave rattlesnake is a large, highly venomous snake that is native to the deserts of the southwestern United States. It has green to olive-green scales with a light-brownish diamond pattern running down its back. The unique shape of the diamonds distinguishes it from the Diamondback rattlesnake. The Mojave is a pit viper that is equipped with pit organs on its head that can detect infrared. This means it can strike prey when there is no light and can detect prey when they are many meters away. (And we hiked this trail during a solar eclipse?) Their venom is both neurotoxic and hemotoxic, a double whammy to the nervous system and the vascular system of its prey. Hikers often don’t realize this when they are trying to capture the much-desired photo. Fortunately for us, this time none of these snakes ventured out during the eclipse while we were on the trail.

Ending the hike with the long trek back to the cars allowed for much reflection on the wonders and mysteries of our universe. Mark your calendars. The next eclipse will be a total eclipse and is coming our way on April 8, 2024. 

To learn more about the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club, view this season’s hiking schedule, or to become a member yourself, go to www.sedonawesterners.org. The hiking season runs through May 9, 2024. The membership fee is only $30 for the whole season.

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