Moab Happenings Archive
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Night Hiking Under This Year’s Supermoons
by Kathy Grossman

Moab is known for its dark skies, but not under a full moon! And a Supermoon is a full moon around perigee, a point in its orbit when it’s closest to Earth. This year, 2023, we’re treated to four of them, starting with the Buck Supermoon on July 3rd. In August, the Sturgeon Supermoon rises on the 1st and a second Supermoon rises on the 31st, a so-called Blue Moon. A fourth 2023 Supermoon—the Corn, Barley, or Harvest Moon—is September 29.

And what marvelous nights for a moondance. On the evening of a Supermoon years ago, my photographer friend Seth was excited to take shots of the moonrise in Arches National Park. He set up in the Windows Section and waited. And waited some more. Finally, voilá, there she came! The moon in all her strawberry loveliness rose over the La Sals from behind the North Window. The small group sitting near us applauded. Familiar formations became unfamiliar. Ochres, rusts, and cinnamons became indigos, grays, and silvers. Seth almost forgot to trip the shutter. To make your own after-hours foray enjoyable and safe, you’ll want to consider:

Which trail. Hike a trail that’s familiar, clearly marked, and reasonably flat. In Arches you’ll find well-marked trails or parking areas with other people around, such as Panorama Point, Balanced Rock, Devil’s Garden, the Windows Section, or the Garden of Eden. You can always go into Arches during the day and hang around for the moonrise. Sand Flats Recreation Area is also a good place to hike out at twilight and perhaps watch Moab’s July 4th fireworks. Dead Horse Point State Park also hosts ranger-led Full Moon Hikes. Check with the park for dates and times.

Which moon phase. Plan your trip around the week of a full moon, perhaps the night of the full moon. On July 3, the eve of America’s Independence Day, Moab’s daytime temperatures are typically over 100º F (38º C), so a night hike can bring some relief. The waxing moon is several days before the full moon; the waning moon is the days after the full moon.
Start time. When it’s light, choose a spot to watch the moon or perhaps at sunset, then wait for the moonrise. The nighttime part of the hike will be on the way back. Hiking your trail can be wonderful throughout the night, out and back, but keep an eye on the weather. A stray thunderstorm could complicate your plans.

Sources of light. In my spelunking days, we carried three sources of light, including multiple flashlights in addition to calcium carbide mounts and backup battery set-ups for our helmets. For hiking out in the open at night, complement the moonlight with flashlights and headlamps. It may be cloudy, so be prepared. I use a sweet little pink Pentzl headlamp from GearHeads, but Everlyte, Black Diamond, and Ledlenser also make excellent nighttime tools. Try out your new headlamp features during the day. And, of course, never shine your light into anyone’s face. This all said, you can encourage your own night vision using just the moon, flashlights switched off. To help your footing in this shadow world, consider bringing along trekking poles. Slow down and enjoy the weirdness of the night.

Communication and companionship. Hike with other adults, choose a fairly popular trail, or at least describe to someone where you’re going and stick to that plan. Don’t completely depend upon your iPhone: cell coverage in Moab’s outback can be spotty. You might consider hiking a trail twice: once during the day, the next time under the full moon.

You might also hike at sunset during the phase of a crescent moon (or “sickle” or “fingernail” moon) to see Earthshine on the horizon. Also called “Da Vinci Glow,” this ghostly image of the entire moon between the crescent’s “horns” was first described by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). Next year, 2024, there will be more Supermoons, this time in August, September, October, and November. Whichever moon phase you hike beneath, it will most definitely be marvelous.

Kathy Grossman

Kathy Grossman is a California cartoonist, musician, and writer who came to Moab for the hiking, then stayed for the library and the fireworks. Though she prefers to hike in a natural soundscape, once you’re back home, she recommends listening to Van Morrison’s song Moondance and Billie Holiday’s bluesy rendition or The Marcels’ doo-wop treatment of Blue Moon.

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