Crescent moon and Venus in the morning sky

One of the advantages (and their aren’t many) of working shift work is that you get to see a lot of sunrises. While many marvel about beautiful sunsets, far fewer can say the same of the sunrise.

Crescent moon and Venus in morning twilight.
Crescent moon and Venus in morning twilight.


I wish I could say that I planned this photograph and was patiently waiting for the right moment. But, no, I wasn’t even paying attention to the sky. On impulse, I walked to the window and peered out to see if there were any clouds lit up by the not-yet-risen sun and was pleased to see the thin crescent moon so near the planet Venus. Luckily, the camera was nearby and I shot this image of the celestial pair with some trees in the foreground to add some detailed texture.


Watching the International Space Station amidst the scenery of Sedona

As readers of this site already know, I enjoy photographing the International Space Station (ISS) as it makes its twilight flyovers. Most of my ISS images have been taken in Flagstaff and nearby environs. Recently, however, I made a trip to the lower elevations of Sedona to attempt to photograph the ISS amidst the scenery of Sedona.

This transit only got to about 20 degrees elevation above the horizon so it was important to find a location with a good view to the northwest — but also an interesting view. After looking at the ephemeris for the transit (rise time, highest elevation, set time, etc.) I decided that I could get an interesting photograph from the Brins Mesa trailhead area north of Sedona.

We arrived about 15 minutes before the transit so there was enough time to survey the area and select the most appropriate spot to set up the tripod and camera. After a few test shots, I was ready for the transit. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying close attention and I missed the first 10-20 seconds as it rose in the west. No problem! I started the camera but then realized I had failed to set the shutter to continuous shooting mode. I use continuous mode so that I can take a series of 10-15 second exposures then composite them later. By keeping the exposures short there is less chance of overexposing the twilight sky.

All was not lost as I only missed the first two 10-second images but managed to capture the next seven images. After compositing the individual images in Photoshop and using the Lighten blend mode, I got the following result:

International Space Station (ISS) transiting the evening twilight sky in Sedona, Arizona.

There was a bit of camera shake in the first image as I was still fiddling with camera settings while the shutter was open! But overall the image managed to capture what I set out to do: photograph the ISS as a long streak of light with the fabulous Red Rocks of Sedona as a foreground.

Dance of the clouds

The weather across much of the country has been very dramatic the past few days with snow storms, ice storms, strong winds, and brutal cold. Across Arizona we experienced exceptionally cold weather as the Arctic air mass settled in across the area. Strong northeast winds at the surface and aloft helped to drive the cold air across the Rocky Mountain barrier and deep into the southwest.

The northeast winds also created some fantastic wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks, located to the north of Flagstaff. Normally, strong southwest winds roll across the Peaks and the best wave clouds are located to the northeast but this wind reversal resulted in a reversal of the wave clouds as well.

Delicate wave clouds dance across the San Francisco Peaks.
Delicate wave clouds dance across the San Francisco Peaks.

Video here.

Even more interesting were the clouds that were forming just below the tops of the peaks. Strong winds from the northeast drove cold air into the Inner Basin on the east side then up and over the top of the peaks. As the air ascended thin wispy clouds would form. Just as quicky the air descended on the southwest slopes and the clouds evaporated.

The rapidly changing clouds and detailed structure were fascinating to watch. A time-lapse movie clearly shows this incredible dance of the clouds as it moves across the Peaks.

Winter in Moab, Utah

On a recent trip to Colorado we made a stop in Moab, Utah. This is a place that hosts a large number of tourists each year, including visitors to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, which are located close by. The town also hosts large numbers of mountain bikers and off-roaders. At least that’s the case during the warmer months of spring, summer, and fall.

The Windows area of Arches National Park at sunset during the winter.
The Windows area of Arches National Park at sunset during the winter.

In the winter there are fewer visitors and the trails are mostly empty. It’s a great time of year to visit if you don’t mind the cooler temperatures, shorter days, and occasional snow and ice on the trails and roads.

Frozen streamside in Negro Bill Canyon near Moab, Utah.
Frozen streamside in Negro Bill Canyon near Moab, Utah.

We took advantage of the low-crowd season to hike a few trails in the area, including Negro Bill Canyon and Corona Arch. On both trails we saw only a few other people. With so few people, it’s easy to set up a tripod and get some great photographs and not worry about hikers, bikers, jeeps, or other distractions finding their way into your images!

Trail running in Sedona

Although we had a lot of snow in Flagstaff and northern Arizona in December, it’s been completely dry since then and the snow has slowly vanished. We’ve taken advantage of the dry weather and done a lot of trail running in Sedona. It’s always warmer there, of course, because of the lower elevations. But even there they received measurable snow in late December and, as a result, many of the trails are still muddy and some still have patchy snow in the deep shadows.

Still, it’s been a great chance to try out some new trails. We’ve been aware of the growing number of non-system trails (i.e., trails that are not part of the Forest Service network) and have been interested in trying some. The Forest Service has also recognized that some of these trails should be brought into the system.

One of these is Aerie Trail which starts from the Boynton Canyon Trailhead and heads in a generally westerly direction, passes by the Fay Canyon Trailhead, then heads towards Doe Mountain. You can connect this trail with Cockscomb and make a nice loop. Although parts of the trail were exceptionally muddy, other sections were dry. These two trails can be combined into a short, ~6 mile loop.

Aerie-Cockscomb Loop
Aerie-Cockscomb Loop

Another loop we’ve done a few times is the Munds Wagon–Cow Pies–Overhang Loop. This loop has some amazing views from the top of the saddle and some great running sections on the Overhang section. Keep your eyes open for mountain bikers!

Mitten Ridge--BearPaw--Hangover
Mitten Ridge--BearPaw--Hangover

So many trails … so little time!


Correction (10 March 2011): The USFS document referenced above does not include the Aerie Trail in their list of non-system trails.