Winter Sunrise

The sunrise after a winter storm often results in beautiful scenery and colors. Low-lying areas may have shallow fog. Mountains may have multiple layers of clouds. All of this is enhanced by the low sun angle as it first rises above the horizon.

Low clouds and fog partially obscure the San Francisco Peaks as the sun rises (24 Jan 2024).
Low clouds and fog partially obscure the San Francisco Peaks as the sun rises (24 Jan 2024).

On the other hand, getting up before sunrise, driving on snow-packed roads, and standing around shooting photos with cold temperatures is a challenge. But the results are often worth the effort. Here are a few sunrise photographs.

Wispy clouds cap the San Francisco Peaks (08 Jan 2024).
Wispy clouds cap the San Francisco Peaks (08 Jan 2024).
First light on some old ranching structures near Mormon Lake (08 Jan 2024).
First light on some old ranching structures near Mormon Lake (08 Jan 2024).
Earth's shadow can be seen behind the San Francisco Peaks in this pre-sunrise image (26 Jan 2024).
Earth’s shadow can be seen behind the San Francisco Peaks in this pre-sunrise image (26 Jan 2024).
Telephoto image of snow and clouds on the San Francisco Peaks (26 Jan 2024).
Telephoto image of snow and clouds on the San Francisco Peaks (26 Jan 2024).
Layers of clouds are draped across Mingus Mountain (03 Feb 2024).
Layers of clouds are draped across Mingus Mountain (03 Feb 2024).

This week should bring lots of snow to northern Arizona. I hope to get some interesting photographs.

 

Rocket Launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base

I was fortunate to see another spectacular launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Christmas Eve morning. I typically check the launch listing sites every few days to keep track of when the next launch will be. These are listed weeks or even months ahead of the launch date–although the dates can and do change. There are exceptions to this advance posting: certain top-secret satellites are often announced with only 24 hours notice. The SARah 2 & 3 satellites had this abbreviated announcement.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch the SARah 2 & 3 satellites into LEO (Low Earth Orbit). Exhaust from the second stage is illuminated by the Sun as it ascends.
SpaceX Falcon 9 launch the SARah 2 & 3 satellites into LEO (Low Earth Orbit). Exhaust from the second stage is illuminated by the Sun as it ascends.
First stage separation and return.
First stage separation and return.

Fortunately, I happened to check the updated schedule about 12 hours before launch so I was able to make preparations for viewing it.

The launch was scheduled for 0611 MST (0511 PST) on the morning of December 24. I went north of Flagstaff to the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

The launch was on time at 0611 MST and about a minute later I was able to see the rocket as it rose above the horizon. I wasalso  able to photograph the first stage separation. A  few minutes later the high-level clouds appeared once the rocket had ascended high enough to be illuminated by the Sun–which was still well below the horizon at my location.

Here are a few photographs of the launch plus a time-lapse video that shows the dramatic expansion of the high-altitude cloud from the rocket exhaust.

SpaceX/Falcon 9 launch of the SARah 2 & 3 satellites.

The next launch is in a week but may be too late in the evening to catch the last light of twilight.

Autumn Colors in Northern Arizona

October and November brings color to the foliage in northern Arizona. This year, however, the colors have been subdued and the color change has been over an extended period of time rather than a sharp peak. Nonetheless, it’s always a fun time to get out and photograph. These photographs were taken between October 10 and November 1.

October 10, 2023

Lockett Meadows, the Inner Basin, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Lockett Meadows, the Inner Basin, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Lockett Meadows, the Inner Basin, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Lockett Meadows, the Inner Basin, and the San Francisco Peaks.
Fallen aspen leaves cover the Waterline Road in the San Francisco Peaks.
Fallen aspen leaves cover the Waterline Road in the San Francisco Peaks.
A ridge is covered with aspen as seen from the Inner Basin Trail.
A ridge is covered with aspen as seen from the Inner Basin Trail.

October 19, 2023

Aspen along the Veit Springs trail on the San Francisco Peaks.
Aspen along the Veit Springs trail on the San Francisco Peaks.

October 30, 2023

Red maple leaves in Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Red maple leaves in Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Fallen maple leaves in Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Fallen maple leaves in Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple tree, Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple tree, Harding Springs, Oak Creek Canyon.

November 1, 2023

Apple leaves, Call Of The Canyon picnic area, Oak Creek Canyon.
Apple leaves, Call Of The Canyon picnic area, Oak Creek Canyon.
Maple tree, West Fork Oak Creek trail.
Maple tree, West Fork Oak Creek trail.
A sunlit wall is reflected in a pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
A sunlit wall is reflected in a pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
Fallen leaves sit atop the water in a tranquil pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
Fallen leaves sit atop the water in a tranquil pool in West Fork Oak Creek.
Bright yellow maple leaves arch across the West Fork Oak Creek trail.
Bright yellow maple leaves arch across the West Fork Oak Creek trail.

The color continues to migrate into the lower elevations. Middle and lower sections of Oak Creek Canyon have yet to hit their peak.

Monsoon–September 2023

As mentioned in an earlier post the monsoon had a late start this year–and ended about the middle of September which is fairly typical.

02 September 2023

Lightning bridges the clouds above and fog below in Grand Canyon.
Lightning bridges the clouds above and fog below in Grand Canyon.
Lightning bridges the clouds above and fog below in Grand Canyon.
Lightning bridges the clouds above and fog below in Grand Canyon.
Lightning strikes the walls of Grand Canyon near Desert View Tower.
Lightning strikes the walls of Grand Canyon near Desert View Tower.

I went to Grand Canyon early and was photographing storms shortly before 3 P.M. It was interesting and unusual because fog rapidly developed deep inside the canyon as the storms approached from the south. For a moment I wasn’t certain I would see anything in the reduced visibility. But close lightning bolts dropped from the cloud base above, through the clear air, and then disappeared in the fog in the inner canyon. It was really spectacular to see this.

Another storm dropped a lightning bolt into the canyon near Desert View Tower with multiple contact points. Wow!

A double rainbow over Palisades of the Canyon and Desert View Tower in Grand Canyon.
A double rainbow over Palisades of the Canyon and Desert View Tower in Grand Canyon.
A rainbow moments before sunset spans the canyon.
A rainbow moments before sunset spans the canyon.

And then the rainbows arrived with some brilliant and colorful arcs of light over Desert View point. Finally, just moments before sunset, another rainbow stretched from the North Rim to the South Rim.

It was an amazing day.

12 September 2023

An early evening storm produced a lot of in-cloud lightning that lit up the thunderstorm at the same time that the setting Sun was illuminating it from the West. And all of this was reflected in the waters of Mormon Lake.

Thunderstorm after sunset near Mormon Lake.
Thunderstorm after sunset near Mormon Lake.

13 September 2023

Storms were more isolated this day allowing for nice views of the convection. I was able to get several photographs of the storms over the Little Colorado River (LCR) valley as I was heading towards Grand Canyon. Late in the afternoon a short segment of a rainbow appeared over the LCR.

An early afternoon thunderstorm over the Little Colorado River valley east of Grand Canyon.
An early afternoon thunderstorm over the Little Colorado River valley east of Grand Canyon.
Thunderstorm over the eastern portions of Grand Canyon.
Thunderstorm over the eastern portions of Grand Canyon.
A short segment of a rainbow with Desert View Tower.
A short segment of a rainbow with Desert View Tower.

14 September 2023

I spent the late afternoon and early evening in Wupatki National Monument and was able to get some really great sunset photographs. There was lightning after dark but most of it was too far away for interesting structure and branching.

A burst of color on a rain shaft at sunset over Wupatki National Monument.
A burst of color on a rain shaft at sunset over Wupatki National Monument.
Fading sunset colors over Wupatki National Monument.
Fading sunset colors over Wupatki National Monument.

15 September 2023

Late afternoon and early evening storms were present to the west of Mormon Lake. I kept hoping for some dramatic lightning with sunset color–but only got the latter. It was still pretty good!

The setting sun illuminates a rain shaft over Mormon Mountain and Mormon Lake.
The setting sun illuminates a rain shaft over Mormon Mountain and Mormon Lake.

17 September 2023

I was actually trying to photograph Comet C/2023 P1 Nishimura but these clouds were in the way. This was taken well after sunset and the color was pretty remarkable.

Sunset colors on a mid-level deck of clouds.
Sunset colors on a mid-level deck of clouds.

So after a late start the monsoon season produced many photogenic opportunities for clouds, sunsets, fog, and lightning.  And now the long wait until next season.

Previous posts on the 2023 North American Monsoon:

Annular Solar Eclipse–14 October 2023

It may not have been a total eclipse but the annular eclipse was still wonderful to experience.

Sequence of images of the entire eclipse from C1 through C4, including the annularity or "Ring of Fire." The images are not evenly spaced in time but instead concentrate on the few moments before, during, and after the annularity of the eclipse. Beginning of the eclipse is at lower left; the end is at upper right. [Nikon D750]
Sequence of images of the eclipse from C1 through C4, including the annularity or “Ring of Fire.” The images are not evenly spaced in time but instead concentrate on the few moments before, during, and after the annularity of the eclipse. Beginning of the eclipse at lower left; the end at upper right.
We were close to the center line in the small town of Fillmore, Utah. Before the sun even rose that morning we drove the few blocks from our hotel to Fillmore City Park and set up gear and chairs on the grassy field along with many others. Then it was time to wait and chat with all the other people.

I shot the eclipse with three cameras. My main rig was a Nikon D750 with the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E lens set to 500mm. The camera and lens was attached to an iOptron SkyTracker so that the camera would follow the Sun without my having to make adjustments. A Kendrick Astro Solar Filter covered the front of the lens. I shot a sequence with 5-minute intervals until a few minutes before and after annularity; during this most interesting part of the eclipse I shot using 3-second intervals.

The secondary setup was with a Sony RX10 set to 35mm focal length and 1-minute sequences from beginning to near the end. The battery failed late in the session and after replacing it the focus was slightly off (operator error!).

And the third camera was an Apple iPhone SE3 which I used to shoot scenes around us in the park.

This is a burst of images at 3-second intervals just before and after C2 (second contact)--the start of annularity or the "Ring of Fire." Note the irregularity of the shadow which is a result of mountains and valleys on the surface of the Moon. [Nikon D750]
This is a burst of images at 3-second intervals just before and after C2 (second contact)–the start of annularity or the “Ring of Fire.” Note the irregularity of the shadow which is a result of mountains and valleys on the surface of the Moon.
Sequence of images at 1-minute intervals of the eclipse. [Sony RX10]
Sequence of images at 1-minute intervals of the eclipse. [Sony RX10]
There were some ooh’s and aah’s as the eclipse started (C1–first contact). But when C2 occurred (second contact) there was cheering and applause. The end of annularity (C3–third contact) brought another round of cheering and applause. There was little crowd response at C4 (fourth contact–end of eclipse) since most folks had already left. The only folks still there were those dedicated to capturing a sequence of the entirety of the eclipse.

Crescent-shaped light and shadow during the partial phase of the eclipse.
Crescent-shaped light and shadow during the partial phase of the eclipse.
Panorama of City Park in Fillmore, Utah, during maximum annularity.
Panorama of City Park in Fillmore, Utah, during maximum annularity.
Photo of my main rig with the telephoto lens and camera mounted on the iOptron SkyTracker.
Photo of my main rig with the telephoto lens and camera mounted on the iOptron SkyTracker.

Crowds and traffic had lessened considerably by the time we left and we drove back to Flagstaff with a stop for an early dinner in Kanab, Utah.

Path of the Annular Eclipse across Utah.
Path of the Annular Eclipse across Utah.

But, wait! There’s more.

The day before the eclipse we were able to see a spectacular halo as were were driving through Utah. At various times we saw the 22° halo (the most common halo), supralateral arc, parhelia (also known as “sun dogs”), parhelic arc, upper tangent arc, and circumzenithal arc.

Panorama showing the multiple halos and arcs visible in the sky [Sony RX10; 3 vertical panos stitched]
Panorama showing the multiple halos and arcs visible in the sky [Sony RX10; 3 vertical panos stitched]
Panorama showing the multiple halos and arcs visible in the sky [Apple iPhone SE3; 3 vertical panos stitched]
Panorama showing the multiple halos and arcs visible in the sky [Apple iPhone SE3; 3 vertical panos stitched]
Almost as impressive as the eclipse!

Credits