Ancient Dwellings in Red Rock Country

The canyons that surround Sedona are known to contain many Native American dwellings and other artifacts. Visiting these sites can be an adventure—especially if you don’t actually know where they are.

Cliff dwelling in Red Rock--Secret Mountain Wilderness.
Cliff dwelling in Red Rock–Secret Mountain Wilderness.

So we have been visiting and re-visiting some canyons in the area and trying to determine where dwellings might exist. There are several ways to do this. One is to look carefully at the cliff walls and decide if these might support a dwelling. The next is to look for faint paths created by others that lead to the hidden sites within the canyon. And the third is ask a friend who did manage to find the location!

Storage cave and ladder near cliff dwellings.
Storage cave and ladder near cliff dwellings.
Storage cave and ladder near cliff dwellings.
Storage cave and ladder near cliff dwellings.

Methods two and three above worked in our favor recently and we visited this set of dwellings. The first structure we visited was small and looked like it might have been used for storage. There were several small caves and alcoves nearby and these may have provided additional storage. There was also a ladder providing access to some upper caves and clefts. The ladder, although fairly modern, showed significant signs of weathering and we declined to use it.

Century-old signatures on cliff dwellings.
Century-old signatures on cliff dwellings.

The second structure was a well-preserved dwelling—although there was no longer a roof covering it. Inside, visitors in the early 1900’s had scratched their names and dates in the walls. That may have been acceptable then; not so much today.

As we were leaving a fairly large group approached the ruins. Time for us to leave as the quiet moments were over.

Photographing the Milky Way and Cathedral Rock

We are entering Milky Way season—generally considered to be March through September in the northern hemisphere. In mid-March the Milky Way does not rise until well after midnight and the Galactic Center of the Milky Way is only about 25° degrees above the horizon by astronomical twilight.

The Milky Way and Galactic Center rise above Cathedral Rock. Venus and Mars are also visible just above the horizon and to the left of Cathedral Rock.
The Milky Way and Galactic Center rise above Cathedral Rock. Venus and Mars are also visible just above the horizon and to the left of Cathedral Rock.

Accompanying the Milky Way was the waxing crescent Moon which was 77% illuminated on the morning of 13 March 2022. The Moon would set around 0413 MST and twilight did not start until 0516 MST.

The Milky Way is lower in the sky and is combined with a foreground image containing star reflections in the small pool of water.
The Milky Way is lower in the sky and is combined with a foreground image containing star reflections in the small pool of water.

What this means is that I could photograph the landscape with the Moon illuminating it and then an hour or so later capture the Milky Way after the Moon had set and the sky was very dark.

I arrived with bright moonlight illuminating Cathedral Rock. I positioned the camera so that I could get some star reflections in the small—very small—pool of water. I also shot images without the water—just expanses of undulating red rock with alternating patterns of light and shadow.

Having finished that part of the show I had to wait until the Moon was at least a few degrees below the horizon allowing the sky to become very dark.

The Galactic Center of the Milky was about 16° above the horizon at moonset—which was just barely above the high point of Cathedral Rock. That wasn’t really the shot I wanted so I waited until it got higher.

Just before and after astronomical twilight the Galactic Center had risen to about 25° above the horizon. I shot a few images before twilight began to wash out the stars in the eastern sky. As a bonus, I was also able to capture the planets Venus and Mars just above the horizon.

The foreground images were shot at ISO 800, ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8, and 120 seconds exposure with LENR (long exposure noise reduction) turned on. The star images were shot at ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, and 300 seconds exposure with LENR. Star images were taken with the camera mounted on an iOptron SkyTracker mount.

March Snow in northern Arizona

Another winter storm moved across northern Arizona on Friday and Saturday dropping several inches of snow. Clouds began to clear Sunday morning just before sunrise setting up the possibility of a great sunrise. Well—it was a great sunrise at my location but a small patch of low clouds blocked the sun from shining on the San Francisco Peaks.

First light illuminates freshly-fallen snow.
First light illuminates freshly-fallen snow.

Time to shoot photos of something else. Here is an image as the first sunlight hits the snow in front of me. The sun angle is so low that the slightest undulations in snow create long shadows.

Tire tracks in the snow.
Tire tracks in the snow.

Tire tracks in snow are interesting, aren’t they? Taken just a few minutes later as a bit of cloudiness moved in front of the sun.

Old ranch buildings near Mormon Lake.
Old ranch buildings near Mormon Lake.

There are a couple of old buildings in the meadow near Mormon Lake and the sun and clouds provide a natural spotlight on the old ranch.

Clouds blow across the top of the San Francisco Peaks in the wake of a departing storm.
Clouds blow across the top of the San Francisco Peaks in the wake of a departing storm.

Here is an image of the San Francisco Peaks with just a bit of light striking the highest clouds.

Finally, a short time lapse video of the peaks and clouds. Note the sinking motion along the eastern edge of the peaks as well as the hydraulic jump farther downstream.

Snow in the Desert

Snow in the desert is amazing. Desert plants and red rocks are covered with snow and birds are just a bit bewildered by the whole experience.

Red rocks and snow covered trees near Sedona.
Red rocks and snow covered trees near Sedona.
Snow-covered desert plants near Sedona.
Snow-covered desert plants near Sedona.

A very cold storm system moved across Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday and snow levels fell well below 4000′ feet bringing snow to the higher deserts including Sedona. I was pretty certain I was going to make the trip to Sedona for sunrise on Thursday morning.

Around 3 a.m. the snow plows came through the neighborhood pushing up a 2 foot berm of ice and  snow that would need to be cleared before I could get out of the driveway. Classic—happens just about every time!

Once in Sedona I followed a trail that had not seen any human traffic since yesterday but there were coyote tracks. I never saw the critter and it was probably just as well.

New snow covers red rock and trees in Oak Creek Canyon.
New snow covers red rock and trees in Oak Creek Canyon.

The snow in Sedona will be mostly gone within a day or two.

Cap Clouds over the San Francisco Peaks

A fast-moving storm system passed over northern Arizona on Wednesday. Snowfall amounts were generally 2–4 inches in the higher terrain of Coconino County and 2–6 inches in eastern Arizona. Clouds exited the region overnight leaving clear skies in the Flagstaff area. A check of satellite data suggested some clouds over the San Francisco Peaks so I headed out for some photos and video of the sunrise.

First light on the cap cloud atop the San Francisco Peaks (0712 MST 17 Feb 2022).
First light on the cap cloud atop the San Francisco Peaks (0712 MST 17 Feb 2022).
Sunlight illuminating both clouds and snow-covered peaks (0716 MST 17 Feb 2022).
Sunlight illuminating both clouds and snow-covered peaks (0716 MST 17 Feb 2022).

There was a cap cloud over the peaks that was generated by strengthening northeasterly flow moving into the Inner Basin and rising over the summits. The cloud could be seen dissipating as it moved down the southwest flanks of the mountains.

Time-lapse video of the sunrise on the cap cloud atop the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks.

I shot video using a Sony RX10—but the battery gave out sooner than expected owing to the cold (+14 °F; –10 °C). Still, I was able to get about 24 minutes and then compressed this down to about 11 seconds.

Another storm seems likely next week.