Milky Way and Wupatki National Monument—July 2019

A few nights ago I had an opportunity to photograph the Milky Way under exceptionally clear skies. I wanted to do two things: One was to replicate an image I shot a few years ago and the other was to get a Milky Way/landscape composite with a moonlit foreground.

I headed out to Wupatki National Monument (an International Dark Sky Park) and set up in a dark parking lot with a moonlit landscape. The Moon was still well above the horizon and I took several long exposure images to get a good foreground. After the Moon had set, I shot the Milky Way (using a star tracker to eliminate star trails). Back at home, I would then merge the two images. The result is the image below showing the Milky Way aligned above the distant San Franciso Peaks with mesas rising on either side of the shallow valley.  What also shows up is the large amount of light pollution in Flagstaff. Flagstaff is the worlds First International Dark Sky City but it takes a lot of work to keep the skies dark. I fear we may be losing the battle.

The Milky Way stands above the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.

After completing this set of images, I moved to my next location to take my final shot. This is a single, 30-second image at high ISO (ISO 3200) with the tripod carefully centered on the stripe down the middle of the road. Comparing this shot with the one taken a few years ago indicates that the older image was blessed (if that’s the right word) with airglow in the lower part of the image giving it a much more interesting character. The newer image lacks this airglow but does have a more interesting horizon.

Road to the Stars II.

And now the North American Monsoon has begun to ramp up across the southwest and clear skies will be a rarity for the next few months. Time to start photographing storms and lightning!

Milky Way, Moon, and Mercury

It’s that time of year when the Milky Way is visible through much of the night. It is best observed when there is no Moon in the sky—and from very dark skies away from areas of light pollution. I wanted to capture both the Milky Way in a very dark sky and to capture Moonlight gently lighting up the still partially snow-covered mountains. So I headed out to Kendrick Park for some midnight sky photography.

The Milky Way rises above the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.
The Milky Way rises above the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.

The result is this composite of two images. The first was taken of the San Francisco Peaks as the moon was low in the west at around 1118 MST. This was a bit more than an hour before moonset (0030 MST). An exposure of 300 seconds at ISO 800 and an aperture of f/8 was used.

The second image was taken at 0047 MST shortly after the moon had set allowing the fainter stars in the night sky to appear. This image was also 300 seconds at ISO 800 and an aperture of f/5.6. To prevent streaking of the stars an iOptron Sky Tracker was used. The two images were then blended together.

This is similar to images taken in the past of Cathedral Rock and Wukoki Pueblo with the Milky Way rising above. Also present low in the photograph is airglow (or nightglow).


Last week the two-day old crescent Moon (only 3.7% directly illuminated) provided a photo opportunity as it set over Upper Lake Mary. During the months of May, June, and July, the thin crescent Moon lines up with the long axis of Upper Lake Mary. This results in nice reflections of the Moon on the waters of the lake—but only if there is little or no wind. A bonus this month was the small planet Mercury was also setting in the northwest.

A thin crescent Moon throws a large reflection in Lake Mary, Flagstaff, Arizona.
A thin crescent Moon throws a large reflection in Lake Mary, Flagstaff, Arizona.

The image also shows the unlit part of the crescent Moon illuminated with Earthshine, also known as Da Vinci Glow. Yes, that Leonardo Da Vinci. Mercury can be seen just above the treetops on the far right side of the image.

A Variety of Winter Weather

Flagstaff’s February weather has been very active with rain and/or snow recorded on seven days out of the first fifteen. Several days of snow on the Kachina Peaks covered the trees with a thick coating of rime ice and lots of new snow on the slopes.

Rime covered trees in the Kachina Peaks.
Rime covered trees in the Kachina Peaks.
"Flying Dutchman." It's steeper than it looks.
“Flying Dutchman.” It’s steeper than it looks.
"Allison Clay."
“Allison Clay.”
Weeds in the snow.
Weeds in the snow.

And then we had an “atmospheric river” that produced a significant amount of winter rain with about 1.5 inches falling in the Flagstaff area. The runoff in Oak Creek and its tributaries was impressive.

Pumphouse Wash—a normally dry wash—running at high volume.
Pumphouse Wash—a normally dry wash—running at high volume.
Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point: a popular swimming hole when quieter water prevails.
Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point: a popular swimming hole when quieter water prevails.

And the forecast for the next week or so is a continuation of stormy weather with lots of snow for the higher elevations. I believe the long-anticipated El Niño has finally arrived.

Autumn Colors in Northern Arizona—2018

The colors have peaked and the leaves have fallen across the higher elevations of northern Arizona. Here are some of my favorites from this season.

Aspen leaves on Weatherford Trail.
Aspen leaves on Weatherford Trail.
Waterline Road.
Waterline Road.
Inner Basin Trail after an early-season snowfall.
Inner Basin Trail after an early-season snowfall.
This is the classic shot along Waterline Road.
This is the classic shot along Waterline Road.
Waterline Road.
Waterline Road.
Near Arizona Snowbowl.
Near Arizona Snowbowl.
Snowbowl Road after an early-season snowfall.
Snowbowl Road after an early-season snowfall.
Weatherford Trail.
Weatherford Trail.
Frozen water droplets on a leaf.
Frozen water droplets on a leaf.
Colorful hillside along the Elden Springs Trail.
Colorful hillside along the Elden Springs Trail.
Reflection in Frances Short Pond.
Reflection in Frances Short Pond.
Inner Basin and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.
Inner Basin and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.

 

Aspen colors 2017: Inner Basin and Arizona Trail

Some years it’s easy to get great photographs of the changing colors of aspen leaves in northern Arizona. The weather is good, the timing is right, you’re in the perfect place. It all comes together.

That wasn’t this year.

We set out several times on the mountain bikes to see and enjoy the color. First we were too early; then we were too late. We were out of town on a long-planned trip and the peak color season occurred while we were gone. It happens.

Not that I’m complaining. I’ve been able to get good photographs many times in the past and there will be opportunities again in coming years.

So here is a collection of pre-season photos, post-season photos, and a few from several years ago comparing colors in the Inner Basin on similar dates but different years.

Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors seen along Waterline Road (09/25/2017)
Early season colors along the Arizona Trail near Bismarck Lake (09/29/2017)
Early season colors along the Arizona Trail near Bismarck Lake (09/29/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Late-season aspen along Waterline Road (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail (10/17/2017)
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail in 2014 (10/14/2014).
Mountain biking on Inner Basin Trail in 2014 (10/14/2014).

Based on previous years, I thought we might still find some great color in the Inner Basin this late in the season. We certainly did in 2014—but not 2017.

And here are a couple from 2015—another good year for aspen photography.

Inner Basin Trail (10/07/2015).
Inner Basin Trail (10/07/2015).
Lockett Meadow and Inner Basin (10/08/2015).
Lockett Meadow and Inner Basin (10/08/2015).

An early snowfall on the higher summits juxtaposed with the aspen almost at their peak made an interesting composition. Getting this view required more hiking and climbing that anticipated—but ultimately worth it.