Bright objects in the night sky — Part II

Last week the planets Venus and Jupiter shone brightly in the western sky after sunset. This week, the new crescent moon joins the planets creating a triangle of brilliant objects in the sky.

Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon shine brighly above Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon shine brighly above Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.

 

Using star charts and other maps we determined that if we hiked a short distance along the Templeton Trail that the planetary and moon conjunction would be nicely positioned above Cathedral Rock in Sedona. As the sky darkened the celestial objects shone brightly but the lighting on the rocks was quickly fading. This image was the best combination of bright objects but with enough light to still see the details in the beautiful red rocks.

Later, as the planets and Moon set behind Cathedral Rock more stars appeared. To get some soft light on the tree I used a flash that was set to manual mode with the lowest light output and stood off to the side and fired the flash manually.

 

The stars shine down on the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.
The stars shine down on the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

 

In  a few weeks, Venus and Jupiter will be at their closest approach to each other. And it will be time for a another set of photographs.

A Winter Visit to West Fork Oak Creek Canyon

Winter has settled in across northern Arizona with snow covering the ground and ice in the canyons. This is a beautiful time of the year for photography if you do not mind being cold while finding that special location.

Bare trees...rock walls...and ice covered streams in West Fork Oak Creek.
Bare trees...rock walls...and ice covered streams in West Fork Oak Creek.

We hiked up the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon on a well-traveled but snow-packed and icy trail. Some sort of boot traction (e.g., YakTrax, Kahtoola) would have been useful but with care and an easy pace we were able to move about without any difficulties. The water level in the creek was about normal making for fairly easy stream crossings. And there are quite a few.

Reflections of canyon walls in West Fork Oak Creek.
Reflections of canyon walls in West Fork Oak Creek.

The afternoon sun bouncing off the high canyon walls and then reflected in the water created the right setup for photographs and all that was needed was some interesting ice to complement the scene. We found plenty.

Canyon wall reflections and delicate ice in West Fork Oak Creek.
Canyon wall reflections and delicate ice in West Fork Oak Creek.

This is a moderately high-walled canyon and very little direct sun shines down on the canyon floor so that it remains quite chilly even in the afternoon. As long as we kept moving we stayed warm. Stop to take a picture — and get cold.

Deep shadows in the narrows of West Fork Oak Creek.
Deep shadows in the narrows of West Fork Oak Creek.

But it was worth it.

Snowfall at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon

Slide Rock State Park is a great place to visit. The water from Oak Creek becomes channeled as it flows through multiple layers of sandstone resulting in some deep and narrow pools of water. On a hot summer day the area is filled with people swimming and having a grand time.

If you arrive here early in the morning you can catch some beautiful light reflecting off the high sandstone cliffs onto the water below.

Water cascades through the sandstone, snow, and ice in Slide Rock State Park.
Water cascades through the sandstone, snow, and ice in Slide Rock State Park.

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to take part in a photo workshop at this location. After that summer workshop I was determined to return in the winter and capture some images with snow on the sandstone. Snow isn’t rare in this location — it’s at an elevation of around 5000 feet, after all. But snow doesn’t last long at these elevations in Arizona, either.

Slide Rock State Park with layers of ice, snow, and sandstone.
Slide Rock State Park with layers of ice, snow, and sandstone.

A recent series of snow storms put snow on the ground at elevations even lower than Slide Rock so this was a great opportunity. I left Flagstaff before sunrise and the temperature was a very cold 0°F at an elevation of 7000 feet. By the time I had descended down Oak Creek Canyon to 5000 feet the temperature had warmed to a balmier 19°F. To make it even more uncomfortable, there was a down-canyon wind blowing to bring on some wind chill.

Still, I was determined to try.

 

Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon.
Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon.

The lighting was very challenging as the upper canyon walls began to light up with the rising sun. The normally red rocks were brilliant with snow and it was all too easy to overexpose the upper portions of the canyon walls while being underexposed within the Slide Rock area.

Rather than try to capture “everything” it was more reasonable to focus on the water, rocks and snow that were all still in the deep shadows of the canyon.

A delicate cascade of water produces icicles on the leaves and branches.
A delicate cascade of water produces icicles on the leaves and branches.

As the sun rose higher and the shadows disappeared other photographers arrived. Perhaps they knew better than I that the best light was after the sun was higher in the sky. Or, perhaps just as likely, they weren’t willing to photograph in well below freezing temperatures. Either way, I had the area to myself for over an hour of shooting and I had a great time.

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.

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!

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