A winter storm brought snow, clouds, and fog to some of my favorite photographic locations. The early morning sun lights up a band of clouds that encircles the San Francisco Peak. Below the peaks, fog lies in the low areas of both Upper and Lower Lake Mary.
A smaller area of fog sits in the corner of the Mormon Lake basin and partially obscures some of the old ranch buildings.
Finally, a small patch of grass pokes up from the still water of Lake Mary while fog blurs the background.
Over the past couple of years I have tried to get good photographs of the Moon rising over the San Francisco Peaks. A good time of year for this is January when the nearly full Moon rises in the northeast. Then find a place along old Route 66 in Brannigan Park and get your shot. It works best if there is fresh snow on the peaks but sometimes you just have to take what you get.
And here are some images from 2015 which was the first time I tried shooting from this location.
Sometimes the first photograph you take of a place is the best. I’ll keep trying.
New Year’s Day brought some interesting wave clouds to the San Francisco Peaks. I headed west to Brannigan Park to get both good views of the clouds and sunset colors on the peaks. In addition, I shot time-lapse video that shows the amazing motion of the wave cloud above the peaks and the cap cloud that obscures the summit.
It’s been an unusual monsoon season across Arizona this year. After both a wet winter and wet spring—with above normal precipitation amounts all the way into the month of May—things went dry. The North American Monsoon started late this year with the first significant rainfall not arriving until the second half of July. This was unfortunate as the dryness partially contributed to a very damaging wildfire (Museum Fire) burning across portions of the San Francisco Peaks.
Just a few days later, the rains finally arrived. And, then, they stopped again. And it has been that way much of this monsoon season. A few days of rain, then a week or more of dry weather. A normal pattern would have rain falling perhaps four days out of seven for a two-month period. Folks around here have dubbed this monsoon the “nonsoon”.
And, of course, with the lack of moisture and thunderstorms opportunities for photographing storms, heavy rain, lightning, and sunsets has been a challenge. But it only takes one great photograph to make it a successful season. I’m still trying to get that photograph.
Here are some of the more interesting photographs from this “nonsoon monsoon” season.
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.
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.
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!