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.

Winter storm visits West Fork Oak Creek

A powerful winter storm moved across Arizona in the last week of the year with substantial snow falling in the high country and even some snow flurries in the desert. In West Fork Oak Creek about 8-12 inches of snow fell in the canyon followed by very cold temperatures. The result was spectacular. Snow was draped across all the trees and even clung to the massive sandstone walls of the canyon. Water dripping down some of the rock walls fell and froze on whatever lay beneath creating some amazing ice art.

A winter storm brings substantial snow and icy streams to the West Fork Oak Creek.
A winter storm brings substantial snow and icy streams to the West Fork Oak Creek.

Blue skies, brilliant red sandstone walls, and a fresh cover of snow in West Fork Oak Creek.
Blue skies, brilliant red sandstone walls, and a fresh cover of snow in West Fork Oak Creek.
Water dripping down the sandstone walls falls onto grass creating a work of ice art.
Water dripping down the sandstone walls falls onto grass creating a work of ice art.
Frozen blades of grass shimmer in the faint winter sun in West Fork Oak Creek.
Frozen blades of grass shimmer in the faint winter sun in West Fork Oak Creek.

Additional photographs of West Fork Oak Creek can be found at DavidBlanchardPhotography.com

Stars over Sedona

The dry weather and amazingly clear skies of early summer continue in northern Arizona. It won’t be too long before the rainy season begins and it will be cloudy more often than clear. Best to take advantage of the great conditions and grab a few more images of the night  sky. An important aspect of a night sky image is getting a good foreground in the composition so we took an evening trip down to Sedona hoping to include some of the famous red rocks in the images.

There is no moon and it won’t rise until well after midnight. But there is enough stray light from the small city of Sedona, Arizona, to bring out a glow on the red rocks in this image.

Milky Way Galaxy over the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.
Milky Way Galaxy over the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.