Moonrise

March 22, 2016

Moon, plane and bird.

Moon, plane and bird.

March 22, Tuesday

The wind started up this morning and is blowing steady now with huge gusts. The air is filled with dust and you can see clouds of it in the distance. I was walking back from the visitor center today and thought I heard a faint mechanical sound. I kept hearing it as I walked closer to the apartments and realized it was the wind blowing through and off the high cliffs that are close to us on the north side. A different sound than the wind going through the ponderosa pines at the Grand Canyon or at Rocky Mountain and an interesting experience.

Monday evening it looked like there would be a good sunset so I walked out in front of our duplex. As they say, sometimes the best picture is behind you and behind me the nearly full moon was rising over a cliff near our duplex right as the sun was setting. A while later the sky was a deep blue in the east and some detail on the rocks was still visible. I shot various compositions and then saw a bird flying through the frame. What luck, I thought, maybe I’ll get one shot of the bird. As I was editing the pictures I saw what I thought was a dust speck on the moon- ugh. I enlarged it and saw it was an airplane, in the same frame as a nicely positioned bird. Complete luck! Nothing to do with skill!

Continuing with the moon theme, I include a shot of the moon setting behind Pueblo Bonito. Click on the picture to see it bigger and you see all the stars visible even with a crescent moon on the horizon. The Milky Way is on the right and about in the middle is the Andromeda Galaxy (fuzzy thing just above the great house).

Moon rising on Monday.

Moon rising on Monday. (Click to enlarge)

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Moon set behind Pueblo Bonito.

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Special Vernal Equinox Edition!

March 20, 2016

March 20, Sunday

The first in line to snap photos.

The first in line to snap photos. (Click to enlarge images- recommended just for the color of sunlight.)

Today the sun rose marking the vernal equinox at Chaco. Over 80 people woke before dawn and arrived at the entrance to Chaco canyon in 27 degree weather to witness the sunrise. Though everyone could have watched the sunrise from their homes or the camp grounds, the Chaco equinox sunrise can be seen through an alignment of two doors at Casa Rinconada, one of the largest kivas in the area. All the staff were on hand to help with parking and crowd control. Initially they limited the sign ups to 100 and had 40 on a waiting list. But as it turned out everyone that showed up were admitted when the gates were opened an hour early at 6:00 am.

It was still dark out though the eastern sky was brightening as headlights in sets of six slowly made their way up the loop road. All came bundled up against the cold, some wore large blankets. Ranger GB Cornucopia gave a very moving description of the ancient Chacoans and how they existed within this environment and an explanation of the equinox phenomena. Though the actual alignment may or may not have existed when the canyon was populated, GB explained that you had to pay attention to the changing universe around you or you would die. Equinox meant warmer days and time to plant crops.

GB and the other rangers showed people the various angles they could observe and photograph the sun rays and carefully lined up everyone on the west side of the kiva asking for cooperation among the crowd. As the sun rose there was much excitement as visitors jockeyed for position to record for posterity on their smartphones or even cameras (what could the ancient Chacoans thought?). For me it seemed much more fun to record the visitors than the sun rise. The actual alignment lasted over 30 minutes but people fled from the cold as soon as they got their pictures.

Taking the low angle through the brush.

Taking the low angle through the brush.

Lining up for the action.

Lining up for the action.

Aiming through the west door.

Aiming through the west door.

GB explaining the equinox.

GB explaining the equinox.

The money shot!

The money shot!

 

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Bunnies and a mystery

March 19, 2016

March 19, Saturday

An alert rabbit, peering at a photographer.

An alert rabbit, peering at a photographer.

Around the apartments there are amazingly cute rabbits hopping around looking for food. I managed to get a few photos one day, this one stopped to take a look at me, decided I wasn’t much of a threat and continued to munch on plants. I see them racing across the road in the canyon late at night and so far have managed to avoid hitting one.

Last Sunday I hiked out to Peñasco Blanco. The sites that contain large structures are referred to as great houses and Peñasco Blanco must have been impressive in its day. As you approach from the floor of the canyon it sits high atop the West Mesa and you climb about 200 feet to reach it. I made a plan to hike the 3.7 miles to the site about two hours before sunset, shoot for a few hours and return to the parking log around 12:30 am. One big worry was the hike back in the dark and climbing down the mesa, but the moon was still up as I walked, faintly lighting the trail. Another was carrying all my equipment plus extra clothes for the cold, water, food and the radio to keep in touch with the rangers. But all worked out fine.

The previous Sunday I did the hike during the day and wrote in my notes, “big, sprawling pueblo”. It is apparently mostly unexcavated so the original house must have been huge. It is the favorite of some of the rangers and I can see why. The sunset that evening was quite spectacular, I posted one of the shots in the last blog. The golden rays of the sun on the brick and the mesa in the distance in this photo is hard to describe. This view is to the east and south, looking back down Chaco canyon towards the other pueblos and the visitor center.

The last rays of the sun on a Peñasco wall and the canyon mesa beyond.

The last rays of the sun on a Peñasco wall and the canyon mesa beyond.

The nearly first quarter moon was covered off and on by clouds, making photographing the Peñasco challenging. Sometimes the clouds would add some drama to the photos. Around 10:30 pm I was done and gathered my things to leave. As I put on my backpack I reached for the waist strap to buckle it and discovered the right strap was missing. I couldn’t figure out where it was. I took off the pack to inspect it and saw it looked as if the strap were torn off at the base where it attaches to the pack. I don’t remember catching it on a plant or the corner of a wall as I walked around. It seemed odd since if an animal had chewed off the strap, it did it without disturbing the whole pack, which was left exactly upright where I had placed it on a flat rock. The mysteries of Chaco.

The moon with a faint halo around it. Despite the advanced phase of the moon, you can still see the constellation Orion to the left and many stars including the Pleiades cluster nearby.

The moon with a faint halo around it. Despite the advanced phase of the moon, you can still see the constellation Orion to the left and many stars including the Pleiades cluster nearby.

One of the larger north facing walls with a dramatic door, Jupiter is seen rising in the east.

One of the larger north facing walls with a dramatic door, Jupiter is seen rising in the east.

Another small door in an east-west facing wall letting in the moonlight.

Another small door in an east-west facing wall letting in the moonlight.

 

 

 

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Rug Auction!

March 17, 2016

March 17, Thursday

Believe it or not, I’ve done a few things other than shooting photos late into the night. I gave my first official “Night Sky Photography” program today at 11:00 am in the visitor center. I did a slide show of the photos including about a dozen taken over the past two weeks. A good crowd of around 45 people came. It looks like this may be a spring break week, there are a lot more people than in the past weeks.

I’m also scheduled for a Night Sky Photography workshop on Sat., March 19 and a talk on Sun., March 20 for the sunrise equinox event here.

There have been two staff gatherings that I’ve been invited to. We went to El Bruno’s restaurant in the small town of Cuba the second night I was here for a good bye dinner for the ranger Phil. This past Tuesday evening Adam, one of the law enforcement rangers, hosted a potluck and grilled steaks, chicken and elk at his place. I took chips and guacamole and two rabbits were eyeing me on the road as I walked to Adam’s apartment.

The scene during The Rug Auction of Crownpoint.

The scene during The Rug Auction of Crownpoint. (Click on images to enlarge)

The off-park highlight was the Rug Auction of Crownpoint run by the Navajo Weavers Association of Crownpoint, a small town south of Chaco. The auctions are held on the second Friday of each month in the town elementary school gym. Jim, the chief of natural resources at Chaco suggested I go, so we drove down last Friday. Our evening started with Navajo tacos- basically taco filling on a flat “fry bread”, for $5.00 and a drink for $ .50. Half of the gym was filled with vender tables with various art and crafts. I found a nice ceramic box with a turtle etched inside for my younger sister. On big tables all the hand woven Navajo rugs were on display. Chairs were lined up facing a stage and we got a seat up front. A Navajo woman warmed the crowd up with various stories and jokes (she’s also a stand-up comic) in Navajo and English. Two tall cowboy looking fellows did the actual auctioning, they both had the wild quick cadence of auctioneers. Rugs were held up and bidders would hold up a card with a number, which we got before things got started. I bid on three small rugs, got one for Ann and one for my older sister. A pretty good night. Go to crownpointrugauction.com for more info.

A sun halo and Fajada Butte, one of 3 I’ve seen during the day.

A sun halo and Fajada Butte, one of 3 I’ve seen during the day.

The moon, not to be outdone, with its halo and some striking clouds at Una Vida, the second one I’ve seen at night.

The moon, not to be outdone, with its halo and some striking clouds at Una Vida, the second one I’ve seen at night.

Wanted to put at least one sunset in, this incredible one was at Peñasco Blanco.

Wanted to put at least one sunset in, this incredible one was at Peñasco Blanco.

 

 

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At Chaco Canyon

March 15, 2016

Welcome back to the blog! For the month of March, I’m the “Dark Sky” Artist-in-Residence at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwest New Mexico, an amazing place. Among other things in the area called Chaco Canyon are ancient pueblo great houses that date from 850 AD. The park has protected and preserved many of these structures and has allowed me to access the sites for the night sky photography. Thanks to the help of Tanya Ortega with the National Parks Arts Foundation and Nathan Hatfield, Chief of Interpretation at Chaco, everything came together for the residency.

I arrived March 1 and so far everything has been great. There haven’t been previous postings because of no internet connection. No internet!? How can that be? It seems park volunteers, which I am classified as, need a separate password from the staff. So the kindly administrator needed to work around technical problems and generate new codes.

I’m writing from the kitchen table of the one-story apartment I’m sharing with a ranger. The view out the window is of Fajada Butte, one of the huge sacred sites in Chaco Canyon, a view that’s hard to beat. I had two roommates in this 4-bedroom apartment, but Phil Varela, who I got to know on previous trips here, just left to return home to Minnesota and on to a new job at another park. Steve, one of the rangers and I have the duplex to ourselves for a while, until a seasonal ranger arrives later in the month.

Chaco was designated an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association in 2013 and it certainly lives up to this. I’ve been out almost every night and several pre-dawn sessions to photograph the pueblos and the sky. Some nights have been so clear there really are countless numbers of stars in the sky. Here are a few pictures from these past two weeks, next posting in a day or two.

Early morning view from our front porch of Fajada Butte.

Early morning view from our front porch of Fajada Butte. (Click on images to enlarge)

The cone of light on the left is the zodiacal light, only seen in very dark places, outshining the Milky Way, at Pueblo del Arroyo.

The cone of light on the left is the zodiacal light, only seen in very dark places, outshining the Milky Way, at Pueblo del Arroyo.

The big kiva in moonlight at Chetro Ketl.

The big kiva in moonlight at Chetro Ketl.

A 24 hour-old crescent moon setting behind a big wall at Pueblo Bonito.

A 24 hour-old crescent moon setting behind a big wall at Pueblo Bonito.

From the botanical series, at Kin Kletso. Orion, the hunter, dominates the southwestern sky.

From the botanical series, at Kin Kletso. Orion, the hunter, dominates the southwestern sky.

The International Space Station passes over Fajada and the Milky Way in this 3 minute exposure.

The International Space Station passes over Fajada and the Milky Way in this 3 minute exposure.

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Goodbye North Rim

July 3, 2015

Actually we're leaving, got this shot on our way home.

Actually we’re leaving, got this shot on our way home. (Click on images to enlarge)

We’re back in the concrete canyons of New York, missing our cabin on the rim and the towering ponderosa pines. It was a spectacular three weeks of living and working at the Grand Canyon and we have such great memories. The neighbors: Ellyse, Christian, Jacob, Dave, Brian and all the park employees who live in the complex of cabins. The wind rustling through the ponderosas and quaking the aspen leaves. The animal sightings: Kaibab squirrels, deer, California condors, countless birds. The stars and the sky: a beautiful night sky stretching across the canyon. A big thanks to the North Rim, ranger Robin Tellis and the National Park Service for making the residency possible. Now for the editing and processing of all the pictures. Here’s a couple from the last days, the Venus-Jupiter conjunction and moonlight streaming through clouds and into the canyon. And thanks to all the readers of the blog, hope you found it interesting. Next trip will be mid-July to the Rocky Mountain National Park and their Night Sky Festival. Keep watching this space!

Venus and Jupiter through aspen branches.

Venus and Jupiter through aspen branches.

Mysterious moon light into the canyon.

Mysterious moonlight into the canyon.

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Giacometti on the Rim

June 28, 2015

The lone cloud, burned ponderosa trunk.

The lone cloud, burned ponderosa trunk.

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Here’s a bonus posting, a two-for-one today. (See below for the previous post). Sunday morning we went out to Point Imperial to see the view and hike the short trail. As grand and sweeping the views were from the point, the hike led us through some eerie and surreal landscape. The trail passes through areas burned by the 2000 Outlet Fire and we saw charcoal black ponderosa trunks still soaring to the sky. Fire or erosion carved out sections of the branchless stalks leaving objects that looked like modern art. One in particular looked like a Giacometti sculpture. A lone cloud hovered in the distance, a fluffy white contrast to the stark remains. We came across a dead ponderosa stripped of its bumpy outer bark, the leafless branches reaching out. The hard late morning sun beat down on it. Ann said it was one of the strangest things she had seen. It looked as if lit by stage lighting.

We were on the trail for quite a while and saw no one else. It seemed too bad since lots of visitors go to the point and this hike was very flat and good for families. On the way back we finally passed some people, it turns out it was a couple from San Diego that attended my last artist talk.

We conducted a poll (consisting of Ann and me) and decided three of these looked best in black and white, two look best in color.

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Details

June 28, 2015

Ann relieved she has escaped the grouse.

Ann relieved she has escaped the grouse. (Click on images to enlarge)

We hiked the Widfross Trail Saturday morning, which winds along the Transept Canyon on the point of land west of the main North Rim development. It’s named for Gunnar Widforss an early 20th century artist who lived and painted at the Grand Canyon in the 1930’s. He produced a large collection of watercolors prized for their geologic detail. This is also the trail where the blue grouse sometimes acts aggressively towards unsuspecting hikers. As we walked towards the spot I saw it last week, there it was, in the trail far from its nest. So Ann got to experience the deranged grouse.

Along the trail there were numerous objects to photograph and I concentrated on small details and you see how creative and interesting nature can be. I put four of these images together, the fourth not technically a detail but a nice look at the crown of a ponderosa with a partially circular rainbow caused by ice crystals high in the clouds refracting the sunlight.

Ponderosa pine bark.

Ponderosa pine bark.

A dead juniper trunk.

A dead juniper trunk.

Bright yellow and orange lichen attached to a rock.

Bright yellow and orange lichen attached to a rock.

Looking up to the crown of a ponderosa pine.

Looking up to the crown of a ponderosa pine.

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June 26, 2015

Rush Dudley snapped this of us before my Thursday evening talk.

Rush Dudley snapped this of us before my Thursday evening talk. (Click on iimges to enlarge)

It’s been a busy few days, so I haven’t posted anything. Ann arrived Wednesday and it’s been great to have her at the cabin. I drove to Flagstaff to pick her up at the airport and we got back to the North Rim about 7 pm. It’s been heating up in northern Arizona, at Navajo Bridge, the only car crossing over the Colorado River it was 102. Just before the entrance station to the North Rim I came across a heard of buffalo crossing the road. A lucky visitor had driven his motor home into a pull-off and about 100 feet away the buffalo crossed. A few stragglers didn’t want to leave the road and gave me enough time to take some photos.

Bison crossing the entrance road.

Bison crossing the entrance road.

I did the third and final artist talk on Thursday night at the Grand Canyon Lodge. It was nice to have Ann there and Rush came along too. There was a good crowd and quite a few questions afterwards. We ate at the Lodge restaurant with a view of the canyon and the sunset.

Earlier in the day Ann and I walked the Transept Trail and she was able to see the remarkable views and the ponderosa trees along the way. At the visitor center we bought post cards and sent them from the North Rim Post Office, a nice way to send messages to people.

Smoky Canyon, Thursday night.

Smoky Canyon, Thursday night.

Back to work Thursday night, Rush and I went out to a viewpoint below the lodge. There is a fire north of the rim and a prescribed burn nearby, so there was lots of haze and even smoke in the canyon. So the horizon was a white color and because the moon was so bright, the smoke was seen between the formations. Not so great for the night sky pictures But some interesting effects. I went farther down the Bright Angel Point for other views and ended up doing more plant images. The “smoky canyon” shot is so weird I think I like it.

Sunset at the Lodge.

Sunset at the Lodge.

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Below the rim

June 23, 2015

 

Sewer problems!

Sewer problems! (Click on images to enlarge)

Monday was quite eventful around the cabin. Work on the sewer line leading from my cabin that started on Friday escalated into a major project by Monday morning. A maintenance worker was initially checking on temporary patches put on the line and to install an outlet where they could clear the pipe if there were any clogs. After some digging by hand two men found more holes in the pipe and lots of tree roots intertwined and reducing the flow. I went away briefly and when I returned I saw this large backhoe parked by the cabin. Now they were doing some serious digging. By the end of the day they discovered all sorts of problems. They were to return Tuesday morning to replace most of the pipe, in the meantime they had shut off my water and none of the plumbing could be used. One told me I could use the campground facilities, which aren’t far but it was like camping in my cabin, without the fun of a tent. I got a gallon of water from a campsite and saw the nearest bathroom about ¼ mile from the cabin. Well, the inconvenience lasted just overnight, by the late morning the new pipe was installed and water was running.

The moon hovers over the tree line.

The moon hovers over the tree line.

By those standards the rest of the day was boring. My friend Rush Dudley from Albuquerque arrive from visiting his son in Oregon. He’s staying in the nearby campground and wants to go out for some night sky photography. In the evening we hiked down the North Kaibab trail, though not far. He stopped at the Coconino Point, about .7 of a mile down, I continued to Supai Tunnel, about another 1.3 miles where there is a good view of the canyon and a water source and toilets. My plan was to hike while it was still light, photograph the scene at night, then hike back out. I’d be able to get some nice photos from below the rim of the canyon. The moon hovered above the trees on the rim as I hiked down the trail. I used the super wide angle fisheye lens to get the surrounding canyon walls and the distant landscape illuminated by the waxing moon.

View from Supai Tunnel.

View from Supai Tunnel.

Climbing out a cliff was brilliantly lit by the moonlight so I stopped to take a few shots. My main worry about the climb out was avoiding the mule poop, since they use the trail to ferry visitors down and back out of the canyon. My headlamp was bright enough so I avoided disaster.

A cliff halfway up the Kaibab Trail.

A cliff halfway up the Kaibab Trail.

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Billions and billions

June 22, 2015

Our Milky Way (not the candy bar) (Click on images to enlarge)

Our Milky Way (not the candy bar) (Click on images to enlarge)

Looking up at the night sky it really is remarkable how many stars you can see and how much detail can be seen in the Milky Way. After the moon set Sunday night I shot a few pictures of our galaxy. The detail here is the central part near the constellation Sagittarius, part of which takes on the shape of a teapot, with the “steaming” Milky Way coming out of its spout. The teapot is five stars that look vaguely like a house to the left of the Milky Way, the “spout” star just about in the center of the picture. I like this part of the galaxy since there is so much to look at. The dark portions are interstellar dust clouds obscuring stars that are behind them. Gas around nebula glows red and many clusters of stars can be seen. And the shapes of all the big features are so interesting.

Bright Angel Point tree

Bright Angel Point tree

I end up photographing the same trees/plants over time mainly when I see something new or a different angle. I’m sure I’ve shot this great tree several times and around 11 pm the Milky Way made a diagonal across the sky that followed a branch as it extended out.

Milky Way arches over moonlit rim.

Milky Way arches over moonlit rim.

This extreme wide shot is with a 16mm fisheye lens, which normally produces all sorts of wild distortion. I kept the horizon straight and centered and with the sky and landscape there aren’t the usual objects that would be bent at all sorts of strange angles. The Milky Way was naturally curving that way and the moon provided some nice lighting to the canyon. The view is almost 180 degrees from left to right.

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Tri-color and sky trio

June 21, 2015

Viva la Harley.

Viva le Harley. (Click on images to enlarge)

Getting groceries is quite the trip from the North Rim. There is a small campground general store and a “North Rim Store” just outside the park but they don’t carry more than snacks or canned goods. Though the general store here has a whole isle of bread, I guess for lots of sandwiches when camping or hiking. So the solution is to drive to another state: Utah. The town of Kanab is about 85 miles from here and a lot hotter at 97 degrees yesterday. On the way back I stopped at Jacob Lake, at 41 miles, the town closest to the main park entrance. It consists of the Jacob Lake Inn, which is a “Café Motel Curios Store”. The counter at the restaurant is nice so I had lunch. I noticed a group of French tourists inside, turns out they are Harley-Davidson riders, flying the tri-color from their motorcycles.

Saturday night's trio of the moon, Jupiter and Venus.

Saturday night’s trio of the moon, Jupiter and Venus.

Friday night's ISS flyover past the Jupiter-Venus-Moon grouping.

Friday night’s ISS flyover past the Jupiter-Venus-Moon grouping.

As the moon waxes I’m hoping to get some of the canyon lit up to get the stars and the canyon in one photo. The last two days have been good for photographing the moon itself as it aligns with Jupiter and Venus. For the last few weeks the planets have come closer together and created a diagonal line as they set in the west. (You can see this even in cities.) Friday they were joined by a crescent moon with the planets on top. Saturday the moon was to the left, forming a slightly tilted triangle. Compare the shot from Saturday which shows “Earthshine” on the unlit portion of the moon to the Friday photo which has the International Space Station flying by the trio. (I followed the cropping advice for the ISS shot from Ken Spencer, who has a Ken Spencer that I think he’s been doing for over 6 years!)  Almost forgot to mention, if you look very closely at Jupiter (on the top) in Saturday’s image, you can see 3 of the planet’s big moons.

9:40pm view from Cape Royal.

9:40pm view from Cape Royal.

Here’s an attempt from Saturday night of the canyon and the Milky Way from Cape Royal. The only disadvantage of shooting from the North Rim is that you get the South Rim lights in the picture. There is some glow on the horizon from towns and the pinpoints of light on the rim are car headlights along the Desert View Drive.

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The Grouse is Loose!

June 19, 2015

WARNING!

WARNING!

On Thursday I took a short hike on the Widforss Trail to scout out some views. At the trail head a woman with hiking poles was just coming out. She said, “The grouse is loose.” And pointed to the information board. It indeed had a sign that said, “WARNING Aggressive Blue Grouse”. “Like a mother hen,” said the woman. I had heard about this grouse from the park employees who live next to me, they said to arm yourself with hiking poles. The trail sign said the grouse’s nesting area is blocked off and to take the trail detour. Which I did and after rejoining the trail, I see a chicken sized bird with dark feathers. The grouse! Soon as I aimed my camera, she bore down on me. Even though I was past the pink tape the park set up to designate her nesting area, she chased me west along the trail. I snapped a few more pictures as she screeched a couple of times and hopped up on a log. I guess her territory is quite large.

The grouse approaches your correspondent.

The grouse approaches your correspondent.

The grouse not liking the human.

The grouse not liking the human.

After recovering from that ordeal, I headed out in the evening to Cape Royal, about a 45 minute drive. I made it just before sunset where dozens of people had gathered to watch. The viewpoint juts out far into the canyon and you have a good look at formations named Wotans Throne and Freya Castle. There was thick layer of haze on the horizon and in the canyon, something that would affect the photos. People generally leave a viewpoint after sunset and as I gathered my equipment and walked back out to the point, the visitors were streaming to their cars.

Big Dipper and Polaris.

Big Dipper and Polaris.

I’ve been experimenting with close-up shots of plants and the stars. One requirement is that the air has to be completely still for the 30 seconds it takes for the exposure. Gusts of wind were coming up from the canyon swaying the trees and plants. I found a small clearing that seemed to be protected from the wind that might work. After going through a few contortions, I managed to frame the Big Dipper and Polaris with an interesting branch of a juniper tree. Occasional breezes would move the plant and I kept altering the composition. Fifty minutes later I think I had a shot. Fellow astrophotographer Dean Ketelsen pointed out that the subtle color differences between bluish and yellow or reddish stars are more apparent when they are out of focus. You can definitely see the differences in this photo.

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Swirling clouds

June 18, 2015

Swirling clouds.

Swirling clouds. (Click on images to enlarge)

I had a nice talk with a ranger named Steve at the Backcountry Office on Wednesday. He deals with people who want to hike into the canyon and gives general advice about trails around the North Rim. I introduced myself and Steve was very interested in the night sky photography. He’s done some himself and is fascinated with clouds, cloud formation and deformation (never knew that happened) so has taken many cloud photos. He does sequences of clouds as they form, move, sometimes drop rain and sometimes just collapse. Steve was at Natural Bridges National Park when they needed something to increase the number of visitors which had fallen below 100,000 a year. The park is in one of the darkest areas of the country. Steve said his house in the park was 45 miles from the nearest town and any kind of substantial artificial light. They applied for and received a Dark Sky Park designation from the International Dark Sky Association, attracting people interested in seeing great night skies. He highly suggested I go there to shoot photos. On a walk later in the day on the Transept Trail between the cabin and the Lodge, I saw these swirling clouds in the west and thought of Steve. The image looked much more dramatic in black and white, so here it is.

Another Grand Canyon sunset.

Another Grand Canyon sunset.

If you are tired of another sunset shot, skip this section. Here’s another colorful sunset, this time from about 100 feet from the cabin. My neighbors said you often see the best sunsets from this location and they were right. Four people showed up, snapped some pictures with their phones, then left as the colors on the clouds became more intense. I decided to stay to watch the colors.

ISS flies over North Rim Star Party.

ISS flies over North Rim Star Party.

I tried another space station fly over shot, this time at the Star Party gathering on the Lodge veranda Wednesday night. I had plotted out the path of the station from a map on the Heavens Above website but ended up being short on exposure. Thinking the station would disappear into the Earth’s shadow sooner, I just did a one minute shot. Probably two minutes would have been better. The green line is a laser that John, one of the amateur astronomers, was using to point out Saturn to visitors.

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Talk at the Lodge

June 17, 2015

The talk/demonstration went surprisingly well yesterday evening. I set up by the outdoor fireplace on the veranda of the Grand Canyon Lodge which has an amazing view of the canyon. I wore the uniform and hat, which made me look very official. There are rustic benches in a semi-circle around the speaker which gives it a “campfire” feel. About 20 or so people came, a few more would stop to listen during the 45 minute talk. I wasn’t showing pictures but showed the camera equipment I use and talked about the various settings and a few of the good places to shoot night sky photos. Some people brought their cameras. Two children, who I think might have been Japanese, asked me to sign their Junior Ranger book after the talk. The mother encouraged the shy children and they presented their booklet, in which they wrote what they learned at the talk. There was a space for the park ranger to sign. I think they complete the book and get a Junior Ranger badge, which I have always wanted. I told them, “Well, I’m not a ranger but I’ll sign the book.”

Four of my neighbors from the cabin, the park employees, came to the talk which was very nice. They introduced me to a volunteer couple they know, Lori and Bob. After the talk my friends, Ellyse, Jacob, Christian and Brian ordered a pizza from the Deli in the Pines, at the lodge. I got a ham sandwich and they said to join them at Lori and Bob’s place by the heliport for dinner. Sounded like a great invitation. The couple park their motor home at an area north of the cabins which happens to be right next to the heliport used as a staging area for medical emergencies. They had a clear view to the west, just a meadow and unfortunately the waste treatment plant between their picnic table and the horizon. It was a pleasant dinner.

Pinyon pine tree.

Pinyon pine tree. (Click to enlarge)

Later that night I photographed a pinyon pine tree that was jutting out of a huge bolder. I climbed up on the treeless side of the bolder to set up my tripod. The craggy branches and clumps of needles mimicked the lumpy look of our Milky Way.

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Ponderosa Pine

June 16, 2015

Artist-in-Residence flyer.

Artist-in-Residence flyer. (Click on images to enlarge).

Tuesday evening I’m giving the first of three talks about night sky photography. They are really demonstrations of the techniques I use and how visitors can shoot their own night sky photos. I’m appearing at the veranda of the North Rim Grand Lodge, where rangers do many afternoon programs and where visitors gather. The administration office printed up these posters which are apparently distributed around the rim.

Space Station streaks across the sky.

Space Station streaks across the sky.

I photographed the International Space Station during a flyover Monday night. A great website called Heavens Above gives you charts of major satellites and where in the sky you can see them from your location. The ISS looks like a very bright star moving pretty fast across the sky. There are no blinking lights, so it can’t be an airplane. I did a three-minute shot showing the station streaking across from northwest to northeast from Roosevelt Point, named after Theodore, who helped establish Grand Canyon National Monument, later National Park.

The ponderosa pine.

The ponderosa pine.

I wondered how to show the majesty of the ponderosa pine, which thrive on the upper levels of the rim. Just about ready to pack my equipment I found myself under one of the giant trees. Looking straight up towards its crown I could see it silhouetted against the starry sky, the central part of the Milky Way arching behind it. The tree stood alone on the trail and this seemed to be the shot.

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Light, Water, Earth

June 15, 2015

Evening light show.

Evening light show. (Click on images to enlarge)

What would the Grand Canyon be without sunsets? I think the one on Sunday (appropriately) was above and beyond the ordinary. All of the action really seemed to be happening to the east. A heavy rainstorm could be seen with a short rainbow just to the left of the rain. As the sun descended, the sheets of rain were brightly illuminated as the rainbow persisted. Light on the tops of the rock formations in the canyon receded into shadow. I found it extraordinary to see this combination of weather and light. And all the while we on the Bright Angel Point were dry under pleasant evening sky.

My impression of Ansel Adams.

My impression of Ansel Adams.

Here’s another storm over the canyon taken Sunday from the Transept Trail that goes from the cabin to the Grand Lodge. Like the previous popular post, this looked more dramatic in black and white. While it stormed in the distance, the center of the canyon was in bright sun and it was raining over me. I think Ansel Adams and others do a much better job at these landscapes, but I can see why they worked so much in the west.

Pine needles and Milky Way.

Pine needles and Milky Way.

The pattern of almost total overcast, followed by clear and tranquil skies continued last night. I concentrated on more of the plant photos, which I’m beginning to enjoy. Oddly enough, for a photographer, I like the out of focus sky. Generally for the night sky pictures I try to make the stars and especially the Milky Way as sharp as possible. But focusing closely on a subject gives an impressionistic feel to the background. The astronomically inclined will see Scorpius with its curving tail to the right and a bright Saturn above the three stars that make up Scorpius’ head. Which means the Milky Way is directly behind the pine needles flowing off to the left, Sagittarius below it. Even the dark lanes of the galaxy are recognizable.

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Clear night skies

June 14, 2015

Milky Way rising.

Milky Way rising. (Click on images to enlarge)

When a storm passes through and the sky clears, it really clears. We had the usual afternoon thunderstorms, pretty heavy on Saturday. Usually it’s quite dry, but not this year. Since the canyon is a large black abyss at night without any moon, when the Milky Way rises it’s the sensation of being out in space. The trees and rock formations on the Bright Angel Point make for some interesting shapes. I experimented more with close-ups of plants, which I’ll post later.

Really dark sky.

Really dark sky.

The GC Star Party, with a tremendous view.

The GC Star Party, with a tremendous view.

Earlier in the evening the Grand Canyon Star Party got off to a start for the first of eight nights of stargazing. There was a lecture in the Grand Lodge auditorium and several telescopes were set up on the main veranda. The star party happens in June around the full moon, a much larger one runs at the South Rim the same dates. The North Rim party is organized by the Saguaro Astronomy Club from Phoenix and the South Rim by the Tucson Astronomical Society. Dean Ketelson, mentioned in yesterday’s post, was a founder of the South Rim party.

Looking out through the Supai Tunnel

Looking out through the Supai Tunnel

In the morning I hiked a short way down the North Kaibab trail, which leads all the way to Phantom Ranch at the Colorado River. Many hikers start or end on this trail if they are going “rim to rim” or prefer this route to the more crowded South Rim trails. I was planning neither. I hiked about 1.7 miles to the Supai Tunnel, which is a water stop. Along the way I took notes about the best views and what would make good shots at night. Lots of people were doing day hikes and since mules caravans use the trail, one had to dodge mule poop. It was great to see the canyon from another perspective, even though I didn’t go very far.

 

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Highest Point

June 13, 2015

The summer triangle and a greenish glow from Point Imperial. (click on photos to enlarge)

The summer triangle and a greenish glow from Point Imperial. (Click on photos to enlarge)

On these trips I usually scout out good viewpoints during the day to check which part of the sky I can see (north, south, east or west) and to see what’s there– level or rough ground, railings or no railings, is there a trail to the view, etc. Point Imperial, 8 miles east of the cabin was promising. At 8,803 feet, the highest point in the park, it was a truly panoramic view of the canyon and the surrounding high desert. Good views to the southeast potentially would produce nice photos of the Milky Way rising over the canyon. I returned at night to see a string of lights stretching from the north to the south along the horizon. The point is so high you can see the lights of Arizona towns many miles away. In the photo above you can see the glow from Page on the left, from the Gap and Tuba City to the left of the pine tree and assorted small settlements on the right. Very disappointing if you are trying to capture the natural landscape and the sky without any artificial lights.

But there are lots of thing going on in this photo. Glow from artificial lights are reflected off low clouds. You can see the Summer Triangle, three stars: Deneb, Vega and Altair just above and to the right of the small pine. Deneb and Altair form the base of a triangle with bright Vega at top. There is some greenish glow to the right of the pine tree, I keep thinking it’s a rare sighting of an aurora. My friend Dean Ketelson reminded me earlier there is something called sky glow, which I think is ionized gasses producing a greenish glow that digital cameras can pick up. I kept the color in the photo since it looks so eerie. Part of the summer Milky Way escapes the clouds and arches to the right.

Inside my cabin.

Inside my cabin.

Finally got some photos of the cabin after I tidied up. This is a super-wide fisheye view from the front door of the ‘main’ room, which is a work room and kitchen. The big logs that make up the building are great. Through the door in the center is the bedroom and a bathroom is to the left as you go in the door. Lots of nice light and generally quiet.

The Big Dipper, Arcturus and Spica.

The Big Dipper, Arcturus and Spica.

Here’s another shot from Friday night showing the Big Dipper’s familiar shape and it’s handle pointing to the giant red star Arcturus (“arc to Arcturus” is how people remember) and bright Spica on the left. A thin haze left from a passing storm causes these bright stars to really stand out from the countless number that usually show up in pictures.

Big storm in the distance.

Big storm in the distance.

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Condor sighting

June 12, 2015

Plants lit by the moon.

Plants lit by the moon. (click to enlarge image)

I heard a condor yesterday, or rather felt it. I was at the Cape Royal overlook, about a 20 mile drive from the cabin scouting out locations that would make good night photos. It was just me and two other young men on an outcrop of rock, I heard a whooshing sound like wind through trees. Suddenly the sound was directly overhead then ahead of me, like the Doppler effect of a car or plane. I looked up and saw the huge wingspan of a black bird receding in the distance – a California condor. It had glided on an updraft and flown over the viewpoint astonishing me and all the visitors. I, of course, was too startled to take any photos. But the North Rim information guide says the condors are making a comeback after almost disappearing in the 1980s.

The moon is a great source for illuminating big landscapes at night. In photographs the light can enable you to see details of the earth while still seeing the stars. The main problem is you have to go by the moon’s schedule. Last night/this morning it meant waking up at 1:30 am and heading out to Bright Angel Point for the 2:25 am moonrise. It rose looking very orange from haze on the horizon, casting a warm glow over the formations. The air was very still so I experimented with shooting a close-up of a plant (picture above). The exposures are 15 seconds long, so the slightest breeze can blur the subject, it was remarkably calm so the plants came out very sharp.

Moonlight on the rocks.

Moonlight on the rocks.

South Rim Village lights glaring on the horizon.

South Rim Village lights glaring on the horizon.

This looks like a pretty good view to me but maybe a better one 100 yds down the trail.

This looks like a pretty good view to me but maybe a better one 100 yds down the trail.

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