New Mexico surge

November 21, 2020

Social distancing at Ft. Union. My walk back to the housing area (rooftops on the left). (Click on photos to enlarge)

It’s been a busy week since I last posted to the blog. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued strict restrictions due to a surge in COVID-19 cases from last Monday until Nov. 30. People are ordered to stay at home except for essential activities. Non-essential businesses have to stop in-person services and essential businesses are to limit their capacity. The state has travel restriction if you enter New Mexico. There has been a mask mandate for anywhere outside your home. In announcing the restrictions, she said, “Make plans for a different kind of Thanksgiving – one without non-household members.”

The numbers are not high by New York standards but the total population is not large so the rate of infection is high for many counties. Fortunately I’m in Mora County, which is 1,934 square miles, population 4,881. They reported 2 cases on Friday.

The Ft. Union park is still open but the visitors center is closed. Brochures are out on a table at the entrance and the trail through the fort is self-guiding. The rangers are good about wearing masks in their offices and around the housing area. It is strange to be isolated out here and seeing occasional news reports.

From what I’ve seen, people seem to be taking this seriously. I went shopping this past Thursday in Las Vegas and the Lowe’s grocery store had many signs at the door an inside instructing shoppers to social distance. They say keep 2 carts apart – roughly six feet. Lots of markings on the floor at the checkout for where to stand and where not to stand. At Semilla Natural Food the precautions were the similar.

For me, it’s pretty low risk at the park. Walking to the visitors center I might see one of the maintenance rangers in his truck drive by. Sometimes there are no visitors in the parking area or park. I did talk in the offices with rangers Mary and BJ yesterday about doing a video interview for their social media as a substitute for the program I usually do as artist-in-residence. And they nicely invited me to the Thanksgiving dinner here in the housing area. If the weather is warm, we’ll eat outside. If it is cold we’ll get our plates and return to our apartments. I just ordered a pie from Pedro’s Bakery in Las Vegas and will report after I pick it up.

The moon has been in a very beautiful crescent phase, getting larger every day this week. I’ve been out every night, sometimes late. I’ve been working on some different ideas about photos and also making some time lapse videos. During these few days, the moon lights up the landscape without washing out the stars. Soon the moon will be too bright, but the last few days have been productive.

Lowe’s signs inside the grocery store.
Beautiful two-day old moon setting. Earthshine can be seen here, a phenomenon observed and described by Leonardo da Vinci. Sunlight reflects off the Earth which then illuminates the night side of the moon (the non-crescent part).
Wagon wheel in the corral lit by the moon.
The International Space Station flies over one of the chimney remnants Friday evening. The 3-minute exposure depicts the station as a streak going through the plane of our galaxy.
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Viva Las Vegas! (NM)

November 13, 2020

The train station, still in use. (Click on photos to enlarge).

Yesterday I drove down to the town of Las Vegas for some shopping. Somehow there is another town called Las Vegas. This one is much smaller than the Nevada version and there aren’t any casinos. It has a nice railroad station and the Castaneda hotel, one of a series of hotels developed by Fred Harvey along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. I took a look at the old central square and there was a big filming production going on. They were filming an episode of a TV show called, “Roswell, New Mexico”. Funny that they came to Las Vegas. I found Semilla Natural Foods for some grocery shopping, which was next to what looked like a pilates/yoga studio.

At the park on Veterans Day, Ranger Greg was dressed in a period U.S. Army uniform from the Civil War era. He thought it appropriate to wear the uniform, which he had done in the past during park events. It was in the 50’s, sunny but cool. Perfect weather, Greg said, for the heavy wool uniform. Greg has amazing knowledge about history of the park, the Native Americans who were part of this region and the Spanish descendants that came up through Mexico (when this was part of Mexico). He also helped run the night sky programs, setting up telescopes and often having groups camp overnight.

The moon has been illuminating the landscape nicely in the early morning hours. The park is very different at night. No big animals, but coyotes that often howl. A bit scary since you don’t know where they are.  

Murals painted on buildings for the TV filming.
Greg in his Civil War period U.S. Army uniform. The rangers greet visitors at an outdoor table.
The Milky Way above a wall lit by the moon.
Remnants of chimneys from the officers houses. Orion and some winter stars are high overhead. On the right is a bright Mars.
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On the high plains: Ft. Union

November 8, 2020

Driving towards the plains on I-25.

I’m here on the high plains of New Mexico as the artist-in-residence at Fort Union National Monument. The park is at 6,775 feet in altitude and the wind is howling across the plain this morning. Ranger B.J. told me soldiers stationed here would call it Fort Windy.

The national monument is the site of an Army fort that existed in three iterations from 1851 to 1891 in the newly acquired New Mexico Territory. The fort was part of American expansion into the southwest and is situated at the intersection of two main branches of the Santa Fe Trail. You can still see wagon wheel ruts carved into the earth along the path of the trail. Ancestral lands of a dozen native American nations were trod on and settled by Hispanos, people of Spanish descent from Mexico, and then the U.S. Army.

Over a year ago I applied through the National Parks Arts Foundation for an artist-in-residence stint at the park. I didn’t know much about the park, but my friend Rush from Albuquerque said it was in an area with lots of history and it is fairly remote so the sky is very dark. I was accepted in March and wasn’t sure until recently if the residency would happen due to the pandemic. Park employees are careful about wearing masks and distancing. There are not very many visitors so I don’t see many people during a day.

Arriving in Albuquerque on Nov. 2, it was nice to see most people wearing masks on the street, and all wearing masks indoors. Like most other states, New Mexico is seeing an increase in Covid cases.

I’m staying in a small studio apartment in the ranger housing area about a half mile from the visitor center. It’s in a complex with an administration and maintenance buildings. The low one-story structures give it the look of a tiny town. I think three other park staff live here.

Seems like it’s hard to social distance from people here because it’s hard to find other people. The road leading into the park dead ends here, so there is little traffic during the day and none at night. It is very quiet here, a nice bit of solitude.

The park consists of the remnants of adobe walled structures that made up the fort. It reminds me of a more modern Chaco Culture, the park in northwest New Mexico that preserves ancient pueblo Indian buildings. I thought the shapes of the walls would lend themselves to interesting foregrounds against the sky.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

My efficiency apartment in the ranger housing.
The park: remnants of adobe walled structures are preserved.
First night out – Lots of stars!
Second night – green airglow recorded by the camera. Only seen in very dark sites, it is light emitted by atoms recombining at night after being photoionized by the sun during the day.
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Sky, Moon, Sun

January 7, 2020

Join us for the opening of Sun, Moon, Sky, an exhibit of night sky landscapes by Stan Honda, on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 presented by Tribeca New Music and nancy manocherian’s the cell. On display will be Stan’s striking images of the night sky, eclipses and the space shuttle.

The reception will feature a musical performance of Sapphire by Preston Stahly, inspired by a dawn astronomical twilight experienced at sea. It will be performed by violinist Jennifer Choi with a video of Stan’s images.

The exhibit runs until Feb. 6, the framed archival prints will be available for purchase. (The Cell is open Tuesday to Friday, 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm)

Click on image below or check our Facebook event.

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Night sky

May 24, 2019

The guard tower and Milky Way. Bright object to the right is Jupiter. (Click on photo to enlarge)

One goal was to try and do some night sky photos of the structures at Minidoka. Thankfully, the site is far enough outside of Twin Falls that you get a good view of the stars and even the Milky Way. As you can see there is quite a bit of artificial light along the horizon from the outlying towns looking to the southeast (from the guard tower) but the view overhead is nice.

The tower and the fire station were taken on two separate night, both around 1:30 to 2:00 am in the early morning. The Milky Way rises about 1:00 am in early May and I thought that would make a good photo. Nearby lights from farms cast a faint glow on the tower and station. The nights I was there, it was very still though somewhat noisy due to the rush of the water in the irrigation canal which goes right by the guard tower.

While the stillness is similar to being there during the day, it was a different feeling being surrounded by the night sky and stars.

When researching the Idaho area, I saw Craters of the Moon National Monument on the map, close to Twin Falls. It sounds like a perfect place for the night sky landscapes so I took a two-day trip out there. Thanks to Janet from the Friends of Minidoka group, I stayed at her family’s cabin northwest of the park. (Friends of Minidoka co-sponsor a yearly pilgrimage to the site and work closely with the park service to support and help fund projects at the site. If you want to support the Minidoka site, the Friends group is a good one to donate to.)

Craters is a large volcanic lava field with an amazing landscape dotted with cinder cones and quite a bit of plant life. The ‘a’a lava (stony and rough) was familiar to me from my trip to Haleakala in Maui where I learned the two major types of lava, ‘a ‘a and pahoehoe, use Hawaiian terms to describe them.

The two pictures here are limber pines that grow in the park. The shapes of the branches are great and make for striking subjects. An almost first quarter moon lights up the gnarled pines against the starry sky. There was little color in the shots so I made them into black and white.

The fire station. The constellation Cassiopeia is right over the roof in the center
Craters of the Moon: The root of a limber pine lit by the moon with the Big Dipper.
Craters of the Moon: Limber pine branches lit by the moon.
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American Vernacular

May 17, 2019

A mostly tin man, with axe, on Hunt Road, on the way to the Minidoka site.
 (Click on pictures to enlarge)

My photographer friend Ken and I (see his excellent blog, http://greatvisualtruths.blogspot.com/ ), along with Ann’s help, are on the lookout for photos of what we call the “American Vernacular”. Mostly scenes where you might say, “Only in America” or “Only in Idaho”. Hard to define but we know it when we see it. When I saw the tin man above, I knew it was the American Vernacular. This is on the road a few miles from the Minidoka site. It was a bit scary, as it is wielding an axe.

As with life everywhere, athletic activity is important to the community. Even more so at Minidoka and the other camps with the lack of a normal life. The park service has built a baseball field near Block 22 where they believe an original field existed. The simple backstop, wood stands and single bench for each team recalls the simple materials that must have been used by the incarcerees. Volunteers built this field in a single day with donated materials.

An interesting book for younger children (or even adults) is called “Baseball Saved Us” about the experiences of a boy in the Minidoka camp. Other books on baseball in the concentration camps are “A Diamond In the Desert” by Kathryn Fitzmaurice and “Nikkei Baseball” by Samuel Regalado.

Food production was difficult during the war and each camp often had large areas set aside for agriculture. The camp administrators were not able to provide the usual foods that the Japanese Americans were used to except for rice. Many of the incarcerees were farmers and they began to grow crops that fed the entire camp. At Minidoka a root cellar was built, with timber poles, to store the harvests. It is partially underground with a roof covered with straw and ground cover. We got permission from the park service to go inside. I wore a hard hat in case anything loose fell on me. Emily, the intern, was posted outside in case anything happened. It was boring for her since nothing did happen.

Sunset over the baseball field.
Early morning sun on home plate.
A panoramic view inside the root cellar. There is an entrance at each end to the far left and far right. Horizontal lines get distorted in the creation of the wide view.
One of the entrances to the root cellar.
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Local color and Block 22

May 13, 2019

Tattos AND aquariums!

Last Saturday I joined Hanako and another park employee, Sam, at a local restaurant called Koto Brewery. Across the street was a really interesting business called Churchman’s Tidepool Room. Their sign says it is a, “Tattoz & Body Piercing * Salt and Freshwater Fish” as in aquariums. Quite a combo. I believe it is related to Churchman’s Jewelry & Idaho Artistry next door.

In the first picture below, you are looking at a single 16×20 feet room carved out of the barracks in Block 22 (the white structure in the “Americanism…” post). If you are a couple or family of three, you would be living in this space. There was a single wood or coal burning stove for heat that was attached to the chimney at right. There was no running water, bathroom or kitchen. Separate barracks buildings in the block housed latrines for women and men and a large mess hall for all meals. Most barracks had six units in the 120 foot long building the largest being 24 x 20 feet for a large family.

 (The diagonal pieces of wood are being used to support the current day barrack and mess hall. At 77-years-old both are not completely structurally sound).

Living unit in the barrack for a small family. (click on images to enlarge)

The mess hall is essentially a double-wide barrack. I’ve never seen one and this is an original building from Minidoka that had been used by a canning business and was moved back to the site. The park service restored the exterior in the same fashion as the fire station. Inside picnic-style tables recreating the original table are on display as well as period-style kitchen ware that matches what is seen in historical photos from the camp. It’s interesting to realize the group meals led to children often eating with their peers and not their families, leading to a breakdown in the family unit.

Purple flowers growing in the field with the mess hall.
Interior of the mess hall with tables.
Period kitchen ware on display. Similar items show up in historical photographs.
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The Minidoka Rangers

May 10, 2019

Minidoka rangers Hanako and Annette.  (click on images to enlarge)

I thought I would introduce the two park service rangers I’ve been working with here at Minidoka, Hanako and Annette. They work out of a small temporary visitor center that used to be the house of the Hermann family who farmed 128 acres where the historical site is now situated. In addition to all their other duties, the rangers give tours of the site, lately to school groups that bring classes to learn about the camp. Hanako has a personal connection to the Japanese American experience—four generations of her family were incarcerated at the Manzanar (Calif.) concentration camp. Emily, an intern that just started, was helpful in photographing the two rangers and later made sure the root cellar didn’t collapse on me as I wandered inside it (a future blog post).

On to the virtual tour. In a town of almost 10,000 people where almost all of the buildings are made of wood, you need a fire station. Minidoka had two, this is Fire Station #1. When the Hermann family received this homestead in 1950, the fire station was still standing and they lived in the structure until their house was built. This is one of two original buildings at Minidoka that are still in their historic location.

It’s essentially a barrack with an enlarged front to accommodate the fire trucks. The park service has nicely restored the exterior to as near original appearance as possible. For this project I decided to work on some panoramic photos to take in the wide expanse of these buildings and the site. The panoramas are composed of a series of vertical shots starting from the left and going to the right, usually about a span of 180 degrees. It’s really compressing onto a flat surface what your eyes naturally do. A result of this is distortion of straight lines, in this case the horizontal ones. This image used seven shots and were “stitched” together in a program called PTGui.

Intern Emily.

Panoramic view from the inside looking towards the big doors of the fire station
A cloud is reflected in a fire station window.
Hanako may not like this as she tidied up the floors for the photos, but I liked the light on the cobwebs.
Fire Station #1.
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“Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart….”

May 7, 2019

A panoramic view of much of the historic site.
(Click on images to enlarge)

As a historic site, Minidoka is doing an amazing job of telling the history of the camp, the daily life under pretty horrible conditions, and showing visitors a small part of what was at the time the 7th largest city in Idaho. In 1979 Minidoka was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 2001 became the 385th unit of the National Park Service.

The panoramic shot above looks northwest from near the corner of Hunt Road and S 1450 E road and gives you an idea of the terrain at the site. Mostly flat and now mostly agriculture, 600 buildings were crowded onto 946 acres. In the center are a barrack (white structure) and a mess hall in the location of Block 22. All camps were divided into this “block” format, at Minidoka twelve barracks, a mess hall, latrine, showers and a recreation hall made up Block 22.

Near the guard tower pictured in the previous blog are the remains of a guard station at the original main entrance that monitored all movements in and out of Minidoka. Next to it is a waiting room for visitors who were allowed to see friends and family restricted to the camp.

From this entrance is a 1.6 mile walking trail with very informative interpretive signs describing the location and daily life in the camp, many with historic photos. At the start of the trail is the reconstructed Honor Roll, which highlights the nearly 1,000 people from Minidoka that served in the U.S. military during WWII and commemorating those that died in the war.

An interesting quote on the Honor Roll is from Pres. Franklin Roosevelt, who a year earlier had signed Executive Order 9066 that lead to the mass incarceration of only Japanese Americans: “Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry….” FDR, Feb 1, 1943

A barrack (left) and mess hall (right) in Block 22. For scale, the barrack is 120 feet long and 20 feet wide.
The guard station and behind it the waiting room at the original main entrance.
The reconstructed Honor Roll.
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Minidoka, Idaho

May 2, 2019

(Click on images to enlarge)

I’m standing in the high desert of southern Idaho twelve miles northeast of Twin Falls. The sun is bright and puffy clouds gather on the eastern horizon. I’m reading a plaque that marks the Minidoka Relocation Center, a concentration camp that incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II. It is one of the most direct and unvarnished views of the incarceration that I’ve seen at many of these camps. Please read the text in the photo above to get an impression of the history and location.

I’m here for two weeks to document the buildings at the Minidoka National Historic Site for the park, which is run by the National Park Service. Chief interpretation ranger Hanako Wakatsuki invited me out to work on this project. I hope to also photograph some of the camp barracks that are scattered around the counties here that have been used as storage or out buildings by homesteading farmers.

The small parking area is described as the camp entrance and from 1942-45 it was the actual entry to Minidoka. Remnants of a reception center and military police building are there, informational plaques, an honor roll of incarcerees that served in the U.S. military during WWII and a recently reconstructed guard tower looming over the entrance.

An interesting quote is included on a panel: “The sentry towers are always silhouetted in the distance. It is not enough that they are not being used—to the residents they stand waiting for the day when they will be used. The eight sentry towers are ever present as a symbol of their confinement….no other single factor has had a serious effect on the residents’ morale as the erection of the guard tower.”—War Relocation Authority, 1943 (The administering government department).

The guard tower was reconstructed in 2014 by students in Boise State University’s Dept. of Construction Management program.
A facsimile of a barbed wire fence was constructed along a canal near the entrance, where a fence would have been during the war.
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More Lei!

April 9, 2019

We both get presented lei at the ‘Iolani School Community Night talk

Ann and I were in Honolulu last week without anytime to post to the blog. Not on vacation, but working as the ‘Iolani School 2019 McDowell-Oda Chair for Communications and Journalism. Christine, an old friend of Ann’s from the AP who has worked in Honolulu for many years, had recommended several journalists to the teacher at ‘Iolani in charge of the chair. The school liked the various subjects I’ve worked to photograph over the years and extended the invitation before I left for Maui. They asked that I speak to the students in various classes such as photography, U.S. History, Race and Social Justice, Advanced Placement History. It was an honor to be chosen and speak at the private high school (Barack Obama went to the other well-known private high school in Oahu, Punahou).

Instead of returning to New York at the end of my Haleakala stay, I took a short flight to Oahu. Ann was able to come April 1 and spend the week. I had a full schedule of classes, 3-4 a day, but it was fun to meet the students and find out what they are learning. Ann was able to see the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Bishop Museum while I was at the school. Of course, I was presented with several lei during my stay by the teachers and have quite a collection. Ann was also given one at the Thursday night Community Night talk I gave.

The only drawback was that I got incredibly ill in the middle of the week. I had been feeling odd since Tuesday afternoon but thought it was minor.  On Wednesday after the classes I really felt bad. Ann thought my forehead felt hot and bought a thermometer. It read 103.3 degrees! So she immediately got me to an urgent care center located in a nearby hotel. By then I was over 104 degrees, the nurse and doctor were surprised. The doctor thought I had the flu by the symptoms but a blood test didn’t show any. They gave me a large amount of Tylenol for the fever and an IV of water. After a few hours I felt better. Originally, I was put on the Tamiflu medicine. Friday morning I called about a lab test that came in. They said I had campylobacter, which you usually get from undercooked meat. So food poisoning. Ugh. I only missed a few of the classes and was able to solder on through the Community Night talk and two Friday classes. Then my stay at ‘Iolani was done. On Cipro now and I do feel much better.

The school, teachers and students were all great. It was a good experience to present the talks for all the classes.

Ann and I managed to get lots of macadamia nuts for gifts, among other things, and find really nice aloha (Hawaiian) shirts. We said Aloha to Hawaii on Saturday and returned home, seeing the sun set and then rise on the same flight.

You know you’re in Hawaii when you see The Teachings of Buddha in with the Bible.
Waikiki sunrise on the day we leave.
A hazy orange sunrise greets us as we approach New York Sunday morning.
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Aloha Haleakala

April 1, 2019

The beautiful lei of real flowers given to me by ranger Honeygirl. Aloha Honeygirl and Haleakala!

Last Friday was my final day of the residency and I said aloha to Haleakala and the rangers. Honeygirl gave me a parting gift of a beautiful lei, this one made of real flowers! It was an amazing month and I still have to sort through the many photos I took. I headed down the mountain to Kaluhui for two days. I extended the stay in Maui for a day because I got an invitation from park superintendent Natalie to come to a diner gathering at her house on Saturday night. Then I head to Ohau for another adventure.

I forgot to write about two night sky photography workshops I did at the park headquarters visitors center on March 23 and 24. The rangers were quite happy to host the workshops, they announced the first one and it quickly sold out- reaching the 20 maximum participants quickly and many on a waiting list. We agreed I could do a second one the next night and that filled up fast. Many of the students were from Maui, they could easily drive up to the park any time and practice. I did a short tutorial on camera controls and settings and we headed up to the summit just before sunset.

After over a week of pristine skies over the summit, the weekend brought very high clouds (higher than the 10,000 ft. summit) which threatened the view of stars. The clouds did produce two spectacular sunsets each evening of the workshops. But as night fell, a hole appeared almost straight overheard both nights, and we got views of Orion and the bright stars around it. Everyone was able to get photos of the stars.

Below, some more night sky photos. From Kipahulu here’s a black & white version of the coconut trees looking south. There was so little color in the photo, it seemed to look best this way.

And from the beginning of March, I shot these ‘botanicals’ in Hosmer Grove, near the apartment and never posted them. You can see the familiar patterns of the Orion constellation and the Big Dipper.


Coconut trees in Kipahulu, the view looking south.  (click to enlarge image).

A pukiawe plant, in the background is the constellation Orion near the top branch, the bright stars Sirius (about in the middle left) and Canopus near the horizon. Canopus is usually thought of as a southern hemisphere star, at low latitudes in North America it can be seen.


A pilo shrub and the northern sky with the Big Dipper standing on its handle, two stars in the ‘dipper’ pointing towards Polaris, the North Star.
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The Road To Hana!

March 28, 2019

Starry night over a coconut tree. (Click on images to enlarge)

Many people have told me and Ann, “If Stan is in Maui, he has to take The Road to Hana!” A return trip to the Kipahulu section of Haleakala was in my plans, so this past Monday I set out. Various rangers and locals told me, “Don’t take the north road (The Road to Hana)! Too many tourists and it’s slow going.” A ranger at Kipahulu suggested taking The Road to Hana when I return, then the quicker, shorter south road going back to the summit area. My friend Ken had taken The Road to Hana with his family on a visit last year, he did say it was scenic but very slow. We decided if I’m here and going to Kipahulu that if I don’t take The Road to Hana, people back home will make fun of me. So three and a half hours later (for 75 miles), I arrive at the Kipahulu bunkhouse. The Road is very curvy and you drive through some amazing dense foliage, gorges and past waterfalls. There is a bamboo forest that is incredible. You don’t get many views of the coast and it is quite slow going. The panoramic views of the ocean and coast from the south road are hard to beat and I took that road back to the summit.

I settled into the bunkhouse and enjoyed the incredible scenery and solitude (a break from the solitude at the summit housing). It was warmer and more humid than my first trip there at the beginning of the month (blog post from March 8). The first night was not so great as rain interrupted the shooting. By the time I got back to the bunkhouse, it was pouring.

On Tuesday I got a roommate. Early in the morning as I was shooting a spider web off the lanai a visiting ranger arrived. Aaron is an electrician and works full-time at Mt. Rainer National Park in Washington. He has come to Kipahulu several times and is here to help with solar arrays and various electrical projects.

When Aaron returned to the bunkhouse after his day’s work, he suggested a walk to the point that we see from the house, I didn’t know you could access it. He said he found it on a previous trip by walking down the road a bit and seeing a small gate with a National Park Service sign on it. The trail is not advertised and is not in any park literature. The walk goes through grasses and through closed in trees and foliage, then opens up on to the point as you walk on crushed lava. Very small green plants grow between the lava making a great contrast. The view is really spectacular, compared to the ‘just spectacular’ view from the house and the other parts of the park. The ocean is on three sides and you can see the top of Haleakala partly shrouded in clouds. We arrived near sunset and it was very pleasant.

Tuesday night was about as clear as it can be for Kipahulu. Starting out pretty clear, my southern-facing time-lapse suddenly had a long dark cloud intruding into it. When that was done, I headed to the view of the ‘Ohe’o Gulch with a couple of waterfalls and several pools of rushing water. The moon rising in the east at 12:35am lit up the gulch as I had thought, between the clouds meandering across the sky. I shot for an hour there, then headed back to the bunkhouse.  

Wednesday morning I headed back on the south road to the apartment in the summit area. The car thermometer reached 78 degrees as I drove through the Kipahulu area along the coast. When I reached the apartment at 7,000 feet, it was 58 degrees.

During the daytime I’m slowly sifting through the images and working on them. Earlier in the month I shot a sequence for a star trail picture over the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. I just put it together and it turned out a bit better than I expected (below).

A spider and its web on the lanai of the Kipahulu bunkhouse after a light rain.  
(Click on images to enlarge)
Plant life between the hardened lava.
Star trails looking south over the DKIST at the observatory.  (From earlier in the month)
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Maui All-Stars and Moon variations

March 23, 2019

Youshikazu Yamauchi points out stars with a green laser for his “Maui All-Stars” star gazing tour. (Click on image to enlarge).

The great thing about being in a national park is that you meet all sorts of visitors who come for all sorts of reasons. Three times I’ve met up with Yoshikazu Yamauchi, who runs a business called “Maui All-Stars”. His card says, “Haleakala Sunset & Stargazing”. I’ve seen Yoshi at the Kalahaku Overlook, my favorite spot and I think his, too. A few weeks ago I saw a telescope set up in the small parking area I usually go to and saw a van of people. I started talking to the driver and found out he is Japanese, but moved to Maui and now leads stargazing tours, mainly for Japanese tourists. I told him what I was doing and he seemed impressed I came all the way from New York and I think told the 8 or 10 visitors about me. (I think he was a little disappointed I didn’t speak Japanese).

A week later I saw him at the same spot, he was setting folding chairs out for everyone. After tending to his guests, he offered me a cup of hot green tea. He gives the tours in Japanese, all while soft, mainly Hawaiian music, plays from the van. I’m familiar with some of the sky, so I could follow a bit of what he was describing to the people. He uses a green laser to point out stars and objects in the sky. I looked through the telescope and binoculars Yoshi had set up and got some nice views of star clusters, a galaxy and the moon. I saw him and his group a third time a day before the full moon as they watched the sunset.

The moon rises and moon sets here are remarkable for many reasons. Usually clear views from the high altitudes and incredible colors in the sky are two. Standing high on a lone mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is another. The first two pictures below were taken on the vernal equinox, March 20, 12 hours and 8 minutes apart. Both show an amazing phenomenon of the shadow of the Haleakala mountain being projected to the direction opposite the rising or setting sun onto the hazy atmosphere of our Earth.

The first shot shows the moon setting early Wednesday morning at 6:30 am, tucking in behind the island of Lanai with the Haleakala shadow to the left. This is from the summit area, just below 10,000 feet in elevation, above the cloud layer. The second shot is that evening at 6:38 pm, from the Kalahaku overlook, the full moon just breaking the horizon, rising through the shadow of the mountain and the shadow of the Earth. Hanakauhi, the mist maker, is in the foreground. Fortunately, no mist to be seen. This is really a sight to be experienced.

A third moonrise shot taken minutes after the one above is more abstract and gives you the sense of how vast the environment is here.

March 20, 6:30 am, moon set from summit area. (Click on images to enlarge).

March 20, 6:38 pm, moon rise from Kalahaku Overlook.
March 20, moon rise from Kalahaku Overlook.
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Into the crater, Pt. 2

March 20, 2019

Our galaxy with a silhouetted lava formation. (click on images to enlarge)

Blog reader Lois said it best in a comment to the last post: “… I sense that all of the senses are keenly awakened by what you are experiencing in this unique adventure.” She is so right, this is an environment that fills all the senses all the time. The views, the subtle colors, the plant smells, the rain-like mist or sun and the sounds. The park information says inside the Haleakala crater is one of the quietest places in the world and it truly seems that way. It’s not silence, there is a quiet that lets you know there is an environment out there living and breathing. Often in the evenings I would hear distant sounds, just perceptible, almost a single noise, unsure of what it is. I realized it was the call of hundreds of ‘ua’u birds (“oooo ah oo”) nesting in the crevasses of the volcano walls.

After showing Ranger Honeygirl a selection of the photos I’ve shot, she said Hanakauhi, the mountain in the background of the ‘ahinahina image I posted last time, means “maker of mist” in Hawaiian.  A very descriptive name since clouds and mist seem to emanate directly from the mountain. In the crater I could sit and watch clouds form and dissipate and roll on by from the Holua cabin. It could be perfectly clear and two minutes later almost overcast. The clouds seem to move by as if I was watching a time-lapse film speeded up, though it was happening in real time in front of me.

Thought I would show other images from my time in the crater. The plants are remarkable looking in the light of a quarter moon, which provides all the landscape illumination in these photos.

‘Ahinahina plants (silversword). These plants bloom once in their lifetime, then die. Skeletons of dead plants lie where they were growing
(Click on images to enlarge)

‘Ahinahina lit by the moon.

‘Ili’ahi (sandalwood) tree, endemic (grows only in Haleakala) and rare. An upturned Big Dipper hovers overhead.
‘A’e (fern) growing out of lava formations. The bright stars are from left to right, Alphard (in Hydra), Procyon (Canis Minor) and Betelgeuse (Orion).
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Into the crater and Tom Wolfe

March 16, 2019

Me and my shadow hiking out of the crater.

(Click on images to enlarge)

If you are reading this, I’ve made it out of the crater alive! It was quite an adventure, hiking into and out of the Haleakala volcano going from 7,990 feet in elevation to 6,940 feet to Holua and back again. I stayed at the Holua “Hilton” as the ranger cabin is called. Also at the site is a visitor cabin with 12 bunks that can be reserved and a campground for tents, both with spectacular views of the valley in the crater. As artist-in-residence I was able to reserve nights in the ranger cabin, same as I did in Kipahulu last week.

My back pack might have weighed 35 pounds; carrying all my stuff (clothes, food, supplies) plus the camera equipment really added up. I didn’t need a tent or cooking utensils so that was a savings. From the Halemau’u trailhead to the cabin is 3.7 miles, which is about all I could think I could do. From the trailhead it is very steep, narrow and almost all rocky. Tuesday morning was part sun, part cloud that made the rocks wet and the mist seemed like rain.

Inside the crater is like a big valley, much greener than the summit area, but similar to the high deserts of the southwest. The environment is fascinating, part covered with lava flows from the past, hardened into dark rocks that can be quite sharp. Plant life grows between the cracks forming an interesting contrast.

The cabin is rustic, with 4 bunks, a counter/sink area for cooking and some storage bins. That’s about it. The water collected is non-potable but there is a large water filter that works by gravity on the counter. A two-burner propane stove heats water quickly. There are lots of pots, pans and utensils. I ate meals there, taking things like instant oats and camp meals that you only have to add boiling water to make.

The Holua Hilton, at the base of the crater rim.

The quiet is amazing, though the sounds of the ‘ua’u birds break that silence especially in the evening (“oooo ah oo” is the sound). Thousands of them must be calling, you hear them faintly in the distance. The inside of the crater is described as one of the quietest places on Earth.

After scouting out locations and subjects during the day, I spent two night photographing the ‘ahinahina plant, or silversword. It is silver in color to ward off the strong rays of the sun and looks quite alien day or night. It is one of the many plants endemic to Hawaii, Haleakala in particular. It is distantly related to the sunflower, which must have come here millennia ago.

The Milky Way was a sight at 3:00am, lying horizontal to the horizon and was worth waking up early. The third night I concentrated on the lava flows and plants, a first quarter moon was high lighting up the landscape.

Fortunately, Friday morning was clear and warm for the hike out. My pack was only a bit lighter, I ate almost all of the food but had to pack out the trash. It seemed like I was ascending straight up the side of the crater, though since I adjusted the straps on the pack, I was able to walk better and my pace was good. I ran into Tom Wolfe who was headed down the trail. Actually, a former New Yorker about 50 years old with a name he said is “hard to forget”. I was pretty exhausted when I reached the parking lot but glad I made it out.

A ‘ahinahina plant glowing under a nearly first quarter moon and Hanakauhi mountain in the distance.

(Click on images to enlarge)
Lava formation with a tipped Big Dipper above and Polaris, the North Star, to the left.
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Squished moon, above the clouds

March 11, 2019

Mahalo for all the comments! I forgot to mention, if you click on the photos you get a bigger version with more detail.

Up until today it’s been very windy at the summit area. Often a big cloud will come in from the east and suddenly it’s like you’re in a fog. Water comes horizontally with the wind and while it’s not really raining, the effect is the same. That and high clouds have cut down on the star photos the last few days. But the moon set on Saturday was amazing in that as it approached the horizon, atmospheric distortion caused the orb to be ‘squished’ in appearance. The crescent lit directly by the sun is almost ‘touching’ the cloud, the Earthshine on the unlit portion glows orange, like an orange sunrise or sunset.

“Squished” moon setting between lava rocks,

Yesterday’s sunset was pretty remarkable from the summit. I’m hoping to limit the sunsets/sunrises to one each to not bore you with the dazzling sky. As I’m walking from the parking lot I see a row of people on an overlook and decided that was an interesting photo. The sun is just creeping below the big cloud layer at the top and you can see the clouds below the summit that the light is reflecting off of. Most of the time driving up or down the mountain, you are above clouds, like in an airplane.

Tanya Ortega from the National Parks Arts Foundation got in touch with astronomers from the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, the group that runs the Haleakala Observatories at the summit. They put me in touch with Rob, a man who works at the observatories and would be my contact. I wanted to try to get some close-up photos of the telescope domes from angles that aren’t reached by the public viewpoints in the park. Rob showed me around the site last week and arranged for me to get access at night, which I’m very appreciative of. Couple of the big telescopes in the photos are the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the latest in state-of-the-art solar ground-based observatories and PanSTARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) which searches for Near Earth Objects that may collide with us.

Tuesday morning I’m hiking into the volcano to the Holua ranger cabin, just under 4 miles, for a 3-day stay. Pretty challenging for me as I’ll be carrying about a 30-pound pack (maybe more) with clothes, food and cameras. Going in isn’t the hard part, coming out (up to the crater rim) will be tough. Aloha, see you in a few days.

Sunset from the summit.
The Milky Way rises over PanSTARRS and the Daniels K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) in the pre-dawn hours.
Orion and stars over DKIST.
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Kipahulu and Shrimp Truck

March 8, 2019

View from the bunkhouse on a sunny Thursday morning.

In the middle of the week I traveled to Kipahulu, the area of the park that is on the ocean. It is an entirely different ecosystem as you can imagine. It is at the base of the Haleakala mountain and is tropical. Most of the day I got there it sprinkled or rained hard. It’s much warmer in Kipahulu than at the summit area so it was nice to wear shorts. I stayed in the ranger “bunkhouse” basically a large one-room house with a large deck on three sides. Inside is a small kitchen area with refrigerator and propane stove. Two beds were set up and two cots were available. I was alone so I picked one of the beds. The bunkhouse is on the edge of a cliff so the view down to the water is spectacular. You hear the waves crashing on the shore day and night. Except when the rain pours down, then you hear that pretty loud on the metal roof of the house. There is an outdoor shower with the spectacular view and two ‘vault’ toilets a few feet away.

With the solid cloud layer, it didn’t look like there would be much stargazing that night. But when they say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes” they weren’t kidding. After dinner I looked out a window and saw a few stars. I ran out with my camera to see the sky fairly clear overhead. You could see stars winking out as the clouds moved around. Soon fewer stars were seen and the window overhead closed. But Thursday morning was bright and sunny!

The staff are great, I got so speak with some at the entrance station and the visitor center. Many are Maui-born and live nearby the park. Later in the month I return for two days so I’m looking forward to that.

I drove to Kahului the next day before heading back to the summit area. Ann found out about “shrimp trucks” by searching for Maui food and insisted I try one. 808 Plates Maui was in the parking lot of the Home Depot and served Hawaiian “plates”. Basically, a lunch plate with entrée and two sides. I got the garlic shrimp, which is sautéed and put over rice, your sides are salad and a scoop of rice. Really, really good. Good thing I listened to Ann.

Fortified, I did some grocery shopping at a nearby organic store and returned to the apartment up on the mountain.

Bunkhouse by day. Outdoor shower is the small thing on the right.
Bunkhouse by night under wispy clouds.
808 Plates Maui shrimp (and more) truck.
The garlic shrimp.
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House of the Sun

March 5, 2019

Sun halo at the summit.

Haleakala means “House of the Sun” from a tale of the demigod Maui who lassoed the sun and got it to go slower across the sky. While at the summit of the mountain yesterday, I looked up to see a giant halo surrounding the sun, as it made its slow journey across the sky. High clouds in the atmosphere that contain ice crystals cause the light to be refracted and reflected to form a circle. This can happen with a bright moon also. I like the small figure walking towards the summit building.

In addition to the lei, Ranger Honeygirl gave me a bag of books about all aspects of the park. So, I have lots of homework to do. It’s great to learn the history and culture of the park. This will also help with knowing the names of the plants I photograph.

On to the night sky. The first couple of days have been spectacular at night, hard to beat the views. I’ve been scouting and checking out different overlooks, all seem very good. Saturday night I went to the Kalahaku Overlook at 9,324 feet which several rangers said was their favorite. I wanted to photograph the zodiacal light, a phenomenon of sunlight reflecting off dust particles along the plane of our solar system, and from our perspective, along the constellations of the zodiac. In February and March it appears in the west after sunset from dark locations. Looking west from Kalahaku down below was most of Maui, all lit up. Despite that, the pyramid shaped zodiacal light shone very brightly and you could see stars almost to the horizon. In the photo, clouds well below the summit reflect the city and town lights.

After a few hours of sleep, I went back up the mountain to Kalahaku and looked east this time to see the Milky Way rising around 3:00 am Sunday morning. It was quite bright to the eye and showed up incredibly well in photos. A beautiful orange crescent moon rose 5:00am, trailing three planets and the bright star Antares in Scorpius. It was truly a sight against the backdrop of our galaxy. I’ll include an annotated version to point out the various objects.

My homework.
Zodiacal light over Maui (pyramid of light at left).
View east from Kalahaku, just after 5 am.
Annotated version.
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Haleakala National Park

March 3, 2019

Hello all, I have the honor to serve as the 2019 artist-in-residence at Haleakala National Park in Maui. Haleakala is an incredible park, ranging from sea level to 10,000 feet in altitude at the summit of the dormant volcano. I’ll be here for the month of March, for an entire lunar cycle. I arrived just before noon on March 1 and Interpretive Ranger “Honeygirl” Duman placed a beautiful green and black lei around my neck, welcoming me to the park. She made this lei and explained the diamond pattern represents each generation passing down their knowledge to the next one. She chose the colors- green for the national park and black for the night sky photos I’ll be taking! What a great gift and so carefully thought out. Honeygirl mentioned “mana’o”, the sharing of ideas or thoughts that the diamond pattern also represents. I’m settled into a small cabin in the staff housing area near the main visitor center at 7,000 feet. Wanting to acclimatize to the altitude I didn’t want to go far the first night. I walked down the road to the campground near us to shoot the stars. The sky is quite stunning, I’m not sure I’ve gotten so many stars in a photo. Should be a fun month!

And thanks to Tanya Ortega from the National Parks Arts Foundation for persevering for over a year to make this happen. Through a false start last year and government shutdown this year everything finally came together.

The lei given to me by ranger Honeygirl Duman.
The cabin the park assigned me. Very comfortable.
First night out. Hmm, more stars than in NY!
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SHAPE Gallery reception

May 20, 2018

Thanks to everyone at the SHAPE Gallery in Shippensburg, PA and Ann for a successful reception on April 6. Just getting around to posting photos of the evening. The exhibit looked great, it was hung nicely with really good lighting, thanks to Kurt. All at the gallery worked hard to put on this show, glad we were able to make it happen. There were 30 pictures in all, most of them the night sky photos and four space shuttle images, by request of the gallery. I think five sold, the rest are still available. If you are ever in central Pennsylvania, check the gallery out.

The SHAPE Gallery

Nice front window display.

Ann took a photo of me in the interior room.

Main gallery.

Interior room and main gallery.

Great lighting by Kurt.

Thanks to everyone that came to the reception.

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SHAPE Gallery exhibit!

April 3, 2018

Announcing a show of the night sky work at SHAPE Gallery in Shippensburg, PA. Thanks to Joshua, Kurt and Mark at the gallery for helping put the exhibit together at this very nice community gallery. We had a small show at SHAPE last April of work from students at Shippensburg University who took the Digital Photography Exploration class I taught for one semester. The final project photos looked great in the gallery. The opening reception for the Starlight show is Friday, April 6 and the show runs through April 28.

 

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New Corona

August 28, 2017

New corona: 8 different exposures combined for a detailed look. The star Regulus is seen at lower left.

Our trip is continuing! We’ve been at Rocky Mountain National Park the last few days, Stan has been teaching a night sky workshop with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. First off, I went back through my eclipse photos and found the series that was shot at varying exposures, in order to get the detail in the sun’s corona. Since it is bright near the sun’s disk and fainter farther away, short to long exposures are needed to show the wide range of brightness. I combined them together to get this amazingly detailed view of the corona during totality. It still doesn’t match what we saw with our own eyes up in the sky above Madras.

The night sky photography class went really well. Eight people signed up for the three-.ay workshop. We spent two nights in the park under the spectacular sky here. I shot some photos of the class at work on Saturday night. Here we are at the alpine Tundra Communities section, at an altitude of 12,000 feet. A crescent moon lights up the landscape and people, the glow of Denver can be seen in the lower right part of the photo.

The Night Sky Landscapes photography class at 12,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park.

One more shot from Boise: at the Hampton Inn breakfast we saw this display of miso soup and sticky rice! In Boise! And it was good. Farther down the road near Laramie, WY, Ann poses with the Sinclair dinosaur at a rest stop. We ‘discovered’ the Sinclair gas stations, which you don’t see back east. We liked the idea of the dinosaur logo.

Miso soup for breakfast! In Boise!

Ann and the Sinclair dinosaur.

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On the road

August 24, 2017

Smoke from a fire makes a red sun on Monday evening in Madras.

As we packed up most of the campsite Monday evening, an incredible red sun hung low in the west, smoke from a nearby fire creating a filter for the light. Quite an all-day show for our sun.

While the eclipse watching is over, the viewing of eclipse commerce continues. On our road trip to Colorado, we spotted an eclipse-themed beer display: “No Light? (with a picture of an eclipsed sun)– Bud Light” ($24.49/24 pack/16 oz. cans).

Walking to dinner in Boise on Tuesday night we saw an amazing revolving neon sign for the American Cleaning Service Co. Below was a marquee that said, “No matter our differences, we all look at the same moon”. Many people we have met when we stop for our picnic lunches at local parks or rest stops traveled to the path of totality and are now returning home. The eclipse really did seem like a big communal experience.

Also on our Boise walk we found Rediscovered Bookshop, quite a good bookstore which we returned to after dinner. In the window were various small signs welcoming refugees and agitating for expressing one’s gender identity. It adds, “We encourage Idaho to Add the Words”. Ann looked up the phrase and it is an LGBT group and PAC that since 2010 has advocated adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s human rights act.

No Light?

The American Cleaning Service Co. in Boise.

Window of the Rediscovered Bookshop in Boise.

 

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GO Moon, GO!

August 23, 2017

The ‘diamond ring’ effect, just before totality.

I found a nicer ‘diamond ring’ effect photo I’ll post here. It’s when the moon is just about to cover the face of the sun and the bright light shines on one spot of the disk. This one is more dramatic than the previous photo. Some random observations from eclipse day and after: Rich Krueger, the Flagstaff teacher leading chants of “Go moon, Go!! Eat that sun!!!” as the eclipse was in its early stages. A headline in the Argus Observer, the newspaper for southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho: “Man describes viewing eclipse as ‘caveman like’.” Hard to make any of this up. About five minutes before totality the light was a very eerie orange and dim, unlike any I’ve seen. I took a photo of Steve Kaltenhauser of Calgary, Canada, and the rest of the crowd in the stadium under this odd light.

Ann and I are on a three-day road trip to Colorado and have seen lots of interesting sights from Oregon, Idaho and now Wyoming. Lots of the country that we haven’t seen before and great landscapes. We’ll post more updates.

Rich Krueger watches the partial phase.

Steve Kaltenhauser of Calgary, Canada in the eerie orange light five minutes before totality.

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TOTALITY!

August 22, 2017

Totality, 10:21 a.m.

We’re a day late, but here’s the eclipse. I was working for Agence France-Presse and sending to Space.com and  a couple of other astronomy websites that I didn’t have time to post to the blog. It was quite a sight, incredibly surreal to see a black dot where the sun should be. The corona extended far from the sun as seen with the naked eye. It did seem very different from the Svalbard eclipse in 2015. The corona looked like some creature surrounding the sun that came out just during the eclipse. I can see why ancient people might have been terrified of the sight. The temperature dropped 20 degrees F in Madras, as measured by some scientists who were taking readings of all sorts of things.

There were cheers and gasps from the crowd gathered at Madras High School as totality began. Darkness descended on the town as the eclipse proceeded above us. The football scoreboard clock counted down the seconds to the end of totality. I was operating 4 cameras  and changing the controls on 2 of them but managed to take my own advice and watch the eclipse for many long seconds. Here’s a selection of photos and I’ll post a bigger page in a few days.

Now Ann writes her impressions:  As it got closer to totality, the temperature dropped 20 degrees from 77 to 57. About 10 or so minutes from totality, the sky was washed in darkness but it was a kind of bright darkness, not like anything I’ve ever seen. You look and you think, it’s dark. But it’s not. It’s like looking through sheer navy blue or black fabric in daylight. Then, at totality, it was twilight, very chilly. All eyes were on the sun. People were spread out over the football field, cheering and clapping. There was a brilliant, diamond white light around the sun, glowing with a terrifying intensity. People were staring wondrously, like a spaceship was landing, Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was dazzling white light, the whitest of whites, like a Broadway musical, showgirls in rhinestones, a thousand klieg lights going off all at the same time. It brought tears to my eyes.

On the field at Madras High School.

The “Bailey’s Beads” effect is seen and red solar prominences. The bright sunlight shining through the moon’s mountains and craters create the bead effect.

My friends Wally and Rush from Albuquerque during totality.

The entire eclipse path from the Madras High School football field. The scoreboard counts down to the end of totality.

The entire eclipse path from the Madras High School football field. The scoreboard counts down to the end of totality.

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Madras camping

August 20, 2017

Our campsite on the baseball field. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

The students cooking their dinner.

Here’s our campsite at the Madras high school. We are here with the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy (FALA), a great group of high school students led by Rich Krueger, the astronomy and physics teacher. We circled our tents and have a nice space, with a few canopies making shade. The students are in charge of the cooking, so they gather at meal times and prepare the food. Our group of seven includes my friend Rush and his brother, Wally, who brought the usual truckload of camping and cooking supplies.

Today Aubrey, myself and Peter, a San Francisco photographer, went out to test our equipment on the football field. I was having problems with some remote triggers but will figure out a solution. James, one of the students, is assisting me and that’s a big help. We saw high clouds come in off and on during the day so that’s a worry although people are pretty confident the sky will be clear tomorrow.

The star party is this evening, and it’s an early morning tomorrow.

 

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E minus 2 days

August 19, 2017

UFO cloud on western horizon in Madras.

We’re at two days and counting to totality.

We’ve moved from our comfortable hotel to camping on a baseball field at Madras High School. It’s not too bad. We’re on grass fields, away from the throngs of campers on big dusty fields around the town. Since we are with a Flagstaff group helping Lowell Observatory with the eclipse event, they let us pitch a tent. Last evening after setting up the tents, we saw an amazing display of clouds at sunset, including one shaped like a UFO.

I went out today with Aubrey, the NASA photographer who is here, to find interesting pictures around the town. At the local Safeway, we stocked up on ice and food. We found a giant stack of Ecliptic Brewing Co. beer (Official Eclipse Beer?) and saw that Lay’s wants you to “Enjoy the Moment: BRING LAY’S WITH YOU TO WATCH THE ECLIPSE ON AUGUST 21.” (Official Potato Chip?)

We noticed an increase in traffic as people head into the area. Predictions say 100,000 people will invade Central Oregon by Monday.

Official beer of the eclipse.

Official potato chip of the eclipse.

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Arrived in Madras

August 18, 2017

Great design on the Madras town sign. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

For those wondering where Ann and I are viewing the eclipse, we have arrived in Madras, Oregon, apparently the center of the total eclipse universe for Central Oregon. We’ll be helping out at the Lowell Observatory Eclipse Experience at the high school over the weekend. First we needed to obtain the essentials, such as a hat, nicely designed postcards and the eclipse rock—all purchased at the Black Bear Diner. Two T-shirts completed our set of souvenirs, those purchased at Antlered Teepee Espresso. (See photos below.) Various estimates say 100,000 people will descend on this area. Madras is a town of just over 6,000, mostly agriculture. The diner had very nice eclipse-themed menus, and the waitress gave us copies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We saw lots of signs welcoming eclipse watchers on street lights and storefronts.

Black Bear Diner menus, collect them all.

Official Eclipse Rock, a must-have.

Stan is set for the total eclipse with hat, T-shirt, postcards and Official Rock.

 

 

 

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Eclipse News

August 2, 2017

Photography tips and links for the upcoming total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Follow the blog as Ann and I travel to Madras, Oregon to view the eclipse.

Totality in the Arctic: March 20, 2015, Svalbard. Vernal equinox total solar eclipse.

NationalGeographic.com interviews me and astrophotographer Babek Tafreshi on How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse.

Photos: The 2015 total eclipse in Svlabard

NASA Solar Eclipse Map: Where to see totality

Stan’s tips:

First advice is to take time to look at the eclipse with your eyes. It will be the most surreal and fantastic thing you will ever see. And if you are messing around with the cameras too much, you will kill yourself if you didn’t see much of the totality. Remember to look up and experience it, you won’t regret it. (It is perfectly safe to look during totality without the filters or glasses, you aren’t looking at the surface of the sun, just the outer atmosphere (corona) which is about as bright as the full moon). The total part of the eclipse only lasts between 2 and 2 ½ minutes, so it is quick.

To be safe, get eclipse glasses and if you plan to shoot the partial phase of the eclipse leading up to totality, get a good solar filter. Thousand Oaks Optical has both, order soon to prevent any delays. http://thousandoaksoptical.com/shop/solar-filters/silver-black-polymer-sheets/

On the NASA map in the link at the top of this page, you can zoom in to your location. Between the blues lines you will see a total eclipse. Get as close to the center red line as you can to see the maximum in that area. Outside of the blue lines you see a partial eclipse, so you want to avoid that. Zoom in and click on a town, a box comes up with all the times. It’s in Universal Time, or GMT so you convert to your time zone. Main thing to pay attention to is “Start of total eclipse”.

On the center path, I’m pretty sure all hotels are taken. Best to get to your location early Sunday at the latest, early Saturday if you can. There will be huge crowds and many states are predicting gridlock on highways and especially side roads. If you can camp, that should work or even sleep in your car- which I think lots of people will be doing. If you have friends or relatives near the center line, stay with them. If you can stay inside the blue lines, you’re good in case of heavy traffic Monday. Get up real early Monday (before dawn) if you are driving anywhere.

There are mainly two kinds of eclipse photos- wide and telephoto. The telephoto is the tight shot you see all the time, for the most part every eclipse looks the same shot this way. The wide shot is more interesting since you see details of your surroundings. If you have only the one lens that came with the camera, then use that on the widest focal length setting. The sun will be high in the sky- the box on the NASA Google map also has the altitude (ALT) in degrees. So you can shoot real wide horizontally, or less wide vertically. You can do a test by seeing what lens focal length you need to also get the ground in the shot. Go out just before noon or around 2pm and see if the sun and the landscape fit into your viewfinder. Unfortunately the wider you go, the smaller the sun gets. But the sight in the sky is so spectacular, it won’t really matter. Plus if you don’t get the landscape, that’s ok, you’ll probably get some trees or people in the photo.

Don’t try to changes lenses during the totality!! There isn’t enough time and you will miss quite a bit of the eclipse. Just stick with one lens and take in the whole experience.

Exposure can be tricky. I did one total eclipse, in March 2015 in Svalbard, which is north of Norway, way above the Arctic Circle. Very wild. I shot the whole eclipse, from start to finish. That includes the partial phase which lasts about 1 hour on each side of totality. I used safe solar filters on a telephoto and wide angle and later did a time-lapse sequence still image of the whole thing. You definitely need the solar filter if you are planning to shoot before and after totality. With the sheets I recommended, you can cut them to the diameter of your lens and use tape to hold it in place. Make sure you can remove it quickly, you’ll have to do that right at totality.

You might want to concentrate on just the totality. Then you can get shots of the people around you before and after and enjoy the partial phases of the eclipse with the solar glasses. If you want just the totality, put the camera on the Manual mode a few minutes before (people will tell you when it is getting close), set the camera at ISO 400, f8, 1/500 second. Take a couple at that setting (you don’t need a filter for totality). Then slow down the shutter speeds to 1/125, 1/60, 1/30 and 1/15 sec. You should have the camera on a tripod. Then you can go as slow as 1/8 sec. Take a couple at each setting. It will get very dark, you may have to turn on the light in the camera to see the settings. Try all of this at night to see if you can see everything. But also make sure to look up at the eclipse when it happens!

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the experience.

 

 

 

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Weather

September 12, 2016

Burned Juniper trunk.

Burned Juniper trunk. (click on photos to enlarge)

While the subtle colors are nice at Mesa Verde, the impact of natural forces are sometimes best seen in black and white. We walked the Long House Loop trail on a hot day which took us through vast areas of burned juniper and pinyon pines from the Pony fire in 2000 that closed the park for 10 days. The stark landscape of tree trunks looked like modern sculptures. During our stay we saw several distant rainstorms opening up on the landscape. The sheets of rain coming down, the cumulus clouds building overhead and the lightning from the clouds really give you a sense of how powerful nature can be.

Next: Four Corners

Late afternoon storm south of Mesa Verde.

Late afternoon storm south of Mesa Verde.

Evening storm to the north of Mesa Verde.

Evening storm to the north of Mesa Verde.

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Desert Varnish

August 24, 2016

Desert varnish and limy cement

Desert varnish and limy cement (Click on photos to enlarge)

Aug 24

We set out on a big drive south from Rocky through central Colorado and spectacular mountains. Making our way down Rt. 24 we stop in Silverthorne at La Perla Carneteria, a restaurant/store/butcher that had some of the best Mexican food ever. There must be a pretty large Mexican population there, we saw lots of construction workers and families eating. Our first night on the road we stayed at the Crested Butte house of our friends Don and Vicki. They bought the place a couple of years ago and are slowly renovating it and eventually will move there. The next day we drive back through Gunnison, then Montrose and took an alternate route to avoid construction on 550. It took us through breathtaking mountain passes and torrential rain. We end up late in the afternoon at Mesa Verde National Park, where we stayed at the Far View Lodge in the park.

The cliff dwellings and pit houses at Mesa Verde are incredible and tell an amazing history of human history going back to the 6th century. We took the Petroglyph Point Trail hike, passing Spruce Tree House on our way into a canyon. Ann picked up the trail guide which was very helpful. It explained the dark desert varnish we saw on the cliff faces which is caused by the dissolving of iron oxide and manganese oxide in water during spring rains and snow melt. The water evaporates leaving the mineral deposits on the rock. The white substance is calcium sulfate (“limy cement”) dissolved in water and then deposited on the surface when the water evaporates. All this looked like modern art installations on the cliffs when you looked closely at the details. Not to mention the wild looking rock erosion and the multi-colored lichens, a fungus that actually grows on the rock absorbing minerals and water.

Next: more weather and fire remnants

Multi-hued lichen

Multi-hued lichen

Water erosion that resembles the cliff dwellings

Water erosion that resembles the cliff dwellings

The side of a cliff

The side of a cliff

A vertical hole eroded in a cliff

A vertical hole eroded in a cliff

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The Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet-“Saves Steps”!

August 19, 2016

Staying at the William Allen White cabin at Rocky Mountain you could almost think you were living in the early 20th century. Built in 1887, it was the summer home for the famous Kansas newspaper editor and writer. In present day form it had a few modern conveniences—running water, electricity, lights. No phone, no internet, no real cell phone service. The beautiful view of Moraine Park was occasionally interrupted by the noise of internal combustion engines from Bear Lake Road, which was below the cabin. Best of all was the Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet (“Saves Steps”). It really looked like an original from the 1910s or 20s. It was a multipurpose device where many things related to meals could be kept or worked on. Click here for some fascinating information on the Hoosier.

The Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet with door open

The Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet with door open (Click on photo to enlarge)

The tall wood cabinet had two large top shelves, drawers and storage and possibly a zinc workspace. What looked like a flour mill was integrated into the two top shelves. Inside each door were detailed directions, instructions and places to put things like your cook book or ice book. Mrs. Christine Frederick had her “Housekeeper’s Food Guide”, “Suggesting Perfectly Balanced Meals According to Healthful Food Combinations”. Click on each photo to see the detailed suggestions and instructions. Mrs. Frederick has your complete diet planned and an explanation of the elements that make up food, what those elements are and what your body requires.

Mrs. Christine Frederick’s “Housekeeper’s Food Guide”

Mrs. Christine Frederick’s “Housekeeper’s Food Guide”

Moveable hands on the Hoosier Want List covered most everything you’ll need, as long as you only need six items at a time.

Hoosier Want List

Hoosier Want List

Door for Flavoring Extracts, etc.

Door for Flavoring Extracts, etc.

The White cabin and the view of Moraine Park

The White cabin and the view of Moraine Park

One door had racks for small bottles or Flavoring Extracts. Below those you put your ice book, which I found was a book of tickets for blocks of ice, bought from an ice company, of course. And a milk lid pick (not in the picture), which looks to be a device to open up the old glass bottles of milk. They really thought of everything. We hated to leave the cabin and the park, but early on Aug. 4 we set out on the road for our journey south through Colorado.

Next post: Mesa Verde

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Thank you Albert Bierstadt

August 18, 2016

Moraine Park, July 28, 2016

Moraine Park, July 28, 2016  (Click to enlarge photos)

One evening, I think as I was going to eat dinner out on the front porch at the Rocky cabin, I see this amazing scene across the Moraine Park meadow. I mentioned before the atmosphere is constantly changing so it’s possible to see amazing things everyday. But this was really amazing, the scene appearing like an Albert Bierstadt painting with dramatic lighting and everything! The real spectacular clouds/light only lasted a few minutes before the scene became just an ordinary amazing sight. It’s interesting to click on the photo to see the enlarged version and see the different cloud formations and the streams of light.

Coming back at 6:00 am from shooting the moon rising at the Tundra area I saw this scene of Longs Peak lit by the rising sun and a bank of fog lurking in the meadow below. Individual clouds of fog dotted the meadow, this one looking like the wash from a watercolor brush. It was incredible to see the peak, at 14,259 feet, catching the first rays of the rising sun, well before the lower mountains and the surrounding valley.

Sunrise, Longs Peak, July 29, 2016

Sunrise, Longs Peak, July 29, 2016

For a few days there was smoke from fires north and west of the park that created an orange haze on the horizon. It was especially heavy one evening, before I gave the artists evening program talk at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. I got out of my car and saw this orange sun low in the sky surrounded by the smoke.

An orange sun from the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center

An orange sun from the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center

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Moose!

August 16, 2016

A female moose

A female moose

We’re back home after an extended trip from the mountains to the high desert. I’ll post a few updates from Rocky, Colorado and New Mexico over the next few days.

Ann arrived at Rocky on Monday, Aug. 1, via the Estes Park Shuttle van from the Denver airport that dropped her off right at the visitor center in the park. We had a few more days in the White cabin before heading off on a southwest adventure. Tuesday we set off to the west side of the park in search of moose. They like aquatic  vegetation and riparian areas and lakes. As we drive Highway 34 in the Kawuneeche Valley we see several cars pulled over on each side of the road. Moosejam! The Colorado River meanders through this area and comes very close to the road at points. We see a female moose feeding on the ground cover and bushes near a bend in the river. Through binoculars in the bright sun we see details of the large mammal. I forgot to bring my Nikon with the longer telephoto lens, but I have my small Sony camera with a short focal length zoom. I get a few interesting semi-close ups and a nice wider shot showing our moose under the towering lodgepole pines and the mountains in the distance. We end up seeing two more moose in the area. (Click to enlarge photos)

Moose feeding on the Colorado River

Moose feeding on the Colorado River

Early morning Milky Way at Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead

Early morning Milky Way at Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead

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Rocky weather

August 1, 2016

Double rainbow over Moraine Park.

Double rainbow over Moraine Park. (Click on images to enlarge)

 

Monday

The atmosphere is changing constantly at Rocky providing sublime to spectacular landscapes. As the late afternoon rain continued Sunday, the sun peaked through some clouds. Going down the hill to check on something in my car, I looked to the east to see part of a brilliant, almost fluorescent rainbow and a second, lighter rainbow. I ran back up to the cabin to grab my camera and ran back down the hill to see almost the whole arc over the trees and mountains. The clouds behind it were very dark and the contrast was stunning. The rainbow lasted quite a long time and it seemed to be almost a solid beam. After a while it began to fade so I headed back to the cabin. Looking out a few minutes later I see again a small slice of color in the sky and run back out with my camera. Only part of the arc is seen but it’s as bright at the first sighting. It’s an amazing sight against the deep green trees and the dramatic lighting on the background mountains.

I had a couple of busy evenings as part of the Night Sky Festival. Friday I gave a talk about the night sky photos at the Moraine Park campground amphitheater and a hands-on photo workshop Saturday at the Glacier Basin campground. Both outdoor amphitheaters are a real experience as the sky darkens during the program. At Glacier Basin we went out to a meadow in the campground to photograph the Milky Way and the distant mountains.

My friend Richard Haro from Ft. Collins visited Saturday. After the workshop we drove to Sprague Lake, he wanted more practice at the night sky photography. We were surprised to see several cars in the parking lot at around 10:45 p.m. People on the trail around the lake turned out to be “students” from the workshop who apparently took my advice to shoot from Sprague, one of my favorite spots in Rocky.

Touches down just beyond the cabin.

Touches down just beyond the cabin.

Another picture from the alpine adventure on the tundra. Giant rocks illuminated by the rising moon.

Another picture from the alpine adventure on the tundra. Giant rocks illuminated by the rising moon.

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Above the clouds

July 30, 2016

Saturday

Thursday night (or rather 1:00 a.m. Friday morning) was completely overcast at the cabin. Driving up to the Tundra Communities trail I wasn’t sure if I’d see any sky. I was hoping at 12,000 feet in altitude at the trail I would maybe be above the clouds, which looked very low from the 8,000 feet level of the cabin. On Trail Ridge Road it seemed like a drive through heavy fog. This must be the cloud layer, I thought. Approaching the Rock Cut turnout where the Tundra trail starts, all of a sudden I saw stars. Most of the sky was clear! I was amazed. I was also cold, the temperature dropping to around 42 degrees from the mild 62 at the cabin. I put on several layers and headed out the short trail along the tundra. This area is above the tree line so plants are low to the ground and the main landscape features are huge rocks and the surrounding mountains.

I had planned to be there for the 2:05 a.m. moonrise and found the spots I had scouted out earlier in the daylight. An orange moon started to peak out between distant thin clouds in the east and lit up clouds that were below the ridge I sat on. It was a sight to be above a cloud layer that surrounded the lower elevations. The combination of the moonrise, wispy clouds above, the bright stars, a cloud layer below and the dramatic mountains made for an unforgettable scene.

Many daytime activities for the Night Sky Festival happen at the nearby Moraine Park Discovery Center. I met up with “Dark Sky” Ranger Cynthia Langguth who was helping children make sun clocks, simple sundials to see how to tell time by the sun. A group of amateur astronomers from the area set up solar telescopes to view the sun.

Moonrise above the clouds.

Moonrise above the clouds. (Click to enlarge photos)

Amazing rock formations on the tundra. If you look closely, above and to the left of the center of the image is the Andromeda Galaxy.

Amazing rock formations on the tundra. If you look closely, above and to the left of the center of the image is the Andromeda Galaxy.

Ranger Cynthia Langguth helps a junior ranger with the sun clock.

Ranger Cynthia Langguth helps a junior ranger with the sun clock.

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Alpine living

July 28, 2016

Thursday

Small, fat, furry animals are irresistible to humans and this photographer. Me and many visitors saw this very cute marmot crawling around the rocks at the Tundra Communities trail Thursday morning. The yellow-bellied marmots live in the alpine ecosystem, in this case at over 12,000 feet.

So far every night has been clear and the sky here is pretty remarkable. Monday I saw that the International Space Station was to fly over Rocky just before 10 p.m. I headed to Sprague Lake to get a clear view of the south-southeast horizon. This 2 minute, 41 second exposure starts just below an orange Mars on the right as the ISS cuts through Scorpius, grazes the top of Saturn, heads  across the Milky Way through the constellations Ophiuchus, Scutum, Aquilla and goes just below the star Altair where the shutter closes.

The second night photo was taken right when I heard the splashing of an animal in the lake, as I described in the previous post. I asked some rangers and the theories varied that maybe I heard an elk, moose, coyote, mountain lion or even a human. Aside from that, the rising moon provided beautiful light on the lake.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

A yellow-bellied marmot

A yellow-bellied marmot

 

A time exposure of the ISS flying over Rocky

A time exposure of the ISS flying over Rocky

Moonlight illuminates Sprague Lake

Moonlight illuminates Sprague Lake

 

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Back to Rocky Mountain

July 27, 2016

July 27, Wednesday

I’m here at Rocky Mountain National Park for the next week for their 2nd annual Night Sky Festival. The rangers invited me back to give a talk and a night sky photography workshop. It’s a chance to come back to the park where I was an artist-in-residence in 2013. The interpretive rangers have generously allowed me to stay in the William Allen White cabin, where the artists stay, since it is vacant for a couple of weeks.

It’s hard to beat the views from the cabin, either from the large main room window looking west towards the mountains or from the expansive covered porch looking south towards more mountains and Longs Peak. We’re in the Moraine Park section and there is a vast meadow at the base of the mountains.

This stay will allow me to re-visit some of the locations I was at in 2013 and shoot more of the incredible night sky here. I arrived Monday and both night so far have been clear. I had a mild scare last night at Sprague Lake around 1:30 a.m. as the moon was rising. I heard something running a few steps by the shore and then a huge splash in the water. Some splashing around, almost like someone swimming. It seemed to be right in front of where I was photographing a dead log and the lake. The splashing continued off and on with a few grunts. I shot one more picture and decided to head out, not wanting to see what kind of animal was taking a midnight swim.

View from the cabin’s main room. The dining table is here, so you get this great view at all meals.

View from the cabin’s main room. The dining table is here, so you get this great view at all meals.

They made a nice flyer on display in the Beaver Meadows visitor center where I’ll be giving talks each Wednesday as part of the scheduled Art in the Park series.

They made a nice flyer on display in the Beaver Meadows visitor center where I’ll be giving talks each Wednesday as part of the scheduled Art in the Park series.

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Botanicals

April 3, 2016

The Big Dipper pointing to the north star Polaris in the Little Dipper.

The Big Dipper pointing to the north star Polaris in the Little Dipper. (Click on images to enlarge).

April 3

I’m back home after the incredible experience of working at Chaco for a whole month. Thanks to all the rangers, volunteers and staff for their help and advice. And thanks to the landscape and the great houses for being great subjects. I’ve done some rough editing of images during the past few weeks, which have been posted here. At some point I’ll gather all the good ones up and make a separate page on the website.  

Meanwhile, here’s some of the close-ups of plants and well-known constellations.

Orion dominated the south sky in March, with the bright stars Sirius (lower left), Procyon (upper left), orange Aldebaran (above plant) and The Pleiades (upper right).

Orion dominated the south sky in March, with the bright stars Sirius (lower left), Procyon (upper left), orange Aldebaran (above plant) and The Pleiades (upper right).

Scorpius and its tail, the central Milky Way and Sagittarius (at left).

Scorpius and its tail, the central Milky Way and Sagittarius (at left).

Cassiopeia (on the right) and Perseus (at top).

Cassiopeia (on the right) and Perseus (at top).

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View from Alto

March 29, 2016

Cliff at work at Pueblo del Arroyo, an airplane trail intruding on the photo.

Cliff at work at Pueblo del Arroyo, an airplane trail intruding on the photo. (Click to enlarge photo)

March 29, Tuesday

I’ve gotten to know Cliff and Jane, a very nice couple from northern California, who have been volunteers at Chaco for several years. They are our neighbors in the next duplex and arrived a couple of weeks ago. Cliff does a really informative tour of Chetro Ketl and Jane has been assessing the park ‘app’ for tablets and smartphones. They’ve been very helpful with tips about Chaco and shopping and eating in Farmington. Cliff is a photographer as well and came out with me for two nights in the canyon. I was setting up a shot and got one of him in action at Pueblo del Arroyo.

On Sunday I told Jim, who is chief of natural resources here, I was interested in photographing Pueblo Alto, which is on top of the mesa on the north side of the canyon. He had also been interested in going up there at night and asked if he could come along. Normally it’s a steep hike to the mesa top then a relatively flat trail to the site. Jim said there is an access road for rangers and preservation crews so he got his heavy duty four wheel drive truck and we drove up to Alto. After a really rough road, we parked and hiked in the last ½ mile or so. At alto, it’s really alto. It’s one of the highest parts in the park and you can see 360 degrees from the pueblo site. The bad news is the glow of the towns is seen but also lights, many fairly bright, of drilling operations outside the park. In the past few years oil and  gas drilling has increased with many wells burning off excess gas. At night these flames are bright lights that can be seen for miles. Or some of the drill sites are lit, much brighter than an outdoor house light.

I photographed the ‘new’ Alto site, a structure built after what’s called ‘old’ Alto, looking north. You can see the Big Dipper and the two stars in the ‘dipper’ pointing to Polaris the North Star. Pueblo Alto was a junction of several prehistoric roads, some aligned due north/south. Wonder what the ancient Chacoans would think of the string of lights along the 21st century horizon?

Today is my last full day at Chaco and it’s been an incredible experience. I’ll continue the blog for several more installments with the work from the canyon.

The moon lights up “New” Alto, at the Pueblo Alto site looking north with a view of lights on the horizon.

The moon lights up “New” Alto, at the Pueblo Alto site looking north with a view of lights on the horizon. (Click to enlarge photo.)

Inside a moonlit New Alto.

Inside a moonlit New Alto.

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Black and white

March 27, 2016

Dramatic clouds over Fajada Butte.

Dramatic clouds over Fajada Butte.

The environment around Chaco Canyon is fairly stunning on its own. During the day I often do scouting trips to the various sites or small hikes to check out locations that would make good photos at night. Sometimes the hikes take longer than usual since I stop often to take a picture of something that looks interesting. Here’s a few of these photos, converted into black and white since many of the sights look nice done that way.

One more Chaco mystery: Thursday night my headlamp vanished. I believe I had it with me coming back from the canyon that night, but then couldn’t find it the next day. I don’t think an animal took it from my head, sometimes I’ll put it in my pocket when driving out of the canyon. Well, a good reason to go to REI to get another one.

This plant looked almost silvery against the sand.

This plant looked almost silvery against the sand.

A great curling plant, which I must find the name of.

A great curling plant, which I must find the name of.

There are many of these small ‘caves’ of eroded sandstone on the way to Peñasco Balanco.

There are many of these small ‘caves’ of eroded sandstone on the way to Peñasco Blanco.

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Bernie and more moons

March 24, 2016

March 24, Thursday

Bernie sign on Ford Ranger pickup truck in Farmington

Bernie sign on Ford Ranger pickup truck in Farmington (Click to enlarge image)

On the way to the Natural Grocers store in Farmington I saw a resident has placed a huge sign for Bernie Sanders on the back of a classic Ford Ranger pickup truck. The paint job of the truck (blue and white) matches the colors on Bernie’s sign, which appears to be well bolted onto the bed of the truck. So far it’s the only campaign sign I’ve seen out here.

Continuing with the moon theme, I went out Wednesday evening for the full moonrise at Fajada Butte. I chose a spot where I could see the moon rise and then would be able to position myself on the road to get the butte. Around the predicted time there was a definite orange glow on the eastern horizon. I took a few photos before the rise of what looked like a fuzzy ball surrounded by a deep blue sky. Then suddenly I saw a bright light, the top half of the moon clearing the mesa in the distance, slowly rising. In the deepening twilight with Fajada looming close by you could almost hear Richard Strauss “Also sprach Zarathusra”. As the moon gained altitude I moved south to try to get the butte in the picture. I timed it so the moon cleared the top of the butte right at one of the well-known rock formations at the top, which made for a nice silhouette.

I’ve wanted to do a series of early/late sun and moonlight on Fajada from our porch. I got up early Thursday for the sunrise and as I’m lining up the shot of the butte I look to my right and see the big full moon setting. The light was perfect as the western sky was still in twilight and the moon was bright. In a few minutes the sun rose, painting the cliffs and the top of Fajada in a brilliant orange light. In the quiet of the early morning it was a serene sight.

Full moon rising behind Fajada Butte formation

Full moon rising behind Fajada Butte formation

Moonset and Fajada Butte on Thursday morning

Moonset and Fajada Butte on Thursday morning (Click to enlarge image)

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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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North Rim, the Grand Canyon

June 11, 2015

Me in the Volunteer outfit in front of the artist cabin. The canyon is off to the right side. (Click on images to enlarge)

Me in the Volunteer outfit in front of the artist cabin. The canyon is off to the right side. (Click on images to enlarge)

After driving through occasional downpours on my way from Flagstaff, I arrived to a sunny North Rim on Wednesday afternoon. I’m here for three weeks as the artist-in-residence, a great honor since they only picked five for the summer season. Ranger Robin Tellis filled me in on the details and issued me volunteer uniform tops (long and short sleeves), a fleece jacket, a rain jacket and a cap. Plus an Artist-In-Residence name plate. I’m semi-official looking, though I hope no one asks questions about the Vishnu Schist or various layers in the canyon.

A cloud floating UP out of the canyon.

A cloud floating UP out of the canyon.

They house the artist in a rustic cabin among the various cabins that the staff live in. It’s great, a nice work room/kitchen plus a separate bedroom. It’s also hard to beat the location, the cabin is about 100 feet or so from the canyon rim. I met my neighbors, rangers who work in different jobs around the north rim, all really friendly. I took a short walk along the Transept Trail, which goes along the edge of the rim. The view was pretty spectacular, no matter which direction you looked. Occasionally wispy clouds would float up out of the canyon like fog. I walked past some campsites next to the trail that had amazing views. It wasn’t quiet, the dull roaring noise was the wind blowing through the tall pine trees, but it was almost a relaxing sound. I hear it at night from inside the cabin. For the sunset I drove to the Visitor Center/Grand Canyon Lodge complex and walked out to Bright Angel Point, which looks out south, with views to the west and east. Orangish light illuminated the tops of the distant formations in the east while billowing clouds provided an equally amazing view to the west.

Sunset from Bright Angel Point.

Sunset from Bright Angel Point.

Sunset and Juniper branches.

Sunset and Juniper branches.

The sky cleared and it was a nice but breezy night for stargazing. I walked out to Bright Angel Point, just out from the Grand Canyon Lodge which is a really impressive historical hotel made from wood. Walking along the rim trail I looked through the pine trees and saw bright “clouds”, which turned out to be the Milky Way. Coming out on a clearing the whole expanse of the galaxy was seen. It was quite an impressive sight, every feature could be clearly seen. At over 8,000 feet and after the storm cleared through the air was nearly pristine. Around 1:15 am in the morning the clouds began returning and I headed back to the cabin.

The Milky Way arching across the southern sky.

The Milky Way arching across the southern sky.

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Grazing rights on Mars?

May 25, 2015

We have really met all kinds of people here in Cody and Powell and today we met the son of a man who applied for cattle grazing rights on Mars. That is the planet Mars, as it is referred to in 1946 documents. He was rejected and instead was offered land on Pluto. Russ Rauchfuss remembers growing up on the homestead established by his father and mother along the main highway between Cody and Powell. The May 19 blog had a picture of a red, white and blue tank next to a barracks building. Russ painted that in 1968 or ’69. But the real story for the blog is Herman, Russ’ father. Herman served as a pilot in the Pacific during WWII, returned to Wyoming and found himself one of the first recipients of a homestead in the Heart Mountain District and bought a barracks for $1.00. His wife was a model and stayed in Wyoming to help Herman work the land. Russ continues to live part-time in the house composed of a former barracks.

Mars grazing rights? (Click on image to enlarge, easier to read the clippings)

Mars grazing rights? (Click on image to enlarge, easier to read the clippings)

Clippings and a letter from 1946, articles from 1976 after the Viking landings on Mars.

Clippings and a letter from 1946, articles from 1976 after the Viking landings on Mars.

In February 1946 Herman and friend Henry Schmidt applied to the local office of the U.S. grazing service for grazing rights on Mars. Unfortunately they were rejected, but District Grazier James S. Andrews offered Herman and Henry rights on Pluto, described as approximately 3 ½ billion miles from Wyoming. Apparently they also expressed a desire to obtain the street car franchise on the Moon. The commissioner of the General Land office in Washington, D.C. wrote to tell Herman that “Neither of these proposed land uses is under the jurisdiction of this office”. So, not exactly a rejection from the precursor to the Bureau of Land Management. In fact, the commissioner left open the possibility that if “…lands on Mars, the Moon or other planets…” are designated public lands of the United States, the pair might have an actual claim! Read all about it in the many newspaper clippings saved by Russ.

Russ Rauchfuss in a former barracks building, used as a “honey house” for the family beekeeping business.

Russ Rauchfuss in a former barracks building, used as a “honey house” for the family beekeeping business.

As Sharon and I were driving on a small back road later in the day, we saw a small group of deer bounding through the brush off to our right. They came close to the road and stopped and stared at us as we drove. I stopped the car and the deer stood there, ears alert, just staring at us. It was quite eerie to see them close and not afraid. So we took a few pictures and drove on. I wonder what the deer were thinking?

Curious deer.

Curious deer.

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HM signs

May 24, 2015

Heart Mountain signs.

Heart Mountain signs. (Click image to enlarge)

Pouring rain limited our outdoors work yesterday to pretty much nothing. Got lots of editing done and organizing of the photos by subject matter. It was interesting to go over all the images to see how many homesteaders we photographed and how many barracks. Still need to work on getting the right light on a few scenes of barracks and Heart Mountain, maybe we’ll get better weather on Memorial Day.

In the meantime, I had shot a series of signs that incorporated “Heart Mountain” or a graphic image of the mountain a few days ago. The peak is very distinctive and it sounds like Heart Mountain has been used to refer to this region for quite a while. The May 20 blog has the Powell Tribune logo. Three of the signs in today’s photo are from Powell, the blue community sign that lines the main streets, the Skyline Café and Crosswalk Center, a Christian library. In Ralston, a tiny town between Powell and Cody are the Heart Mountain Hearing Center (which shares space in a former barrack building with St. Nick Knaks). Just down the road is the Heart Mountain Pub, which had two great signs, one that calls it “Jimmy’s Heart Mountain Pub” (above a taxidermy sign) and the other a nicely psychedelic version with our mountain peak at the center.

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Art of the Camps

May 22, 2015

Hatsuko Mary Higuchi talks about “Manzanar Guard Tower” and “Unfinished Business: Hardship and Suffering”.

Hatsuko Mary Higuchi talks about “Manzanar Guard Tower” and “Unfinished Business: Hardship and Suffering”. (Click on images to enlarge)

Sharon and I are really hitting the cultural circuit here. We attended an exhibit of art by Hatsuko Mary Higuchi Thursday evening at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. She was in the Poston, Arizona camp as a child and has recently done paintings and multimedia artwork on the incarceration experience. Many incorporate text or concepts like camp blueprints as the base of what she paints over. Higuchi gave a nice talk about her personal life that was followed by questions.

Afterwards, I asked her which Poston camp she was in; that particular camp was so large it was divided into three sections. My parents were in Camp 3, so was Higuchi’s family. She asked me if I knew a photographer named Sachi Cunningham, I said, yes, that I know her from the Asian American Journalists Association annual conventions. Sachi is Higuchi’s niece and we were both surprised by the coincidence.

Lois Spiering with son Kelly and daughter-in-law Sylvia, the daughters planting the garden.

Lois Spiering with son Kelly and daughter-in-law Sylvia, the daughters planting the garden.

Earlier in the day we met with Lois Spiering and her family. Her and her late husband Jim homesteaded and son Kelly still runs a farm on the family land. It’s increased now to over 600 acres. A daughter who just returned from college in Virginia couldn’t wait to get back to working on the farm. Kelly’s wife Sylvia said another daughter went away to school and said she missed the wind of the Big Horn Basin. “Who could ever miss the wind?” asked Sylvia. We took the portrait of Lois, Kelly and Sylvia with several of the daughters planting the garden, ponderosa pine trees planted as a windbreak by Jim almost 70 years ago towering in the background.

Early morning sun on the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Early morning sun on the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Even earlier in the day I got up to see the sky relatively clear and a chance to have some blue sky in the photos and not gray rainclouds. As I drove towards Powell, I saw an amazing sight, a layer of fog above farmland just below Heart Mountain. I pulled over to get some shots of the scene, then drove on to the Interpretive Center to try an idea I saw earlier in the week. The sun rose brightly illuminating the barrack shaped buildings and the mountain top.

The camp hospital boiler room smokestack on the right.

The camp hospital boiler room smokestack.

Just before the art exhibition, I wandered around the camp hospital boiler house smokestack, which still stands on a hill above the interpretive center, Heart Mountain visible on the horizon. The dramatic structure, preserved through work of local people, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and grants, provided endless opportunities in the late afternoon sun.

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Around Powell

May 20, 2015

The Bright family homestead sign. (Click on images to enlarge.)

The Bright family homestead sign. (Click on images to enlarge.)

We spent a few hours in Powell today and had lunch with Rowene Weems, the director of the Homesteader Museum. Turns out she is an avid photographer so we talked cameras for a bit. Back at the museum Sharon spent time copying many of the historic photos they have in their digital archive, so I walked around the town taking photos of all the Heart Mountain related signs.

Awning at the Powell Tribune.

Awning at the Powell Tribune.

The mountain is such a presence in the area it becomes an icon that people identify with. The distinctive silhouette of the peak shows up in many logos and signs. On the masthead and the front of the building of the Powell Tribune is a rendering of the mountain. I’ll post more in the next few days.

American Legion flag box.

American Legion flag box.

We had seen this mailbox earlier in the day outside the American Legion Hughes-Pittinger Post #26 and I returned to photograph it. Turns out it is not a mailbox, but a collection box for flags. Inside the door at the top of the box it states, “Not a mailbox”.

The sun, which we hadn’t seen in days, began to peak out from the clouds, so we took advantage and headed out to photograph the Bright homestead, where we were yesterday. They have a really whimsical sign hanging from a tree as you enter the property, calling their land, Bright Acres, Homesteaded 1949. (See top photo). In the whole scheme of things 1949 doesn’t sound very old, but the date is significant since it means they were one of the original Heart Mountain District homesteaders.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

I’ve mentioned the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center but haven’t shown a photo of the whole building. It’s quite striking, resembling three barracks in a row in the dimensions of the original structures. This view to the southeast towards highway 14A give you an idea of the size of the museum and the setting among the farms on either side of the road. It’s a remarkable center and well worth seeing.

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Park County Historical Society

May 19, 2015

The line to buy an autographed book from Phyllis Preator. (Click on images to enlarge).

The line to buy an autographed book from Phyllis Preator. (Click on images to enlarge).

On Tuesday we find ourselves back at the Sunset House Restaurant just a few blocks from our rental house in Cody for a luncheon of the Park County Historical Society at the invitation of Ladonna Zall, a board member of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and curator and docent at the interpretive center. We saw some familiar faces from last nights’ Pahaska Corral Westerners meeting. We were introduced as today’s guests and Sharon gave a plug for our homesteaders/barracks project. Phyllis Preator, author of “Behind the Shadows- McCulloch Peaks, Early History and Stories”, about the nearby mountain range, was the featured speaker. She was wore a striking fringed leather vest and recounted her early days in the area and riding horses in the McCulloch Peaks.

Three generations of Brights in the original homestead house.

Three generations of Brights in the original homestead house.

Later in the day we headed to the Bright homestead as rain began to fall in Cody. Harley and Alison Bright had homesteaded in 1949 but live in Powell now. Their son Gary and his family now live in his parents original home made from a barrack on the homestead land. Gary brought his parents to the house today and we got to meet most of the family. They knew a lot about the history of the Bright homestead and about the barracks that became the house. Gary’s wife Sharon showed us where the Japanese American incarcerees cut vents next to the window frames in the walls of the barracks for ventilation since the windows would not open. The vent was long covered on the outside, but the Brights had kept the screen in place and the small wood door that could close off the vent.

Inside door of a vent (open) on the right and closed on the left.

Inside door of a vent (open) on the right and closed on the left.

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Pahaska Corral of Westerners

May 19, 2015

The Pahaska Corral of Westerners during the Monday meeting.

The Pahaska Corral of Westerners during the Monday meeting. (click on images to enlarge)

We got home late Monday night, so I’m posting Tuesday morning. We attended the monthly meeting of the Pahaska Corral of Westerners at the Sunset House Restaurant in Cody last night. The featured speaker was Brian Liesinger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, the group that runs the Interpretive Center. We had met Brian last week at the center and then in Shell where we photographed the barracks that the center plans to move to Powell.

According to the Billing Gazette, “The Pahaska Corral of Westerners is the local chapter of Westerner International, an organization dedicated to stimulating interest and research in the history of the American West.” We weren’t sure what the meeting would be like, but it turned out to be a nice dinner (no host) at the Sunset House. I bought Sharon and me a raffle ticket for $1.00 each to win a book on Wyoming mining, but we didn’t win. You are obliged to wear western duds, if you don’t you are fined one quarter. My denim Uniqlo shirt and Eastern Mountain Sports trousers didn’t qualify, so I placed a quarter in the jar, which you also contributed to if you cussed.

Before the dinner, Sheriff Jeremy Johnston (not an actual sheriff but the president of the corral) led us in a salute of a buffalo skull, which I think was referred to as Buffalo Bill. New attendees introduced ourselves, so Sharon was able to put a plug in for our project.

Brian gave a very nice talk on ‘misery” but weaved interesting connections with romanticized views of the west and hardships undergone by camp incarcerees, homesteaders and others. The audience of about 35 were receptive and asked many questions about the camp and its relation to the Cody-Powell region.

“Tiny” Collar by her home, a former barrack.

“Tiny” Collar by her home, a former barrack.

Earlier in the day we met “Tiny” Collar at her original homestead where the 88 year-old still lives in the former barrack transformed into a house. She described two of the storage buildings on the property as being reconstructed by her late husband out of reclaimed lumber from other barracks.

A couple of shots from Monday.

A patriotic tank next to a barrack with extensive renovations on the main highway.

A patriotic tank next to a barrack with extensive renovations on the main highway.

Tar paper peeling off a barrack at the Jolovich farm.

Tar paper peeling off a barrack at the Jolovich farm.

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Stars and discoveries

May 17, 2015

The Big Dipper points to Polaris near the roof of Laverne Solberg’s garage.

The Big Dipper points to Polaris near the roof of Laverne Solberg’s garage. (Click on image to enlarge)

We had a great day of discoveries in our search for barracks. Despite the cloudy weather, I observed the Big Dipper and Polaris this morning! Pulling up to Laverne Solberg’s house I looked up at the front of his garage and saw stars. Long ago while renovating the barracks that would become the garage, he had placed stars in the pattern of the Big Dipper, with the two stars in the ladle pointed correctly at Polaris. At first I thought the other stars were the Little Dipper, but they don’t form that asterism. I’ll have to find out what they represent.

Sharon wanted to video tape Laverne to include his thoughts in a documentary she is making about the homesteaders and the barracks. I made an attempt with my Sony a7S camera which produces a pretty high quality video. After that we used an invaluable list of barracks in the area made by Mac Blewer which had addresses, GPS coordinates and photos of what to expect.

An apartment building on Sixth Street in Powell.

An apartment building on Sixth Street in Powell.

One unusual use we saw was an apartment in Powell. Three units were made from a whole 120 foot barrack, situated on a quiet residential street in the town.

A black faced sheep curious about the camera lens.

A black faced sheep curious about the camera lens.

Our next destination was a farm north of the main highway between Powell and Cody. A few days ago we had seen a short barrack building in mostly original condition on the property that had two sheep in it. Today we met Lee and Jamie Bressler, the young couple who now own the property. Their daughter is raising lambs for her 4-H project. The lambs are adorable, they will walk up to you and sniff around like dogs do. One started to chew on my vest. The Bresslers were interested in the history of the barrack and Jaimie had learned about the Heart Mountain camp and the homesteading in history courses at nearby Northwest College. Part of their barrack was decaying so they had to tear it down a few years ago. But the lambs now occupy the remaining half. It was fascinating to photograph the details of the wood, the windows, even some tar paper still nailed to the exterior. Poking around in the dirt, Lee found some square nails used in the original construction and gave them to us. We were happy this turned out to be a productive day.

Jamie and Lee Bressler.

Jamie and Lee Bressler.

Square nails used in the original construction of a barrack.

Square nails used in the original construction of a barrack.

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Wyoming weather

May 16, 2015

Barracks and tree in meadow, Heart Mountain on the horizon.

Barracks and tree in meadow, Heart Mountain on the horizon. (Click on photos to enlarge)

Here’s another attempt to get the barracks with the tree in the best light. After waking before 6:00 am to catch the sunrise on the meadow, the front of the building was too dark. I returned about 10:00 and for a few minutes the light was nice on the barrack and dramatic on Heart Mountain. But maybe there are too many clouds in the shot. The light was either good on the barrack or good on the mountain, but rarely both. I’ll have to try again.

Cumulonimbus clouds forming east of Cody.

Cumulonimbus clouds forming east of Cody.

Wyoming weather is often quite dramatic and never boring. While waiting for the perfect light, I looked to the east and saw these spectacular clouds, which I wish were over Heart Mountain. In black and white the drama was enhanced, there are endless shapes and tones in the clouds.

Barbed wire shadow.

Barbed wire shadow.

So what do photographers do when they are bored? They take photos of anything in front of them. The barbed wire from the fence in front of me made a nice shadow on the wood post. I used at 50mm lens with a wide aperture that produced a very shallow depth of field. So your attention goes right to the shadow, but elements of background are still visible.

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Fresh Bread

May 16, 2015

Forrest Allen walks out of one of his storage sheds, a former barrack.

Forrest Allen walks out of one of his storage sheds, a former barrack. (Click on photos to enlarge)

The people sharing their stories with us become more interesting every day, at least to me. Before I arrived, Sharon met and interviewed some of the folks and has excitedly told me how wonderful these homesteaders are. On the main road to Powell lives 94 year-old Forrest Allen, who lives on the original homestead plot his family settled. He lived in a former barracks, but it burned down one day before the county got a fire truck. Neighbors tried to put out the fire with water from the irrigation ditches, to no avail. Forrest has three more half barracks on his land, all used for storage or workshops. They have corrugated steel siding over the exterior, but all have the original rough wood interiors and open ceilings. Cane in hand, he walked us around the various structures, a light rain turning into a brief downpour. Forrest took refuge in a three-sided structure that was once a barrack until the rain stopped. After an hour of hearing Forrest’s stories and photographing him, we had to leave for another appointment. I told Sharon we could make the whole book out of what I shot this morning.

Evaleen George and another loaf of freshly baked bread.

Evaleen George and another loaf of freshly baked bread.

And that was before we tasted Evaleen George’s bread. The spry 91 year-old still lives in the barrack her family got as homesteaders in 1947. She went into detail about the original dimensions of the building, where the interior walls were built as they turned it into their home and the additions they made. Many mementoes line her walls including an ink drawing by a daughter of Heart Mountain, dishes and stained glass of her beloved birds and large photographs of extremely large George family reunions involving hundreds of people. As I was photographing her by a set of pictures on a wall, a buzzer went off occasionaly. After a while, she got up and went into the kitchen and began taking loaves of baked bread from the oven. Seven loaves in all emerged. She cut two slices off one loaf, buttered them and offered us the pieces. Amazing. Evaleen said she can’t eat the bread from stores, so she makes bread about every six weeks and freezes the loaves.

Evaleen’s birds hanging in a kitchen window, framed by beautiful lace.

Evaleen’s birds hanging in a kitchen window, framed by beautiful lace.

In the afternoon we were interviewed by Ilene Olson at the Powell Tribune newspaper for an article about the project. Even the weather was interesting. On the way home we drove through a heavy thunderstorm, then heavy hail. A stretch of Highway 14A had so much hail/slush on the road that cars slowed down. It looked like an inch or two of snow.

Hail piles up on Route 14A on the way back to Cody.

Hail piles up on Route 14A on the way back to Cody.

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Sunrise on the meadow

May 14, 2015

Sunrise.

Sunrise. (Click on photos to enlarge)

The weather forecast for the next week here in Cody calls for on and off showers, thunderstorms with occasional sun, not optimum conditions for photographing the barracks. I woke at 6:00 am this morning and saw the sky was clear, even saw a pink glow to the east. So I dressed and drove out to the barracks north of Cody. The rising sun lit one end of the barracks and Heart Mountain in the distance, unifying the two elements. A barbed wire fence surrounding the meadow framed the picture. I experimented with various lenses and angles and hope you don’t mind if you see more of this same barrack as I try to get the best light on it.

Our destination today was Shell, about 70 miles east of Cody. We met Heart Mountain Interpretive Center executive director Brian Liesinger and facilities manager Kim Barhuag a few miles out of the town at the Iowa University Geology Field Station. A barrack that was used as a dormitory was being donated to the Center. The plan is to move it by truck to the Interpretive Center site in Powell, at the exact location where a barrack stood when the camp was in operation. It’s a tremendous task for the museum and they hope to complete the move in time for the annual pilgrimage in mid-August.

Brian Liesinger photographs the barrack.

Brian Liesinger photographs the barrack.

We drove up and saw a full, 120 foot long barrack situated between large piles of dirt and near the completed construction of new dormitories. It’s striking to see the full length of one up close and then you realize several families were crammed into this modest space. The structure had been covered with wood shingles and various layers of tar paper were added to the roof, but the basic frame, walls and windows were in place. Only part of the interior had the sparse look with exposed studs and open lattice of wood supports under the roof. But you felt the history of the building all around. Brian looked at the hardwood floor and said this was probably an administration building since the living quarters barracks had cheaper floors with gaps between the wood.

Dolan Scheron on his farm.

Dolan Scheron on his farm.

Brian and Kim interviewed the neighbor, Dolan Scheron, who lived there when the barracks arrived on the adjacent property. He wasn’t a homesteader, so unfortunately he won’t be in the book, though Sharon and I really hope to find a way since he has a great smile and look at those Caterpillar suspenders!

The cut between sections of the barrack.

The cut on the floor between sections of the barrack.

One thing we wondered was how did they move a 120 foot long building? Well, turns out they didn’t, the barracks were literally cut in half or thirds, depending on how long the moving truck was (60 feet or 40 feet). (Most homesteaders used a hand saw, apparently you ask and they answer, “It took about two days.”) And between two of the ‘rooms’ in this barrack you could see the floor was cut in two. We hope to return to Wyoming to see the barrack being moved back to its home.

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The Blackburn Sisters

May 13, 2015

Ruth and Jane in front of a house made from a barrack that their family lived in.

Ruth and Jane in front of a house made from a barrack that their family lived in.

We immersed ourselves in homesteading today, stopping first at the Homestead Museum in Powell, then getting a tour of barracks turned into homes from the Blackburn sisters, Ruth and Jane. The two lively woman are daughters of the well-known Blackburn family who were one of the first to homestead in the Heart Mountain area. You’ll not find a more knowledgeable and outspoken pair to guide you around Cody.

Meeting at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center we head west to the mountain and on to L13H, Lane 13H, where we have been driving the past few days. The sisters pointed out several outbuildings and houses that were barracks. They generally knew the current occupants and definitely knew who the original homesteaders were.

Then Jane exclaimed, “Here we are at the Blackburn homestead!” Sharon pulls the car into a driveway in front of an off-white wood house with a small wood log fence and a large motor home parked off to the side. This was a half barrack with very few modifications. A small mud room was added on to one side, horizontal siding was attached to the exterior, modern shingles and a satellite tv antenna were on the roof. A utility pole rises up from a front corner of the house, a huge mail box inexplicably placed about 10 feet off the ground.

The family actually lived about 20 yards to the side of this house in different barrack at the time they settled there. They clearly remembered living on the rough land after moving from Kansas. Jane boldly poked around the property, the current owners not home at the time. The original windows could be seen on the back side of the house. They were pleased to have their photo taken in front of the house, easily embracing each other in a sign of sisterly love.

The ditch rider’s home, a former barrack, with a view.

The ditch rider’s home, a former barrack, with a view.

Jane directed Sharon to drive down a narrow dirt road paralleling a water canal, passing the “Private Road” sign. We encountered a woman from the Heart Mountain Irrigation District, Jane quickly talked us pass and we drove up to the ditch rider’s house. We learn a ditch rider manages the water as it flows through the canals to farms. One lives in a former barrack with a pretty spectacular view of Heart Mountain.

Back at the interpretive center, another quest. My friend Jon Funabiki said his parents and older brother are pictured in a display and with help I find a large color photograph of Mason and Grace Funabiki with their first son Guy, born May 10, 1943 in the camp.

Mason and Grace Funabiki with newborn son Guy in display at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Mason and Grace Funabiki with newborn son Guy in display at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Earlier in the day Sharon introduced met to Rowene Weems, the director of the Homesteader Museum. The passionate woman showed us displays of the Shoshone Project, a huge irrigation plan started in 1907 with the Heart Mountain district being implemented in 1946, this was what led to the barracks being sold to homesteaders. Many photos from the 1940’s show barracks being moved and placed on farmers’ land.

Until this trip, Heart Mountain meant one thing to me- the internment camp and the Japanese American story. I realize now Heart Mountain means many things to different people in this region, all linked to the distinctive mountain always on the horizon.

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T-birds, an outhouse, green chile and chocolate.

May 13, 2015

Verne Solberg poses in his house.

Verne Solberg poses in his house.

We approached information overload today after seeing a T-Bird collection, a post office, an outhouse, heard about chocolate made from honey, ate New Mexican green chile and wondered if homesteading really meant homesteading.

The day started out at Verne Solberg’s house on Road 20, a few miles from the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. The 96-year-old was one of the original homesteaders in area. He’s quite sharp and has a good memory for how his house was built out of barrack sections. It’s composed of a half barrack, which he then added on rooms, a fireplace and various features over the years. Most of the work he did himself. Another half barrack was turned into a guest house. And another section about 40 feet long on Verne’s property turns out to be the Heart Mountain camp post office, still with the half-door and sliding wood half door at the customer counter. Interior walls and a wood ceiling painted white are still intact. The original door and windows grace the structure. He’s not sure how he acquired the post office. An outhouse made of salvaged pieces of wood planks from a barrack sat near a storage shed. Toilet seats over holes cut in a bench provided some comfort. Without plumbing, the homesteaders all had to construct outhouses.

Verne’s outhouse, made from salvaged barracks wood and a door.

Verne’s outhouse, made from salvaged barracks wood and a door.

Carla shows us the post office building.

Carla shows us the post office building.

Carla Solberg, (used to be married to Verne’s son and now divorced, but still is Verne’s caregiver), opened up a huge metal shed to show us his Thunderbird car collection. Most are early 60’s models and he also has a vintage Ford, a boat and late model Lincoln.

Up the road we stop to photograph Suzanne Rankin’s house, two barrack sections fused in a t-shape and greatly modified.

Then Carla treats us to lunch at Noon Break, a semi-permanent food truck on the road to Powell, run by Suzanne and husband Steve. Turns out Steve makes some of the best green chile (probably the only green chile) in the Big Horn Basin.

The Noon Break restaurant, situated next to Re Cycle, a motorcycle shop.

The Noon Break restaurant, situated next to Re Cycle, a motorcycle shop.

At Northwest College in Powell we meet with four really fascinating history department professors who have various knowledge of Wyoming and Heart Mountain history and a very intense interest in the Japanese American experience. We find out that if homesteaders paid the Bureau of Reclamation, who administered the Heart Mountain region homesteading program, for the land, then technically the people weren’t homesteaders. At least according to the Homesteading Act of 1862. Sharon said no one in the interviews has mentioned paying for the land, and most of the people were pretty poor so they probably couldn’t afford to. Anyway, everyone thinks of themselves as homesteaders.

More importantly, we got recommendations for two places to get Wyoming chocolate- Lovell and Meeteetse. One has chocolate made from honey and the other various flavored truffles. I forgot which town had which, but we are going to both to see some barracks and will make side trips to the shops.

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Search for Heart Mountain barracks

May 12, 2015

The Heart Mountain Honor Roll, facing its namesake mountain. Constructed in 1944, the list names over 750 men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces even as their families continued to be incarcerated behind barbed wire.

The Heart Mountain Honor Roll, facing its namesake mountain. Constructed in 1944, the list names over 750 men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces even as their families continued to be incarcerated behind barbed wire. The monument was renovated by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. The back of the honor roll seen here resembles the wall of a barrack.  (Click on photos to enlarge)

I’m in Cody, Wyoming for the next two and a half weeks working on a book project with writer Sharon Yamato. We’re researching and interviewing former homesteaders who live in homes that were barracks at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. Sharon got a grant through the Preservation of Japanese American Confinement Sites program administered by the National Park Service to fund our travels, production of a book and a film. So far we’ve seen many examples of former barracks on farms and ranches near Cody. We hope to get out and photograph them. I’ll be updating the blog either daily or almost daily.

After the camps began to close in 1945, the Bureau of Reclamation implemented the Homesteading Act of 1862, settling farmers on tracts in the vast areas of the west. Homesteaders had to be veterans and familiar with farming. Roughly built wooden barracks 120 feet long that housed several Japanese American families in Heart Mountain were sold to the homesteaders for $1.00. Many of the barracks were turned into homes. Our goal is to try and find these homesteaders and the former barracks they live in.

First stop Monday morning was the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, an excellent museum and gallery that tells the story of the WWII confinement site. It’s located just off Rt. 14A, on the site of the original camp, 13 miles from Cody and 11 miles from the town of Powell. The depth and amount of information is really astounding, covering pre-war attitudes to current day pilgrimages to this and other camps. The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation built and operates this incredible place.

The exterior of the interpretive center has three long buildings created to look like the tar papered barracks. Reflected in the window of one of the buildings is Heart Mountain.

The exterior of the interpretive center has three long buildings created to look like the tar papered barracks. Reflected in the window of one of the buildings is Heart Mountain.

A display of photography in the camp with a large photo of the Heart Mountain Camera Club.

A display of photography in the camp with a large photo of the Heart Mountain Camera Club.

Sharon has been here a week, so she drove me around to show me possible barracks that ended up as homes or outbuildings. We saw a section of one that seems to be used to house sheep. We got directions to a fully intact barrack north of Cody that Sharon had seen a few days ago. Turning down a road we saw a full barrack in what appeared to be a meadow, a giant cottonwood tree beside it, mountains in the distance. The scene seemed to place the barrack in the context of the surrounding environment, under a majestic tree. While far removed from the original camp site, it seemed not out of place in the meadow. The windows were boarded up but even from the road you could see flecks of tarpaper on the roof, the texture of weathered wood shining in the late afternoon sun.

The barrack and cottonwood tree.

The barrack and cottonwood tree.

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Goodbye Longyearbyen

March 22, 2015

Special champagne at the eclipse night dinner

Special champagne at the eclipse night dinner (Click on photos to enlarge)

Our two plane-loads of travelers flew back to Oslo from Longyearbyen today, leaving the polar community behind. As we walked out to the plane in late morning, the sun struggled to shine through a thin cloud layer, reminding everyone how fortunate we were that eclipse day was so clear. It was nice to get to know a few of my fellow eclipse watchers and hope to keep in touch with some of them.

Yesterday was more relaxing, I didn’t have any ‘extra’ activities planned. After spending too much time updating various pictures and responding to messages, I took a walk through the town to shop. Taking a walk can be somewhat of an ordeal. Since it was still about 5 deg. F you have to put on most of the layers to keep from freezing. The good thing is there is not much traffic and not many people actually walking around. I stopped first at the post office, hearing there were special eclipse stamps. They also had a very nice first day issue envelope with a 20.3.2015 postmark (in the European style, 20 March 2015). I bought some of those and a sheet of the eclipse stamps, plus a small polar bear sign zipper pull, which was cleverly on a rack next to the check out in order to relieve unsuspecting tourists of their kroner.

Next went to the 78 degree Tax Free shop to get some very nice t-shirts. They were out of the large size, but the medium fit fine. I got a few post cards and returned to the post office since they had nicer cards. The nearby Kulturhuset has a café, I ordered tea and wrote postcards. In the afternoon I wanted to get a bit more exercise, so I went back out mainly to mail the postcards and ended up taking some photos of the town and the continuing amazing light on the mountains. For dinner a group of us were on the tour schedule for a “wilderness dinner”, which consisted of going to the Camp Barentz for ox soup, sitting at one of the large huts around a wood fire. Which wasn’t bad, I stayed for some aurora viewing and saw Tony Hoffman for only the second time during the trip. It began to cloud up after 10m, so I took a bus back to the hotel in order to pack for our departure.

In all it was an exhilarating and special trip, not really relaxing but filled with great activities. The eclipse was memorable and 12 hours later we had spectacular aurora. I still have loads of photos to edit through and process and am looking forward to that. I’ll keep everyone updated on the latest postings. Thanks for reading the blog! I’ll post a few random shots, including yet another of amazing light on the landscape. Perhaps I’ll do a series on the Svalbard light.   

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Eclipse stamps and first day issue envelopes

Eclipse stamps and first day issue envelopes

Dog sledding through the Advent valley

Dog sledding through the Advent valley

NY friends Tony Hoffman, Eileen Renda and me just before the eclipse started

NY friends Tony Hoffman, Eileen Renda and me just before the eclipse started

Jim Owen driving while I sit as passenger on our dog sled adventure

Jim Owen driving while I sit as passenger on our dog sled adventure

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More wonders of nature

March 21, 2015

March 20 aurora over Longyearbyen

March 20 aurora over Longyearbyen

(Click on the photos to enlarge. Highly recommended.)

It’s hard to say anything could be better than a total eclipse, but last night came close. Finally saw some aurora borealis late last night on the 3rd night of trying to see them (it?). To say it was spectacular is vastly understating the experience. I’m sure it was the most exciting thing I’ve seen since the eclipse 12 hours earlier. The viewing is about 6 miles outside of Longyearbyen in the Advent Valley at Camp Barentz, named after Willem Barents, the ‘official’ discoverer of Spitsbergen, which is the island we are on. We are close to the dog sled compound and the eclipse viewing site. There are some quaint huts used for dinning and entertaining, and I think our dinner is there tonight.

Leaving the Friday night dinner at the Kulturhuset, the local culture house, to get on the buses back to the hotel so we could catch another bus to Camp Barentz, we looked up and saw a green shimmering streak through the sky. It was an aurora streamer. It was pretty bright to be seen under the glare of the building lights and I was hoping there would be more later. The sky was super clear and it was nice to see stars out. Jupiter was moderately high in the south. Even at 10:30pm there was a slight glow on the horizon from the sun, which never dips very low at this time of the year.

            They build a fire inside the huts at Camp Barentz and serve coffee and tea. It’s generally very crowded and humid, so I stay outside looking at the sky and trying to stay warm. After 11pm there was a faint glow of green in the south, and vertical shafts of light grew from the horizon. You expect some sort of sound to happen, but the lights are just solar plasma ejected from the sun and interacting with the earth’s magnetic field. And there was lots of interaction last night. Suddenly the green lights grew up until they were high in the sky and formed the shape of a curtain, waving. Light would appear in the south-east or south-west, but mostly towards the south. Several curtains would appear and disappear eliciting oohhs and aahs from the crowd. It was astonishing to see how transparent they looked and almost solid at the same time. Bright stars and Jupiter could be seen through them. The aurora crept higher in the sky until there was a burst of light directly above us. A woman shouted, “Mum, look above you!” We all craned our necks to see, the width of the aurora past our peripheral vision. I tiled the camera back to try and keep up with the lights. For a second I debated changing to the fisheye lens which would have taken in the whole sky, and taken a lot of time to do in the cold. But I stuck with the super wide angle lens, and kept shooting the dancing lights. This seemed like the grand finale for the evening. About 12:30am our polar bear guard said the bus waiting would be the last back to the hotels. By then the sky had quieted down and the group was buzzing with excitement over what we saw.

A 'curtain' shape

A ‘curtain’ shape

One of the more impressive shapes

One of the more impressive shapes

Directly overhead, 12:14:56 am, these five happen in the span of one minute

Directly overhead, 12:14:56 am

12:15:08 am

12:15:08 am

12:15:20 am

12:15:20 am

 

 

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TOTALITY!

March 20, 2015

Totality

Totality (Click on photos to enlarge)

Today we had a spring equinox total eclipse in the polar region. Just an amazing sight, hard to describe it. For an hour the moon slowly moved over the sun during the partial phase. You could tell when totality was near, the light level dropped and we saw shadow bands on the flat snow. The bands are caused by atmospheric disturbances and are similar to the waves of light at the bottom of a pool. There is “second contact” when the moon is almost covering the sun and you see a bright flare at the side of the sun. Then it was total. It was a surreal sight, like seeing a black sun surrounded by darkness. I was surprised how dark it got, like a dim twilight. I couldn’t see the camera settings at first and it stayed in this darkness for over 2 minutes. People cheered, but most seemed in awe of the sight. The man next to me said he could see how ancient people could be completely frightened by the sight. Weather was perfect, bright, sunny, no clouds. But very cold. -17 C in the morning, which is 1.4 deg F. I think it didn’t get much warmer even around noon. Hope I can see another one. (Click on photos to enlarge).

Seconds before totality.

Seconds before totality.

The scene in Longyearbyen.

The scene in Longyearbyen.

"Third contact", when the moon begins to uncover the sun.

“Third contact”, when the moon begins to uncover the sun.

2 degrees F, waiting for the start.

2 degrees F, waiting for the start.

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MUSH!!

March 19, 2015

On the dog sled

On the dog sled (Click on photos to enlarge)

Today I went dog sledding, one of the optional activities that Travel Quest set up for the tour group. About 30 of us went by bus to Green Dog, a sledding company outside of Longyearbyen. It was slightly crazy but a very wild ride. The dogs pull a sled with a passenger and a driver. I paired up with Jim Owen, who is also in the Spitsbergen Hotel. I ‘drove’ first, which consists of standing on the back of the sled, always holding on and braking when you go too fast. We had 6 dogs pulling us and there were about 15 sleds in all weaving our way through a magnificent valley.

The amazing light

The amazing light

The sun was bright and actually warm, though I think it was 5-7 degrees this morning. The light right now seems to be great all the time, all day, probably because the sun doesn’t rise much over the horizon. So it’s perpetually almost sundown or sunrise, the perfect time of day see the landscape. I’ll post another snowy picture, hope this doesn’t bore anyone. The slight variations in the white snow are amazing to look at.

Northernmost sushi

Northernmost sushi

While shooting some feature pictures for Agence France-Presse (AFP), the people I used to work for full time, I came across this humorous advertisement. Longyearbyen is the northernmost permanent settlement, so everything here is the most northern. Now off to more aurora viewing, hope it will be clear tonight. Then the eclipse tomorrow!

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Farthest north

March 18, 2015

Wednesday:  Arrived at Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the permanent settlement that is farthest north on the earth. 78 degrees, 15 minutes north latitude. It’s a nice town, very orderly with colorful houses. Flying over northern Norway we saw this white landscape of snow and ice that made amazing abstract images. I’ll post one shot here, but I’ll have to look through them and maybe post more. The sun was out for a short time as we flew north, but was cloudy as we approached Longyearbyen.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Almost lunarscape of northern Norway

Almost lunarscape of northern Norway

The tour group has us fully occupied, we could sign up for optional excursions, I signed up for 3 extra aurora viewing nights and a dog sled ride. Included was a ‘sightseeing’ tour of Longyearbyen, which I went on immediately after arriving at the hotel. Among other things, we saw the Svalbard Global Seed Vault which has stored most of the world’s major collection of seeds. They chose Svalbard since they could dig the vault into the permafrost, and it’s at a high enough altitude to protect from rising sea levels. If the power fails, the permafrost will keep the vault cold. We could only see the outside entrance, which looks like an alien ship stuck in the side of this mountain.

Seed Vault

Seed Vault

We saw the ‘polar bear sign’ which the guide said was the only traffic sign in the world with a black background, to show off the polar bear. Beyond this sign you have to be armed to protect against the bears. They have me scheduled for the dog sled ride at 9am, so I’ll continue tomorrow.

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Touring Oslo

March 17, 2015

After oversleeping until 9:40am Oslo time, I joined Tony and Eileen on a trip into Oslo. First I picked up the Travel Quest outfitters packet of information and the eclipse t-shirt. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Eclipse t-shirt

Eclipse t-shirt

We took the very efficient NSB train from the Oslo airport to the center of the city and walked to the National Gallery. There is a whole room of Edvard Munch paintings including his most well known.

"Skrik" (The Scream) in the Munch gallery at the National Gallery

“Skrik” (The Scream) in the Munch gallery at the National Gallery

Our friend Jason Kendall from the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York appears once a month on Al Roker’s morning Weather Channel show. He wants a photo of the three of us AAA members on our way to Svalbard for the eclipse. Apparently he will be on the show Wednesday early morning and wants to talk about the eclipse. So here we are by the Oslo waterfront. Tomorrow morning we fly to Svalbard. We found out today the daily schedule once we get there has been changed around depending on the activities you signed up for. I’ll have a 3 hour introduction to Longyearbyen (the town) followed by late night aurora viewing. Tony will do his ice caving trip tomorrow night and Eileen with do the dog sled ride also tomorrow night.

Me, Eileen Renda and Tony Hoffman at the Oslo waterfront

Me, Eileen Renda and Tony Hoffman at the Oslo waterfront

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Arrived Oslo

March 16, 2015

Monday, March 16

I flew Icelandair to Oslo via Reykjavik. Very nice service with witty or maybe ironic text on the food containers. On the eco-friendly hot dinner box it said “‘Kvika’ is the word for molten lava floating beneath the earth’s surface”, then “more interesting geothermal facts inside the box.” The hot beverage cup said “‘Strokur’, is a column of steam rising from a natural hot spring”. And the oatmeal cup on the Oslo leg said, “‘Hver’, is a natural hot spring of bubbling water.”

(Click on pictures to enlarge)

Den Norske Opera & Ballett

Den Norske Opera & Ballett

Took the commuter train from the airport hotel to central Oslo and walked to the Opera House, as my big sister suggested. The roof rises diagonally from the street to create an airborne plaza that people walk up. Approaching the roof I saw this scene that reminded me of the Guggenheim Museum’s circular structures, with lighting, all under glass. It was dusk and overcast so it made for an eerie sight.  

Monica Bonvicini’s sculpture She Lies in Oslo's inner harbor

Monica Bonvicini’s sculpture She Lies in Oslo’s inner harbor

From the top of the Opera House’s roof you get a great view of the harbor. This sculpture is in the water, which is described as a glass house, but really from some angles looks like a ship.

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Going to Svalbard

March 15, 2015

Sunday, March 15:  Since it’s not cold enough in New York, I’ve decided to head to Norway. Actually, I’m going to Svalbard, an archipelago of islands far north of Norway to see a total eclipse of the sun on March 20. Joining up with 2 friends and a whole lot of people on a Travel Quest tour. The company has done many eclipse tours and was recommended by Tony Hoffman and Eileen Renda, two friends from the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Packing cameras and cold weather gear for the trip. I fly on Icelandair Sunday night. And hoping for clear skies!

Camera stuff and special solar filters.

Camera stuff and special solar filters. Click to enlarge.

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More Kimberley

August 8, 2014

From the trip Fred Hagstrom and I took in July to the Kimberley in Western Australia.

In the town of Broome, on the northwest coast, there is a history of Japanese living and working in the pearl industry. The Japanese Cemetery in the town has over 900 people buried there. Many died in diving accidents and a large number were killed in three separate cyclones to hit the coastal region over the years. The Japanese lived in Broome in the last half of the 19th century up to World War II. After the Pearl Harbor attack the Japanese in Australia were rounded up and confined to internment camps. They never returned to Broome. This cemetery was restored in 1983 with money donated by Ryoichi Sasakawa, Chairman of the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation and the endeavors of Japanese Parliament Senator Kazuo Tamaki. Many of the headstones are made of colored beach rocks from the area.

Other photos show our various camps along the trip through the Kimberley- we decided to sleep out under the stars in most of the spots. At three of the stops we had semi-permanent tents to sleep in, two are shown here. At the Purnululu National Park (where we saw the formations known as the Bungle Bungles) the Kimberley Wild Expeditions group we traveled with had a permanent camp set up for the groups. They had constructed amazing architectural structures for the common eating and cooking area and the toilet/shower. Very luxurious for a camping spot. And we started out and ended the trip at The Courthouse bed & breakfast in Broome, another amazing structure, this one designed and built by our host Shane and his late wife.

(Click on image to enlarge. Scroll with arrows on screen or your keyboard.)

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The Kimberley

July 23, 2014

The Kimberley region of Western Australia from an incredible 9-day camping tour. (Click on photos to enlarge)

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Astronomy in the Park

August 12, 2013

Monday, August 12

We’re back in New York now, having traveled over the weekend from the Rocky Mountains to Denver and then home on a Sunday afternoon flight. Great memories of the park, the cabin, the people. Within a week I hope to update my website with a whole page of Rocky Mountain photos. Here’s a few more until then.

Friday was Astronomy in the Park night at the Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead. Every two weeks during the summer, Ranger Cynthia Langguth leads a talk about the night sky, and a group of local amateur astronomers bring their telescopes for people to see what’s in the sky. But that night, Ranger Meredith led the program; she’s training to lead the night sky programs. She was great, getting the audience involved in a demonstration of the size of the universe. Here she is using an inflatable earth. (click on all photos to enlarge)

08-09-astroAbout 125 people were there, a pretty good turnout for RMNP. Many may have come from the nearby Moraine Park campground and some from nearby towns. A lot of people stayed on as it got dark to look through the eight or nine telescopes set up in the meadow and focused on various objects in the sky including Saturn, the Andromeda galaxy and the Ring Nebula.

During the program Meredith announced that the artist-in-residence was present (me) and available to help with any photography-related questions. Several people had good questions about problems they had shooting night sky pictures. I roamed around looking through telescopes but was also working, trying to get some photos of the telescopes and the sky. It’s much harder than it sounds since there is little-to-no light on the ground. All the astronomers have small red flashlights so they can see the controls on their telescopes but not ruin everyone else’s night vision. I found a man named Ken with a nice white reflector telescope; I’m not sure what he looks like since it was dark. If I put the camera very low to the ground, I could photograph his telescope against the northern sky.

Looking to the south that evening wasn’t so great; most of the sky was clear but a low cloud bank hovered in the east and southeast, reflecting the lights of Denver. The lights were quite bright at one point, making an eerie glow over the trailhead. But the northern views were good, and I got Ken’s telescope and above him, the Big Dipper, the North Star and the Milky Way. I headed back to the cabin around 11 p.m., my last night of shooting over.

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We woke up early on Saturday to pack, needing to “check out” of the cabin by noon. We cleaned up the house and returned the keys to the main visitor center. It was sad to leave the park, and I’m hoping we will return someday. In Denver, where we stayed Saturday night, we went to see a Mark Rothko exhibit at the Denver Art Museum that afternoon. It was very good, covering the decade or so before his “color field” period. We also saw an exhibit on Navajo blankets.

Sunday morning we returned to Denver’s arts complex to see the new Clyfford Still Museum, entirely dedicated to this early abstract expressionist who isn’t as well-known as Rothko since he avoided gallery and museum shows during most of his career. We saw the progression of his life’s work, and it was amazing to see how an artist refines and changes what he does. As we were walking around the arts complex, Ann took a photo of a huge Claes Oldenburg sculpture of a small broom and dustpan. A plaque noted the appropriate behavior around a “GIANT broom and dustpan,” including “chatting with the broom about cleaning products” and “blaming the broom for the degradation of contemporary morals.”

Claes Oldenburg's broom

So then it was on to the Denver airport and the flight back to New York. I feel I was able to accomplish a lot at Rocky Mountain during the residency. The terrain was totally different than what I experienced recently in the Southwest, and it was a challenge to adapt to it both physically, due to the altitude, and artistically, as I had to factor in the mountains and what effect they would have on the rising moon when visualizing the photos I wanted to take. But there were interesting trees and lakes to use as foreground objects, which really made some of the pictures. I was able to work on and improve some techniques that led to better pictures, including using the SkyTracker device that tracks the stars during long exposures and keeps them sharp. Thanks to all the people at Rocky Mountain National Park for making this great experience possible.

08-09andromeda-SSH_1293Found one last photo, for now. By extreme luck, I got a meteor streaking through the atmosphere passing below the Andromeda Galaxy on Friday night. This is a big crop from the edge of a frame that looks very much like the one of Ken and his telescope above. Not only was the streak just inside the picture but I had the shutter open for a 30 second exposure at that very moment.

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2 Jewish RVers, 5 moose and snow

August 9, 2013

Friday, August 9

Wednesday night I gave the second of two public programs at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. It was well attended. Betsy, one of the volunteers who helps the artists, said 92 people came, a record number for an artist’s talk this summer. This number was bolstered by 8 of our neighbors from the Scottage, our 2 friends Anne and Richard from nearby Ft. Collins, and Ann. All went well; I added a few more pictures that I had shot since last Wednesday’s talk and they were well received.

0808sesselPark volunteers Joan and Marcus Sessel at Rainbow Curve

Little did we know we would have a completely adventure-filled day on Thursday, one that will be hard to forget. Ann and I decided to drive the Trail Ridge Road to the west side of the park, a part we had not seen. We stop at Rainbow Curve, one of the really spectacular viewpoints on the road, still on the east side. We end up meeting the two park volunteers assigned to the viewpoint, Marcus and Joan Sessel, from no real address. They spend 42 weeks a year living in a motor coach, working the summers at Rocky Mountain, visiting their three children, and wintering in Tucson. They don’t have a house and love the lifestyle. Marcus was a stockbroker in St. Louis and Joan was a teacher. They are incredibly knowledgeable about the park and the mountains. Both came to the artist talk on Wednesday and enjoyed it. They had been to all the places I showed night sky photos except Chaco Canyon. Ann talked to Marcus quite a bit about Jewish culture; he said his name, Sessel, was German for upholstered couch or chair, though the family originally was from Krakow. He said he met a German tourist who said, “I’ll have to tell people I
met a Sessel.” Marcus replied to the tourist, “Tell them you sat on me!”

This was the highlight of our day — until the afternoon, when we ended up fulfilling our lifelong dream of seeing moose in the wild. We had driven into the Kawuneeche Valley and met another very knowledgeable volunteer who suggested some prime moose-viewing spots. We turned north on the Trail Ridge Road and saw several cars pulled over on the side of the road. A very good sign that some animal has been sighted. Ann pulled over and shouted, “Look!” Coming out of the woods on the right were a cow and calf, and in an instant they were crossing the road. I jumped out of the car and managed to get some shots of the two crossing. You can see how spindly their legs are, apparently good for wading in streams and rivers where they feed. The pair headed into a meadow, pausing occasionally to munch on grass. Both ended up at the base of a forest eating and providing delight for the “moosejam” of cars and people that had pulled over to stop and watch. At one point the baby sat down in the meadow, maybe too exhausted to keep eating. The mother continued to feed and eventually the two wandered away, into the trees. 0808-moose-SSH_1124

Happy with our sighting, we continued up the road to head home. After a few minutes we see another group of cars, some barely pulled off to the side of the road, and people running to a small clearing. We stop and join them, and through the trees we see a young bull moose, antlers not fully developed, eating his way through the meadow. He approaches a river, dips in and comes up with a big mouthful of greens; we see water draining from his mouth. The crowd is enthralled. Upon looking at the photos later, we decide that this moose and the other moose are very handsome moose indeed. The bull walks in to the water, crosses the river and wanders off into the trees. After much of the crowd leaves, some people spot another cow and calf in the distance. We wonder if they are the same as the two we saw previously. But the mother is light brown in color, different than the first one we saw. That brings our total to five moose for the day.

0808-moose-SSH_12000808-moose-SSH_1209What more could we possibly see, we said as we headed back on the Trail Ridge Road to the cabin. Rain had been falling off and on as we were moose-watching, but now it was steady as we climbed in altitude. The road tops off at 12,183 feet and just about there we notice that the rain is now snow. In August! So we pull over at the Lava Cliffs viewpoint; I brave the cold and snow to try and mostly unsuccessfully take pictures of it. Well, as soon as we began to descend, we were back to rain and our adventures were (almost) done for the day. The last amazing thing were the three handsome elk who grazed along the road just 50 feet from our cabin as the sun went down.

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The neighbors

August 7, 2013

Wednesday, August 7

Had a great experience Monday evening with the neighbors next door. About 100 feet from the cabin is another cabin, called “Scottage” where the Scott family gathers for  a few days in the summer. The cabin dates from the 1800s and is one of many that were allowed to remain on the land after Rocky Mountain became a national park in 1915. It just happened that much of the extended family was visiting and they treated me to drinks and an amazing dinner. I showed them a mini-slide show of the work I’ve done so far here at Rocky and talked about the night sky and the residency with them.

Angelo explained the cabin name comes from either a combination of the family name and cottage, or summer cottage, stories vary. It’s a great 2-story structure made of logs with 2 porches and a nice enclosed dining area with the usual spectacular view of the mountain range.

The most of the family is involved in forms of publishing, the brother owning several newspapers/websites/blogs in Vermont and the sister owning a small newspaper in southeastern Kansas. Her paper was one of two that were deemed too liberal by Kansas Governor Brownback, something that made her and the family quite happy.

After dinner Angelo and Oliver accompanied me to Sprague Lake to see another space station flyover. Angelo brought his camera, I gave him an extra tripod and he tried some night sky photos, which he had never done.  He got a couple nice ones of the lake and trees silhouetted against the stars.

Just had a text from Ann to say she has arrived at the Denver airport. She’s going to take a SuperShuttle to the Stanley Hotel, an old historic hotel, in Estes Park where I’ll pick her up. It will be great to see her, I think she’ll like the cabin.

Last night I had pretty good success returning to a couple of sites. Shot another space station flyover, this time it flew right over one of the stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper. Bullseye! I had never seen it cross over a major star, though it probably happens frequently.

The air was still last night so I went to Sprague Lake to try and get a shot of the stars reflected on the water. The Big Dipper lined up nicely near the horizon and you can see it clearly in the lake.

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Bullseye!  (click to enlarge pictures)

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August 5, 2013

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The International Space Station flying over Moraine Park very early Monday morning. The Milky Way and Summer Triangle are on the right side. (click to enlarge all these photos).

 

Monday, August 5

Here’s a couple of night pictures I’ve been working on. Finally managed to get a decent shot of the International Space Station during a fly over. There is a website, heavens-above.com that lists all sorts of astronomical stuff in the sky. If you put in your location it will make a chart showing the times and dates that the ISS flies over your location. I made 2 charts for the 2 weeks I’m here just before I left. It tells you the compass directions, how many degrees above the horizon it will be and the exact times it will appear and disappear. After a few not so great shots I got up at 4:00 am this morning to see it from the cabin. Turns out the flyover would be seen perfectly from the front of the cabin as I look out at Moraine Park and the range behind it, including Longs Peak, the highest in Rocky Mountain. I got up early to set up the star tracking device I’ve been using tosh oot a few pictures of the Milky Way and other things. The sky begins to lighten in the pre-dawn hours about 4:35 am to the exposure was going to be tricky. I had shot some pictures the night (morning?) before around that time, so I had a guide to go by. I had the super wide fish-eye lens on since it looked like it would be going from horizon to horizon from northwest to southeast. I set the camera for 5 minutes and waited. It’s always a guess since the web site times are always accurate, but your watch may not be. So just after 4:40 am, I pressed the button and saw the light of the space station moving up from the northwest. It looks like a bright star, this morning it was very bright. So you really don’t see much except this moving point of light. But it’s impressive to think that this is the ISS where people are living and working, flying right over where you’re standing. Trying to figure out how to shoot it has been difficult. But I think this method worked. The ground is blurry since we (the earth) is moving- with night photos you can get either the stars sharp or the earth, not both- but it’s not too distracting. My nightmare was that a car would pass by on the road below the cabin, flooding the picture with bright light. Hikers who want to get an early start for a mountain climb at a nearby trailhead often start around 4:00 to 5:00am. So about a minute into the exposure, I see a car approaching from the west. I have a small piece of cardboard covered with black cloth that can be used to partially cover the lens if you don’t want parts of the picture to be overexposed. I don’t use it much, but it came in handy as the car passed. Fortunately there was only one car.

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The Milky Way through ponderosa pines at Bear Lake.

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On a walk in the field across the road from the cabin, I saw a busy bee on a plant that doesn’t seem to appear in the “Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains”. Closest description seems to be a thistle.  I’ll have to ask someone.

 

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A wedding with a view

August 3, 2013

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The happy couple, hitting the trail. (click to enlarge all these photos)

Saturday, August 3

Up until 4:00 am last night (morning?) so any spelling error might be due to lack of sleep.

But Friday, had one of those days that make you say, “Wow!”

Went to check out the Upper Beaver Meadows trail head area for photo possibilities in the afternoon and also to call Ann. It seems to be a place where a cell phone signal can be had. I see a group of people in the meadow and realize it’s a wedding. Telling Ann there are decisive moments going on, I hang up and walk over to the party to introduce myself. Jenni Dyer and Aaron Mobrier (photo above), a couple from Des Moines, Iowa, have just gotten married at the trail head. Joining them from Iowa are their families, including 2 grandmothers and a grandfather. Champagne is being poured and the photographer is setting up for photos. Jenni’s mother and grandmother tell me the couple are very outdoor oriented so they decided to have their wedding in a national park. They ask where I’m from and I say New York City. I tell them we have a park, Central Park, but no mountains like the Rockies.

I walk to the meadow where the newlyweds are being posed with the unbelievable backdrop of Long’s Peak and the rest of the range. The photographer is quite good, being able to heard the various parties dressed in their Sunday best into the thigh-high grass. The couple have come prepared, both wear Converse All-Stars canvas shoes.

Turns out Jenni is an ornithologist and Aaron fishes a lot and both have been to Rocky Mountain NP before their wedding date. As they walk, the groom does his best to gather the long train of the brides’ dress to keep it from dragging on the trail. Everyone hugs the couple before heading off to more photos at nearby Sprague Lake.

The two grandmothers join the photo session.

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Converse shoes on bride (left) and groom (right).

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The brides’ parents and siblings join the couple.

 

The adventures continue as I head later in the evening to Estes Park, the town next to Rocky Mountain. (Jean, the artist coordinator, said I might be confused since everything is called Park here. When easterners were discovering the area, they called a meadow or clearing in the mountain areas a park. I read somewhere that in other parts of the west, ‘hole’ is the same thing, as in Jackson Hole.) Cynthia Langguth, the Rocky Mountain ranger in charge of the night sky programs was giving an evening program called  “Stories Behind the Moon & Stars” at the Estes Park Memorial Observatory. I wanted to meet Cynthia and I wanted to see the observatory, something unusual in a small town.

The observatory sits next to Estes Park High School and has a dome with a 12 inch Meade telescope and a large conference room for activities. One whole wall is painted with the constellations, there are big photos of celestial objects, several telescopes occupy a corner by the constellations, a small display has items for sale, 2 tables are filled with astronomy information including free magazines and brochures. It’s an amazing facility that’s used by school groups and the local astronomy club. Phil and Dave, two National Park volunteers who help with the night sky programs, were setting up their telescopes next to the observatory. Phil said it was great to have the observatory in Estes Park, noting that sadly it was a ‘memorial’ observatory. It’s all the work of Mike Connolly, who I met at the Wednesday talk I gave at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. Apparently his son and daughter-in-law were killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005 and Mike worked to raise funds and get volunteers to help construct the observatory in memory of his children. He’s done an amazing job to involve the community in this project.

Ranger Cynthia did a fantastic program which was geared towards families, which there were many present. She talked about stars, planets, the solar system, galaxies and preserving the night sky through controlling artificial lighting. Handing out strips of paper about 2 ½ feet long, she had everyone make a representation of the solar system, giving you the idea of the scale of distances involved, that you could then fold up and put in your pocket. We all went outside onto the field in a big circle as Cynthia demonstrated why we see certain constellations at certain times of the year. We looked at Venus and Saturn through the telescopes. Best of all, I got an activity guide so I can get my Junior Ranger Night Explorer patch. However, you are supposed to do the number of activities that you are years old. Which means I need to complete 54 (!) activities in the book. I have a week to do them before I see Cynthia next Friday at the star gazing session here at Rocky.

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Dark Sky Ranger Cynthia Langguth directs our circle of constellations outside the observatory. (click to enlarge)

 

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Evening Program

August 2, 2013

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Our galaxy. The center of the Milky Way is at far right. The bright star in the middle is Vega. (click to enlarge)

 Friday, August 2

On Wednesday night I gave a public presentation at the scheduled Evening Program, one of 2 required of the artists. I think about 40 people came, some from the nearby town of Estes Park. The talk was in the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center auditorium. I was helped by Betsy and Roger Leverton, volunteers who work in the various visitor centers and help introduce the artist talks. Roger dealt with technical issues- loading my Powerpoint presentation of photos into their computer, showing me the wireless microphone and wireless remote control to advance the slides. Roger gave a brief history of the artist-in-residence program in the national parks and Betsy introduced me with a very nice summary. I showed some photos from my “day job” at AFP then went into more detail with the night sky and astronomical shots. I give another program next Wednesday, so this was a good rehearsal.

I stopped by the Beaver Meadows center briefly Thursday and noticed a flyer announcing the artist talk, with my picture on it, attached to the outdoor bathroom doors. I guess I’ll take any kind of publicity.

After the talk Wednesday night, I drove up the Trail Ridge Road to shoot photos from the various overlooks on the road. During my drive on Trail Ridge Tuesday, it was quite windy, so I wasn’t expecting to take many photos. I reached a viewoint called Forest Canyon that has a 360 view of the area. It was also quite cold, probably 10 degrees colder than down near the cabin. The wind was blowing, just strong enough to make the photography difficult. I took a few shots, then retreated to the car to warm up and have some cookies from my backpack. Plus the moon wasn’t going to rise for another 2 hours. When I went back out, the wind had died down and it was quite clear out. I set up my equipment, getting some nice Milky Way photos. The Big Dipper hung just above the ridge to the north. Being annoyed by the occasional car on the Ridge road (who is out after midnight except crazy photographers?) I realized it might make a nice photo of the highway and the constellation.  The moon rose almost behind me, as it crested the mountain I thought it was another car on the road it was so bright. I managed to finish about 2:30am and headed back to the cabin.

07-31-dipperSSH_0431Out on Trail Ridge Road at 2:00 am. Cars driving under the Big Dipper. (click to enlarge)

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A couple new shots

July 31, 2013

A couple of early shots from the past few nights.

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I saw this toppled tree near a creek at the Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead. Despite the bright glow of light in the east, which I think may be the YMCA conference center just outside the park, and the fast moving clouds, you can clearly see the Milky Way and lots of objects in the sky. (click to enlarge)

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Two bare trees nicely frame the Milky Way at Sprague Lake.

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I was a bear

July 31, 2013

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Ranger Jean Muenchrath dramatising a coyote running after a lamb. The lamb escaped. (click to enlarge.)

 Wednesday, July 31

Playing the part of a bear was the last thing on my mind as I went to the Tuesday evening program at the nearby Moraine Park campground. Jean Muenchrath, the artist coordinator and ranger was giving the talk, “Speaking from the Heart- Inspirational Ranger Stories”. It sounded interesting and it was a good chance to see her. I wandered in as she was looking for a volunteer to help out. I was to put on a bear suit and play the part of a Rocky Mountain black bear. The suit would just be draped over my shoulders and a bear head hat would complete the outfit. At the right cue I was to walk slowly down the center aisle and follow her script. The story was about another artist-in-residence, a wildlife photographer who got a very close encounter with the one animal he hadn’t photographed- a black bear. Apparently the bear got to about 30 feet of the photographer, who then began shooting pictures. Bored, the bear wandered off as the photographer said he was worried more about whether the photos would come out well than his own safety.

Earlier Tuesday I drove up the Old Fall River Road, which is a one-way uphill-only unpaved single-lane road that ends at the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet in altitude. It is the companion road to the Trail Ridge Road, which the park says is the highest paved road in the world, topping out at 12,183 feet. On the Old Fall River Road, it’s slow going up the 11 miles. Big ruts, a narrow passage and no guard rail off the side makes drivers cautious. Some people had pulled off into turnouts, but I was with 3 other cars that were determined to make it up without stopping. It took over an hour to make it to the visitor center, which was jammed with people. For my decent I took the Trail Ridge Road, stopping at some viewpoints. There is lots of tundra at this altitude and small wildflowers are blooming during the short growing season. Since this is the high point along a ridge, the wind was strong and views spectacular.

When the clouds clear out, the sky here is amazing. Even with a few clouds it’s still pretty dramatic. Monday night/Tuesday morning I was rained on briefly, then kept shooting as wild cloud formations passed overhead.

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Ascending Old Fall River Road. (I don’t think my older sister will like this).0729-SSH_0195

The Milky Way peeks through clouds at Sprague Lake. (click to enlarge.)

 

 

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In the Rocky Mountains

July 29, 2013

0729-viewA pretty good view from the front porch of the William Allen White Cabin. (click to enlarge)

Monday, July 29, 2013

I’m at Rocky Mountain National Park now as Artist-in-Residence until August 10 doing the night sky photos. I’m hoping the mountainous terrain and high altitude will produce a different look from the pictures I’ve been taking in the Southwest.

The park houses the artist in an historic cabin once lived in by William Allen White, a journalist and editor of the Emporia Gazette in Kansas. He and his family would spend summers in the cabin that was built here before the area became a national park. It’s really a spectacular structure, a big porch that looks out onto an equally spectacular view of the mountains. Two rocking chairs allow you to comfortably watch the view. When the clouds come in and swirl around the mountains it’s quite a show.

I arrived in late afternoon on Sunday and the warm light really highlighted the 1920’s style interior. They’ve kept White’s old roll top desk and chair with small wheels. Lots of wood furniture and built-in cupboards. The “Policies and Operations Manual” on a trunk used as a coffee table  says the cabin does not have internet, cell phone signals or television- “These modern pieces of technology were not present in White’s cabin.” So it’s a nice escape from the fully connected world.

The main room of the cabin and the cabin with its view. (click to enlarge)

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First I stopped at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to check in with Jean Muenchrath, a ranger and artist-in-residence coordinator. She’s really enthusiastic about the program and all the artists that come here. She gave me the keys to the cabin and a lot of park information. She pointed out great scenic areas that might make good photos, I’ll check those out later today.

Earlier today Betsy Leverton stopped by to see if I had questions about the park and talk about the public presentation I will give on Wednesday night. She and her husband Roger will introduce me during the Evening Program at the Visitor Center. Then Juley Harvey from the Estes Park Trail Gazette came by to interview me for an article for the newspaper. She does stories on all the artists, I think there are 6 this summer.

Looks like a big storm moving in. Large windows let me work at the dining room table and look out at the view of the meadows and mountains and watch the weather come through.

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The moon and 3 planets

May 24, 2013

Jupiter, Venus and the fainter Mercury set in this nice conjunction of 3 planets. (click to enlarge)

Jupiter, Venus and the fainter Mercury set in this nice conjunction of 3 planets. (click to enlarge)

Friday, May 24

Drove to Cameron yesterday, it’s about 35 minutes north, the nearest town to the park. It’s mainly a trading post/restaurant/motel and some nearby Navajo/Native American shops on a dusty stretch of Highway 89, on the way to the Grand Canyon and far northern Arizona. I had the Navajo taco, which turned out to be huge. Basically a taco with lots of beans on an enormous flat “fry bread”. I did what many visitors did and ate mainly the inside and left the large outside crust. It was very good and I was not hungry for a while.

Driving back south there is a great view of the San Francisco peaks, an odd sight with snow at the top as you drive the lower altitude desert where it’s 91 degrees.

I went out to the Wukoki pueblo before sunset to photograph the almost full moon rising as the last rays of the sun hit the pueblo. At that time of day it’s quiet and cooling down and the giant structure is quite impressive. Behind me high clouds turned various colors of red, pink, orange during the usual spectacular sunset. I ran around to the east side of the pueblo to try and catch this display, but was about 1 minute too late. It’s amazing how fast the sky changes as the sun goes down.

Back in the parking lot of the apartment I see Jupiter and Venus setting in the west. Then I remembered there is a conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury happening over the next few days. I take out the binoculars and see Venus and a fainter Mercury to the right. I get my camera and tripod and walk down to the Wupatki pueblo overlook and see the three planets in a large triangle formation set over the pueblo tower. It’s a really great sight especially since most of the time it’s very hard to see Mercury, usually lost in the sun’s glare. Here it’s very visible with your eye, a rare event. As good as the photo is, I think it might be better tomorrow when the planets are even closer together. Can’t wait.

Moonrise over the Wukoki pueblo. (click to enlarge)

Moonrise over the Wukoki pueblo. (click to enlarge)

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FALA photo class comes to visit

May 23, 2013

Lit by the nearly full moon, photo students from FALA pose by the Wupatki site. (click to enlarge)

Lit by the nearly full moon, photo students from FALA pose by the Wupatki site. (click to enlarge)

Astronomy teacher Rich Kruger takes photos of the contellations. (click to enlarge)

Astronomy teacher Rich Kruger takes photos of the contellations. (click to enlarge)

Thursday, May 23

Had a visit from a group of enthusiastic photography students from the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy (FALA) last night. Annabelle, Rene’s daughter, had come to the photo class Sunday night with her mother and a friend. She got some good shots and showed them to Rich Kruger, her astronomy teacher the next day. He in turn wanted to bring some students out to have me teach them some night photo tips. So 13 students from the photography class responded to the announcement of the trip up to Wupatki and arrived in 1 van and a car. We headed down to the Wupatki site where the students fanned out around the structures. All came equipped with a digital SLR and a tripod. Right away they seemed to produce good photos. Several experimented with “light painting”, shining flashlights on the ruins or themselves during the long exposures. Rich was shooting all the constellations in the sky to show to his class. Several students seemed very advanced  and it was nice to talk photo stuff with then. All had fun and wanted to return to Wupatki or do more night photography. At the end I took a group photo under the stars.

Earlier in the afternoon I climbed up the hill behind the apartments, all the way to the top. It’s a tough exercise since the hill is very steep and for most of the way you are walking through volcanic cinders, similar to sand. You can get a cell phone signal from the top, which I was doing in case there were any last minute messages about the night class. It’s quite a climb for a cell signal. You do get quite a view from high up, I’ll include a photo of the visitor center complex and the desert vista that we see everyday.

My apartment is in the building at lower right, the second back door from left is mine. Visitor center is building farthest away and the Wupatki pueblo is at the left. That’s where you can see some of the amazing sunsets. Desert view to the horizon. (click to enlarge)

My apartment is in the building at lower right, the second back door from left is mine. Visitor center is building farthest away and the Wupatki pueblo is at the left. That’s where you can see some of the amazing sunsets. Desert view to the horizon. (click to enlarge)

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Late Nights

May 22, 2013

Milky Way rises over Wukoki.

Milky Way rises over Wukoki.

Wednesday, May 22

Had a pretty successful night Monday, getting a nice shot of the Wukoki ruin with the Milky Way rising behind it. This seemed to be the right combination of moonlight on the ruin and celestial object in the sky behing. The moon is very bright now so it washes out some of the stars unless it is low on the horizon. So I’m out at moonset, which was 2:39 am Tuesday morning (Monday night) and 3:17 am last night (this morning). It’s funny how it takes forever for the moon (or sun) to cross the sky, then as soon as it gets near the horizon seems to speed up. I race around trying to find the right angle in the dark for the type of pictures I’m trying to get before the moon disappears.

Tuesday Rene Westbrook, the artist-in-residence coordinator at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon took me on a ‘field trip’ to Grand Falls and Leupp. She lives in Flagstaff so I met her at the Flagstaff National Monuments headquarters there, the administrative office for Wupatki and the other area parks. The drive took us northwest of Flagstaff from the forest of the mountains back to the high desert and eventually onto the Navajo Reservation. Leupp is a very small town on the road east, it was the site of a Justice Department detention center for Japanese immigrants arrested and held by the FBI during World War II. Most of these were Issei, first generation men, usually head of families and some ‘community leaders’ as defined by the FBI. They were separated from their families who were held in 10 concentration camps scattered across the country. We didn’t see any sign of the center or any marker. We did see an abandoned building, possibly a community center, next to what looked like a pueblo ruin. The larger building was covered in graffiti, inside and out. A big “OBAMA” graffiti greeted us as we drove up.

More amazing landscape was seen at Grand Falls, except for the falls. The water that Rene had seen a month ago had dried up, so no cascading falls. Lot of volcanic cinders and giant lava balls could be seen in the surrounding area, all from the Sunset Crater volcano many miles to the west.

Back at the apartment we watched another colorful sunset as the last rays of the sun lit up the Painted Desert seen from the front porch.

Abandoned building in Leupp.

Abandoned building in Leupp.

Center of the Milky Way.

Center of the Milky Way.

 

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Opera and Sponge Bob

May 20, 2013

View from a room in the Wupatki pueblo, the Big Dipper points to the right. (click to enlarge)

View from a room in the Wupatki pueblo, the Big Dipper points to the right. (click to enlarge)

Monday, May 19

Heard on Hopi Radio, 88.10 FM yesterday afternoon- a drumming group playing the Sponge Bob Square Pants song.

Had a good time with Rush visiting. Mainly caught up on things and talked a little astronomy. We drove into Flagstaff Saturday so I could resupply at the Safeway and post to the blog. I had been listening to the Metropolitan Opera station on the satellite radio—all opera, all the time. They play recordings from past Met performances. Driving through the desert landscape with the opera on is a slightly surreal experience. Rush enjoyed it since he used to work as a lighting technician with some opera companies.

Each sunset seems to compete with the previous ones for how spectacular they look. Around 7:00 Rush and I walk to the Wupatki pueblo and were rewarded with a very nice sunset and some amazing cloud formations. Above us and to the east were very ominous looking clouds. The clouds stayed through the night, preventing any star gazing or photography. I woke up at 3:00 am to check the cloud cover since there was a predicted flyover of the space station. Couldn’t see many stars so I headed back to bed.

I did a public talk on Sunday afternoon, a small crowd was there to listen. But that turned out to be a good crowd by Wupatki standards, since this park doesn’t get huge number of visitors. At night was the photo class, only had 6 people for that. We walked to the Wupatki pueblo behind the visitor center and it was quite a sight in the moonlight. I helped a couple of people with their cameras, then took a few pictures of the pueblo. There is room you can walk into which made a nice shot looking out through the open ceiling and doorway.

After the class I almost went to bed, then decided to go out to 2 of the sites. The wind had died down and the sky was completely clear. I shot a bit around Wupatki pueblo, then as the moon neared the horizon, race over to Wukoki, about 3 miles away. The Milky Way was rising over the immense structure. I found a perfect angle as the moon dipped below the horizon. So I’ll go back tonight to get a better shot.

Another spectacular sunset. (click to enlarge)

Another spectacular sunset. (click to enlarge)

Ominous clouds over Wupatki pueblo. (click to enlarge)

Ominous clouds over Wupatki pueblo. (click to enlarge)

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