Friday, March 9, 2012

Chasing Moonrise, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

[Photo: Snow cloud and pueblo ruins, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.
Click on image for larger version.]

A couple of days ago, it was once again time for Full Moon moonrise landscape shots. Which are best made the day before the full moon, when it rises while there is still adequate light on the landscape.

This time, the weather was dicey, meaning many clouds on the eastern horizon. That's make or break, of course. In Flagstaff we'd been having light snow showers off and on all day. So I had dim hopes for an early evening shoot of the moonrise.

But as the afternoon wore on, more sun and blue sky appeared around the clouds. Since the full moon only comes once a month, you have to try. You might get lucky.

[Photo: pueblo ruins and sunset snow curtain, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.
Click on image for larger version.]
So I headed north of Flagstaff on US Highway 89. Up to the summit, then right onto the road to Sunset Crater National Monument. Before you enter the Monument, there is a very nice turnoff at Bonito Park on the National Forest land. It has an excellent view of Sunset Crater volcano.

Having recently made some sweet moonrise shots from this location, I was less than excited to make some similar ones. So with seemingly plenty of daylight left, I drove back out to 89 and headed north over the back side of the summit, down onto the high volcanic plains. Wide open spaces, down out of the Ponderosa pine forests.

I was headed for the north entrance to Wupatki National Monument, about 25 miles north of Flagstaff. As I drove, I noted with satisfaction some big cloud banks hovering near the northeast horizon. Streamers of snow hung below them, probably never reaching the ground, and thus not shutting off the eastern horizon to the moonrise. If the moonrise was obstructed by clouds, the others could well get lit up nicely by the sunset rays.

It's good for a nature photographer to have a Plan B. If not a Plan C.

Inside the northern road into Wupatki, it was two miles to the parking area where the trail led into the scattered, small, but very photogenic, pueblo ruins at Lomaki. I parked the truck, wolfed down some more of the Subway sandwich I'd stopped to get along the way, then was off on the short and easy trail.

[Photo: Moonrise, sunset colors, and pueblo ruins, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.
Click on image for larger version.]
The sky was changing quickly, and I walked fast. I didn't have much time. (Did I ever, in situations like this?).

Skipping the first ruins for the vantage point at the second ruins, I made a few quick exposures. Then I hoofed it over to the larger ruins. Really crunch time. The setting sun was only on the uppermost wall of the ruin. The snowy cloud bank was huge and wide, way more than I could capture in a single exposure.

So I shot a wide angle series of overlapping photos, to be merged later in Photoshop.

The moon? Oh yeah, that is what I came here for. Peering off toward the lower right edge of the massive cloud, I thought I saw it. Was that the typical faint white-blue disk of the moon just creeping above the horizon, or was I fooling myself? It was, and so I wasn't.

[Photo: Snow shower curtain and pueblo ruins, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.
Click on image for larger version.]
Hoping that it would rise up into another gap in a few minutes, I waited. And waited. And...finally made a few more shots of the darkening cloud bank above the ruins and the Antelope Plains.

It turned out to be a very nice series. No killer moonrise shots. Only a fleeting glimpse. But some amazing golden hour landscape shots. Time and effort well spent.

On the drive back south, the moon rose above the clouds. Its bright silvery patterned disk followed me the rest of the way home.

You might also be interested in my Grand Canyon Photography blog.