Moonset and Sleeping Ute

Full Moon setting at dawn over Sleeping Ute Mountain in southwest Colorado.

Moonset at dawn, Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Area

At the time of the Full Moon each month, there is not only the anticipation of landscape photos featuring moonrise in the evening, but the next morning there is moonset, too.

For moonset at that time of the month, you have to be up and out there to your selected photo spot early. I almost missed mine this month, having turned off the alarm and dozed away. Waking to the sound of a robin starting to sing outside my window, meaning: it’s dawn, and you should have been up!

I scrambled out of bed, out of the apartment, and drove to Totten Reservoir, which I had previously scouted for its view of the North Rim of Mesa Verde, but also its view to Sleeping Ute Mountain across the lake.

It was breezy as I walked down from the parking lot to my chosen spot. Only to find a cloud of mosquitoes dancing in the lee of a Cottonwood tree. Not going to set up my tripod there! A few yards further down, the breeze was too stiff for the insects to get to me.

Then the almost-risen sun added streaks of pink and white from the east, overtop Sleeping Ute Mountain to the west. My reward for hustling out there.

Photo location: Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Area, Cortez, Colorado.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunset to Moonrise at the Lake

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December sunset afterglow backlights a cloud bank over the Abajos.

Another chilly early December evening. Fishing was good at the lake, a nice chop to the water but not so strong as to make conditions unsavory.

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Panoramic view, minutes later.

From atop the dam I made overlapping images to merge into a huge panorama file later using Adobe Lightroom CC.

Then, looking over my shoulder was the nearly full moon rising above the Earth’s shadow and the Venus Belt.

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Rising moon, two days before Full Moon.

Photo location: Monticello, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Rise of the Hunter’s Moon

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Full Moon rising, October 15.

Last Saturday brought the Full Moon for October. Folklore has it that, though it probably has several names, the most accepted one is that it’s the Hunter’s Moon. Why?

It seems to have come from colonial days, when the settlers would harvest their corn fields in September, by the light of the Harvest Moon. The next month, with the fields chopped down, they would watch for animals prowling the cornfield stubble by the light of the October full moon. Thus the Hunter’s Moon.

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Zoomed in on the Hunter’s Moonrise. The jagged blue cutout at the bottom of the moon is the silhouette of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado.

Well, on the Hunter’s Moon of 2016 I was only interested in hunting for photographs (as usual). Being a landscape photographer, I’m not that interested in shots of the full moon against a black sky. Who needs more of those? For me, it’s about the interaction of the moonrise with the landscape.

This time I was in Monticello in southeast Utah. I did not have my preferred landscape for such an event: a mountain. They were all out of reach at the moment. These things happen.

But I did have a clear view to the east. Toward the Colorado state line. Across the Great Sage Plain (elevation 7,000 feet, give or take), toward the Rocky Mountains, some 100 miles distant.

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Harvest Moon up! Perfect October evening.

Photo location: Monticello, Utah, looking toward Colorado.

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg

Moonrise and Sleeping Ute Mountain from Cedar Mesa, Utah.

April Moonrise, Cedar Mesa

Evening view of Valley Of The Gods from Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

Campsite with a view, edge of Cedar Mesa.

April 21, the day before Full Moon, and I was — as usual — plotting where to photograph the rising moon over the desert landscape. It had to be somewhere reasonably close to home, say 30 miles, or I wouldn’t be able to get there in time after work.

Sunset shadows from Cedar Mesa, southeast Utah.

Shadows creep up the side canyon wall.

So I chose the southeast rim of Cedar Mesa. Although I greatly prefer situating myself so that the moon rises over some prominent landscape feature such as mountain peaks, this was not going to be one of those times. So instead I chose a yawning expanse of southeast Utah canyon country, overlooking the Valley Of The Gods and the lower San Juan River valley, with Colorado’s Sleeping Ute Mountain in the far distance.

I had heard from a local about a couple of dirt roads leading to the rim in that area — facing east — that I had not explored. Now was the time.

On my second try I drove out a road that soon came to the rim, the edge of the 1,000 foot drop the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa provides above the Valley Of The Gods. No one was there: perfect. Cape Solitude.

Cedar Mesa Sandstone boulders, Cedar Mesa, southeast Utah.

Cedar Mesa Sandstone boulders just below the rim of the mesa.

To my left was a south facing cliff wall, the north side of a short side canyon. I was interested in the house sized chunks of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that had fallen onto the next shelf of rock just below the mesa top. Being south facing, I wondered if there were any Ancestral Puebloan ruins among them, or rock panels with inscriptions such as petroglyphs and maybe pictographs as well.

Red Buttes at sunset, Valley of the Gods, San Juan County, Utah.

Red Buttes below in Valley Of The Gods.

The lowering sun warmed the red buttes of the Gods far below. As I sat in my chair, camera on tripod in front of me, watching the golden hour show, waiting for the moon to show (which is also the name of a favorite Bruce Cockburn song).

Ancestral Puebloan ("Anasazi") cliff dwelling ruin, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling ruin. How did I ever miss it?

Then I glanced at the opposing cliff face again, now that the sunlight was off it. There it was, an ancient cliff dwelling ruin in an alcove about halfway down the cliff. Plain as day.

Ancestral Puebloan ("Anasazi") cliff dwelling ruin, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Closeup of the cliff dwelling ruin.

On with the sunset show. The redlands below were glowing warmer and warmer.

Valley Of The Gods, southeast Utah, at sunset.

Valley Of The Gods sunset show.

The eastern skyline was fairly hazy, so that when the moon did creep into view just before sunset it had a slightly pink cast.

Moonrise over southeast Utah.

The moon begins to show above the eastern skyline haze.

Sleeping Ute Mountain had fallen into a deep shade of blue. The redlands were now burnt red in twilight, no longer glowing.

Moonrise, southeast Utah, April 21, 2016.

Pink moon coming up from the haze.

With the sun down, the rising moon turned from pink to yellow, a product of the haze. And finally to white after it was above the haze.

Moonrise over San Juan River Valley and Sleeping Ute Mountain.

Moonrise over Valley of the Gods and San Juan River Valley. Sleeping Ute Mountain at horizon left.

I made a variety of wide shots, closeups, and overlapping images for panoramas.

Nearly Full Moon rising, from Cedar Mesa, southeat Utah.

Nearly Full Moon rising, April 21, 2016.

Finally it was dusk. Time to retire to the vehicle for the night.

Moonrise and Sleeping Ute Mountain from Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Moonrise and Sleeping Ute Mountain, from Cedar Mesa.

My “Cape Solitude” was also Cape Serenity. An exceptional spring evening on Cedar Mesa.

Moonrise from Cedar Mesa, Utah, April 21, 2016.

Moonrise at dusk, Cedar Mesa.

Photo location: Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Moonrise over Bears Ears Buttes, Utah.

February Moonrise, Bears Ears

moonrise over bears ears buttes, from Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Moonrise over the Bears Ears Buttes, Feb. 20 at 5 PM, two days before Full Moon.

It was once again Full Moon time. Usually the best day for moonrise landscape shots is the evening before the Full Moon — the day before, rather than the day of Full Moon.

Two days before (Feb. 20), at 5 PM, an hour before sunset, the almost-full moon was rising over the Bears Ears Buttes, as seen from the Visitor Center at Natural Bridges.

Full moon rising over Bears Ears East Butte, southeast Utah.

Moon rising over Bears Ears East Butte at sunset, Feb. 21.

I once again turned to The Photographer’s Ephemeris (PhotoEphemeris.com) to help me plan my shoot for the following evening, Feb 21.

The moon would rise about 56 minutes later than the previous evening, almost at sunset. The Photographer’s Ephemeris also tell you the azimuth — the compass direction — that it will rise at. That helps immensely as far as getting in position to have the moon rise near an especially attractive landscape feature. In this case, the Bears Ears Buttes.

Full moon moonrise over Bears Ears Buttes, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Moonrise panorama, Bears Ears Buttes.

The only problem with having the time and azimuth of moonrise to work with is that it’s only exact for a flat landscape, like an ocean or the plains. If there’s a mountain in the way, the moon won’t be visible until it gets up high enough to clear it. And the moon doesn’t rise straight up, it arcs toward the south, here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Moonrise, full moon, Bears Ears East Butte, Utah.

Full Moon rising over Bears Ears East Butte.

I had been hoping to position myself so that the moon would rise directly between the two buttes. But by the time it came up that night it appeared over the right shoulder of Bears Ears East Butte from where I was standing. Oh, well, it would still make for an awesome scene.

Moonrise over Bears Ears Buttes, Utah.

Moonrise and last rays of sunset on the Bears Ears.

By the time the moon rose over the butte, it was almost sunset. The low angle of the sunlight put a somewhat golden glow on the landscape.

Then the sun was down and it was time for a twilight shot.

Moonrise over Bears Ears Buttes, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Moonrise at dusk, Bears Ears.

I had been blessed with clear skies for this shoot. Since I had the next day off I would be free to travel. The following evening the moon would be rising at dusk, 15 minutes after sunset. By the time it cleared the mountains I had in mind, it would be very nearly dark. Still, it was worth a try. So to Canyonlands I went. Stay tuned.

Photo Location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

December Moonrise, Bears Ears Buttes

Early evening moonrise, from Natural Bridges Visitor Center.

Early evening moonrise, from Natural Bridges Visitor Center. (Click on image for larger version).

The December 2015 Full Moon will occur on Christmas day for the first time since 1977. Moonrise will occur just before 6 PM here in the Mountain Time Zone in the U.S. That’s about 45 minutes after sunset, so landscape photos at that time will be black, or nearly so, by the time the moon clears the eastern horizon.

Visitor Center at Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Visitor Center at Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah, with snowy Deer Flat and the Woodenshoe Buttes in the distance.

So, as usual the time to get great moonrise landscape shots is the day before. Sometimes two days before, depending on when moonrise and sunset times occur.

Moonrise over the Bears Ears Buttes.

Moonrise over the Bears Ears Buttes.

This time it occurred two days before, on December 23. That’s because the moon would reach 100 percent illumination at about 4 AM on the 25th, making the evening of the 24th the effective rise of the Full Moon. So one day before that was landscape photography time.

I was heading out to one of my favorite vistas on the 23rd for possible sunset shots when I saw the moon rising over the Bears Ears Buttes. I got some shots from the parking lot at the Visitor Center at Natural Bridges National Monument, then looked for a clear vista of the Bears Ears somewhat closer. The pinyon-juniper forest was in the way from the views on the entrance road, so I parked and hurriedly trudged into the woods through the snow looking for a high spot, a clearing, or both. I certainly didn’t have much time; I would have to get lucky.

Moonrise over Bears Ears, from pinyon pine-Utah juniper forest, Natural Bridges.

Moonrise over Bears Ears, from pinyon pine-Utah juniper forest, Natural Bridges.

I was fortunate to find a spot within about five minutes. So I shot, waited, and shot some more as sunset neared.

The recent snowfalls, including another heavy snow squall a couple hours previous, had the surrounding cliffs of Elk Ridge and Deer Flat freshened up with even more white than in the morning. Indeed, what was showing to the north of me was competing even with the moonrise scene. Because the Woodenshoe Buttes were lit up with evening light, too, only more from the side than the Bear Ears were.

The Woodenshoe Buttes in snow, from Natural Bridges.

The Woodenshoe Buttes in snow, from Natural Bridges.

Finally the sun was down. I was hoping for some alpenglow, but there were no clouds above the setting sun to create that tonight. I contented myself with the last pink clouds to the east above the Bears Ears, now deep in the shadow of dusk.

Last of the sunset colors over the Bears Ears.

Last of the sunset colors over the Bears Ears.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Rise Of The Hunter’s Moon, Valley Of The Gods

October Full Moon at dusk, San Juan River valley near Mexican Hat, Utah.

October Full Moon rising at dusk, San Juan River valley near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Last month’s (September’s) Full Moon was the beautiful lunar eclipse. For the October Full Moon, I tried a different landscape, in part because I didn’t have time to get to where some mountain peaks would be the foreground. You do what you can.

Sunset on Raplee Anticline and San Juan River valley, Utah-Arizona.

Sunset on Raplee Anticline and San Juan River valley, Utah-Arizona.

So I drove to the southern edge of Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah. There it looms a thousand feet above the valley floor, with red buttes and spires below. It’s looking down on what is called the Valley Of The Gods, a rough but fairly popular road on Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) land.

Highway 261 bisects Cedar Mesa, north to south, before descending 1,100 feet in three miles via the Moki Dugway to the San Juan River valley near Mexican Hat, Utah.

I drove roughly a third of the way down the Dugway, to where there is a wide turnout and an easy walk across the sandstone slickrock to a point looking east and southeast.

I was in position in plenty of time, and waited. The full moon would rise right around sunset. In the meantime I enjoyed the last reddish rays of the sun on Lime Ridge on the Navajo Nation, geologically called the Raplee Anticline, to the south of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat.

October moonrise over Valley Of The Gods, from the Moki Dugway.

October moonrise over Valley Of The Gods, from the Moki Dugway.

Then, there it was, right on schedule. White-blue at first, then deepening to a soft yellow as the blue of the Earth’s Shadow and the pink gradations of the Venus Band deepened as the sun was set below the horizon.

On the way back up to Cedar Mesa I stopped for a wide angle photo of the Moki Dugway with the moon.

Full Moon from Moki Dugway, Highway 261, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Full Moon from Moki Dugway, Highway 261, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

In the morning, it was time for the other end of the Full Moon night: Moonset. I drove west this time, toward Moss Back Butte and the Tables Of The Sun mesas. A huge advantage to photographing moonset is that the moon is already visible, not hidden below the eastern horizon like it is at moonrise. It’s going down, and you have some time to position yourself where the landscape will make for an interesting composition as it gets light at dawn.

Moonset at dawn and Moss Back Butte.

Moonset at dawn and Moss Back Butte.

But not an infinite amount of time. So I chose a spot on Highway 95 where Moss Back Butte would be the dominant landform in the photo.

Then the sun rose and lit up the Red House Cliffs, and this period of my shooting day came to a close. Onto another subject.

Sunrise on Red House Cliffs, San Juan County, Utah.

Sunrise on Red House Cliffs, San Juan County, Utah.

Photo location: San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Canyonlands Moonset

Church Rock, at Highway 191 north of Monticello, Utah.

Church Rock, at Highway 191 north of Monticello, Utah.

I was at the Canyonlands overlook in southeast Utah for this month’s Full Moon rise. The evening before Full Moon, that is. To strive for landscape photographs with the almost full moon rising before dark.

Yes, one could merge separate images of a landscape and a closeup of the moon in Photoshop into a single composition. It’s incredibly easy these days, and will continue to get even more brain-dead simple. Which is one reason why I’m not interested in doing that. I use Photoshop and Lightroom for all my image processing, but not in that way.

The reason isn’t ethics or creativity or whatever label you care to assign. It’s about being out there. Outside, in nature, to see what you can experience this time. It’s a treasure hunt–and the treasure might be hunting you. Your attention, your realization.

The evening started with the afternoon. I veered off the known road for one of the side roads. To see what sights it might display. I had lots of hours to spare, and the weather and sweet high desert air were both soothing and stimulating.

Cruising the red sand roads amongst the sagebrush and high desert skies.

Cruising the red sand roads amongst the sagebrush and high desert skies.

It was time to decide on a campsite. One with a great view of the La Sal Mountains to the east, over which the moon would rise somewhat before sunset. I arrived plenty early, unusually so. I set up my folding camp chair in the shade of a Utah Juniper tree near the edge of the cliff, and resumed reading a book. Waiting.

La Sal Mountains moonrise panorama.

La Sal Mountains moonrise panorama.

Eventually the moon appeared, faintly, above the mountain horizon. Haze on the eastern skyline made it harder to notice until it was well above the slopes. By that time it was so far southeast of the main peaks of the La Sals that I decided to make a series of overlapping images to merge into high resolution panorama image in Photoshop later.

It was the best I could do under the circumstances. The tail end of a lovely day in the high desert springtime. I settled in to sleep.

At dawn, I peered up at the bright moon as it silently continued its arc to the southwest horizon. I roused myself.

Most people don’t consider moonset. Heck, most don’t consider moonrise, until it slaps them in the face one night, once in a while.

With moonset, the opportunities for landscape photography are greatly expanded. Most importantly, it’s already up in the sky, you don’t have to calculate or guess where it will appear. And, emotionally, it looks much like moonrise. It’s just the other end of the arc. The full moon above the landscape at one end of the day.

You merely have to get up really early. A deal breaker for many people. That’s where I come in. Well, most of the time. Enough of the time. Usually.

I threw my outside the-camp-belongings into the vehicle and headed toward the west rim of the peninsula. Overlooking Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River. I approached a viewpoint I’d made note of on the drive north but hadn’t actually visited in the few times I’d been here. The time to visit seemed to be now.

Moonset pancake, Anticline Overlook road, Utah.

Moonset pancake, Anticline Overlook road, Utah.

It was like a flat cake of sandstone layers sitting above the plateau. A road was built out to it, and around it, for a circular viewpoint. It occurred to me that, had I been engineering roads there, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to build one around that piece of rock. Maybe out to the edge of it, yes. But around it? Though lots of things don’t occur to me that probably should.

Whatever. The moon was setting over Canyonlands, and the sun was soon rising onto them. I would have been quite satisfied with the day, given such a gorgeous beginning.

Moonset over Colorado River canyon lands south of Moab, Utah.

Moonset over Colorado River canyon lands south of Moab, Utah.

As it turned out, the day was far from done. But that’s another story.

Photo location: San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Chasing Moonrise, Valley Of The Gods, Utah

Full Moon rising over Cedar Mesa, from Valley Of The Gods.

Full Moon rising over Cedar Mesa, from Valley Of The Gods.

So it was Full Moon time again. I schedule my life around it. Doesn’t everybody?

For the March Full Moon I decided to change scenery. Though not too much. After all, I live at the Center of the Universe: southeast Utah. Four Corners country, some of the very best of the Colorado Plateau.

I hate to brag, so I don’t. I show.

South on Highway 261, bisecting the high desert Pinyon pine-Juniper country of Cedar Mesa. A clean air, open sky, lonesome (not lonely) emptiness into which tortuous and amazingly beautiful canyons have been carved. Still wild, no roads down into them. Wilderness areas waiting for formal designation. For further protection. But that’s another story.

At the south edge of Cedar Mesa, one drives down the steep gravel road switchbacks of the Moki Dugway.  It frightens many people. (Though not most Colorado residents, they shrug it off).

The top of the Moki Dugway,  Cedar Mesa.

The top of the Moki Dugway,Cedar Mesa.

So 1,100 feet lower in elevation in less than three miles, I’m back onto the San Juan River valley not that far from Mexican Hat. A dirt road to the left is the western entrance to Valley Of The Gods. The road has dried out nicely. I’ve chosen it in part so I could report to tourists how it is after the most recent snowstorm.

Oops, the Dugway just got narrower here. Stay on the road. Or else.

Oops, the Dugway just got narrower here. Stay on the road. Or else.

I pass the Bed And Breakfast ranch inn there. I’d stopped at its locked gate during the winter and noted its sign: “Always open”. Except when it wasn’t, like when I passed by this winter. Still, it looks like a cool place. I hope to stay there one day. Maybe this year. Spend your money locally whenever you can.

Valley Of The Gods Road. Wide open high desert spaces.

Valley Of The Gods Road. Wide open high desert spaces.

Across the up and down dirt road across ‘Gods’. Nobody around, unless you count me. Some of the hills and curves in the road are blind, so go slowly. Trying to take it all in, yet again. Red sandstone buttes and spires at the foot of the towering escarpment of Cedar Mesa that I’d come down.

Sandstone spire at sunset, Valley Of The Gods.

Sandstone spire at sunset, Valley Of The Gods.

All the while calculating exactly where moonrise would occur in relation to the most dramatic features in the eastern horizon. After a few more miles, I decided to backtrack. I found the best spot available, and stopped. Time to wait. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but around here second best is still really good. Alone in the high desert red rock country, clean air, etc. Peace.

Over the ridge, moonrise at sunset.

Over the ridge, moonrise at sunset.

Some more photos of the moonrise before it got too dark to be more than a yellow circle on a black background.

Moonrise at dusk, Valley Of The Gods.

Moonrise at dusk, Valley Of The Gods.

Then back up onto Cedar Mesa. Back up the Moki Dugway. One more evening of trying to be slowly immersed into this silent, powerful landscape done.

Photo locations: Cedar Mesa and San Juan River Valley, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

February Begins: Moonrise Over The Mountains

Moonrise over La Sal Mountains, Utah.

February 2nd, the evening before Full Moon. Usually the best time of the month for moonrise landscape shots.

The weather forecast was quite favorable: mostly clear, and calm. The setting perfect: southeast Utah, south of Moab, within view of the La Sal mountain range, cloaked with winter snow only a few days old. All is well, very well.

Up it came. Of the several images I made of the scene, this is probably my favorite. Besides the peaks and the moon, the clouds floating above make for an even more interesting composition.