Vernal Equinox Moonrise and Tree Planting

Bareroot tree seedlings shipped from the nursery.

March 20 was the Vernal (Spring) Equinox in North America, and the Full Moon as well. Some traditions call the March Full Moon the “Worm Moon”, because in many climates the frost is gone from the ground and so earthworms return to the surface after another long winter. They sure have in my yard here on the Western Slope of Colorado.

As it so happened, my order of tree seedling from Jung Seed Company in Wisconsin arrived the day before. I had measured and marked where I wanted the seedlings to be planted, and even had the holes dug.

But upon reading the instructions from the nursery, they said that the seedlings had been kept in cold storage to simulate them being in winter dormancy. And to gently wake them up with a “spring rain” by putting them in a bucket of water overnight. As a former forester I know a bit about trees, but am always happy to oblige a commercial nursery that wants its customers to have the best in success.

The next day I was ready to plant my trees. On the Vernal Equinox, though I had not planned it that way. I got all thirteen seedlings (ten Black Hills Spruce and three Pyramidal Arborvitae) nestled into their new homes in great soil with good drainage.

As I finished planting (gently straightening my stiffening muscles, it’s been a long winter) I saw that it was still at least a half hour until moonrise. Actually more, because by the time the Full Moon would rise over the Uncompahgre Plateau to the North-Northeast it would be dusk. But light enough for landscape photography with the moon featured.

So I waited, camera on tripod in my back yard. I have a great view to the east, of the Uncompahgre Plateau and the west reaches of the San Juan Mountains.

March Moonrise over the Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado.

This early in the year the moon would rise from my vantage point over the still snowbound Uncompahgre Plateau, on the Uncompahgre National Forest. I didn’t have time to drive an hour to a known location where I could situate snowy mountain crags in front of the moon. Blame the tree seedlings. They needed me more than my photography did that day.

The March “Worm Moon” rising above the Uncompahgre.

The moon slid silently into view over the crest of the mighty Uncompahgre, yellow with moisture on the horizon. As usual I stood in appreciation that I live in a place where I could be at home (if I had to) and photograph this scene right from my yard.

Almost dark…what a moon!

Vernal Equinox. Full Moon rising. Trees planted. What a day.

Photo location: western Montrose County (the “West End”) Colorado.

See more of my photography on my website: http://www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2019 Stephen J. Krieg

And Then The Lunar Eclipse

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Beginning of the Lunar Eclipse

I was anticipating the first great lunar eclipse in a couple of years. The weather forecast at first seemed so favorable.

Then the clear Colorado skies started to have some high clouds to the east. Uh-oh. My optimism started to become sub-optimal through the afternoon.

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Since the lunar eclipse was going to happen long after sunset it would be useless to make a landscape photo with it. It would merely be a black sky for the background.

So I waited from home to see what I could see.

I was fortunate enough to view the beginning of the eclipse, until the moon started to turn red. Then the clouds hid the rest.

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So-called “blood” moon, so exquisite.

Photo location: Nucla, Colorado

© Copyright 2019 Stephen J. Krieg

Before the Lunar Eclipse

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Moonrise creeps up over Yellow Mountain.

The January 2019 Lunar Eclipse was the best opportunity for a couple of years to see that kind of spectacular event in North America. I was ready, my plans were made.

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Moonrise panorama over Yellow Mountain.

However, since the Lunar Eclipse would occur on January 20 — one day before Full Moon — I went out the previous evening to shoot moonrise over the San Juan Mountains here in southwest Colorado.

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Why two days before Full Moon? Because my favorite spot is so close to some high peaks near Lizard Head Pass that by the time the moon clears the peaks it’s well past official Moonrise time on the charts. Like 45 minutes later. Shortly before sunset, in fact. I was hoping for some sunset glow on the peaks while the almost full moon rose.

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So I drove the hour and 15 minutes to Lizard Head Pass on Highway 145 and ate a submarine sandwich while I waited. There were a number of cross country skiers still sliding around on the sunlit high meadows.

Then the moon began to clear Yellow Mountain, above Trout Lake. It was on.

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Vermilion Peak just before sunset. 

I had been hoping to get some rosy sunset glow off the snowy peaks at sunset, but there were high hazy clouds to the west, diffusing the effect I was after. Or so I thought.

By about 5:30 it seemed that the sun was down and I might as well begin to drive back home.

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Alpenglow above Telluride, on the way home.

I had misjudged. Again. Because as I approached Telluride I could see the rosy glow of Alpenglow on some peaks northwest of town. Fortunately I found a cleared turnout along the highway where I could pull out my camera — still on tripod — and get a couple of fast shots.

I was especially glad to have made the effort to get out to a prime spot that evening, because the next one would be a lot more cloudy. It would be a short Lunar Eclipse, visibility wise.

Photo location: Lizard Head Pass, south of Telluride, southwest Colorado.

See more of my best photography on my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2019 Stephen J. Krieg

State Of The Moonrise, March 2018

Sunset light around Lone Cone Peak, Colorado.

Driving straight at Lone Cone Peak in the evening light.

The return of the Full Moon is always on every real nature photographer’s mind. Or should be. After all, what comes once a month (sometimes twice), is incredible, and you can’t control it? In nature, I mean.

Thus I always plot and plan as to where I might be able to be when Full Moon comes around again. Not to shoot photos of it surrounded by the black of night–who needs more of those? Rather, to create another photograph of the moon rising over some awesome landscape before it’s dark.

Oh, sure, I could merely take a shot of the full moon, overlay it in Photoshop with a landscape photo, and it would look fantastic. And sell. But that would be so lame. It would be technology instead of being out there.

It’s about being out there. Ready and waiting. In the game.

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Lone Cone Peak in golden evening light.

The moonrise photographer’s sworn enemy is (are?): clouds. Just some of them in the wrong place on the Eastern horizon at the critical time and it’s a wash. Though to paraphrase a bumper sticker, “The worst day photographing beats the best day at work”. Unless your job is to photograph, of course.

With all of that in mind I found myself at the “West End” as the locals say of Montrose and San Miguel Counties in southwest Colorado. Driving south from Norwood, which has a great paved county road aimed straight south at Lone Cone Peak, the westernmost outliers of the San Juan Mountains.

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Moonrise over the San Juan Mountains, lousy composition.

I wasn’t the luckiest of photographers this time as far as moonrise conditions. High clouds on the Eastern horizon, moon only visible later, almost at sunset time. I drove around looking for a great vantage point. Finally, with the seconds ticking away, I had to get what I could get. A shot of the moon over some of the San Juan snowy peaks was not that strong, compositionally. So I made a series of overlapping shots for a possible panorama image. Which, later, editing the shoot on my computer, turned out to be a good choice.

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Panoramic moonrise photo. Those peaks to the left needed to be included.

The icing on the evening was the alpenglow pink color on the snowy peaks. Moon or no moon.

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Sunset alpenglow on the San Juans, March 30.

Photo location: San Miguel County south of Norwood, Colorado.

See more of my photography at my website: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 Stephen J. Krieg

Sunrise Reflection and fall aspen colors, Rico, Colorado.

Chasing Down the October Moon

Moon Setting Over the Aspen Fall Colors, Rico, Colorado.

Moon Setting at dawn over the fall Colors, Rico, Colorado.

I was rolling up Colorado Highway 145 in the dark, intent on having a perfect October day of photographing in the high country.

Historic Silver Mine Headframe and setting moon, Rico, Colorado.

Historic Silver Mine Headframe, Rico, Colorado.

As the dawn light slowly illuminated the landscape, the just-past-Full Moon was getting ready to set behind the San Juan Mountains. At Rico–perhaps my favorite mountain town–I pulled over for some shots.

Mountains and Fall Colors Reflected in Ponds at Dawn, Rico, Colorado.

Mountains and fall colors reflected in ponds at dawn, Rico, Colorado.

I turned off onto the road along the old beaver ponds and the hot springs. A calm chilly morning, perfect for keeping the ponds still to serve as mirrors.

Sunrise Reflection and fall aspen colors, Rico, Colorado.

Sunrise reflection, Rico, Colorado.

I was about to continue driving when I noticed the sunrise on one of the high peaks in the distance. And of course its reflection on the water’s surface.

After that it was really time to get back on the road. Because who knew what more lay ahead after a start like this?

Up the highway to Lizard Head Pass, and an early morning scene with its namesake, Lizard Head Peak.

Lizard Head Peak Morning Sunshine, From Lizard Head Pass, Colorado.

Lizard Head Peak morning sunshine, from Lizard Head Pass.

Further along the road, I was afforded another glimpse of the moon over the high peaks.

Moon Setting Beyond Bare Aspen Trees and mountain peaks, San Miguel County, Colorado.

Moon setting beyond bare aspen trees, San Miguel County, Colorado.

And another. I made a high resolution panoramic image of the scenery, free of the dark foreground trees, before heading down the South Fork of the San Miguel River. Which will be the focus of the next post.

Moon about to set over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains, southwest Colorado.

Moon about to set over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains.

Photo location: San Juan Mountains, southwest Colorado.

See more of my photography at NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Moon Sleeps Behind Sleeping Ute Mountain

Moonset over Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado.

Moonset beginning over Sleeping Ute Mountain.

I had failed to be out there to photograph the October moonrise. It had been a rough day, and I preferred to stay at home. The moon waits for no one, though.

But before first light the next morning, I awoke thinking it was dawn. It wasn’t. It was the all-but-Full Moon shining through my west window. As it was descending. Moonset.

I rolled out of bed and grabbed my camera gear and loaded up in the dark. Well, not totally dark. Moonlight.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris desktop application I had scoped out where to go for this event. It would sink behind Sleeping Ute Mountain if I were positioned atop Mesa Verde’s North Rim. Even in my sleepy condition, it seemed like I had a quite good chance of making it there yet, if I hurried.

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Full Moon descending from a cloud bank, Sleeping Ute Mountain.

I did. Parking at the Montezuma Valley Overlook, I shut off the engine and the lights. The bright moon was the only light I was interested in.

The moon was descending through a thin cloud bank. Good in that it was not overcast.

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Panorama of Moonset, Sleeping Ute, and the lights of Cortez.

The wind was ripping through the notch in the Rim. Oh, nice, I thought, so windy that my tripod might as well be worthless as to holding the camera steady.

But once I stepped away from the parking lot, down the paved path, the shoulder of the ridge cut the wind in half. Then even more. Nice. I set up the tripod.

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Zooming in on the Sleeping Ute’s crossed arms and moonset.

I made a series of shots in the tough contrast between bright moon and the mountain. In some of them I included the twinkling lights from the small city of Cortez below. It gave those shots a lot of context.

Moon going to sleep behind Sleeping Ute.

Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

© 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

September Moonrise, Southwest Colorado

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Montana wildfire smoke pulled south to Colorado. Credit: National Weather Service.

Early September, and it was time to plan for the Full Moon. Not for telescopic shots of our Lunar satellite in the black sky–who needs more of those–but of landscape shots featuring the rising moon.

It all depends upon the clouds on the eastern horizon at moonrise time, of course. For September 2017, though, the weather forecast was quite favorable. Mostly sunny, a very low chance of evening showers.

Except that there was one added variable this time: smoke. It had been unusually hazy for days, and the National Weather Service had been reporting that it was due to smoke from large forest fires all the way north in Montana. A strong northerly flow was bringing a noticeable amount of it down to Colorado.

Haze, particularly smoke, usually gives the moon an orange, or at least deep yellow, cast as it’s rising. So that was potentially working in my favor.

Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app, I scoped out a nearby location that would have the nearly Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains. So I drove out to McPhee Reservoir northwest of Cortez to see what would happen.

The moon was scheduled to rise officially a few minutes after sunset. But it would take about 15 to 20 minutes to clear the mountains before it would be visible in the scenery.

Sunset over McPhee Reservoir, Montezuma County, Colorado.

Sunset over McPhee Reservoir, Colorado, Sept. 6.

Meanwhile I enjoyed a fairly colorful sunset over McPhee Reservoir, looking toward Utah. The sun dropped into a heavy haze of clouds, so its color was greatly muted over what could have been.

With no further distraction toward the west, I swiveled back to the eastern horizon, the La Platas. And up it came. A light pink through the heavy haze at first.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains, Colorado.

Then the moon gradually intensified as the dusk became deeper.

Full Moon rising over the La Plata Mountains.

Full Moon above the La Plata Mountains.

Unfortunately the haze was too thick to more than slightly distinguish the La Plata Mountains.

Maybe October’s conditions will be better. As I always remind myself: you’ve got to be out there, and you’ve got to be ready.

Photo location: Montezuma County, southwest Colorado

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Moonrise Over Cortez

The Full Moon rises over the North Rim of Mesa Verde, as seen from Cortez, Colorado..

The Full Moon rises over the North Rim of Mesa Verde, as seen from Cortez.

Last night’s Full Moon rising over the escarpment of the North Rim of Mesa Verde, as viewed from Cortez, Colorado.

See more of my photography at www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg

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