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

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

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

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

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

Navajo Bridge and Lees Ferry, Full Moon Evening

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River rafter launching from Lees Ferry, Colorado River, Arizona.

Back at one of my favorite places on Earth: Marble Canyon on the Arizona Strip in northwest Arizona. Grand Canyon Country north.

After another wonderful sunset time visit to nearby Lees Ferry, watching river running trips put in to the Colorado River to run Grand Canyon, I was anticipating the full moon rising over the Echo Cliffs to the east.

Amazingly, the azimuth (compass direction) that the full moon was rising this month allowed me to include it in shots of Navajo Bridge on the way out of Lees Ferry.

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Full moon rising over Echo Cliffs and Navajo Bridge, Marble Canyon, Arizona.

With the bridges so close in the foreground, the only way to include the moon in the scene was a very wide angle shot. The moon is thus made a small but important accent to the image. The star effect is from the small lens aperture, not any special effects filter or post processing tricks.

Photo Location: Marble Canyon, Coconino County, Arizona.

April Full Moon, Prescott, Arizona

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The calendar shows tomorrow as being the Full Moon, which is deceiving from a practical standpoint. Because the moon becomes 100 % full (100 percent illuminated) just after midnight tonight. Which has it just into the wee minutes of tomorrow as far as the calendar date is concerned.

But tonight is effectively the night of the Full Moon. Here is how it looked as it rose over the Bradshaw Mountains on the southeast edge of Prescott at dusk this evening.