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

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

Colorado Mountain Sunset, Trout Lake

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Sunset warmth on Lizard Head Peak.

I was zooming up the highway through the Upper Dolores River valley in late afternoon to catch the sunset on the high peaks around Lizard Head Pass and Trout Lake.

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Black Face Mountain (or ridge) at late January sunset time.

Actually I was going up there for the moonrise, which was set to happen just before sunset. But the sunset’s warm colors were on the high peaks and the moon had not quite cleared them yet. So it was sunset photos time.

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Trout Lake, sunset colors almost gone already. 

It was over Lizard Head Pass and down the other side for a few miles to a vista overlooking Trout Lake. The sunset was almost gone from the high peaks. If only I could have gotten there even ten minutes sooner!

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Yellow Mountain gets its closeup shortly before the shadows swallow the summit.

I made a series of overlapping shots of the entire Trout Lake vista, to be made into a huge high resolution panoramic photo later on the computer. Then I zoomed in to my favorite parts of the still-sunlit mountain peaks.

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Pilot Knob, Golden Horn, and Vermilion Peak (left to right).

As soon as I was done with the sunset photos, I realized that I was now too far down in elevation (by about 500 feet) for the moonrise to clear those peaks before it got dark. So it was back up to Lizard Head Pass for the moonrise portion of this shoot!

Visit my website to see more of my photography and to order prints: www.NaturalMoment.com.

© Copyright 2018 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

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

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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