I spent a good portion of the winter away from photography due to family business, the holidays, moving and the like. I took a trip to Arizona with my friend Brandon to quell the winter doldrums. We spent the first few days exploring the city of Phoenix, which is a blast every time I visit! I wrote about this visit in a previous blog, feel free to check it out.
After my friend left, I headed up north to Flagstaff, Sedona and eventually Prescott to hike and check out the scenery. My only experience in this area was driving through it on I-17 the last time I was in Arizona, and it looked beautiful! I’ve heard many friends and other photographers speak of Sedona with a sort of reverence that excitedly drew me in.
I can’t speak much to the actual town of Sedona. I only stopped in town once, for a beer while waiting for the moon to set so I could more clearly shoot the night sky. Sedona, from what I could see, is the biggest tourist trap this side of the Wisconsin Dells. There’s one particular gift shop that must have three locations in town, and about half of Sedona’s economy must come from the sale of gems, crystals and stuff like that. There’s a whole scene in town regarding “energy vortexes,” and if that’s your thing, you should definitely head to Sedona and check it out!
Since I was limited on time, I decided to hike and check out the landscape surrounding the area instead of visit the vortex sites, and am I glad I did. Sedona is situated in the Verde Valley in northern Arizona, and is encircled by incredible, brilliant red sandstone plateaus and cliff faces. Apparently, the city of about 10,000 was named after the wife of the area’s first postmaster, because it “sounded pretty.” Works for me.
I went for an afternoon hike to the Devil’s Bridge, a rock bridge reminiscent of Moab. To be honest, I hadn’t shot landscape images in a long time, and it felt awkward and forced. The surrounding vistas, however, were a “can’t miss” situation so I ended up with a few images that I like! More importantly, to me, was the feeling of photography starting to feel natural again.
I noticed that the long evening light made the rocks glow an incredible red, like a lunar eclipse. Awesome!
Having worked up an appetite, I got some awesome Indian food from the Himalayan Grill in Flagstaff. I returned the next night, the food at this place is incredible!
Happy and adequately nourished, after getting my bearings in Sedona and with my camera I set out to do some night photography. There was a waxing gibbous moon that night, which is going to light up the sky enough (42% illumination, with a full moon being 100%) to screw up any attempts to shoot the stars as long as the moon is in the sky. This amount of illumination does, however, also provide enough light to scope out potential shooting locations, and with a moonset time of 11:45 pm, about three hours before my normal bedtime, that gave me a good window of opportunity to set up and do some night shooting later. I found a couple of spots, grabbed a Coors and waited for the moon to set, in the one local business open past about 8 pm, the Olde Sedona Bar and Grill.
The core of the Milky Way is located roughly at the constellation Sagittarius, and I’ve never tried to shoot the Big Milk in the winter months. The reason for this is simple, it is too damn cold. Now that I was in Arizona I realized, through empirical research, that Sagittarius is not visible in the Northern Hemisphere in February. Whoops! Oh well, I decided to just shoot Sedona’s great night sky anyway. The quiet ambiance and general lack of light pollution made this…a delight.
The location of this shot was basically a pull-off on a residential road I found outside Sedona. Always careful not to bother the locals, I was not questioned for being there.
I like how the small amount of light pollution coming from a sleepy Sedona adds a glow to the mid-ground to this one, “Starlight Over Sedona”
The next day, I hiked to Little Horse, another easy but breathtaking route just outside Sedona. I found some Juniper Pines, my favorite trees! They have so much character, which is born from the fact that they are hundreds of years old. They grow slowly but surely, adding new layers to their trunk, and are incredibly hardy, which allows them to survive in this desert climate. In fact, these trees are so resilient that there is a Juniper forest at 16,000 feet in the Himalayas!
There. I just referenced the Himalayas, twice, in context, while writing about Arizona.
In addition to the Juniper trees, there were also some really incredible monolithic rock features on this hike. The skies in Arizona are incredible almost every day. While they can be washed out with an abundance of harsh sunlight during the day, generally patience is rewarded with some beautiful cirrus clouds to dot the landscape and give the glow of the sunset a good canvas on which to paint.
Having shot the previous night sky with a wide angle (12-24 mm) lens, which makes the mountains in the background appear small, I used a standard zoom lens (24-105 mm) to take a few shots of the night sky with the rocks and mountains more prominently commanding in the mid-ground.
That wrapped up my 2 days in Sedona. I felt like I was back in a groove, noticing potential pictures as I go about daily life. This was absent from my mind for a few months, and it felt good to have my eye back. Now I just need to continue working so it never goes away again!
On the way back to Sky Harbor Airport, I planned on a quick journey through the town of Prescott, Arizona. I did zero research on this leg of the trip. Did things go the way I pictured them in my head? Or, was it a bust? Or, did something unexpected happen that can’t be characterized by these extremes? Find out in my next blog about Prescott!
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Thanks for reading!