I see many photographs of the Milky Way. Most of them feature our galaxy as the principle subject of the photo, and usually accompanied by clear skies. This photography has grown a bit cliche for me, although I never tire of seeing the Milky Way in the night sky.
Thanks to the recent dry conditions in Arizona, as the Arizona Monsoon apparently has taken a vacation, I had been planning some night sky photography without the fear of having clouds spoiling my shoot. I did some online research and decided that the view from Chicken Point, a popular spot for hikers and jeep tours at the end of the Broken Arrow and Little Horse Trails in Sedona, would make a great spot for some views of the Milky Way, due to its open views to the south.
I had just a few days to work with. My first attempt was a bit of a letdown, as two jeep loads full of about a dozen young adults unloaded and began drinking alcohol and blaring loud mariachi music. The night sky was obliterated by the light pollution from their headlights. I had some polite suggestions for the partiers as I exited back down the trail in the dark.
On the way out, I discovered once again that Sedona trails are a bit challenging to follow in the dark. Much of the trail crosses bare rock, and the rocks off of the trail are not any different than the trail surface itself. So, I found myself backtracking a few times to rediscover the trail, by looking for footprints in small pockets of sand in between the rock slabs.
With two days left to work with, I had to decide whether to go out on a night with no clouds, or chance it on a night with plenty of high clouds. I had as hunch the cloudy night might make for an interesting combination with the Milky Way–assuming the stars were able to shine through the thin veil of clouds.
So once again, I headed the two miles down the trail, arriving at Chicken Point just after sunset. The clouds were brilliant pink at sunset, and I thought I might have a brief window of opportunity to catch the Milky Way rising while the clouds were still pink from sunset. Sure enough, about a half an hour past sunset the Milky Way began to make an appearance as the sky darkened. Just 15 minutes later and the clouds were no longer as colorful, although the Milky Way was more visible. For just that brief window in time, our galaxy played with the residual colors of the sunset, and it was one of the more remarkable displays of night sky that I have had the pleasure to observe.
And I had the trail to myself this time, no jeeps and no night travelers. It was a surreal spot with the red rocks towering above me like a scene from some rugged canyon on Mars. It was a special moment in a special place, and I feel blessed to have been able to experience it and share it with others.