Tag Archives: sunrise

First Snow

Intense light at sunset from the Arizona Trail near Flagstaff.

Nothing compares to the first snowfall in Autumn, particularly when it coincides with fall colors. I always try to get out for the first sunrise or sunset after the first significant snowfall of the season. This year, in Flagstaff we got about two inches of snow that fell overnight in October. I got up early the next morning and drove up to Sunset Crater on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks to try to catch sunrise from Lockett Meadow. But there were ongoing snow squalls and visibility was low, and as I started driving up the steep narrow forest road that leads to the Meadow, it was nearly a whiteout and the road was quite slick with about 6 inches of fresh snow and ice. So I reluctantly turned back, figuring my life was not worth a photo. Instead, I changed my plans and drove up the road to the ski area on the west side of the peaks in hopes that things would clear out for sunset. The low clouds held on through the afternoon, but I did manage to catch a couple minutes of intense red light just before sunset as the sun briefly dipped below the cloud deck. As I hiked back along the Arizona Trail, I noticed this fern and thought that it might make a terrific composition in early morning light; so I vowed to return for sunrise.

A fresh snowfall on the Arizona trail early morning.

When I hiked back to my favorite fern, the morning light was shining through the aspen forest, and the fern was perfectly back lit. Much to my delight, a couple aspen leaves–one red and one yellow–fell overnight and landed in the snow in perfect synchronicity. It almost looked like someone had planted them, but the lack of footprints argued against that idea. I think it was just meant to be; nature acted as the supreme artist and arranged the shot for me in a magical way. The first snow of the year was once again a memorable experience!

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Winter is Grand

Yaki Point winter sunrise.
A sublime sunrise from Yaki Point after a snowstorm.

Twelve years ago, I drove out from Colorado to get to the Grand Canyon in time for a light overnight snowfall. I wanted to catch the Canyon at sunrise after the snow had fallen. I stayed in a hotel south of the park, then drove to Grand Canyon Village early in the morning to catch the first shuttle bus to Yaki Point. I was the only one on the bus as it dropped me off about an hour before sunrise. I hiked down the South Kaibob Trail and took lots of photos as the sun rose and clouds cleared from the canyon. It was a magical experience and it stuck with me.

Yaki Point in winter at sunrise
Sunrise from Yaki Point in winter at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Now that I am a mere 80 minute drive from the south rim, I am able to jump on every opportunity to catch the Canyon after a snowfall–there is nothing quite like the Grand Canyon in snow! Yesterday morning, January 20, 2021, seemed like a good opportunity to catch some dynamic conditions in the park. I decided to retrace my steps from twelve years ago. I had expected a couple inches to fall at the south rim, but was pleasantly surprised to find at least six inches covering the ground. Enough snow had fallen that the park road ws closed east of Yaki Point. So I parked before the road closure and hiked out along the Rim Trail towards Yaki Point. I was glad I brought micro-spikes cause the path was pretty icy. When I got to the point I hiked through snow that was drifted up to a foot or so, and scouted along the rim for compositions that would show the clouds clearing from the distant canyon walls.

Snow and clouds in the Grand Canyon
Snow, fog, and sunlight at sunrise over the distant north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Then, as the clouds slowly cleared from the canyon, I backtracked and hiked down the sloppy South Kaibab Trail to catch some views from a lower vantage point. I dropped down below “Ooh Ah Point” to where the snow level was, and watched as the canyon was flooded with warm sunlight as cold winds swirled down the trail. Yet another magical morning at one of the natural wonders of the world!

Sunrise from the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.

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Morning on Bear Mountain.

Bear Mountain Sunrise.
Sunrise from near the summit of Bear Mountain.

Since the opening of my gallery in Sedona eight months ago, I have been scheming and dreaming of getting that iconic shot of Sedona. I figured it should be a sweeping view of the red rock country, either at sunrise or sunset. Sunrise seemed the more appropriate time, since Sedona is known as a place of renewal and new beginnings. 

My favorite hike so far in Sedona has been the climb up Bear Mountain, which rewards with a high overlook of Sedona. It’s a challenging hike that gains a couple thousand feet of elevation in only a couple miles. Originally I planned on trying to hike up after a clearing winter storm, but after slipping on some ice-covered red rocks, I decided this option was a bit too dangerous. So I changed my vision to a glorious sunrise, without the storm.

I did a couple dry runs up Bear in daylight, to be confident with the climb in the dark.

GPS is always there to save the day, but it feels a bit like cheating to me; I prefer to use some good ol’ fashioned route-finding skills to make my way to the summits.

Then, I waited. I needed optimum sky conditions, with just enough high clouds for a pretty sunrise, but not too many or the sun would be obscured. Finally, I eyed my opportunity when it appeared likely that high clouds would spread over northern Arizona from the west, while the eastern horizon remained clear of the obstructing clouds. It looked like a good recipe for a great sunrise.

I planned on getting up at 4 am; of course my biological clock woke me at 3:45. I was shaking with anticipation and excitement when I looked at an infrared satellite loop and saw high clouds spilling over northern Arizona, dissipating to the east as vertical motions descended.  I drove the hour to the trailhead in total silence; ordinarily I would be playing music but absorbing myself in silence allowed me to practice the shot in my mind.

About half way up Bear, the horizon started to glow in intense red fire, and I knew the sunrise would be impressive. I reached my destination with about 15 ignites to spare, and started searching for a good composition. The spot I had previously scouted was not ideal since it appeared that the sun would rise outside the field of view. So I scrambled a bit and found a new location.

Finally, the clouds lit up and a magnificent scene unfolded in front of me. I kept taking a series of 16 exposures, using the multi-pixel shift function of my new Sony A7r4. A series of huge files

That I could print eight feet wide without losing any of the clarity of the scene.

By the time I reached my car, I was ready for a big breakfast of burrito and beer!

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