I have had this particular shot in mind for much of this past year. I wanted to get a shot of the full arc of the Milky Way over the iconic eastern horizon in Sedona. From this vantage point above Highway 179, you can see several of the most prominent rock formations in Sedona, including (from right to left) Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Rabbit Ears, Munds Mountain and the Mermaid, and the Nuns and Chapel of the Holy Cross.
I envisioned the landscape lit up by the moon, with enough darkness to let the Mily Way be visible as well. This required very specific conditions–clear skies, a setting moon to the west, a Milky Way not too high in the sky, and enough darkness to see the stars! I studied the night skies with the Stellarium app and determined only one or possibly two days this month would give me the requisite astronomic conditions. And the second morning looked cloudy, so I targeted the morning of March 7th. Moonset was set for 5:38 am, and astronomic twilight–which would quickly render the eastern horizon too bright to make out the Mily Way–was set at 5:23 am. So, I only had about a 15 minute window of opportunity when the moon would be high enough to illuminate the landscape, and low enough to provide enough darkness to the night sky, and before the morning twilight interfered. I left Flagstaff at 4 am and after a short hike got to my vantage point at 5. High clouds were appearing and disappearing and a fast rate overhead; I was a bit concerned that skies would be too overcast during my short “window.” Fortunately, skies cleared as twilight approached, and I had just enough time to fire off a couple sets of multiple exposures of the horizon, which I later stacked in Photoshop to help with noise reduction.
My finished panorama will comfortably print to up to five feet wide, and I look forward to it hanging in my Sedona gallery. It is the quintessential view of Sedona at night, the night sky community in all its glory early in the Milky Way season. A humbling look at our minuscule existence in the face of the universe, The Infinite.