15 September 2011

Shoot the Moon

Great House

Nearly six years ago, we ventured southwest to Durango on a special photography pass to photograph the rising moon between two rock towers from a viewpoint considered holy ground by ancestors of modern Pueblo Indians.

The lunar phenomena occurs only once every 18.6 years, at the end of the cycle called Lunar Standstill. Paid viewing was offered at various times from 2004 to 2008, as the moon passed between Chimney Rock and Companion Rock many times during that period, but not rising directly between the two rocks more than a handful of nights during the four years. Viewing space atop Great House is limited, and reservations were sold out long before I found out about the event. Lucky for me, I still had a valid press pass at the time, and I was still creating and producing a weekly calendar for a national company every year back then.

In 2005, the November perfectly centered full moonrise between the two rock towers fell a year and a week after emergency back surgery that changed my life and made the mild hike to the summit of Great House much more difficult for me than it would have been had I been whole. The unpredictable moon had other plans in mind, and I had to get a wee bit creative in order to share a magnificent moment I didn’t really get to see. Below are highlights from my journal entries during the lunar standstill.

Be sure to check here again tomorrow to see the video I created from the photos I shot during the standstill and the special effects I cooked up with a little help from PhotoShop and my plethora of moon shots.

Great House and Chimney Rock

17 November 2005

We drove by Chimney Rock on our way to Durango, and I saw Chimney Rock for the first time silhouetted against the dusky winter sky. Although the forecast called for clear skies, the moon was completed clouded over.

We may not get to see the moon tomorrow. It would be awesome if the Forest Service offers us another night. If they have a date open with the moonrise closer to sunset, I would come back here. I would enjoy coming back. I absolutely love this part of the world. We both love the San Juan Mountains and think this is the most beautiful part of Colorado.

Chimney Rock

18 November 2005

I checked the weather before we headed back to Chimney Rock, and the forecast said “plentiful sunshine.” It didn’t say plentiful moonshine.

We got great shots of the sunset and dusk. But no moonrise. The clouds perfectly hid the moon the entire drive back to Durango.

The Forest Service asked me to send them one of my photos. None of my moon shots will turn out. I told them I don’t have much. They said just send anything.

Some of the other photographers kept complaining about the cold. I couldn’t resist rattling off the famous Mark Twain quote, “There’s no such thing as bad weather. Only inappropriate clothing.” Silenced ‘em!

One guy had five cameras and took up half the deck. I stepped back so he could set up a tripod next to me. He took my spot. He took my spot!!! Then cracked a joke about getting one or two more cameras out of his car.

He told everyone not to touch the railing because he had a camera mounted on it. I was shooting using the railing as a tripod because there wasn’t room for my tripod, thanks to him, when he started messing with his mount and shook the railing. During three different timed exposures. He ruined my shots!

So I have nothing. And he has five cameras that all worked with no interference. Except he got the same absence of moonrise I did. I can't help but smirk.

What moonrise really looked like

19 November 2005

I worked on my lunar standstill photos, and I’m actually pleased with what I captured and created. I made a fake shot, which I can’t really do anything with because I don’t want people to think it’s real. But it rocks. It makes up a little for not having a moonrise between the towers.

I wish

15 December 2005

We were invited back to Chimney Rock after a cancelation, and we made the seven-hour drive as soon as we could escape the metro area. We got a terrific moonset above Mount Columbia on our way back to Durango. We caught a lovely plume of spindrift in front of the moon, too.

The moonrise tonight in Pagosa Springs was awesome. A very light layer of clouds made the moon look eerie. I could live with that if it happens again tomorrow on Great House. But a perfectly clear moonrise would be awesome, too, even if it comes up in clear skies and then gets haloed by a thin veil of clouds before being cloaked. Just give me the moon. I’ll take it any way I can get it.

Back for a second helping

16 December 2005

What a fantastic day. We got up on time, and we headed west. We arrived at Chimney Rock about half an hour before sunrise and about 45 minutes before moonset. We got pictures! Clear sky, and the moon in between Chimney Rock and Companion Rock.

Now of course, the official Chimney Rock Lunar Standstill occurs when the moon rises, not when it sets. The official event is viewed from a higher elevation, where there is just barely enough room from that angle for a moon or sun to creep between. We were down on the highway, below Chimney Rock; Companion Rock was down the road and not really looking like a tower, and we could move around until we positioned the moon exactly where we wanted it between the two formations. You can’t do that on Great House, which has limited space and some pretty steep drop-offs on three sides.

What we captured this morning is not official. But it’s the moon between two big rocks. The best part about this morning is we weren’t elbow to elbow with scores of photographers, and no one else on tonight’s guest list came up with our brilliant idea. We are the only ones who got the shot.

Tonight, for the last chance for 18 more years, the clouds didn’t part until the moon was up above and to the right of Chimney Rock, far from the centered spectacle everyone came to see. So everyone who made the trip just to capture the moon between Chimney Rock and Companion Rock got nothing. And we have our cheater shots from this morning!



  1. Oh my goodness, what an amazing trip first of all. But all these photos are so awesome words escape me to fully explain such beauty...I so love the moon in photos like this.....even your first photo, how incredible is that? Thanks for stopping by my TP post and leaving such a nice comment, I just have lots of fun with TP and really it doesn't take long and I have an unbelievable amount of photos! Just me and my camera!

  2. what a beautiful grouping of pictures! amazing...I am so happy I came by.
    thank you for coming by my blog. I have a friend who is a photographer, I am going to send your address to him...he will love it. He just recently quit his job to devote his time to his camera.

  3. stunning shots, all of them, of a place I´d like to visit. :)

    I did eat almost all of the mushroom. We too have toxic ones too so you have to be careful to what you pick. There is only 5 of them that I pick. There is a 6th one too thatI like but to that one I am allergic. :(

  4. I loved your commentary on your efforts to get those amazing photos (although I felt mad at the guy with 8 cameras who felt that he owned the site). The last photo is awesome!!!!

    I agree with you about the San Juans. We love them like crazy but they're such a long drive that we get there only once per year (too long for a weekend trip for my back).

  5. Magnific pictures!! Excellent!!

    Salut, Francesc

  6. got to hate people who go out of their way to annoy (in this case a zillion cameras) and enjoy being annoying. German's have a word for that. Anyway, love that top photo, think I will Pin It

  7. Love the shot with the rosy, dusky sky. And the one with the dusting of snow. You can almost smell the crisp cold air in that photo.

    Fun journal! How satisfying that the space hog didn't get a good shot either. (Is that terribly uncharitable of me?)


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