The summer monsoon season has arrived in the desert southwest, adding drama and excitement to our last week in Flagstaff. Billowing white cumulus clouds build throughout the day, darkening, spilling across the sky until, finally, unleashing torrential downpours, pyrotechnic displays of lightning, gusting winds and, occasionally, hail. With the welcome moisture, the desert is experiencing a second spring and greening up dramatically.
Flagstaff gets more than its fair share of the monsoonal thunderstorms due to the effect the surrounding mountains have on the weather – the peaks effectively generate their own weather as warm, moist air rises up the mountain flanks, cools, condenses and storms out.
Almost every afternoon or evening this past week featured a thunderstorm over Flagstaff. Earlier in the day, though, the weather was delightful – sunny, but not too hot, and with enough clouds building up to add drama to the sky – perfect weather for sightseeing and day trips around the area.
Located on Mars Hill, Lowell Observatory overlooks historic downtown Flagstaff. Percival Lowell famously used the observatory for observations of Mars and discovery of, he thought, canals. The observatory is still in the forefront of astronomical research and offers many public outreach programs.
Our friend, Klaus, volunteers as a docent for outreach events at Lowell. One evening, Klaus & I attended the Asteroid Day lecture series held in a lecture hall at Lowell.
Kim & I both enjoyed our visit to Walnut Canyon NM & the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA). Since dogs are not allowed on the trails in the canyon and the weather early in the day was hot, we decided not to take the hike the canyon. By the time we finished at Lowell and arrived at the MNA, skies were overcast and cool – we could leave the dogs parked in the shade and visit the museum.
The MNA features an incredible collection of artifacts from the local Native American tribes and earlier ancestors, as well as other geological and historic displays. We were quite impressed by the photographic exhibitions “Roundball Religion: Photographs by Joe Cornett” and “Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett & Byron Wolfe”. By all means, if you are in Flagstaff, do visit the MNA.
One day we took a drive out to Sunset Crater V0lcano National Monument and adjacent Wupatki National Monument. We had both visited the monuments a few years back and I’ve visited the parks several times on solo photography trips, but we never tire of the sights here.
Passing through Sunset Crater Volcano NM, we gazed in awe at the surreal vistas and desolation of the cinder hills, lava flows and looming peak of Sunset Crater. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like when the volcano last erupted, around 900 years ago. The eruption devastated the surrounding area; even now, life is struggling to reclaim the area.
Certainly the most recent eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano would have been a traumatic experience for the people living nearby in what is now Wupatki National Monument. The pueblo dwellings in the area were abandoned around the time of the eruption. Now, only ruins of the pueblos remain, preserved in the monument.
The ruins at Wupatki NM offer some incredible photo opportunities. On several previous trips I had the privilege of photographing the Wukoki and other ruins, with permission, at night. Once by moonlight (2007), another time on a moonless night to record star trails over the ruin (2008). Here are a few photos from those earlier trips.
For this trip, I had hoped to photograph a specific ruin on a wind-swept ridge near the main Lomaki ruins. Arriving early, I waited for sunset, hoping for some glorious colors and dramatic skies due to thunderstorms in the area. Sunset was rather muted, but I did manage one somewhat interesting composition. While waiting for moonrise, I watched a passing thunderstorm off to the west in the desert – the storm was generating a display of lightning – I managed to capture several strikes before conditions became too dark and the storm moved further away. Moonrise was a disappointment as skies were becoming increasingly overcast, windy and threatening rain – I left early ahead of the storm. Here are two photos from the session.
Another night, I visited the abandoned Twin Arrows Trading Post, located between Flagstaff and Winslow. This iconic Route 66 site used the Twin Arrows to mark the entrance to a campground. Klaus and I had visited and photographed this site in 2009. At the time, the arrows were heavily weathered and vandalized. Since 2009, the arrows have been renovated and a large casino has been constructed on the other side of the I-40 at this exit. The trading post and arrows still present a surreal and eerie experience by night. It felt good to get out and have a successful night shoot, again – it’s been quite awhile. Here are photos from the session, as well as a photo from 2009 for comparison.
Lastly, we very much enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time with our friends, Margaret and Klaus. One evening we invited them over for dinner and had a very pleasant evening of food, wine and conversation. Another evening, Klaus stopped by to test printing a few photos on my Epson 388o printer – the photos were several night shots Klaus had taken with special permission at the artist, James Turrell’s Roden Crater Project – very impressive shots (congrats, Klaus!) – it would be a dream to one day photograph Roden Crater. Before saying farewell, Margaret and Klaus took us to brunch at another landmark Flagstaff restaurant, Josephine’s Modern American Bistro – food and company were great, but the restaurant staff was having an off day – not typical of the Josephine’s experience – we would still highly recommend the restaurant – if you’re in Flagstaff, check out Josephine’s.
Whew! It’s been a very busy week. As I write this, we have already moved on to our next stop in Bluff, Utah. We already miss Margaret, Klaus and Flagstaff. I think we need to now take a clue from Pepper and just find a nice place to relax!
Until next time…