By Ted Grussing
Saturday morning Derek and I were talking about a plan he had to shoot the moonrise over the San Francisco Peaks that afternoon. Seemed like a fun idea with him shooting from the ground and me getting it from the air from approximately the same position but about a mile higher. There is a fantastic amount of planning that has to go into getting a shot like that from the ground as you have to position yourself to get the moon rising and traversing the specific area you want to get it. Since you cannot change elevation of your camera much and your ability to traverse horizontally across the ground is limited by stuff like trees, fences and all the good stuff, you really have to lay it out. For aerial photography there are no such limitations and I can change positions horizontally miles per minute and vertically hundreds of feet per minute so I have a lot more flexibility … like what time does the moon rise and about where will it make an appearance … after that I have the ability to basically place the moon wherever I want by traveling horizontally and/or vertically.
So the plans were set, moonrise was set for 4:40PM for those on flat land (whatever that is) and since I would be at least a mile above that, I would get it about minutes earlier. Sunset was 5:28PM so plenty of time available to be in the area shooting. Derek started driving around quarter of three and I planned to take off a little after four. Two things were known for sure on my end of the shoot; it was going to be very cold and the winds were going to howling at altitude … mostly it was the cold thing I wasn’t too crazy about as my fingers go outside the vent hole when I am shooting and the temperature was a not so balmy -4F and then with about a 90 mph breeze blowing over them … ya, sure thing.
I took off on R21 and cranked into a climbing left turn and headed to the NW going through 9,000’ before crossing the rim. I planned to fly around 10,500 on the way up but turbulence on the lee side of the peaks made it an easy decision to go to 12,500’ and get above the messy air. I took off a little late as it took longer than expected to get all the ice off my wings before I took off so I pushed it pretty hard going up.
The most beautiful surprise greeted me as I started gaining altitude and could see over the rim up to the peaks … there was a standing lennie (lenticular cloud) draped over Humphreys Peak … no movement other than the turmoil you could see going on under that beautiful crisp UFO shaped cloud hooding the peak from view. In all the time I have been flying up here I have never seen this sight. I have seen standing lennies many, many times up here, but always the traditional wave lennies. In doing a Bing and Google search of this phenomena I found dozens of photos saying they were images of lennies over the San Francisco Peaks, but in fact they were all the traditional lenticular clouds associated with mountain wave towering high above and behind the peaks and believe me they are awesome too … I love flying the wave too as it is like being in the twilight zone, very smooth air, no sense of motion and I’ve had 2,000’ per minute climb rate in it (as a glider, no engine) … love it … but then you almost always have to experience the rotor too … worth it!
I became so engrossed in getting shots of this that I nearly forgot why I had flown up there … the moon … the peaks … Derek on the ground … so I found the moon and began lining up shots and got some absolutely beautiful shots with the standing lennie, the peaks and the moon … and later as sunset was approaching I got some angles where the setting sun turned the lenticular cloud into a rainbow of colors, with the moon, with the peaks … WOW! That photo will go out eventually.
The lennie is draped over Humphreys Peak, to the right of that is Agassiz Peak (they are the only 12,000’+ peaks in Arizona) and to the right of Agassiz is Freemont and Doyle Peaks. Snow Bowl is immediately left of Agassiz Peak and you can see some of the runs in this shot and the view is looking towards the NE. On either side of the peaks close in you can see portions of the Flagstaff Volcanic Field and beyond that the colors of the Painted Desert.
A very exciting day to be up there … were the winds up? Absolutely! I left the area to return to Sedona a little late and needed to beat sunset and only had 13 minutes to make it and be on the ground … Indicated airspeed which depends on air pressure using pitot and static pressures to come up with a number was 75KTS and it is accurate at lower altitudes, but at altitude True Airspeed which calculates the lower density of the atmosphere at higher altitudes is your actual speed through the air mass you are in, was showing 92 kts which was pretty good, but my groundspeed was 144 kts which means the air mass I was flying in was traveling across the ground at 52 kts … generally referred to as a tail wind. It was a quick trip back to Sedona and I landed one minute before sunset.
If you are interested in obtaining a print of this photo let me know. It is available in a 2 x 1 format, i.e. 12 x 24 on 16 x 24 paper and so forth. Also available on metal and acrylic. Let me know as I will be placing an order towards the end of the week.
More flying on tap for Monday and Tuesday and … smiles. Have a wonderful day and allow yourself to be excited about life and all that we get to experience … so keep breathing … keep smiling
A bird flies through the sky, and I fly with it. I am each pearl of moisture sparkling in the sun.
I lie lazy on the clouds. And I acknowledge my kinship with each winged thing.
I see all as one, and nothing repels me, as this new day climbs noiselessly out of the valley of the night.
Peace lies over the world and over the world of my soul.
— Max Ehrmann