1,001 Tumamoc Nights


Blood Moon Rising. A lunar eclipse of the rising supermoon of 27 September 2015 leaves the moon deep orange in Tucson, Arizona.
Nikon D800 with AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR at 85mm, 3.0 sec, f/4.0, ISO 100.

Although this post is scheduled to publish five days after the solar eclipse, that is still two days in the future as I write this. But keeping with the theme of astronomical events, I thought I would lead off this post with an image from the supermoon lunar eclipse—a so-called “blood moon”—of 27 September 2015. For this event, I took my camera up Tumamoc Hill in Tucson, Arizona, and took this image across the city as the moon rose above the unseen Rincon Mountains.

The “1,001” reference is due to the fact that my wife and I climbed the one-lane paved road up Tumamoc Hill in Tucson untold numbers of times over a decade or more. It was a standard workout for us, a 3.0 mile round trip with a 700-foot elevation gain to the top. Sometimes we would double up part of the top, but not that often. My Lightroom catalog has 71 distinct dates that I took pictures there, and I am sure there are more in the catalog that have not been properly tagged and we probably climbed it ten times for every time I took a picture. So, 1,001 nights is not far off.

Tucson Nightscape. A saguaro, high on Tumamoc Hill, is silhouetted against the city lights of Tucson, Arizona.
Nikon D800 with AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR at 30 sec, f/11, ISO 100.

Tumamoc Hill always provided great views of the city and the mountains. In the summer—the image above was taken in July—there was some incentive to walk it after sunset once things cooled off a bit, but a flashlight was definitely required equipment with the rattlesnakes getting more active for the same reason. I have always liked saguaro silhouettes and the image above is an interesting variation. The spines also catch some of the city lights beyond, which is a neat effect.

Catalina Duskfire. A wildfire burns atop Pusch Peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains, as viewed from Tumamoc Hill, Tucson, Arizona.
Nikon D800 with AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR at 85mm, 1/8 sec, f/4.5 ISO 1600.

The image above has a little motion blur and a little noise—both would be improved with a more modern camera—but I like it nonetheless. The fire climbing over Pusch Peak adds a unique touch to it. And the purplish colors are nice.

The lens in the image above did have image stabilization, but it wasn’t as good as what is available today. Given that Tumamoc Hill is pretty steep, I only hauled a tripod with me a few times for specific occasions (like the blood moon mentioned earlier). This next image—one of my all-time favorites—definitely would have benefited from having a tripod. But carrying a tripod when there is lightning not too far away is not a great idea anyway:

Sunset Punishment. A massive thunderstorm dumps on the Tucson Mountains, Arizona.
Nikon D800 with AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR at 52mm, 1/6 sec, f/4.8 ISO 1600.

This image had a lot of motion blur in it. The good news is that the points of light from the street lamps were very obviously not points, but lines; this made it easier to use an Affinity Photo plug-in I found to correct much of that.

Tucson has great summer monsoon thunderstorms, and this one was particularly awesome. I am just glad it was over there.

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