Petroglyph Supermoon | Active Light Photography | Photo Tours to Hidden Destinations, Anasazi Ruins
(408) 483-3782
Curious about how to shoot ruins?(408) 483-3782

I wanted to scoop more shots at Petroglyph National Monument’s lonely Mesa Prieta, at the knife-edge of a 17-mile rockfall with 20,000-plus petroglyphs. But I arrived later than I’d planned for late afternoon shooting.

The Trouble With Sunsets
If you arrive at the early end of the day before sunrise, you work with good light until 8:30 am or so, or later in winter in most of North America. And there are a few things you can do to extend your shooting day even more towards noon. But if you’re looking for sunset light, you’re working against time, especially if you’re late. For volcanic desert locations, you’ll be stumbling past scree and rocks in the dark before you’re done.

Time limits forced me to work with terrain and ‘glyphs I’d shot before. And that’s a challenge – how to show them in a different way.

Mesa Prieta sunburst dancer petroglyph, Petroglyph National Monument

Sunburst Dancer looking east

Fluteplayer and Other Residents
I started at a large flute-playing dancer with possible dragonfly to his right – or maybe it was a cross. Or part of something larger. No one really knows, since we can’t ask the guy who carved it. Even modern Puebloans disagree on exact petroglyph meanings. I decided blurred backgrounds were today’s focus, so I set the max f/2.8 lens aperture and set up the shot. At 4 pm in mid-November, the light was toasty yellow-warm, so that was working for me too.

A little further, I spotted a sunburst dancer ‘glyph I’d shot before. It’s easy to show the distant buildings looking east – Albuquerque has been steadily creeping towards the Monument since the early 1990s. But I blurred the city background instead of highlighting the encroachment story.

Backlit Landscapes
Then I was at the ridges leading to the mesa top. There was no time to walk all the way up, so I went to a wide view and small aperture for diffraction sunstars, and shot into the sun. Most photographers won’t do this, but enough underexposure will keep too much of the sun and sky from blowing out, and allow you to recover detail in the shadows. The contrasted features add a lot of depth – that’s why I like it.

Into the sun

Backlit sunstar and hills

But the light was going. I beat feet back towards the trailhead, still watching over my shoulder for some westerly opportunities as the light went away.

I’d seen the collection of squiggles before, but decided to shoot and enhance them later. Then maybe I’d see what they were. Aside from a snake and something looking suspiciously like a jet aircraft, I’m as mystified as ever.

Sunset squiggles, Petroglyph National Monument

Sunset squiggles

Then I saw the sunburst dancer again, and thought to myself this was it. The rock glowed in warm light, but it also told a different story – remote, alien, sparking more questions than answers.

Mesa Prieta sunburst dancer petroglyph, Petroglyph National Monument

Sunburst dancer looking west

Moonrise Surprise
Finally the direct light was gone. I got one chance at crimson mountains with foreground yucca, rabbitbrush and dead tamarisk. Then it was back to the car.

Red Sandia Mountain sunset at Mesa Prieta, Petroglyph National Monument

Sandia Mountain sunset at Mesa Prieta

I stowed my gear and turned the key, looked up to drive off – and froze. I’d forgotten all about the supermoon, and there it was – a burning yellow ball against the blue-red sky, rising over a vee in the mountains.

You need to capture the daylight-bright moon against as much available sunset-lit foreground as you can to keep detail everywhere. And sunset light doesn’t last long when it’s that late. I quickly turned off the car, twisted the telephoto zoom back on the mirrorless camera, and opened the car door. I rested the lens on the door, set up underexposure, focused and took the shot. Several of them, actually.

That made my evening.

Rising supermoon and Sandia Mountains

Rising supermoon and Sandia Mountains

I’m Scottish, But I Still Want Great Beer
My wife was in Oakland visiting her family, and I didn’t want to eat at home. I wanted casual food, but tasty – not fast hamburgers and fries. I was looking for a place we’d visited before near the local Apple store, and my iPhone couldn’t find it. But it did show me Quarter Celtic, a brewpub co-owned by a neighbor. I’d never been there, so I went.

Quarter Celtic BrewPub, Albuquerque

Quarter Celtic BrewPub, Albuquerque

My reuben was excellent – slightly sweet, not too spicy. But the real star was the pint of Quarter Porter – bold without being overpowering, slightly sweet with an IBU of 25, and a little on the strong side with 6.5% ABV. The owner came over to be sure everything was OK, and we talked for awhile. It felt like I was celebrating a great day at my friendly local pub.

More pictures here.