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Eclipsing moon settin into Death Canyon in the Grand Tetons
Eclipsing moon settin into Death Canyon in the Grand Tetons

Lunar Eclipse Over Grand Tetons 12/10/2011

On December 10, 2011 a rare western horizon level moon eclipse was forecast for the west coast of the United States, I was wishing I were there.  I have seen and photographed numerous moon eclipses over the years but it was always in the middle of the night with the moon straight overhead. Sure the photos were cool but that was about it, there was nothing terrestrial within reach to improve the composition

Since it was a projected to be a full eclipse on the west coast I doubted it would be a full eclipse in the Grand Tetons near my home.  I didn't even bother to research it or make plans to shoot it because I assumed there would be a glowing hotspot somewhere in the photo since it wouldn’t be full because I was a thousand miles from the west coast. I did put my coffee on auto brew just in case I woke up early and felt like rolling the dice.

I woke up early and rolled those dice and took set out on the 1.5-hour drive to where I hoped serendipity might smile upon me knowing full well that the mountains would likely block an eclipse scheduled for a setting moon at sunrise. I figured if it didn't perform as my skeptical optimism wished, I would still be standing in front of the Grand Tetons for the alpenglow moment at dawn which isn’t too bad either. It was a beautiful 8 below zero morning, a perfect morning for shooting optical phenomena.

Leaving home I saw the tip of the moon was already starting moving into the shadow of the earth, dashing my hopes but I pushed on. As I traveled and watching the darkening moon I started thinking of alternative destinations then nixing them in favor of the whole enchilada or nothing at all, I wanted the Grand Tetons in the photo.

As I drove up the east side of the Grand Tetons my hopes started to rise again. I did however realize I wasn't going to make it to the main Teton Peaks, the un-mistakable icons of Jackson Hole. The moon was dropping fast; the moon dropped below the peaks but luckily revealed itself again above the cleavage of a welcome gap in the mountains, Death Canyon. I moved the car to the right of the fog line on the highway and I rapidly set settings on my D5ll and my 500mm, I dashed out of the car opened the rear hatch and got out my tripod set up and rapidly started shooting. Unfolding before me was a magnificent scene, an eclipsing moon without the feared beam of bright light from an un-shadowed corner of the moon. The moon was illuminated wonderfully lighter at the bottom but not a hotspot I had feared.

As I rapidly shot several cars honked at me, I thought because I was parked on the side of the highway, but I figured – to heck with them I’m to the right of the fog line, but it turned out that in my haste I had left my car door open into the traffic. I guess I was an ass bite that deserved to get honked at!

Shooting with the 500mm I knew not everything was going to be sharp. I first focused on the mountains hoping the moon would appear sharp enough. Second-guessing myself I switched focus to the moon, that was a mistake.  Focused on the mountains the moon was OK, focusing on the moon the mountains became unacceptable.

Serendipity seems to be a traveling partner and serendipity smiles upon me often.  Had I planned this ahead I would have been fifteen miles north at the main peaks all set up freezing my but off as I watched the best part of the eclipse disappear behind the Grand Tetons. Had I stopped when I first thought of it and shot from the west side of the Tetons I would have had just another boring orb over the flat desert landscape. I am happy I rolled the dice!


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