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It’s hard to find places with genuinely dark skies. I go out at night and try to point my camera away from all street lights and porch lights and security lights that dot our valley and hillsides.

Looking south, the glow from Twisp

 

I don’t know where the yellow glow behind Patterson Mountain comes from – Bellingham?

Is that a distant galaxy to the right of the tree?

 

Tiny Winthrop makes lots of light, perhaps a bit of Aurora too.

Last night I spent two hours at Washington Pass with three other people practicing night photography. It’s still a work in progress for me with much to learn. It was a lovely night and hazy clouds came and went sometimes obscuring many of the stars or the Milky Way. We did get a little bit of the northern lights though.

Do you like dark night skies full of stars? Support efforts to preserve them like this one happening in our valley.

Our evening skies have been especially lovely recently due to wildfire smoke coming down from Canada. It’s pretty ironic that we’d get so much beauty from such destructive forces. We are lucky to live in a place that doesn’t have too much light pollution.

SW trip part 3

 

We left the Desert Museum and drove to Kartchner Caverns State Park, SE of Tucson. The caverns are still alive and and wet, growing new features that take 1000’s or millions of years to change. The state park gives very closely guided tours to the two different areas of the underground landmark but forbids visitors from taking anything into the caverns for fear of damage to the surface. If a visitor should accidentally touch something, it is marked with flagging and later someone comes along and cleans the surface with water from the cave. So no pictures are allowed. If you want to see what they look like and what we saw you will have to visit the place yourself or else see the website. It was quite lovely and I very much admire the original founders of the caverns for being such good stewards and protecting the place for future generations to see and learn from.

After that we went in search of wintering Sandhill Cranes. I’d been told that the Wilcox area was good for cranes and it was on our way to the next planned destination. However when Judy, the expert navigator was studying her smart phone to figure out where to go, she read about Whitewater Draw. The information said it was the best place to see cranes so off we went. To get to Whitewater Draw we drove in the opposite direction – south, nearly to Mexico through some fairly dreary-looking tiny towns and agricultural areas. At last we were on the final stretch and I think the descriptive words that were going through our minds were ‘out in the middle of nowhere’. We were arriving the night before to see the cranes at sunrise and we had no idea where we would stay. Luckily when we finally got to the parking lot near sunset we found eight or ten other rv’s of various shapes and sizes in a rough circle and Jennifer, our excellent driver ably assisted by Judy on the walkie talkie, was able to parallel park the coach in between an old converted bus and a tear drop trailer attached to a SUV.

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Outside, the cranes’ calls were all around us. It was getting to be dusk and we walked over to the wetland and sure enough, there they were – many thousands or even tens of thousands birds I would guess. All night they serenaded us with their continuous musical calls. It was magical. I made this cell phone video more for the audio than for pictures.

 

After dinner I went outside and made a images in the dark. It was quite lovely with the star-filled sky and a glow on the horizon from the closest small town. Even the glow of the surrounding RV’s was a little surreal. Early in the morning, I rolled out of bed and pulled on my big pack full of gear and went out to the dike that overlooked the wetlands. It was cold. Really cold. I had no idea I could be that close to Mexico with the temperature hovering around twenty degrees! Whitewater Draw is a former cattle ranch in the Chihuahuan Desert now owned by Arizona Game and Fish. From the information I could gather it is managed for wintering cranes and waterfowl and other wildlife. Not only were there many cranes but also lots and lots of waterfowl – Northern Pintails, Mallards, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teals, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers and more. I saw one American Avocet and showed it to a birder from Alaska who was delighted to add it to his list. Jennifer brought me a cup of coffee to warm me up a bit and she pointed out a Great Egret. As I walked along the dike I saw a Loggerhead Shrike. There were lots of Wilson’s Snipes, Western Meadowlarks, White-crowned Sparrows and other common birds too. It was a delightful find in the desert of SE Arizona.

It’s good to go outside with the dogs at night. Sometimes they see something, like a deer, that brings on a fit of barking and they need to be corralled. Other times I see something interesting. Last night it was the clouds. They were thin and illuminated by the waxing moon that was low in the west. These views are looking north. The dogs went inside long before I did.

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