Friday, April 19, 2013
Grand Falls (Adahwiilíní)
It's been about three years since I've been to Grand Falls, even though it's only an hour and a quarter from home. The last time I went I remember it being really windy. So windy, the water was blowing around the whole canyon in a sticky muddy mist. It would cover the car windshield, and any camera lens with in the wind's reach. It was quite a sight, but not great for photography. This time I had the chance to catch the end of the year's run off. I planned a nice long evening to spend here and experience all it's grandeur. The falls are absolutely huge and rivals the height of Niagara Falls. The water, however, is quite a bit muddier. Some people call it the chocolate falls, or the mud falls. Spring runoff drains the Navajo reservation into the Little Colorado River, which in turn drains into the Colorado River. Adahwiilíní, the Navajo name for Grand Falls, is located West of Leupp, AZ. Here is where volcanic basalt meet sandstone. As the story goes volcanic lava flowed from one of the many cinder cones in the area, blocking off the original course of the Little Colorado. The river was forced to change it's course over the cliff edge.
The north side sandstone catches the last rays of sunlight in a bright orange reflection. Combine those colors with the light brown water, and sunset colors in the clouds, makes for one pretty scene. The sun here is really intense, so even up to early in the evening the colors can remain quite harsh. You literally have to wait until the sun hits the horizon before the colors finally get warm. There was a bit of a breeze this evening propelling a few puffy clouds around, slowly clearing over the course of the evening. Tourists rolled in took their snapshots and rolled back out again all before sunset. By the time the sun set, I was all alone. I found a pretty neat vantage point that was below the rim in a little valley out of the wind. That's where I settled in. The spot allowed me to get a shot that wasn't looking down so much on the falls, helping me get more stars in the shot. I brought an extra coat to sit on and some granola bars and water. Every few minutes I tripped the shutter trying to harvest the light for some exposure blending to be done in Photoshop. From sunset, to dusk to twilight to night. Then a half an hour with the intervolometer cable release to capture the movement of the stars ( or vise versa). This is how the first image seen here was created.
Firstly I made an exposure for the falls at twilight, where there was enough light reflecting off the atmosphere to illuminate the scene. This method allowed for mostly even lighting, minimizing any harsh shadows. Another benefit is it allows some extra shutter speed, smoothing out the water of the waterfall. I then waited for about another hour to let the sky go much darker. This results in a brighter more defined starlight. I usually choose an exposure time between three and a half to five minutes, depending on how much light there is in the sky (from the moon etc..). Depending on my vision for the final image I will choose a total exposure time from a half an hour to an hour. Anymore than that, the sky begins to look a bit gaudy, any less, the viewer might feel wanting more. An additional consideration for choosing a final exposure time is the distance from the North Star. The stars rotate much slower the closer to the North Star, so a longer total exposure time is required to get the right effect. This startrail image had a shorter stack of five exposures of five minutes each. Since the North Star was out of sight here, the stars tracked across the scene much faster. Looking closely at the star image you can see a couple of interesting aberrations. The first being the hint of a satellite tracking perpendicular to the stars.
It is really faint, but runs the entire length of the sky. The second being what I believe is a shooting star. In my first exposure, I saw a falling star shoot into the field of view of the camera. You can see it in the lower center of the sky of the image. This is the first time I have caught a shooting star. I've gone out during a meteor shower before, but never had much luck at capturing one. The timing and positioning was always off, or the intensity was such that it became invisible to the camera sensor. When I first saw the stacked image afterward, I was skeptical that I actually captured it. So I went back to the original digital negative. I remembered that it was the first frame taken, and about a minute and a half into the exposure. The image showed me that the meteor light began about a fifth of the way into the image. Additionally it arcs oppositional to arcs of the stars. If it were a plane you would see its flashing marker lights dotted across the entire frame, and in a straight line, not a curved arc. We've already identified what a satellite looks like. Of course I'm open to other theories.
This was taken three years ago just after a big winter. It is a more traditional view, were you can see the Little Colorado wind it's way to the confluence. It also gives a perspective on how much water can flow over these falls, not to mention the muddy color.