I have been going to Borrego Springs every March for the last four years to visit my cousins. They spend at least a month there, fleeing the Portland weather to play golf. Besides visiting family, I love to photograph the metal sculptures that are scattered around the desert. The sculptures were made by metal artist Ricardo Breceda and commissioned by Dennis Avery. For more on them and their location, see here.
The sculptures and the land around them are open to the public at no charge. They are just out in the desert. That combined with the fact the Anza Borrego is a certified dark sky community, makes it possible to get beautiful photographs of the night sky with these amazing shapes in the foreground.
Eileen and I were visiting my cousins in mid February this year, 2016. Since it was during a three-quarter moon, I didn't expect to get the Milky Way or even many stars in my night shots. In prior years, I had gone during a crescent or new moon. In fact, the first night shot I ever took was at Anza Borrego while a small crescent moon with Venus and Jupiter was setting behind a dragon sculpture.
In the image below, the brightest "star" is the thin crescent moon. The red line below the mountain is formed by lights from a nearby residential area. I like to think that the fire-breathing dragon laid waste to the village.
Dragon, Venus, Jupiter and crescent moon
On a subsequent trip, I tried shots of other metal sculptures, learning the art of “light painting” and focusing in the dark.
Two horses and bush
Given the three-quarter moon this year, I didn't think I would get much of a night shot. Despite my low expectations, I couldn't resist driving out to my favorite sculpture, the Dragon. Once I took a shot, I was pleasantly surprised by the richly detailed landscape in my viewfinder. The moonlight made the landscape look like daytime.
Dragon profile by moonlight
Dragon face by moonlight
The following day, out of the blue, the thought occurred to me that a ring around the moon might look like a rainbow to a camera set on a slow shutter speed. My reasoning being that the ice crystals that form the ring must be diffracting the light to make the ring, similar to the way high clouds can diffract sunlight to make a sunbow. I mentioned this to my wife and forgot about it.
Later that night as we were walking out of my cousin's house, I looked up and was thunderstruck by the sight of a complete and vivid ring around the moon! I quickly set up my tripod and camera and took a few shots my cousins driveway.
Rainbow ring around the moon with palms
We then drove back to our hotel as fast as we could safely go. As Eileen was getting her coat, I set up a shot in the parking lot of our motel, framing a smoke tree with the moon ring and a beautiful cloud that reminded me of a question mark.
Moon ring with smoke tree
We raced out to the Dragon sculpture and I set up as fast as possible because the moon ring was fading. I got a few shots off before the light changed.
Dragon with moon ring
I remain in awe of how that ring appeared the very night that I had been talking about photographing one. I hadn't seen one in years and it may be many more years before I see one again. I must assume that it was pure coincidence, but I recall other situations in my life when I have held an image of something and let it go, only to have that thing appear in my life. Even if it is only coincidence, I think it is a good practice to hold an image of a desired outcome and then let it go, trusting that the right thing with come.
The next morning I dragged myself out of bed before dawn because I could see some interesting clouds in the sky. I was hoping some of them would light up at sunrise. I wasn't disappointed.
Sailback dinosaur at sunrise
What a place!