Ute Mountain looms as a sentry of the Upper Rio Grande Gorge to the north.

Moonrise and Lenticular Clouds in the Blue Hour over Taos

On the wide open prairie west of Taos, New Mexico I have sense of being very close to the sky.   This prairie is harsh.  Huge areas of wide open nothing.  At least that is what it seems until you get out of your car and start exploring the sagebrush sea.  Wild horses, eagles, pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, river otters, beaver, wild trout, and the ghosts of history call this land home.

Often I wonder what reaction the explorers had, in the days when Kit Carson lived in Taos, when they suddenly came across the Taos Gorge? The gorge is not obvious until you get up right next to it.  Traveling across rough country for days and ending up at this vertical impasse would be a real disappointment!

The “gorge” has treated me to many adventures.  Going down in, especially north of Taos, one can find a rugged solitude.  Each trip into the gorge results in a unique, and sometimes dangerous, adventure.  Nevertheless, I long to go back into it a few times each year. I am way overdue for some time down in there.

Tonight though, I am only staying on the rim.  Setting up my tripod a few feet from the edge of a 800 foot drop in hopes of photographing the moonrise. This time the clouds are trying to steal the show.

High winds aloft have created “flying saucer” clouds.  Lenticular clouds over the Sangre de Cristo range.  I wait for the light to change as the sun approaches the western horizon.  Let the show begin.

Interactive panorama looking east towards Taos from the west side of the Taos Gorge.  Select the toolbar – full screen view – for the best resolution.  Zoom in/out with the +/- controls, and move with your mouse or the left/right arrows.

First some pink clouds form in the west.   When the sun goes below the horizon the colors of the sky really light up.  I see the towering stacks of lenticular clouds just south of Taos Mountain (Pueblo Peak) turn deep orange.  Smaller, bright yellow flying saucers hover on the north side of Pueblo Peak, over Vallecito Mountain, and South Lake Peak.  To the north the lenticular clouds are a darker blue and purple.  South the sky begins to light up with brush strokes of pink and red wispy cirrus clouds.

The deep, dark, canyon separates me from super bright oranges and reds reflecting off the marks of man on the sagebrush sea.   Any manmade object reflects brightly when it is illuminated by the setting sun.

By now my photographic desires are satiated.  To the east the lenticular clouds slowly turn from orange and reds to bluish ghostly figures in the indigo sky above the snowy mountains.  It is as if someone slowly turned down the dimmer switch in the east.  To the west the sky has center stage. On fire now with deep red layers touching the sagebrush as I gaze to western horizon.

Looking west over the Taos Mesa as the last rays of the day light up the sagebrush.

A hiker approaches nearby.  I start to pack up my tripod while watching her take photos with her iPhone.  We keep quiet.  There is no reason to interrupt nature’s show tonight.  The joy is shared as the colors fade slowly from warm reds to cool blues.

Down in the depths of the dark gorge I hear coyotes starting to yip.

As I hike back through the fragrant sagebrush and smells of wet earth I wonder how many other people looked up at the sky earlier and saw these clouds?

Back in Taos I meet some friends for dinner. From the dinner conversations across the restaurant I hear, “Did you see those insane clouds over the mountains tonight with the moon?”.  That makes my day, to realize that tonights sunset show with these whimsical clouds was appreciated by others.

The value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely.
― William Osler