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Storms over the Four Peaks

What I love about Arizona are the unique places that make it obvious where you are. The trademarks or characteristics of this fine state.  In reality, there are probably hundreds of these kinds of places that when you see them in a photograph, you automatically know it’s Arizona.

The Four Peaks is one of those places for me. They’ve always been there. I’ve lived here my whole life and for some reason, it’s comforting to look up and see them. Like four big brothers keeping an eye on Phoenix and the surrounding deserts. They usually get snow on them during the winter at least once or twice, which is one of the other reasons I enjoy looking at them so much. Living in the middle of a hot desert, being able to look up in January and see snow…well…it’s nice.

Come to think of it, back in January I took a picture of the Four Peaks with some snow on them…one of my favorite shots of all-time.

Sadly, I’ve probably not been much closer to them than in this picture, which is a good ways away. Someday I’m driving up there…to the top…to see what I see. Maybe I’ll do it sooner than later. Or maybe I’ll wait until that snow returns and make the journey then.

I took this back on July 22nd during one of my “Wanderings with the Monsoon” treks around Arizona.

The Flat Iron Cliffs after the storm

The credit for this photo goes entirely to my buddy Bryan Cox. If it wasn’t for his insistence that I turn the car around, I’d never have captured it. Yes, as we were driving by, I saw the light, I commented to Bryan how amazing it looked, but we were trying to catch some storms and I just didn’t think we had the time to stop, even for a few minutes.

Finally Bryan says something like, “I’m gonna have to put my foot down here…turn the car around.

This was last Wednesday…Bryan decided to tag along with me as a bunch of storms were rolling into town and the goal was to just be out all afternoon chasing, taking photos and then finishing the day with some nighttime lightning photography. I’m so glad Bryan joined me…we had a blast and saw some fun stuff.

It takes a good friend to be able to tell you to turn the car around like that, and I totally appreciated it.

So this shot contains one of my favorite places in Arizona…the Flat Iron Cliffs of the Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains, seen beyond a small field of Joshua Trees. I almost feel I take too many shots of it because those cliffs are such a gorgeous backdrop to any kind of weather or desert cactus shot, that you can spend an eternity photographing around there.

A big storm had just blown through, so the skies were a smooth, grayish-blue color, but the sun still shined from the west and the light playing off the cliffs was absolutely amazing.

This is an HDR from 6-bracketed tripod shots, tonemapped in Photomatix, polished off in CS5.

Wishing you were a wall cloud

Most of you know I went on a stormchasing trip to Nebraska earlier this year. The reason I went was to see stuff like in the picture above. Of course, when you see stuff like that in Oklahoma, Kansas, etc., you run and hide because that’s looking like a fairly monster-sized funnel dropping to the ground.

Ah, but in Phoenix…it’s rarely that. This storm had no rotation, it was just a severe thunderstorm that had the look of something much more evil. I loved it…and was kind of glad it wasn’t a funnel, because it was coming right at me and I didn’t want to move. A glorious storm, right after this it kicked up dust under the funnel area of the cloud and suddenly a wall of dust came flying at me within a few minutes.

I ran to the car before the big dust got there, went home…watched the sky over us get darker…watched my daughter play in her first rain storm, and then we all watched from the doorway as a massive microburst engulfed our neighborhood in wind, rain and spotty hail stones. We received 1.3 inches of rain at my house in about 60 minutes. That’s an insane amount of water.

A fun storm, probably will end up being the pinnacle of the monsoon season at my house and one of the best in a few years.

Dusty colored monsoon sunset

Sometimes when people process an HDR photo, the colors can get skewed and tweaked so you are looking at an unrealistic interpretation of what the photography actually observed.

Not so here. If you look at the foreground elements…the desert, the grass, the construction vehicles…you can see those colors are fairly accurate. It was just a crazy sky right before the sun went down last night.

We’re not sure what caused it to get this weird, paled burnt color. You can see a little dust storm on the left horizon in this picture, so it didn’t appear to be reflection from that, even though it reminds of that kind of look. I think it was just other clouds, rain and the sun being reflected off the desert or something that created this sort of spooky scene.

Yesterday’s atmosphere was packed with water, so any rain that fell came in buckets. You can see the downpour in the shot above…lots of flash flood warnings all across the state and a few severe thunderstorm warnings as well.

For the locals, this was taken on the southern most part of Kyrene, just as you turn West to head towards the casinos. The direction is towards the San Tan Mountains.

Monsoon sunset from Picacho Peak

A great photographer friend of mine, Matt Granz (see his work here on Flickr), was driving through Phoenix with his family on his way across the country to see relative in Pennsylvania. We had planned to do some monsoon chasing when he got into two and sure enough, the monsoon looked fairly spectacular so we headed out around 4:30pm and Matt got to see a little bit of what the monsoon is about. High winds, dust storms, gorgeous sunsets, awesome clouds…but sadly, no night-time lightning.

We started out in Apache Junction and by 7:30pm we were down at Piacacho Peak, halfway to Tucson. We pulled off the road to snap some photos of the clouds over Tucson, but turned around to see the sun setting behind this beautiful, dying monsoon storm.

Needless to say, we snapped about a bazillion photos of it and I was just happy Matt got to see one of our awesome monsoon sunsets.

Wandering with the Arizona monsoon

One of my goals for this summer was to chase the monsoon around Arizona and essentially create a journal of my travels in a photobook. I have no idea if that will pan out once the monsoon season is over, what it might look like, if it’s silly, whatever.  But part of the plan is to take a few day trips each month out into the Arizona wilderness and follow the storms around as they develop and move towards Phoenix. Wander around if you will, see what I see. Frame the monsoons with the gorgeous Arizona deserts and high country, then finish off the day with some lightning photography.

Well yesterday provided some great vistas for me, but the lightning part never materialized. Two days in a row of storms rolling into town and then dying out, with rare lightning strikes.

Still, I came away with some stuff I’m happy with, this is one of them. This was taken a bit northwest of Saguaro Lake which is northeast of Phoenix along the Bush Highway. A thunderstorm is developing out on the horizon and the high clouds really make for a beautiful sky. I did love how the landscape created an almost curved effect, and the cactus being as tall as it was gives an upward angle to the shot.

First monsoon storm of the season

Yes, I am a happy camper tonight. When I left last week for Holland, all I heard was how that weekend was going to be a big one for the monsoons in the Phoenix area and I was going to miss out on the start of all the storm fun. Yeah, I know, I was going to the NETHERLANDS, so how could I be bummed about going and missing a few lightning shows?

Well…turns out nothing hit the Phoenix area really until tonight. And I was here to capture it. Luck spins my way one more time.

The shot above is one of my favorites from the night. The right bolt is glowing blue/green at the bottom because it hit an electrical box. You know when this happens because usually the lightning strike disappears but you see a bright explosion of light on the ground basically POP and then go away. The boxes in Phoenix used to be green so the glows could be an awesome green back in the day. I dunno if we still have those or not, maybe in the older areas.

A ton of fun out there tonight, I just sat in one place, two guys in a truck pulled up, whipped out chairs and watched along with me and there was much “ooohhing” and “ahhhhing” going on!