Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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I was bamboozled by the Man in the Moon last night. I could almost hear him laughing at me.
Driving home to Steamboat from a visit to the Denver Art Museum on Sunday night, I watched the moon rise over the Williams Fork Mountains from the passenger seat. Just 24 hours short of its full phase, it played hide-and-seek all the way from Ute Pass to Wolford Mountain.
As the moon darted in and out of sight between mountain peaks, I made a plan. On Monday night, I would be waiting at the quarry on Emerald Mountain, my camera securely fixed to its tripod when the full moon rose behind Storm Peak. From that lofty vantage point, I would have an unobstructed view of the ski trails, and with a little luck, they would be painted with Alpenglow.
I bugged out of work at about 3:30 p.m., changed into snow pants, and drove over to Blackmer Drive to begin my hike to the quarry.
I had taken the precaution of consulting the U.S. Naval Observatory about the projected time of moonrise above our valley. At Steamboat's latitude of 40 degrees and 29 minutes north, and longitude of 106 degrees and 50 minutes west, the old man was supposed to rise at 4:09 p.m.
I knew that was way too early for optimum alpenglow, and gambled that the time it would take the moon to "climb" above the Continental Divide would give me another 20 to 30 minutes to climb up to the quarry.
That turned out to be one of the few things I had straight Monday night.
I extended the tripod on the big flat rock at the overlook, put the digital camera on it, fired off three test shots and the moon crept over the horizon.
The only problem was that it was coming up over Buffalo Mountain, at least three miles north of where I wanted to see it.
I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but the moon appears to rise in different places in the valley, depending upon your location relative to local landmarks. I realized that I probably could have saved myself a strenuous hike and driven to the parking lot at Colorado Mountain College, north of my position on Emerald Mountain, and bagged the shot I was after.
A more clever photographer might have downloaded a lunar software package into his GPS, climbed Emerald earlier in the day, punched in his precise latitude and longitude and been able to determine the exact point on the compass where the moon would appear a few hours later. But that wouldn't be me.
Sure enough, as I descended to the top of the ski lift on Howelsen Hill, the moon's location had shifted. It was rising directly above Storm Peak. I could even see moonlight glinting off the upper section of Buddy's Run.
So, the big cheese taught me a lesson. But when the full moon rises in December 2007, I'll be waiting for him in precisely the right spot.