Monsoons over Downtown

“Dada goes to the office on the mountain in the truck to do tai chi and paint the sky.” ??
?Leo Mirocha (2 years)


These photos are part of an ongoing series of views of Tucson from Tumamoc Hill. Lawrence Clark Powell (1906-2001), the noted librarian and author who lived the last part of his long life in Tucson, once compared Tumamoc Hill to the acropolis in Athens. I imagine that he meant it in several ways, the views one can see from a mountain within in the city, and the status of the acropolis as a cultural landmark and sacred place for temples. I’m literally exploring that veiwpoint: views of Tucson from Tumamoc Hill. Since I am here every day and familiar with the place, I am ready for sudden special conditions like dramatic storms.

Speaking of storms, I can’t talk enough about the weather. It has a deep emotional effect on humans, especially the monsoons. The rainy season is so dramatic and beautiful from this elevated view, seeing it whole, looking across at them instead of being immersed in them in the valley. I’m almost glad I am spending the summer in town. I saw this view coming from my office window and rushed out with the gigapan to a high overlook up the road a piece. I knew something special was brewing?the sun was going down directly behind me lighting up the foreground, good lighting conditions for landscape painting, and for seeing a rainbow. Lightning flashed, but did not show on any of the frames.

Quite high on a rush of adrenaline and a surge of dopamine?the hormones found to saturate the brains of love-struck mammals?I tried to remember the sequence of technical details for fiddling with the robot gear. The scene was huge, getting the whole arc of the rainbow would take luck because the rain was rapidly approaching pushing a dust storm ahead of it. I could already feel the wind reaching the Hill.

The first gigapan did not get all of the view in. It was 56 frames and took about 10 minutes to make. (You can click these to enlarge them)

monsoon and rainbow over downtown Tucson

I tore the camera off of the robot and tried a sequence hand-held. It took a lot of processing, this final result is more like a painting. The view was still not large enough, but I had to grab my gear and run for it, remembering the recent experience that drowned my old Nikon. Raindrops were hitting my lens.

Rainbow, dust storm and monsoon hitting downtown Tucson.
Monsoon rain following a dust storm hitting downtown Tucson. photo by Paul Mirocha


I took the photo below in 9 frames with the Gigapan and stitched it together. I think this perspective is more realistic and less distorted than if this scene was taken with an extreme wide angle.? Some of the interest to me is creating an image that is larger than the angle of view of the human eye. One has to move one’s eyes about, exploring teh picture the way you would outdoors in a landscape. To me, there is an expanded feeling about it, seeing a larger piece of the world than we usually see in one frame.

Monsoons over Downtown Tucson (c) Paul Mirocha
Monsoons over Downtown Tucson. photo by Paul Mirocha

On the day I took teh monsoon rainbow photographs, the Hill was drenched with water. A group of hikers was huddling against the garage for shelter and I invited them inside. One, whose name I forget, said he was a lightning photographer. I had always wondered how much luck was involved in getting lightning photographs during daylight times. It turns out that you do need luck, but can increase the odds. He told me one of his techniques was to take a lot of photos, putting his camera on burst mode. If you spend some time looking at teh storm, you usually can count the interval between lightning strikes.It may take 30 seconds, for instance, between strikes for each charge to build up.

I didn’t have all of his camera settings on the point-and-shoot from the gigapan, but I took a lot of photos until I captured my own personal lightning bolt.

Sunset through storm over the Tortollita Mountains
Sunset through storm over the Tortollita Mountains. Photo by Paul Miroch

I can only imagine the emotional effect on ancient people standing on the Tumamoc summit watching the monsoon drama. Beside ensuring their survival, watching these rains was probably a combination of entertainment, bringer of tidings of great joy, appreciation of beauty, and for the rainmakers, the satisfaction of a job well done.

Desert Lab patio after the rain
Desert Lab patio after the rain. Photo by Paul Mirocha











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