In the last week, I have hiked up two mountains to view and photograph Phoenix at night. There are plenty of choices. The long string of peaks called South Mountain. The popular Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak are others. I chose Shaw Butte and North Mountain, several miles north of downtown in North Mountain Park.
Shaw and North require relatively short hikes of two miles from the park’s Visitors Center. And, since both summits sport cellphone towers, good service roads make for easier traveling in darkness.
At 2,149 feet, Shaw is by a scant margin the highest of the two but the view is partly blocked by its sister peak to the southeast.
Not completely satisfied with Shaw’s views, I decided to hike up to North’s summit on a recent Sunday evening with Nebra. I carried a camera, telescoping tripod and shutter release to the top. North is more than 700 feet above the surrounding terrain and about 1,000 feet higher than downtown. Good enough to see most of this sprawling metropolis in the desert.
It was after sunset when we reached the summit not far from the towers. The only thing missing was the moon, here one day after the full phase. It would not rise until we were on our way home.
I set up the tripod and shot some photos in all directions. Nebra held the light from my new headlamp so I could adjust the settings. The new digital cameras are amazing with their high ISOs allowing you to shoot in the darkest of conditions. In the old days you flirted around with 100 ISO or so. But my Canon T3i goes up to 6,400. Higher end cameras even to higher, to 10,000 and above.
It was getting on to 8 o’clock when we loaded up and headed back toward the parking lot.
In this short jaunt to the summit, I discovered that these dark mountains I had come to think of as empty at night were not empty at all.
Descending on the asphalt road, I saw a dozen people, mostly young men and women, gathered at lookouts high on the mountain. Also, we passed maybe a half dozen more ascending. The mountains are very much alive at night.
And for some reason that made me feel good.