There are very few times when luck places a photographer in exactly the right place at the right time. However, last year, this was certainly the case when I was fortunate enough to witness a moonrise in the Atacama Desert at the very spot chosen to capture the sunset.
It had already been an enjoyable day, clambering over the rocks and fording the fast flowing, but small river which flowed through the canyon of Cactus Valley. The open valley, closing around us into the steep, high side cliffs of the canyon, with large cactus trees and bush-like grasses. A pleasant little jaunt.
On the return journey we planned to grab some images of the setting sun over the impressive Licancabur volcano which straddles the border between Chile and Bolivia. At 5,900 metres it dominates the landscape, a reference point from anywhere close to the town of San Pedro de Atacama.
As the sun began to descend, it doused the slopes of the volcano in orange and crimson hues, almost perfectly matching the colours of the desert sky. The barren landscape blending into a saturated sky, as the rocky, steadily sloping sides of the volcano reached up from the desert floor up towards the heavenly ceiling.
After taking a series of images, with the sun slinking behind the hulking form of the volcano, we had packed up tripods and were beginning to return to the vehicle. Suddenly the moon started to rise from behind lower of the two peaks.
Immediately, we turned and ran back up to the vantage point just vacated, quickly setting up tripods, changing settings to capture the almost mystical scene. A full moon rising over the starkly beautiful landscape of the Atacama.
It felt almost like standing in a painting, a watercolour painted by Mother Nature on the canvas of the Atacama Desert. Maybe she’d used a painting knife, gouging deep scars, the clefts and fissures that gave the scene texture. Either way, dazzling us with the rich colours of her palette.
A perfect end to an already memorable day and well worth the climb up to the ridge which had provided the natural amphitheatre from which we’d viewed the drama of the desert evening. The moment where the sun hands over its duties to her sister the moon.
A special moment, which should leave any travel photographer feeling blessed.