Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The Split Rock Lighthouse is arguably the most revered, visited and photographed landmark in the state of Minnesota.

A storm in November of 1905 damaged 29 ships in a Lake Superior area called "the most dangerous water in the world." Congress appropriated funds in 1907 for a lighthouse and fog signal in the Split Rock area. The lighthouse was built in 1910 to help safeguard iron ore ships that sailed the treacherous waters.

Highway 61, as we now know it, from Duluth to the Canadian border was built in 1924. It became usable in 1929 and paved by 1940. The Split Rock Lighthouse became one of the most visited lighthouses in the world.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service operated it until 1939. At that time the U.S. Coast Guard took over the lighthouse until it's closing in 1969. The State of Minnesota obtained the lighthouse in 1971. It is now a 2,200-acre state park operated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

This February, a friend and fellow photographer, asked me if I would like to accompany him to photograph the full moonrise at the Split Rock Lighthouse. I had seen dozens of beautiful photos of the landmark, but never had photographed it from the Lake Superior shoreline. My friend is an expert photographer and has photographed the lighthouse at least a hundred times. He knew exact locations to photograph the moonrise so I was quite excited to give this a try. I never use a tri/monopod for photographing my birds and animals, so this was going to be a new experience for me.

On the way down we knew of a Northern Hawk Owl and a Snowy Owl sighting. The Northern Hawk Owl had been observed in the Gooseberry State Park area and the Snowy Owl in Superior, Wisconsin. So, until the moonrise, we were off chasing owls.

Fortunately, or I should say luckily, we sighted and photographed both owls. It was an incredible day for a couple of retired wildlife photographers... and not over with yet.

Northern Hawk Owl

Snowy Owl

Our timing on return to the Split Rock Lighthouse was perfect. We had ample time to park the car and walk to a location on the shoreline to set up our cameras. My friend had a GPS and compass and was trying to figure out were the moon would "pop" up on the Lake Superior horizon. I learned it was important to have an idea where the moon would rise. There is not an abundance of time to waste photographing a moonrise. As we waited, I snapped a couple images of the lighthouse with the setting sun behind me.

The moon came up extremely fast and it was quickly an awesome setting.This shot is called a "snow melting moon." It is a mirage, caused by warmer air over cold water, giving the effect that the moon is melting.A couple more images of the moonrise setting.... with a zoom and wide angle lens.

It only happens in a photographer's dream, that you plan to photograph two different owls in a wild setting and succeed... and then get a full moonrise next to a Minnesota icon as a bonus... it was a day that exceeded all expectations.
"May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door." ... Irish Blessing.