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Edition #117, January 1, 2010

Desert Moonset

Photographer: Mel Patrick

                                                                                 Photo by Mel Patrick

Desert Moonset

It is 7:13 A.M., October 8, 1995. In the cold night air of the Utah desert, you are standing 10 miles east of Green River near the Denver & Rio Grande Western main line, now operated as part of the Southern Pacific Lines. For the last quarter-hour the quiet of the desert night has been interrupted by an approaching eastbound merchandise freight, heavy with California and Oregon lumber, Kennecott tank cars and Geneva Steel coil and plate. With 5 diesels at full throttle, the train can make no better than 20 mph on the one percent climb to the summit at Thompson, 15 miles further. The sky is very clear, slowly getting brighter with solar rays just touching the upper atmosphere. Behind you, the sun will not break the horizon for another half hour. For the moment, you are in the pre-dawn violet light.  

Look dead ahead. The full moon that lit the desert all night is just now setting behind Window Blind Peak, a full 31 miles to the west in the San Rafael Swell, the surface air distortion making the lunar disk appear yellow and oval. You hold your breath. For the briefest of moments, you see, hear and feel the power of a rail transportation network that works 24/7, 365, and just behind the train you see the effect of the rotation of the earth as the bright moon sinks from sight. You cannot take your eyes from the motion of either. The moon disappears in less than 60 seconds; the crew of the train passes a minute later.

You have always enjoyed the desert experience. Now you count yourself lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to witness such a sight. You wish you could share this with everyone.

Mel Patrick

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