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November 17, 2020 By Bob DeNike

Moonrise Over Hernandez

A friend who had just returned from the area recommended a Mexican restaurant in Chimayo, New Mexico. Ordinarily, I don’t travel 1,133 miles to a different time zone to eat, but I was planning a trip to Santa Fe and it was not far out of the way. I took out my trusty, well-worn AAA map (this was 1981) and when I began plotting my course of travel, I discovered that I would be on US 84 that goes right by Hernandez, NM. As a fan of Ansel Adams, I knew this is where he stood when taking his famous photo, “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.”

I thought it would be great to find the exact spot and take the same picture. I had read in National Geographic that Adams had been at the edge of the old roadbed, about 50 feet west of the spot on the modern highway and that he didn’t walk far from the road. My heart started beating faster as we approached Hernandez. Suddenly, I saw the houses, church and cemetery in the foreground and the mountains, exactly as they appeared in the photo. Well, almost exactly. Adams took the picture on November 1, 1941. Forty years had gone by. The grass was up to my waist and the land quite hilly. Those obstacles did not deter me. I was a man on a mission. I don’t know how long I wandered over hill and dale, sighting through my 35mm camera, trying to find the exact position to get all of the elements in the right place. I do know that I tested my marriage and the patience of my wife, who waited in the car. I got lots of pictures, but none compared to Adams’.

If I had only waited another 20 years, I might have read an article that appeared in Sky and Telescope magazine and saved myself a lot of time. An astronomer plotted Ansel Adams’ reported location and the moon’s apparent position on November 1 and predicted that the approximate location where the image was taken was 36.057186°N 106.116974°W.

And the meal at the Rancho de Chimayo restaurant was excellent!

Author’s Note: The photograph became so popular and collectible that Adams personally made more than 1,300 prints of it during his long career. One recently sold for $773,000 at a Sotheby’s auction. Learn more about Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.

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