Off-Roading and Milky Way – June 2014

The stars finally aligned. Literally. They do so every summer, actually. Since I discovered night photography as a hobby earlier this year, I was waiting for the southern part of the Milky Way to show on our night skies. This happens during the summer months. Next, I needed the new moon so that the moonlight doesn’t wash out all the starts. During June, July and August that happens 3-4 times. This last weekend was the first time this year. So I got the Jeep ready and took off for a long weekend in Death Valley’s Eureka Dunes. And since I was already in that corner of the country, I decided to spend a night with the ancient bristlecone pines. The latter part didn’t quite work out, but more later.

The first night after 6.5 hrs of driving was in Eureka Dunes. This time of the year there is barely anyone in Death Valley and so I had the dunes all for myself. Almost, that is. A bat showed up around sunset and really liked the dead bugs on the Jeep. He kept sweeping over all night long and picking the bugs off the hood. So, I named him Robin and enjoyed his company. At 10 pm the sun was finally gone and I hiked up the dunes to take the shot of the Milky Way with the dunes in the foreground. It is an amazing sight to actually see the Milky Way with your bare eyes stretch almost perfectly from south to north. Even without the moon the stars give off enough light that I didn’t need a flashlight to walk around. The quietness (with the exception of Robin flapping around) was remarkable. After taking all the photos I had planned, I laid down on the camping table, had a glass of wine and just enjoyed the absolutely unbelievable sights.

The next day, I spend off-roading around Eureka Valley. Nothing special about it, just good plain fun. After a couple hours I ended up 11,000 ft high in the Patriarch groove of ancient bristlecone pines. It is quite a drive up the White Mountains, but very much worth it. That part is doable with any regular car, btw. The sights of the valley and the old trees are stunning. Originally, I had planned to stay up there for the night and take some more photos of the Milky Way with the pines in the foreground. Unfortunately, there is no camping allowed. Add to that that I was soaked in gasoline thanks to a bit of a mishap with the jerry can on my Jeep and I decided to sleep someplace where I can take the stinking clothes off (sorry for the visual). So I drove down the mountain to the Grandview campground. No bristlecones there, just plain old conifers. Matters not, the view is still spectacular. The bristlecones survived a couple thousand years, so I will get the shot some other time. The campground is very popular with hobby astronomers and prides itself in dark skies. All I had to do is to walk 100 yards to the cliff, set up and shoot. The gasoline must have had some effect though as I did not manage to focus the lens right. I won’t show on the small photos here, but big prints are out. Well, next time. This place is well worth a second and third visit.

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