Forest fires have become common occurrences in our western states, a consequence of global warming, and our national parks are not immune. On this date we could enjoy the facilities of our campground at Two Medicine Lake, but other areas of the park were closed off, including those just north of the distinctive peak of Rising Wolf. The glow of the fire is reflected by the smoke in the sky in this startrail exposure.
Kilauea is an active volcano on the Big Island, Hawaii, and the central feature of Volcano National Park. In the previous years there had been lava flows from vents further down the slopes of the edifice, but the crater at the top maintained a relatively stable pool of molten rock and gas emissions, stable enough that roads, trails, and a visitor center were constructed along the rim for visitors to enjoy and learn from.
The visitor center was very popular, especially at night, and on this evening we enjoyed the spectacle of a lake of hot lava, along with many others that overflowed the visitor center parking lot. Park rangers gave presentations as we watched the boiling cauldron emit a plume of gases and steam. As I prepared a camera on a tripod, one of them made a suggestion that I could step beyond the tourist line and find a position along the crater wall that would offer a more photogenic view.
I was very appreciative of this implicit permit, and soon found a position along the trail where I could include the fiery exhalation of the lake of lava, a tree that had survived these conditions for its lifetime, and a view of the sky that included the constellation of Orion.
It is rare for Venus to pass in front of the sun and so I assembled telescopes and equipment while Poldi hosted a picnic, inviting family and friends to view an event that won’t happen again for a hundred years. We spent the afternoon and evening watching the silhouette of Venus move slowly across the face of the sun until it dropped behind clouds and trees at sunset .
I had been here before, in 2001, attempting to recreate a scene of the night sky reflected in a calm alpine lake. I didn’t succeed then, but here I was with another opportunity. I’m still not fully satisfied; I guess I will have to come back and try again!
I return to this iconic overlook in Glacier Park and try again. Previously (2001), the weather compromised the view, tonight it is perfectly clear and the traffic over Logan Pass nonexistent. The pink smudge to the left is not a cloud, it is the core of the Milky Way, moving its way across the sky on a beautifully clear August night.
A safari in Tanzania takes one just south of the Earth’s equator. Here there is no visible North Star; it resides just below the horizon, obscured by the acacia trees and grasses of the Serengeti plain. A startrail image reveals its implicit location; the arcs to the north are perfect semicircles.
A safari in Tanzania takes one almost exactly to the Earth’s equator. A camera pointed east to make a startrail image will show those due-east stars taking paths perfectly perpendicular to the horizon. Stars to the north and south bend toward their respective centers of apparent motion.
The view to the south at Owachomo Natural Bridge does not include the south celestial pole, but it clearly shows the stars revolving around it. At higher elevations, the stars transition across the celestial equator, and then arc the other way, following the rules for the northern hemisphere.
Natural Bridges National Monument is in Utah and is the first International Dark Sky Park. It is so remote, and the air so dry, that one can see stars all the way to the horizon! And nowhere on that horizon is any hint of city light dome. The park itself is powered by a solar array; the residents are misers in conserving their battery power.
The bridges are not to be confused with “arches” (found in a national park elsewhere in the state), as they are formed by different geologic processes. There are three popular bridges here, accessible by short hikes. This one suited my purposes best, lying on an east-west axis and in a valley allowing a view at the celestial pole. Across a dry riverbed, I found the position to capture this low angle composition.
I set up my cameras (I was also shooting film) and started the exposure sequence. The moon was in the process of setting and it illuminated the texture of the rocks, and also helped me find my way back to the trail head where I had a telescope and mount. I enjoyed some deep sky observing, but then needed to get back to tend my cameras. The 15-minute hike was now in complete darkness. A flashlight was needed to avoid wandering off into the desert at a missed trail marker, and the last of it was the climb under the bridge and down into the riverbed. The route I took is apparent.
This is a picture I have attempted to capture over many years. At each of my travels to an annual conference, I would take one end of the week to drive to remote corners of Arizona. I shipped my camera and telescope equipment ahead to meet me and would then have a chance to do imaging under the clear, dark and arid desert skies.
The landscape at Monument Valley is unique, but access to the area is restricted. It straddles the Arizona-Utah border and is within the land of the Navaho Nation, that unproductive unwanted area partitioned off to contain the remnants of a people conquered by the westward expansion of a growing country. The land may not be organically fertile, but the landscape is spiritually rich, and many visitors come to see and experience it. The Navaho park around the monuments permit limited tours during the day, and is closed completely at night.
Even so, my first visits allowed me to stay at a campground with a view of the signature shapes of two monuments known as the “mittens”; their offset columns make them look like the thumbs in a pair of mittens. The view was obscured however and a clear night sky portrait would require a viewpoint from somewhere deeper in the park.
The road into the park is a rough cut into the desert floor that is a challenge to just about any vehicle. During the day, the ruts and holes and sandtraps are visible if not always avoidable. At night, access is blocked. To reach the vantage point that would make the picture in my minds eye, I would need to find a way.
On this night, a last chance before I needed to depart for home, I arrived after dark and worked my way to a position I thought would give me that picture. It was an uneasy moment however, and I felt that I was trespassing on sacred ground. I expected at any moment that park security would show up and escort me out. I almost abandoned my plan, but after some time in the dark and quiet, decided that I had traveled far and hard to bring myself to this place, and that I should go ahead and attempt to capture the spirit of the land and sky on that evening.
I set up my cameras and started their exposures. Once started, I waited quietly, watching the Big Dipper work its way behind the monument, like clock hands indicating the time and season. Two cars lumbered and lurched past me on their way to homes further in the valley. It occurred to me that even if they noticed, they would perhaps be more fearful of an unknown vehicle parked darkly off the side of the road than offended by someone taking pictures of their beautiful land.
After five visits and as many unsuccessful attempts, with the help of the ancient Navajo spirits, I was finally able to make this picture of the West Mitten as the landscape rotates under the North Star.