Superior Forest Skies

Fall colors at Ninemile Lake Campground

The climate is changing, and this year held examples of it, including heat and drought conditions that triggered forest fires.  The major fires were in western states and Canada, but Minnesota had a share of them too—closing our boundary waters and forests for several weeks.

The fires are now under control, and northern Minnesota campgrounds are open again.  We decided to take advantage of the calm weather, see the fall colors, and maybe even see some northern lights.  Of course because camping next to a beautiful lake is just an invitation to take nighttime pictures of the sky above it,  I continued my time lapse lessons.

We found a campsite at Ninemile Lake.  It is late in the season; the campground hosts are gone, and the campground is no longer full every day.  Our site has a private path to the lake, which offered a full view to the west, and “half-views” to the north and south.  There is also a boat launch at this campground, offering similar scenes.

I am always looking for reflecting lakes, and this was a wonderful find.  With no wind, the lake reflected the opposite shore like a mirror, the surface only occasionally breaking when a fish gulped at a floating morsel.  I was excited to set up my cameras.  Maybe it would stay this way for a few more hours and I could capture stars, or maybe even the Milky Way, reflected in the lake!

Well, the conditions held.  Once I got the cameras clicking, I could relax and enjoy a campfire with Poldi.  I checked on the cameras every few hours to see how they were doing.  I had installed anti-dew heating straps on the lenses but I did not know how much power they would need.  I eventually came back to the cameras to find them stalled, having drained their external battery power supplies.  They use more than I thought!

The temperature drops rapidly at night in the north woods, and Poldi was unprepared.  She spent a long cold sleepless night in her summer-rated sleeping bag.  The next day, she decided to execute plan-B: hiking and biking to enjoy the fall colors during the day, but spending the night in the warmth of her sister’s nearby home.  I prepared to follow her, but…  the weather forecast was for another night of calm clear skies!  Knowing how rarely these conditions occur, she suggested I spend another night at the campsite, trying again to capture the reflected sky in the lake.

I did exactly that, tending my cameras as before, but this time without her pleasant company.  Dinner was a disaster (to be recovered from later).  It seemed even colder than the night before, and sure enough, before night’s end, the temperature dropped below the dewpoint and the world filled with fog.  I took down the cameras and slept.

The next morning, I reviewed the night’s frames and discovered that one of the cameras had failed.  Somehow, I thought it was shooting a frame every 30 seconds, but in reality, it did that for only one minute.  I got two frames.  But they were dramatic frames of the Milky Way rising over and reflected by the lake!

The Milky Way at the south end of Ninemile Lake.  It would have made a great timelapse, had the camera not stopped after only two frames.

I broke camp, once again thinking about the shot that got away.

I rejoined Poldi and her sister and made plans to return home after these beautiful days in the Arrowhead Region.  But once again, the weather forecast was for calm winds and cloudless nights!  How can this be?  And once again, Poldi suggested taking advantage of the unusual condition and looking for a venue that would provide that southern view of the Milky Way.  We did.

And so the third night of shooting commenced.  I did not make it all the way through (the batteries didn’t last), but got enough frames to capture the feeling and add to my time lapse sequence depicting the night skies in Superior National Forest.

Doing this kind of photography is challenging.  Challenging, but also fun, and sometimes rewarding.  So many things have to go right, including that uncontrollable item, the weather.  When the weather cooperates, I am glad to have a partner who recognizes it.  When things go wrong, I may not end up with the photographic results I wished, but I still end up with a wonderful outdoor experience to savor and remember. 

A time lapse assembled from an unusual series of clear calm nights in Superior National Forest. Some features to look for: the Big Dipper reflected in the lake, the Milky Way followed by bright Jupiter, moonshine on the fall colors, a brief moment of northern lights, and fog swirling around islands in the lake. Expand to full-screen for the maximum effect!

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