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.
When the moon, in its monthly travel around Earth, moves across a bright star, it is called an occultation. On this date, the moon is moving toward the bright star Regulus. Here is a superposed series of pictures taken over 1 hour as Regulus apparently “approaches” and then is eclipsed by the moon.
In 2007 a comet passed through our neighborhood and allowed me a chance to try the high dynamic range (HDR) imaging techniques that were being developed at that time. The idea is to combine a range of exposures to get a large range of detail. In this case 10 exposures covering the range from 1 second to 8 minutes are combined, selecting the best tonal information from each. This allows the otherwise obscured ion cloud surrounding the dusty nucleus to become visible as a faint blue-green glow. I was able to use this image as an HDR example in a conference presentation I made on this topic the following week.
Pikes Peak dominates the city of Colorado Springs and can be seen for hundreds of miles around. I did not attempt to climb or drive it, but found a view from across the valley above Woodland Park. There is considerable light cast on the sky from these growing urban centers and the fresh snow dusting Pikes Peak reflects it. The clear mountain air shows the southern stars of the Milky Way traversing the space above.
This is a combined exposure (from film) of 3-1/2 hours. Even though this is a remote forest road, in that time there is certain to be traffic, and headlights can be seen traveling the road in the meadow below the great mountain.
Gouldings Resort is a historical island of lodging within the island of the Navajo nation within the state of Arizona. It borders the sacred area of Monument Valley whose iconic mitten shapes are seen silhouetted on the horizon. The resort itself is in the lower foreground, casting its bright lights onto the eroded red walls of the ancient mesa.
This is a composite of 14 exposures representing an elapsed time of almost two hours. Evening travelers through the reservation are seen on the distant road. Some are workers preparing for an upcoming weekend airshow event that will feature the monuments as a backdrop. Hollywood westerns were once the source of this activity, but the only signs of of those movies now are nostalgic photos and posters found in museums, and hotel lobbies.
It is possible to drive to the floor of Monument Valley and enjoy a 17-mile loop that presents magnificent views of the geology wonders here. At one point along the drive is this view, called the “North Window”, a particularly beautiful scene in the moments before sunset.
The Watchman is the peak that dominates the campground at the south end of Zion National Park. This is a view up the valley of the Virgin River over an hour and a half period, at the end of which the moon rose and illuminated the canyon walls. Trees and camping vehicles were occasionally lit by the headlights of a late-to-bed car finding the way to its campsite.