10.4 On Beyond Greybull

I was on the road again, an unlikely happening after the lunchtime setback in Cody.  But the road through the open range had taken me to Greybull and beyond, and my car was functioning once again in what passes for its normal performance.

The weather was becoming murky.  Clouds were building up, the haze keeping me from seeing across the valleys.  I can see there’s a mountain range or hills coming up, but they’re very faint through the translucent air.  And the sky is gradually shifting whiter from its normal deep blue.  My luck in keeping within the territory of clear skies is about to change.

And maybe my radiator and cooling problems aren’t solved after all.  For the second time in this day, I find myself climbing up steep mountain roads, in this case Shell Canyon.  My temperature gauge is going crazy, pushing way up to the redline hot end of the range, and the power in my car is diminishing, so I’ve turned off the air conditioner and turned on the heater, following the advice of the woman at the Cody jail.  I thought back to her now and wondered what other stories her young life had.  I’m sure they were fascinating, but whatever new stories her life would hold, I wished her the best.  Funny, the impact of a momentary encounter with a stranger.

I pull over to the side hoping that this will let the engine cool down a bit (I do NOT turn the engine off, with my new knowledge that I gotta keep pumping coolant).  And I wonder what it means when the heater is turned on full-blast, but the air coming out of the vents is not very warm?  The temperature gauge runs hot and cold as I maneuver up the canyon, stopping and starting, pausing and proceeding, always up, up into the Bighorn Mountains.

Nightscape Odyssey

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10.3 Now You’re Talkin’

Enough time had elapsed that my engine could cope with the short drive to the service station, even with a disabled cooling system.  It continued to hemorrhage green fluid however, even as I parked in the garage’s driveway.  I walked into the noisy shop, avoiding the hoses running across the floor that powered various air tools and welding equipment.  At a break in the sound level, I caught the attention of a mechanic, a young man in a jumpsuit, his hands wrapped around a troublesome oil filter.  He stopped his project and came over to hear me.

Knowing I am not fluent in the language of cars and their ailments (a specialized branch of linguistics similar to health-care and medicine), I did my best to explain my situation.

“Well my car is barely running and there’s green fluid everywhere.  It was working fine until I started out after lunch, and—“

He interrupted my auto-illiterate description of symptoms and sequence,  “Hold on a minute.  Is your car here?” 

“Yes, it’s out front.” 

“Ok, so what led up to this?  Did the car overheat?”  He walked with me out to the driveway.

“No, not that I know of.  Everything was fine when I stopped for lunch at the Irma; I’d been driving fine for miles before then.  I’ve been traveling over the last few weeks and today I came into town from the west, over Chief Joseph Pass— “

Now you’re talkin’!”  An apparent understanding of the situation interrupted my story.  “Let’s see what we have here.”

His reassuring manner and friendly encouragement accompanied us as we got to my car and inspected the confusing condition under the hood.  He rapidly diagnosed the broken radiator hose and showed me where it had burst. 

“So why would it burst after lunch instead of before?”  This didn’t make sense to me.

He explained that when I shut off the car, the cooling system stops circulating, and without a way for the heat to get out, the engine temperature builds up.  When restarted a short time later, the sudden excess load on the cooling system caused the hose to burst.  This sounded plausible to my uninformed logic, and I turned my attention to how it could be repaired.  Would I be back on the road today, or later this week?

I left it with him after he explained he would need to identify the part and see if they had a replacement.  I should check back in 20 or 30 minutes.  I looked around to see how I could kill half an hour, which I did at the neighboring hotel and gift shop, returning to find the car in its same spot!  Did anything happen?  I checked with the garage office (the convenience store) and was informed, “Oh yes, it’s all done.  The bill is thirty dollars, here’s the key.”

I was stunned.  Full and immediate recovery from an automotive disaster for the cost-equivalent of a tank of gas?  I found the mechanic and tipped him in appreciation for interrupting his work to attend to my cause.  Because of the hospitality and kindness of the people in Cody Wyoming, I’m on my way to the next town, Greybull.  And from there to the Bighorns, and if I get to stay in the Bighorns tonight, it will be because of the western courtesy given to strangers in distress.

Nightscape Odyssey

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10.2 The Cody Law Enforcement Center

The Law Enforcement Center was the equivalent of a police station, fire station, sheriff’s office, dispatch center and local jail, all combined and conveniently located in this single large and fairly new building, kind of a “Police Central”.  I found the entrance, but there was a security airlock.  I was in a small glass vestibule with two items in it: a phone and a bench.  Sitting on the bench was a twenty-something woman, pregnant to within days if not hours of someone’s new birthday. The inner door was locked, and I would need to call someone to let me in.  I lifted the phone and dialed 0, wondering why this apartment-building style security was needed at a police station.  The voice at the other end responded in what seemed a rather urgent tone.  I wasn’t sure how to answer, so I started to blurt out my story, but I hadn’t really assembled it properly in my mind yet, and so only scrambled pieces of it came out my mouth.  Nevertheless, a buzzer sounded, and I opened the inner door.  The woman grabbed her things and slipped in behind me.

There was no front desk or reception area, but I found a person behind a security window.  I started to explain my story again, but was immediately waved off and directed to wait.   Outside, there seemed to be sirens sounding, and I caught a glimpse of a firetruck driving past.  Inside, there was a nice waiting area where I found that the woman had already settled in.  I became curious about this attractive near-mom, and to make small-talk for an uncertain wait, sympathized with her for being so pregnant at this hot time of year, how much longer did she have?

“My due-date is in six days.”

Her calm voice, tinted with the gentle accent of this western region confirmed my estimate of her condition.  Having heard me attempt to explain my situation twice now, she offered some advice.

“My car overheats all the time.  I turn the heat on full blast.  That way the engine doesn’t keep all the heat.”

“But doesn’t it get too hot for you?”

“Oh, yeah”, she laughed, “you gotta roll the windows down!  But in the summer, they’re down anyway- I don’t have any air conditioning.”

I imagined a car even older than mine, possibly equipped with air conditioning originally, but long since rendered inoperative.  An unglamorous rust-splotched car that provided basic transportation at the expense of gas and oil consumed, and noisily exhaled, by a strapped-on replacement muffler.  Yes, I had owned a car like this in earlier times.  As another siren-equipped vehicle drove by outside, I wondered why this woman, owner of the ancient car in my mind, was in the same waiting room with me, waiting in the Law Enforcement Center.

“So why are you here today?”

“Oh, my boyfriend is in the jail here, but he’s being transferred to a jail in his home state, and I need to talk to him.”

The lyrical accent expressed this in such a calm matter-of-fact way that it took me a moment for all of it to sink in.  A woman, nine-months pregnant, not officially admitted into the Law Enforcement Center, who wants to speak with her presumably-the-father boyfriend, who is currently in jail and scheduled to be taken under law enforcement security to another state.

 I’m not practiced in this particular social situation, so all I could do was ask “Where is his home state?”


Not that this was meaningful to me, but my preconception of Missouri law enforcement didn’t improve the image that was forming of her situation.

“Yeah, he’s being taken there tomorrow, and I need to talk to him about…,” a momentary hesitation,  “stuff.  Y’ know?”

I didn’t know, but I could imagine there would be plenty of stuff for her to figure out.  My predicament suddenly seemed like a minor annoyance, unimportant on a true life-scale of problems to solve.

The dispatcher behind the window called me over with a big friendly voice.  “Ok guy, how can I help you?  Just had to take care of a fire over at North Creek, kept me busy for a while, but it’s under control now– at least the call traffic is down.”

Fire, another problem way up there on the importance magnitude scale.  I felt like I was in the wrong place with my inappropriate silly situation.  Mine wasn’t a 911-type of problem, it should be a call to AAA.  But there I was, so I explained my situation and asked if he knew whether there was a service station open on a Sunday afternoon.

In spite of getting a few more calls related to the combat of the fire somewhere in Cody, the dispatcher looked up a service station that was open on Sundays, and even had a mechanic on duty.  He called to confirm it and advised them I would be coming, and then drew a map for me.  It was a dozen blocks away, I wondered if my car could limp that far, but as I left the building, I felt like this uncertainty was nothing, in view of what the other occupants of the Law Enforcement Center were facing that afternoon.

Nightscape Odyssey

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10 Traversing Wyoming

10.1  Chief Joseph’s Revenge

It had been a very satisfying night at the top of Beartooth Pass.  I had enjoyed the company of nearby curious campers, seen stars reflected in clear calm water, and I had even made some exposures of the deep sky.  The new day came sooner than I wanted and the other occupants of the makeshift campground behind the “Top of the World” store made their early starts as I struggled to stay asleep amid the noise of their departures.  When I finally climbed out of the tent onto the rock-strewn alpine tundra, I no longer had any company.  The half-dozen brave RVs that had bedded down here among the rocks with me were gone.  I packed up my stuff and followed suit.

The drive back down the pass was pleasant, the weather nice, traffic light.  My backtracking had not gone very far before I encountered the branch off this scenic route to Yellowstone onto the road across Wyoming.  On the map it looked easy enough, but I was aware that it went over a pass by the name of Chief Joseph, the famous Nez Perce leader.  The road was well designed, well paved, and I drove many casual miles before any hints of elevation gain.  The road was so well conditioned, that it took me a bit by surprise when it seemed that my trusty old minivan was making a little more effort to keep the pace.  The straight stretches of road became shorter, the curves more frequent, then suddenly they became continuous and steep, walls of rock preventing a view to the road ahead.  Traffic backed up behind me as my engine gasped for air and my hands clenched the wheel.   The shoulders on the road had vanished, replaced by tight guardrails on one side and a narrow rock-adorned gully on the other.  Scenic pullouts were impossible, there were no wide spots in this road.

Perhaps because of the limited view and my previous oblivion to what I was about to drive over, I had no sense of how far or how long it would be until I reached the top.  Each new set of curves and climbs seemed like it should be the last, but it was always immediately followed by another turn, and another set of switchbacks.  I could do nothing but keep climbing and try to enter that mental state of zen driving, mountain road style.

Eventually of course I did reach the top.  It was not an obvious single point in the road, because I continued to climb, but now there were occasional downhill curves to complement the uphill ones.  The uphills became less frequent, and now I was clearly on the other side.  Ah, the other side.  The other side, and riding the brake!  I switched into lower gears to avoid overheating the brakes and the poor minivan whined with the rpm.  Maybe I should use the brakes a little more and give the engine and transmission a rest. 

I was relieved when the road pitch evened out and I could see it entering the great basin ahead.  The blood returned to my knuckles as I commanded my fingers to release their death-grip on the wheel.  I coasted a little to celebrate the successful maneuver through Chief Joseph Pass.  I’m not sure I would agree that he “will fight no more forever”.

The morning had been spent in intense concentration on driving.  The road was again wide and smooth and easy.  The town of Cody was just ahead and I looked forward to stopping for lunch, perhaps at the famous, but aging Irma Hotel, a stopping place I remembered from family road trips.  I rolled into town, passing familiar landmarks:  the Plains Museum, which I knew included a section containing more guns than even a couple of 12-year old boys could take in, the rock shop, now closed, where my son had spent his allowance on prize specimens.  And the Irma, Wild Bill’s business interest in the early days of Cody.

I located a parking place across the street and eagerly found my way into the restaurant.  The food was unremarkable, and the service awful, but I’m not particular, this is just a refueling stop.  Besides, the furnishings are always intriguing- huge stuffed wild animal heads guarding over the massive cherrywood bar and the other artifacts on display from an earlier rustic era.  I take the moment to examine my roadmap and make some notes.  Eventually I run out of reasons to stay, the bill is paid, and I prepare myself for returning to what looks like a long dry road ahead.

I start up the car.  It runs rough for a moment and then dies.  I start it again, dance with the gas pedal, put it in gear to enter the traffic on main street, and the engine kills again.  What’s going on?  Ok, I’ll take all possible load off of it.  I turn off the AC, the fan, the radio.  This time I manage to get into the lane and start driving, but something is seriously wrong.  The engine threatens to die unless I pump the gas pedal.  The car lurches down the street and it’s obvious I’m not going to get very far, but I managed to turn off of Main Street onto a side street and into a parking lot.  I got out and discovered a blood trail behind the car, showing in a wide wet stripe on the road exactly how I had gotten to this point.  Under the hood it was a mess, with fluorescent green coolant everywhere.

I looked around.  I was in a bank parking lot.  (I think “how convenient, I was hoping to find a cash machine anyway.”)  There is another bank nearby, and across the street, a building marked “Law Enforcement Center”.  I’m not quite sure what this means, but it sounds like it might be a police station, and maybe someone there could help me figure out how to get my car repaired on a Sunday afternoon in a small town in the middle of Wyoming.

Nightscape Odyssey

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9.7 An Astrophotographer in the Dark

Mike eventually left me to the finicky procedure of finding the focus. It took another thirty minutes by the time I was satisfied. I had several targets I wanted to shoot this night, and the first one was M80 and M81, a pair of galaxies that could fit in a single view, faint swirls of light framed by the foreground stars of the Big Dipper. I attached the camera back, connected the cable release, started my timer, held my breath, and tripped the shutter. It was midnight, and I was catching my first photons!

I now had a moment to break from my equipment-demanded trance. From my position at the top of the boat ramp, I had a great view of the lake, its island silhouetted in the surround of the mirrored sky. At the shore I could make out my fixed camera tripods, a small indicator light showing the nearby battery packs powering the dew heaters that kept the lens clear from condensation. All of my film was now open to the sky, each exposed frame collecting the faint trickle of photons gathered by lenses and mirrors.

There was nothing for me to do! I gazed across the lake in a state of unexpected idleness. I wondered what my cameras at the lake were recording. I had intended to leave them open all night, but now that the lake surface was so calm, should I start over? I started to mentally compose other shots. I could reposition the cameras. Should I? Or should I do something else, like change the lens aperture? Or should I just re-shoot the scene with the exact same settings, trying to build insurance that one of the frames will turn out?

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9.6 Sharing the Night, Part 2

Having placed my cameras and committing them to their posts for the night, I returned to my telescope at the upper end of the boat launch. The tasks of drift-aligning the mount and finding the exact film plane focus occupy me for the next hour. During this time, another visitor arrives from the campground, a man in his late twenties, early thirties perhaps–it’s harder to assess the character of my visitors after dark.  Mike, a laid-off telecommunications worker, was a victim of the industry’s own productivity during the boom of internet and telephone excess. He was a “fiber-puller” and now that the country had connected every hub to every other hub with more bandwidth than could be fully used, there was no more work for him. I wondered if there was a similar moment when the major cities had finally been connected by railroad. Did we then have a surplus of steel men, unaware that the tracks they had just laid would serve for the next century?

Mike was content to talk and ask questions as I was performing my setup, and also content to look through the eyepiece at the nondescript target star I was using to do my alignment, without pressuring me to see anything more significant. I think he had the same desire as Holly to connect with the sky; he had found his way to my circle of equipment, but his interest was more diffuse. Like most who make an effort to be outdoors in remote places, he enjoyed the grandeur of the night sky, and wanted in some way to share his feeling with someone he suspected would be sympathetic.

Mike’s stories of camping out with his brother, of the locations he’d been while installing fiber lines, and other topics kept me company during the otherwise unexciting wait periods while drift-aligning. He didn’t mind that from time to time I would divert my attention to the faint target in the eyepiece’s crosshairs and make slight adjustments to the azimuth and elevation of the mount. Eventually I could reward him with a view of the Pleides, rising in the east, taking the opportunity myself to drink in this cluster of bright stars before beginning the next phase of the night’s session.

The Milky Way contains the deep sky targets I focused on at the Island Lake boat launch.  As I prepared for taking their pictures, I aimed the telescope at the Pleides star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, the prominent grouping at the bottom center of this photo.
A close-up of the Seven Sisters.  The wispy blue glow is from dust reflecting the light of these nearby stars.

Nightscape Odyssey
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9.5 Point of View

I have cameras to load with film, attach to tripods and then find compositionally interesting locations to place them. The winds are dying, and the lake is approaching that mirror finish that will show stars beneath the depths of its reflecting surface. The conditions are right, but there is yet one more requirement: I need to be able to find a patch of dry land to plant the feet of a tripod that still allows me to compose a view that contains the sky, the horizon, and enough of the reflecting lake to capture the spirit of this place, the recollection of a distant experience. I find that in spite of my wide-angle lenses and film formats, I cannot get enough of the scene in the viewfinder to satisfy me. I make some guesses about how the stars will move over the next few hours and arrange the cameras at the edge of the lake.

There is an interesting tradeoff in making this exacting picture. The height of the camera above the lake’s surface is very important. Imagine if it were at the actual level of the water. The view of the mirror would be very oblique. This is good for the reflected light from a faint star in reaching the film- a glancing reflection from any polished surface is nearly 100 percent, but the perspective would foreshorten the lake to nearly nothing, and if there was any view at all, it would be a reflection of the sky at the horizon, usually a murky soup of air and distant lights.

To get a larger view of the reflection, the camera must be above the lake’s surface. As one increases the height, the area of reflected sky increases, showing the stars that are higher and higher above the horizon. But as the angle increases, the reflected energy decreases, until a point where only the brightest stars can make any impression on the film that is recording it. There is perhaps an optimal camera height for obtaining a pleasing composition that contains startrail reflections. I do not know what it is, but I will be able to perform another experiment tonight in my ongoing efforts to find it!

Dusk at the Island Lake boat launch. My tripods are being prepared for their night’s work.

Nightscape Odyssey
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9.4 Sharing the Soul of the Night

At the boat launch, the sunset displayed clouds lacing the horizon, but everywhere else was pure sky. The transformation of colors from daylight blue to twilight teal induces a Pavlovian response in me. The clear skies are being dressed up in preparation for a nighttime romance.  I am excited to assemble my telescope, eager to see the first stars and get it aligned and start making exposures.  I know there will be some lengthy steps as I fine-tune the motorized axis to be truly polar, and then find the exact position where the light gets focused on the film, but I know these steps, I’ve practiced them and sometimes gotten them correct. Being at the top of a mountain in skies still pure and unpolluted gives me an invigorating thrill but also a sense of obligation. These opportunities are rare for me; I must take full advantage of them when they happen.

My activities at the boat launch do not go unnoticed. A common hazard of setting up a telescope is that there are many people who are intrigued by the night sky and have some internal personal connection with the stars, but the focus of their lives has not included a close study of it. We all have open sections of our soul that we cannot fill because of the circumstances of our lives, and for many, this hole of missing passion is for the night sky. Perhaps there is a primal yearning to know the skies as our species knew them for millennia, seeing the night, reading it, and using it as guidance to survive.  Our evolutionary success has brought us to a place where we no longer need or notice the night sky.

Whatever the reasons, I frequently meet people whose curiosity brings them to my telescope. On this night it was Holly, and her school age daughter Lisa, staying at the (full) campground. My activities at the boat launch were visible from their campsite, and Holly, finding the need to fill her personal curiosity, and using her daughter’s education as her purpose, came over to find out what I was doing.

This is the kind of interaction I love to hate. I get to share my own passion and acquired knowledge of the skies with other people who are genuinely interested, but I then feel obligated to give them a tour of the sky. This is okay but it interferes with an already lengthy setup before I can open the shutter for the first time. It’s like being able to tell stories about “the one that got away” but in so doing, I don’t get to bait my hook for the next big one. 

But Holly’s enthusiasm and appreciation is the reward, and I get to show her the nebula treasures in Sagittarius, the Ring Nebula in Lyra, and a few other showpieces in the sky. She melts with each view and then recovers enough to translate my descriptions into the vocabulary of a ten-year old while her daughter looks into the eyepiece at what to her must be just some fuzzy patch of sky.

Yet getting up on the stepstool to peer into a porthole of a large instrument is an unusual experience for nearly all of us, certainly for Lisa. Inside that eyepiece is a view of distant jewels, pinpoints of stars in an inky black background. Stars that we can’t otherwise see.  And maybe the experience of seeing the unseen with the tools of an unknown man at the boat launch at the top of the world will make a connection later, in some science class, when the young girl is subjected to a more formal presentation of astronomy. Maybe it will inspire a curiosity that might not otherwise be there, the questions and answers filling the gap in her soul that, like her mom, wants to know more.

My own curiosity was nurtured by encouraging parents and so I will always make the time to fill the cups of curiosity brought by visitors. One can never repay the debt to parents; one can only pass the debt along.  Holly is effusive in her appreciative thanks, and with the night now dark, and cooling rapidly, she retreats with her daughter to the warmth of their campsite, perhaps to share the experience with other family and friends. I turn my attention to the work at hand.

The Helix Nebula. This image was recorded later in the evening. I showed a similar but much more easily seen object, the Ring Nebula, to Holly and her daughter while waiting for the night to get dark.

Nightscape Odyssey
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9.3 The Top of the World

The Top of the World Store, on the road to Beartooth Pass photo courtesy Dean W. Gehnert, http://linux.tpi.com/~deang/Pics/Montana/

These are the thoughts that occupy my head as I drive up the road to Beartooth Pass, the sensory salve of driving a beautiful mountain road through forests and meadows providing the background music to my mind’s meanderings.

I encounter the turnoff to the first of two vehicle-accessible lakes. It instantly tests the mettle of would-be sportsmen by becoming a gravel washboard. The intrepid are rewarded with a boat-launch into a beautiful lake protected by rocky hills. I have frequently sought such ramps into quiet waters as convenient locations to set up my own photon-catching equipment. The lake offers an open view to the sky, the ramp is unused after dark, a solid base to place a tripod. In this case however, the lake is a bit too protected, the bluffs on the far side of the lake are too high, cutting off the lake’s reflected view of the sky.  Clearly this is not the lake Rich and I encountered, but I mark it on my map as a candidate for future deep sky work, if not reflections of startrails.

Keep climbing. The trees diminish in size, thin out, then become merely an occasional twisted shrub as I reach higher elevations. The terrain is now rocky tundra, with rugged patches of grass tenaciously gripping the stony soil. The road is not really climbing anymore, just rolling with the topography. I pass an outpost of civilization, a store, its sign declaring it to be “The Top of the World Store”.

The summit of this pass extends a great distance. It seems that I’ve been rolling at the top of this road forever, but in a few miles, another turnoff.  This time the lake and its associated campground are right off the road.  Maybe this is it!  I explore the small net of gravel roads that penetrate this area. It includes a boat launch and trailer parking area. This lake seems a bit larger than the previous, its far shore less consuming of the sky, and there is a picturesque island, complete with trees, giving this lake its descriptive if unimaginative name, Island Lake.

Whether it is the exact lake I am looking for or not, it is perfect for my photography plans: take prime focus pictures of deep sky targets and set up my fixed tripod cameras to record startrails over the lake. And there is a campground right here too!  Ah, but that would be too easy.  It is late in the afternoon on a weekend, every campsite is spoken for, and probably were occupied even days before.

I consider my options. I could just stay out all night making pictures and when dawn’s twilight arrives, try to get some sleep in my car.  I’ve done it before, but I also know that this is not a very good solution. Sleeping in my car is a challenge, and I would not be very rested when the activities at the boat launch started up.  (Avid fishermen like to get out on the lake at dawn).

Instead, I returned to the Top of the World Store, where there was a sign advertising camping. To most of the world these days, camping means parking. If you have a few spots where someone can park their recreational vehicle overnight, you have a campground!  I don’t have an RV; I must pitch a tent to provide protection for my bedroll and so my demands on a campground are more excessive than average.  The campground at the Top of the World was actually rather nicer than most commercial campgrounds. It comprised a short gravel road that faded into the tundra after a hundred yards. No designated parking pads, just open space, enough for maybe half a dozen campers, and me, a tent pitched at the end of the path.

This was working out very well! A site to take pictures, and a home base only a mile away to return to. And it was still afternoon. I decided to let down for a while, I fixed a gin-and-tonic from my cloudy night contingency provisions, opened my notebook to make a few recordings for this day, and then napped, resting up for the evening.

Nightscape Odyssey
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9.2 The Lure of Astrofishing

Beartooth Café in Cooke City Montana, just over the border as the road wanders north out of Wyoming, has good food, good music, and an outdoor porch. Have I been here before? The owners tell me that the lakes shown on my map really are near the top of the pass, Island Lake is a bit higher, more open than the others. Expect it to be cold and windy. I’d like to linger at this cozy and quaint oasis, but I’m also eager to reconnoiter my nighttime possibilities while there’s still daylight.

As I drive along the road through the rich forests, the traffic is sparse, but what there is of it is likely to be hauling a boat. Of course! There are lakes up this road, probably lakes stocked with fish! Yes, there are other reasons to find alpine lakes other than to take nighttime pictures of them.

I think about how this hobby of mine, taking pictures of the night sky and the treasures it contains, is considered by some to be rather odd, esoteric, even arcane perhaps.  And after hearing about some of the requirements to pursue it, the complex equipment, the late-night outings, the uncontrolled consequences of weather, those opinions are sometimes revised to deem the hobby “extreme”.

Yet taking astrophotos of deep sky objects is really a lot like fishing! At least so I am told, I don’t do very much fishing– no, I don’t do any fishing. But I understand the sport of fishing involves much equipment, sometimes big equipment: boats, motors, trailers and hitches. And also very specialized pieces of gear: rods, reels, line, nets, bait, lures, and dozens of other gadgets only an avid fisherman could identify. A fisherman’s tackle box is an intricate collection of hooks, leaders, sinkers, bobbers, patented lures, secret bait recipes, and artificial delicacies designed to appeal to Piscean palates.  And for some, the additional provisions for human sustenance during the fishing trip are more important than the fishing itself.

And there are a corresponding array of activities involved: traveling to a remote location, getting a boat loaded and launched, finding the right spot, that perfect fishing hole, preparing your line and bait, and when you  finally get it all together and the fishhook is actually in  the water, maybe there’s a period of time when you’re  sitting around waiting for a bite.

This is essentially identical with the features of astrophotography. The large equipment: mounts, tripods, telescopes, power supplies, and the specialized gear of eyepieces, filters, camera backs, guiding mechanisms, all has to be transported to a remote location and set up, balanced, polar aligned, aimed, focused. When the shutter is actually opened, there is a moment of calm, a brief rest after the busy preparations for taking the picture.

Both activities are outdoors, just at different positions with respect to the sun. Both require clothing and preparations for weather and sometimes harsh conditions.  Both are subject to big setbacks, and “the one that got away” (I can’t believe there wasn’t film in that camera!)  Yes, astrophotography is fishing, but we are catching photons, not fish.

My 8-inch telescope, equipped with guidescope and equatorial mount is silhouetted near a prime fishing spot.  Specialized equipment is a hallmark of both sports.

Nightscape Odyssey
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