During the day, Yosemite must have the highest number of tripods per capita in the world. Mine is setup at night during this difficult hour. Traffic, in the form of late arriving tourists, security rangers on patrol, and mangy coyotes, all serve to distract me while exposing this shot from Sentinel Bridge.
Half Dome, the signature shape of Yosemite, is illuminated by starlight, revealing the patterns of rock varnish on its face. The faint light from the sky also reflects gently on the Merced River as it flows beneath my vantage point.
I can feel the end of this trip coming on. As I prepare to leave the Black Hills and return to the prairie, I am eager to see the results of my various photographic efforts. I think about all of the exposures I have made, each of them an experiment whose results won’t be known until I return home. I hope my notes, made in the dark, are adequate and will match up with the film images to let me know what worked and what didn’t. As my biologist grandfather explained to me in my student years, “there is no such thing as a failed experiment, except one that you don’t learn from.”
I’ve enjoyed the chance encounters with the people I have met everywhere along my route. This morning it was a scoutmaster at the campground water source, monitoring a group of tenderfoots practicing shaving skills with empty razors. I don’t remember a grooming merit badge, but it made perfect sense here in this wilderness setting to give these boys an excuse to use the tools they will eventually need to avoid a hirsute future.
I have had some great experiences. In the last weeks I have gotten quite close to the ideal of an astrophoto safari—traveling to new sites, shooting the sky and moving on. If my schedule were open-ended, I’d stay at each place until I had a night of perfect weather. Instead, I must move on to my next destination, content to capture whatever happens to be there when I am there.
But I can’t complain about the weather; I’ve had a great run of clear nights. I also now have a list of places to return to and explore some more. Sylvan Lake in particular would be a great destination for a different style of outing that would take advantage of the lodge, trails, beautiful trees and scenery.
Contemplating the end of the journey, and before leaving the beautiful pine forest, I thought it might be appropriate to make a self-portrait. It’s an awkward undertaking for me, a violation of my Scandinavian values of maintaining a sense of modesty, and against acts of hubris, so I am hesitant. (How can you tell an extroverted engineer? He’s the one looking at your shoes).
So to do this, I must find an isolated location off the trail to set up a camera, use its self-timer, then pose in front of it. Perhaps to avoid being the center of attention, and to give credit to all the supporting actors in a production, I arrange my other cameras and tripods around me. They have been trusty accomplices in this adventure and accompany me in this self-portrait. In the harsh late morning light, it’s not a great shot, but I don’t claim any skill as a portrait photographer.
On the map Yellowstone, our country’s first national park, is immediately north of Grand Teton National Park, sharing a common border segment. So it is an easy mistake to think that it is but a short drive to go “next door” to Yellowstone from where I was in Jackson, just outside of the Tetons.
In fact, it is a full day’s project, at least the way I travel, compelled to stop at large vistas, beautiful waterways, and intriguing natural phenomena like mud pots and fumaroles, not to mention the traffic stoppages from encounters with elk and bison. And such hazards to rapid travel are everywhere in these parks.
I thought about the pictures I might be able to take in Yellowstone. Among them was a nighttime shot of a geyser, its plume of water against a backdrop of stars. It occurred to me that I had carefully arranged to be here when the dark skies would not be intruded upon by the interfering light of the moon. Yet the subject I had in mind, the momentary appearance of an airborne column of water would be un-illuminated. No matter how “white” the steam and water might be, with no light other than starlight, it would be invisible to the film in my camera. Perhaps I would not be able to realize the view from my mind’s eye. Well maybe I could get some nice compositions with trees and mountains, or do some more deep sky photography, easier on a moonless night.