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Steens Mountain: Freezing at the Desert

Steens Mountain looming over the Alvord Desert Area

 

 

 

Steen Mountains is just a few 100 yards from the Alvord Desert. But those few 100 yards involve a drop of 7-8,000 feet.  This panorama doesn’t show the vastness of the drop here, but the temperature of the desert below was over 95 degrees while on top of the mountain at night the temperature was in the 20’s.  There was a haze of smoke from distant fires that caused just enough mist in the valleys to shift the horizon blue.

Originally I had planned to shoot the desert and lake area which looks light tan (center right). But after driving to the top and scoping out the snow and the odd crags at the top, I thought this is my shot. 

I headed back down to go get lunch and saw a couple of the wild horses in the area and shot this one. (with a camera of course). When I came up later the mosquitoes were insane given the height and I had to soak myself in Deet and bundle up against the cold. I set the camera outside Jimmy after the shot was done and collected some great shots of the Milky Way from 10,000 feet.

 

 

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Toroweap Revisited.

 

 

Now some of you know, who have been following me for awhile that I have two places in the Southwest that I really enjoy going. Places that are pretty magical and pretty remote. Number one is White Pocket Arizona and the other is Toroweap sometimes called Tuweap. Now I think that both of these places are really swell and I always enjoy going to see them. As a matter of fact, if you haven’t been to either one of these, they need to go on the bucket list and you need to get a high road clearance 4×4 and get out there. Totally worth it.

I had been hanging out a couple of days in Kanab, Utah when I heard Colleen from Ravens Heart Gallery say that the river was running blue. The times I’d been before it had been more muddy colored. So I loaded up Jimy and we headed out on a fine June day. The journey was pretty uneventful and I even made it with an hour or so to spare. I tried to catch some shuteye at the campground without any luck and then headed down to the end of the road to get ready. June is my favorite month to image. Pretty much right after astronomical dark you can setup to capture the Milky Way and foregrounds.

I knew I was only going to get this one shot and was fine with that

 

 

Setting up this close to a 3,000-foot drop (I actually shot this again even closer to make sure I got the bottom) is nerve-wracking. It’s really hard to get an iPhone to focus in the dark with a headlamp by the way. 

I had to drop down about 5-6 feet from a ledge above this to get the shot I wanted. I had about 3 feet to play with from the edge to the wall behind me. It was a perfect night,  probably in the mid 70s, with just a very light breeze. The sky was crystal clear, the stars steady and without “winking” which is a great sign, the images should be impressive. I leaned back against the wall behind me as it is disorienting to stand in the dark this close to a massive drop. I leaned back then put my hands back on the rock to steady me and watched the camera gear do its thing. It was excessively quiet. I couldn’t even hear the water running swiftly below me. As I watched and waited suddenly I felt something large crawling on my hand.

Now I know the last thing you can do is panic on the edge of a cliff. So I flicked my hand and popped on my headlamp to quickly look what it was. It was a large fat Scorpion which was now stunned and a couple feet away from me. Prioritizing the situation I turned and paused the panorama and then turned my attention back to the scorpion. He was crawling back into a crevasse and I was in no mood to try to battle him and risk falling so I turned off my headlamp restarted the panorama and hoped for the best. This time I stood swaying a bit for the remaining 10 minutes of the shot. Sweet dreams are not made of these moments. 

I was really fortunate I got this shot because a few days later a huge fire broke out north of here and the whole area had a haze of smoke. As soon as this shot finished I got my gear and went up top to take the Milky Way images. I think I just shuddered remembering the encounter.

Pretty much normal pano specs for me, 42 images. I thought the airglow here was wild until I ran into a couple of nights in Yellowstone. Enjoy everyone!!

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Unfortunate Glory.

Yellowstone Lake

Unfortunate Glory. The day at Yellowstone National Park had been an interesting mix of sun and clouds. As night approached large thunderheads filled with lightning passed overhead. Rumbles echoed throughout the park. The prediction was clearing at 7 pm.  As 8 o’clock approached the sky remained ominously dark and cloudy. 

I had driven by this smallish lake earlier in the day and noticed its excellent alignment with the Milky Way. As I got out to check I was accosted by mosquitoes down by the shoreline, enough to drive me back to the car. After exploring the park further, I returned as night began to creep in. The clouds had begun to retreat from the east to the west (overhead). The bad news was now the wind had kicked up to 20-30 mph. The surface of the lake which had been a mirror earlier in the day now was opaque other than brief moments of stillness. I went to the water’s edge where the wind was much calmer and 50 or so feet below the top edge. 

Again I was driven back by a swarm of mosquitos. I decided to retreat to this spot and shoot instead where the wind would be an ally in keeping mosquitoes off of me.  As an added bonus there were tons of little blue flowers to cheer me on. I setup my equipment to shoot the ground and retreated to the car. There were still a few minor wisps of clouds up high and some got reflected in the edge of the water where being more shallow the reflections were much better. Looking at the camera I could see the tinge of color from the sky reflected in the water. Wow was it really that strong?

The answer was yes, another amazing night of airglow color at Yellowstone after storms. I think it has to be related. 

This photo was proof of something, the wind had dismayed me and I almost got back in Jimmy and departed, due to the wind messing with the reflections, but sometimes the best shots can be those you think least likely to succeed.

Anyway, the sky was enough to make me literally do a little dance of joy and yell out a couple of expletives that were apparently heard by a nearby wolf, just across the road behind me. There were no answers to his cry so I howled back my pleasure loaded my car and departed.

42 images, (some replacement of blurred areas with extra flowers), ISO 8000, f1.6, 55mm

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Shooting Oregon at Night with a Sony and a ROAR!

Cooks Chasm Oregon with a Sony and the Milky Way at night
Cooks Chasm Oregon at night

I really like this picture taken with my Sony camera. Maybe my favorite, at least at the moment. While much of this is a visual extravaganza the really missing aspect is the sound. The noise here was deafening. I stood maybe 2 feet from a 30-40 foot drop to the pounding ocean. This is Cook’s Chasm. Here the Spouting Horn and Thor’s Well put on fantastic shows (you might google them) and the ocean going up into this chasm is amazingly loud and powerful. Every thirty seconds or so there would be an incredible whomp that literally shook the ground I stood on. 

I had done a panorama at Thor’s Well before this shot, but the tide was low enough and ocean calm enough (light wind and clear skies) that the Well was not going to cooperate. I think it will be a cool picture but I was impressed after looking at the camera with the ethereal nature of the ocean splashing against the rocks in this shot. 

The ground was encrusted with small black mussels here which crunched underfoot as I walked over to do this shot. There was a slight spray and mist in the air that made the shot quite nippy while I waited for the shot to finish. I drew my coat around me tighter and hoped the dew heater would keep the lens clear of water droplets. Sitting this close to the edge, I normally sit as standing on the uneven ground in the dark for long periods, because it is way harder than it sounds. I stared into the chasm and watched the brightening and darkening of the waters as they surged in coupled with the sound, it was almost mesmerizing. The shot ended and I wasn’t even thinking about it for a period of time watching the waves break. 

At last, I stirred and realized I was done and retreated back to Jimmy to end a fantastic evening of sensory delight.

Lens kept totally clear with the Dew Destroyer and Perfect focus with the Reveal focus filter both available at:

Great Milky Way Images And Astro Products

42 Shots Sony A7RII, clipped left a bit, ISO 8000, F1.6, overexposed clouds added back properly

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Oregon Coastline with Stars, Shooting Star and Star Fish.

Oregon Star Coast

Well, Jimmy and I went on the trip of a lifetime, 6900 miles in 12 days.  After Jimmy’s recent resurrection with a $1,000 of new front end parts, we headed out in search of new images and great adventures.

The weather patterns over the SW dictated that I not head there as clouds and monsoons swirled about covering all the normal areas I visit. Looking at the forecast it appeared the North West would be clear almost indefinitely.  Many of my followers had recommended Oregon to me but the drive was staggeringly long. The Painted Hills in Eastern Oregon were 29 hours of driving. And the coast much further still. 

Along the way, there were multiple stops at fun places. As I neared the ocean, several people had suggestions of where to try the coast. South of Yachats seemed to be the consensus. So Jimmy and I drove to the coast of Oregon starting south of Yachats. The Oregon Dunes were beautiful, but large gates and signs that the area would be closed at night deterred my interest. So I headed north with a follower inviting me to stop by for help locating a spot to shoot. I stopped in to meet some of the most interesting and fun people on the planet. There was food, plenty of talk and then it was time to go shoot.

I had scouted on my way up the coast and it had surprised me how few locations were actually possible to shoot the coast, get any water and still frame the Milky Way correctly. As I started to leave I invited one of my new friends to accompany me, watch and maybe get a tip or two on how to do this. With the offer accepted we headed out to this first spot where this moderately small pool had caught my attention. 

I took two shots here this being the second of the two and by the end of the image my friend had nearly frozen and we retreated to the cars. 

That night was fabulous overlooking the Pacific Ocean and sitting talking during the image and solving the world’s problems, well that and looking out for car headlights on the hidden highway. 

Focused with the Dave Lane Astrophotography Reveal Filter and protected from dew and mist by the Dew Destroyer both available at:

http://davelaneastrophotography.com

42 images cropped on left due to house lights, ocean water color enhanced and starfish added from cell phone picture earlier in the day.

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The Equestrian Trail

 

The Equestrian Trail. Normally I wouldn’t have produced this image. There were clouds moving in and an hour after this image the entirety of the sky was covered and there was lightning playing about in the sky. Any rain that may have accompanied the clouds rolling into the Moab area evaporated before reaching the ground, although it would have been welcomed in the 106-degree heat. I was headed back home after 10 days on the road, sleeping at the highly rated, if somewhat damaged, Hotel Jimmy Envoy. 

The next night I would be in Victor Colorado and then home after 5,200 miles of driving in 11 days. I had seen this scenic little spot the day after descending from “On Top of The World” the scene of Jimmy’s near death experience. I made a note to try to catch this spot on the way back home if possible.

This is actually taken from on top of about a 500-foot ridge that has a horse trail that leads up to it. You can see the horse trail continuing on to the right. To the left, there was a jeep trail that went to parts unknown. I would have explored it but with the damage to Jimmy, he was in no condition to go trail riding.

As I had climbed up the steep ridge to get to this spot the clouds and storm were rolling in with distant lightning flashing occasionally on the right side of the picture. I quickly set up to start imaging before the clouds rolled in. As I was watching the camera working, I saw lightning silhouetting the left plateau. I was curious how it would look and figured it would make the image not usable. When I looked at the camera after the image finished I was shocked at the flashes and how interesting they looked in the images, truly a picture worth processing after all. 

Focused with the Dave Lane Astrophotography Reveal Filter and protected from dew by the Dew Destroyer both available at:

http://davelaneastrophotography.com

42 images ISO 8,000, f1.4, 50mm Sigma Art

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The White Throne at Zion National Park. 

 

The White Throne at Zion National Park. 

Two years ago I came face to face with failure. I had gotten a pass arranged through the Department of the Interior to go into Zion after dark. I was excited to set up and get some great shots. Having been super convinced I would ace this and nail some shots so I didn’t really even make a plan. Then I started shooting. Now, most people who have followed my images know I can get light out of about anything. I’ve used dozens of tricks and ideas from my deep space imaging to pull light up that was pretty feeble.

One look at the images in the camera though told a scary story. They were extremely dark and unusable. 

This was my first attempt to shoot from the bottom of as steep a canyon as Zion. The narrow gap exposing the sky had cut a huge amount of the starlight in the sky from getting into the canyon. Probably 75% or more of the starlight I normally use was being blocked. I tried upping the ISO dramatically and the image was peppered with green,  red and blue “hot pixels.” While it was close to bright enough the pixelation was dramatic. I tried all the ideas I could think of and only managed one so-so image that took dozens of hours of work to just look “pretty good.” I bet I spent 50 hours on that one image. 

As painful as that was, as frustrated as I was, I learned some new ideas to try. So I’ve been biding my time, waiting, learning, remembering what Zion had done to me. It wouldn’t do to just do the area by the visitors center that is fairly lit up and more wide open. It would have to be the depths of the canyon to be able to claim victory over the dark side. 

So in June, I was ready. Luckily I took this right before a massive fire started just north of Zion. I missed that by a scant few days.

I arranged for the permit and waited. The last buses didn’t leave the area till long after dark, which surprised me. I had ridden the bus up to scout earlier in the day which had topped out at 96 degrees. I headed to my first location which was Big Bend with a peekaboo view of the White Throne (white on the right) and waited. I heard a clicking noise as dark gathered about me and I clicked on my headlamp to see a fox no more than 20 feet from me coming over the top rim of grass into the parking lot I was sitting in. We eyed each other for a moment and then he turned and disappeared back over the curb and into the grass. Big Bend is a little more wide open than many spots in Zion so I decided to use that to my advantage and to test if I could suceed.

Finally, it was pitch black in the canyon. Time to get to work. I took a couple of test shots. Yes, the detail was there I was running the ISO at an astounding 10,000 opened up the lens to full 1.4 and started exposing. I was getting the detail I needed, but the green, red and blue speckle was there when I zoomed in. I had new ways I knew would at least help ameliorate the issue. As it turned out it did it quite well.

So this image is a personal triumph for me. For 2 years I plotted the demise of Zion National Park and ultimately I made it happen to my satisfaction, and hopefully yours as well.

 

42 images ISO 10,000, f1.4, 50mm Sigma Art

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Airy Reflections at the Great Fountain of Yellowstone

Airy Reflections at the Great Fountain of Yellowstone. It was a still, cool night with temperatures the lowest in the entire US after a very hot day. The mercury was hovering at 34 degrees. Fortunately, the air was still and sullen. The reflections were impressive but the airglow in the sky was literally insane. The airglow was the best I have ever seen. It happened one other night on this trip in a place called Toroweap or Tuweap. The airglow there was strong but here at Yellowstone, it was almost impossible to describe. The Tuweap image needs some work but it will be a spectacular image when finished in my opinion.

The bleachers that are seen in the distance give a great view of the fountain at sundown, when occasionally it coincides with an eruption it can be a glorious view.

This late evening/early morning shot turned out really well, I think. It would have been awesome to catch an eruption in the image as they can be up to 200 feet tall. The reflections were blown out so it is enhanced and shifted right.

After this shot, I went to a flat area without trees or geysers to take some more shots of just the Milky Way. I took several panoramas of just the Milky Way because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the camera. The airglow was off the charts. As I was finishing up the last image, I was sitting in Jimmy with the camera/tripod just outside the door.

I had heard some earlier thumps. Now thumps and gurgles at night are nothing new in Yellowstone. I hear them constantly while filming. Splashes and seemingly close pops can mimic bears or other critters so it’s enough to keep one on edge in the dark. Now, however, the thumps were growing in sound and volume. I thought something was wrong with Jimmy.

As the last panorama (42 images) finished up I got out of Jimmy and turned on my headlamp and was shocked.

I was surrounded. Surrounded by a herd of bison. 100s of them were around Jimmy in all directions, some as close as 15-20 feet. They had come in the dark to drink from the river I was parked near. Since they seemed to be paying no attention to me I grabbed my gear, threw it in Jimmy and wove my way to safety,

I should have taken video on the way out. After having done $1,000+ worth of damage to Jimmy going to Top of The World, I decided discretion was the better part of valor and escaped before Jimmy could be headbutted into oblivion.

42 images f1.6, ISO 8000, 50mm

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Pick up Sticks?

 

 

As many of you know, I am a rock hound and love old mining structures. So I was in heaven in Victor Colorado, the veritable “City of Mines.” There were some great structures nearby that lined up well with the Milky Way and were insane in their complexity and visual interest. This is one of those views. Although the structure appears to defy gravity, a different view I am working on shows it as a much more substantial structure from a different angle. The foreground was shot with a setting 10% crescent moon, which I normally don’t do, but there were so many shots I wanted to get completed that I grew impatient. You can see the small town lights from Goldfield in the distance. I hope you will enjoy the image and do some research on the city of Victor Colorado. It’s a very interesting area and worthy of your time to read about.

This image was shot with the Dave Lane Astro Products Reveal Focus Filter. ISO 6400, f1.6, 50mm x 42