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Milk Way Chronicles: Oregon Wonderland

My Article from Charlie Warrens fantastic magazine Amateur Astronomy. A must read publication if you are an Astronut like me.

Oregon is a long way from Kansas. And by that, I mean more than just the miles and the hours driving. The Oregon coastline is something special. Strips of sand interspersed with rocky, lava strewn beaches with towering lush pines. Once there, it was obvious I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Let me tell you a story, about the journey of a Kansas boy wandering the Oregon coast in search of elusive photons.

It starts with my preparations to head out for the new moon in July 2017. The entirety of the Southwest was experiencing the monsoon season, and the skies had been covered with persistent and nearly complete cloud cover. Seeing how the Southwest region had been home for almost all my Milky Way landscapes, I was puzzled where I should go.

As the time to leave neared, I studied the cloud cover maps and found that the Northwest, by contrast, looked to be clear for weeks to come. Many of my followers had recommended Oregon previously to me, but the drive was staggeringly long. The Painted Hills in Eastern Oregon was 29 hours of driving. And the coast much further still.

Nature though had dictated that it was time to head to the Northwest. I started the journey with a stop at Devil’s Tower, then a night in Yellowstone, the Painted Hills, Crater Lake and finally the Oregon coast.

As I neared the Pacific Ocean, several people had suggestions of where to try the coast. South of Yachats seemed to be the consensus. So, as I headed there, a follower invited me to stop by for some 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 but then, at last, it was time to shoot.

I had scouted on my way up the coast, and it had surprised me how few locations were possible to shoot the coast, get any of the ocean in the image and still frame the Milky Way correctly. As I started to leave for my night of shooting, I invited one of my new friends to accompany me, watch and maybe they would get a tip or two on how to do this. With the offer accepted we headed out.

The trip to Cooks Chasm was relatively short. Maybe a half hour drive. At night, the area had acquired a new look. I could see the setting sun reflected in the ocean far to the west. The coming darkness shadowed everything making my other senses heighten as I walked down the pathway to the enormous slab of lava rock that waited below.

Much of this image is a visual extravaganza, but the 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 surf. This image is of 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 shook the ground.

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 with a fantastic gush of water. I think it will be a cool picture, but I was impressed after looking at the camera screen at the ethereal nature of the ocean splashing against the rocks in this shot.

The ground was encrusted with small black mussels here which crunched under foot as I walked over from Thor’s Well to do this shot, a distance of just a couple of hundred feet. There was a slight spray and mist in the air that made the cool sea air quite nippy while I setup and waited for the shot to finish. I drew my coat around me tighter and hoped my dew heater would keep the lens clear of water droplets. I decided to sit and observe the panorama taking place, vigilant for cars driving by on the distant roadway. I normally sit rather than stand on uneven ground in the dark. When I stand in the dark for long periods, it is often becomes quite disorienting and harder than you would think. The blackness causes one to start swaying, and the risk of falling becomes worrisome.

I stared down into the chasm and watched the brightening and darkening of the waters as they surged in and out, that coupled with the sound was completely mesmerizing. The slight smell of the ocean churning below me drifted up to my nostrils. The beach’s sensory assault was so elemental, so powerful I couldn’t help but be tranfixed. Primodial memories of oceans tugged at some portion of my brain, the seeming distant experiences of long forgotten ancestors.

The shot had ended, and I wasn’t even aware or thinking about it for a long period, watching the waves break. I sat spellbound by the sound and the visual spectacle.

At last, I stirred and realized the panorama had finished, gathered my gear, and retreated back to Jimmy to end a fantastic evening of extraordinary sensory delight.

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

http://davelaneastrophotography.com

42 Shots clipped left a bit, 55mm, ISO 8000, F1.6

Milky Way Chronicles Tip of the issue: Winter is coming. Make sure if you are going to shoot pictures outdoors to have a dew removal system with you. It can be as simple as rubber banding a couple of handwarmers to your lens, or having the very light portable Dew Destroyer system, or having a large car battery, controller, and strap for a day’s long excursion.

Too many times I’ve had to cut shots short because of dew or frost. Handwarmers work well but only for an hour or so. So be ready to swap them or just stop shooting once the lens frosts over. Whatever you do don’t miss a great shot because of dew or frost, make sure you are ready when opportunity knocks.

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