Astrophotography 2: A Million Lights in the Darkness
I really hate this. You have no idea. You cannot understand, I think, how this feels.
There are at least three nights from my trip out west with Dirk that I could easily call my favorite night of the trip. When I throw the Monday night out of the mix, largely since it was amazing because it was my first time experiencing a night like that … well, that still leaves me with two nights that were my favorite. That were EASILY my favorite. It’s not even close… and every night from this trip was a life-changing experience for me.
But here’s the thing. It’s the honest-to-goodness truth. The past two years – 2016 and 2017 – have from a traveling perspective been two of the most amazing years of my life. That too is really saying something. I first traveled to Europe when I was 15 years old, and by the time I started college, I had been to nine foreign countries and 40 of the 50 United States.
But I digress. I struggled for nearly five months to decide which night was my favorite… even though the truth is, the last night is the undisputed obvious winner. I’m don’t think that I’ll ever have another camping experience so shockingly perfect in my life – that’s why that night is getting an entire blog dedicated solely to its story (as it turns out, that night actually got TWO blog posts dedicated to its story).
But Thursday night… that’s a favorite too, and it’s in large part due to the dramatically different environment in which it was spent. Camping in the woods will always hold a special place in my heart. When those woods are part of the Inyo National Forest just over the border from Yellowstone National Park…. when those woods are in the neighborhood of June Lake and a stone’s throw from the Obsidian Dome…. and when those woods, home to massive Ponderosa Pine trees that block out all ambient light, are situated at nearly 8,700 feet of elevation, providing crystal clear, thin, and bone-chillingly cold air through which to view the night sky…. Well, you can start to understand why Thursday night was my favorite. (OK, second favorite)
Night Sky Photography – Equipment Guide: Click HERE
Regardless of how truly incredible Saturday night was, that Thursday night will forever hold an extremely special place in my heart, mind, and memories. We arrived in the woods early in the evening and began scoping out different campsite options. Finding a campsite is easy enough in theory.
But in practice, finding an excellent campsite in the wilderness can be quite tricky. It requires balancing several key factors, such as safety, weather, comfort, and views. When we entered the woods that fateful Thursday afternoon, we were deep in the thick of winging it. We weren’t consulting maps, blogs, or any other resources for information – we were intent on doing this totally independent.
We followed the forest service road for a while, checking out a couple good potential site options. Though the sites were flat, open, yet also sheltered by the surrounding trees, none of the options were ideal. Before long, we stumbled upon what we soon figured out was a closed-for-the-season campground.
This turned out to be perfect. The sites were ideal – flat and manicured, with no major stones or ditches to contend with. They already had rock fire rings set up, and there was even a porta-potty sitting nearby! Though it wasn’t truly “wild” camping, we decided that the convenience and isolation of it all were still too good to pass up. We pitched our tent at our favorite spot, and headed into the woods to collect firewood.
The following morning will always be special, too: eating a mountain man’s breakfast of fire-grilled sausages and steaming hot black coffee for the first time in my life. As it turned out, I really needed the hearty hot breakfast. The overnight temperature dropped to about 28 degrees! It was the coldest night I’ve ever camped, and I’m extremely grateful for Dirk’s wisdom. He advised that we wrap rocks from the fire ring in towels and place them inside the foot of our sleeping bags to keep us warm that night.
I remained surprisingly warm all night… until about 5AM, when the warmth in my rock was finally exhausted! I woke up with chattering teeth and powerful shivers, so I got up before dawn and re-started our fire. Before long, I had a roaring blaze warming my frozen bones, and coffee and breakfast followed quickly.
Milky Way Photographs from Inyo National Forest
As I’ve already mentioned, that Thursday night was one of my favorite nights during what was a very special camping trip. Between the beauty of the woods towering overhead and the celestial fireworks beyond, I hope that the pictures below will offer you some small glimpse of insight into why… Enjoy!
Ooooops! I completely neglected to mention that the last few pictures are from the first night we camped on Big Sur.