Thursday, September 12, 2019

Milky Way over Samuelson's Rocks

I guess technically this was my first outing to capture the Milky Way (if you don't count my Night Sky Practice outing). I had been racking my brain for something interesting to have in the foreground... underneath the Milky Way, so to speak. Preferably something unique. Places like Skull Rock and Arch Rock have been photographed hundred of times (more likely thousands of times). They get crowded, and who wants to replicate a photo that's been taken a gillion times anyway? I needed a spot away from the highway and car lights, and preferably with some hills in the background to reduce light pollution from the cities south of Joshua Tree National Park. And of course, it has to be something you can view while shooting south (since the MW is in the southern sky).

Then it hit me... what about Samuelson's Rocks?? I know at least some of the rocks are facing the right direction for a MW shot, and there are hills in the background that might block some of the light pollution. It's about 1.5 miles off the highway, so it should be plenty dark. The only problem might be the small size of the rocks. It would take some careful composition and focus to get decent shots, but in my opinion, certainly worth a try.

I googled "Samuelson's Rocks Milky Way" and got nothing. Nada. I tried "Samuelson's Rocks Night Sky" and got a couple examples of photos taken under the stars during a full moon out at the Rocks. That made things even more interesting. If there are any shots of the MW over Samuelson's Rocks, google couldn't find them. Who knows, maybe this would be a first!
John Samuelson was a Swedish immigrant who was one of the more colorful (some might even say crazy) characters of what is now Joshua Tree National Park. He told some tall tales that were so wild and interesting that Erle Stanley Gardner (of Perry Mason fame) paid him a fee to use his life story in a future book (which he eventually did). In his spare time, Samuelson chiseled his thoughts on some rock faces in the area where his homestead cabin was once located. But I digress...

I had one additional thing bothering me. I was prepared to hike out to the rocks on my own, but I would much prefer to go with someone experienced at night photography and navigation. I've done almost no hiking by headlamp, and the hike out to the rocks is across open desert (no established trail). As luck would have it, a "virtual" friend (JL) emailed me about hiking together sometime. Perfect! So we met up near the start of the hike, and off we went!
A typical summer day. A little hot for a hike (high of 103), but things would be a little cooler after sunset and at the higher elevation in the Park. We planned our hike so we would arrive at Samuelson's Rocks about an hour before sunset. That would give us plenty of time to scout around the rocks and locate some that are oriented correctly for MW shots.

After sunset but before the stars. I kinda like this one in b&w. Of all the rocks, this is the only one signed and dated by Samuelson (1927). It has a perfect orientation. If our calculations are correct, the MW should rise just to the left of this rock. JL brought along some small lights and tripods, so we started setting them up to light up the rock and surrounding area. This was a learning experience for me, and so glad that JL could join me and was willing to share his expertise.

First attempt. Not bad, but I'm not happy with the lighting, and the focus on the inscription is a little blurry. Also, it's still early, so the MW has limited visibility.

Second attempt. I like this lighting better (not so many shadows, and a little more natural). Also, the focus on the inscription is better and the MW is a little stronger.

Close up view (35mm on my 16-35mm lens). You lose some of the MW, but overall I like the shot. Notice the typos?? Here's what it says (typos corrected):

The Rock
Of Faith
And Trust
Nature is God
The Key to Life
Is Contact
Evolution is the Mother
And Father of Mankind
Without Them We Be Nothing
John Samuelson
1927

Jackpot! I like this one. Good focus, nice foreground lighting, and a clearly visible Milky Way. I'm just amazed how much time, effort, and planning goes into a shot like this. And if you're lucky, you will get two or three quality shots for the entire evening. But you might not get any. And while I'm on the topic, did I mention that the hours suck?? Milky Way photographers are out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. These are really dedicated people (and I think most are a little crazy)!

Change of scenery. We stumbled up to the top of Samuelson's rocky hill to get this shot. It's about the only other rock we could find (in the dark) that had the right orientation for a Milky Way shot. I'm happy with the way it came out.

Just goofing around. Samuelson had a cabin on this hill at one time, which later burned down. But you can still find a lot of artifacts in the area (wood, glass, cans, old nails...). There's this old bed frame on top of the hill. I like to think of Samuelson sleeping in this bed back in the day. So I'm taking a short rest on Samuelson's bed, sending thankful thoughts his direction for taking the time to carve these rocky inscriptions, while JL photographs me under the Milky Way!

A short distance east (and kind of on the way back to the car) there's an old rusty auto body I am aware of. We decide to stumble hike over to see if we can find it in the dark, and if so, photograph it.
Attempt #1

Attempt #2.
I'm happy with #1 and really happy with #2. It's about as good as a newbie like me can hope to get. Good, sharp focus, great foreground lighting, and the MW is beautiful. Again, thankful to JL for the artificial lighting and showing me how it's done. Definitely couldn't have gotten this shot without him!
The hike home. I'm just trying to follow JL and the little bouncing ball of light in front of me. At the same time, I need to check the little waypoint dots on my phone to make sure we are going in the right direction. Oh ya, and watch the ground to make sure I don't step on a snake. Now you see why I wanted company??

Linking with Skywatch Friday
Thanks for stopping by!!

55 comments:

  1. That was definitely a challenge to do. The pics came out great, though. Great that you had company. Now you're acquiring a new skill set.

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  2. Hello, your Milky Way photos are wonderful. What a beautiful sky. I would not want to step on a snake on the dark trail. Great series of photos. Wishing you a happy day and a great weekend ahead!

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  3. Wow! I'd never heard of these.

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  4. I certainly admire your level of preparation and the thought process that goes into it. The results speak for themselves. Some of the pictures are sensational, and to an untutored eye like mine, none of them are bad. You obviously take your photography seriously and know what you are doing. And the narrative of your post is rich, engaging and informative. Well done! Be sure to say Hi to Lilly.

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  5. Wow, the least of these shots is spectacular. Great job, you have an eye, talent, and are willing to work for the shot.

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  6. I love this series. I especially like seeing all the twinkling stars in the expansive sky. Beautiful!

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  7. Wow, wow, wow! With this post you pass by many photographers!Love your shots, but also the one with you under the starry sky! It seems Samuelson had a very different idea about what the concept of evolution has become in present time:) What an awesome sky we have! Have another adventurous weekend:)

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  8. Unique. Loved the shots and the trip. Thanks for the ride (or walk)..
    Sherry & jack

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  9. what an amazing post...a cool place and wonderful pictures. i enjoyed seeing the milky way!!

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  10. You got some great shots! Totally worth the late night hours.

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  11. Hello,

    Very beautiful shots! The milky way are wonderful.
    Greetings from Norway.

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  12. What an adventure !
    Thank you for the detailed description of the creation of these fantastic pictures.
    Speltakulär the sky photos.
    I am very impressed.
    Congratulations!
    My sky ..

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  13. Dam they are so good, I really must have a go now at taking aphoto of the Milky way.

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  14. It's almost to the annoying end but your photos are still getting better and I therefore join all the above praise.

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  15. Daylight or nighttime and SNAKES/SCORPIONS would keep me home! Exceptional images!! Truly, exceptional.

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  16. The Milky Way photos are spectacular. I´ve seen it live only couple of times. Very impressive.

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  17. Toller neuer Header übrigens. Durch die gigantischen Bilder und Erklärungen fühlt man sich als ob man daran teilgenommen hat!

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  18. Ugh, 102*, no thanks, smiles. Very nice photos.

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  19. Amazing shots! I love how dedicated you are to your photography!

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  20. Awesome photography and what a trek to get them ~ you do amazing work ~ glad you got a respite ~ ^_^
    Agree with Samuelson ~ so true ~

    Happy Day to You,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

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  21. I'm glad you found a person online to go with you on this adventure. I got a kick out of you on the bed at night where Samuelson had his cabin that burned down. Fantastic night photography. You nailed it! Have a nice weekend.

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  22. I agree it is too easy to shot the most famous views and not try to find a different perspective but I must say your photography that night was spot on. I love all your Milky Way shots and I'm so glad your virtual friend went with you. It always seems better to me to share experiences with someone.

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  23. Fantastic pictures! Here, there is too much light from the buildings to take pictures of the stars as you do!

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  24. Brilliant!! So Glad You Shot Multiple Photos. Well Done Brother!

    Cheers

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  25. Love your post and pictures. I don't have a camera that shoots well at night, so I don't even try. We did have lots of opportunities to see the stars in secluded anchorages.

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  26. Wow -- your shots are magical and breathtaking! (Glad you didn't step on a snake ....)

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  27. Wow! Great photos of the milky way over Samuelsons rocks. The night photos are gorgeous!

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  28. You got some awesome shots. These are beautiful. What an experience. I was thinking about those snakes when you headed out on this trip. They do like those rocks.

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  29. Nothing can beat the nighttime desert sky. These photos are awesome!

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  30. I think you had fantastic results! I would be happy with any shot you showed.

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  31. Breathtaking photos!
    Have a lovely Sunday and a fabulous new week!

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  32. It's neat that the information is still there on the rock. I'm not as good with night photos as you are, still trying to work that out. What's the easiest way of doing it with settings?

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  33. I like all night shots and also the quotation.
    Nature is precious...
    Have a great weekend!

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  34. How incredible to think the rock with words has been out there all that time SPP and if these shots you took are the first, you did the rock proud, amaaaazing images.. and a new hiking buddy, excellent nights work!

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  35. Wow, incredible beautiful night shots !

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  36. So beautiful, so far out of my league ...both the night hiking and the amazing photography. I can't imagine ever having been able to do either and I’m grateful that you shared the beautiful results of your adventure. What a unique quirky guy Mr Samuelson must have been.

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  37. Nice! Not enough to make me go hiking in the middle of night. The last time I did that, I came back with a badly blackened set of toes. :-)

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  38. Oh excellent----what an adventure. Love the one of you in Samuelson's 'bed'. Ya did great! Great MW pics
    MB

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  39. It's always delightful to find a like-minded friend for a trip like this, especially one with such expertise. Looks like you were a good student! I like the rusted out car pictures the most.

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  40. What a great outcome to your night-time adventure! I've been toying with the idea of night shots but haven't done it yet.


    My Corner of the World

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  41. Amazing photos. Living in a city, I very rarely even get to see a proper starry sky.

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  42. I want to say...I'm right behind you! But if I was there, I would probably be hanging on to someone's shirt tail. I'm not usually afraid at night but that's farther out that I usually go! But what gorgeous photos! That old vehicle sure adds to the photos! But what a sky...oh my!

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