Thursday, May 30, 2024

Sunset & Sunrise

 The hours for Milky Way photography pretty much stink. You need to hike to your chosen location and get set up at least an hour or so before sunset. Then you have to wait around, often until 2AM or 3AM, for the Milky way to be in position. Then either hike back to your car in the dark (difficult and dangerous) or try to go back to sleep until sunrise (difficult but not too dangerous😴). But if you camp overnight and get lucky with pretty skies, you are rewarded with both a sunset and sunrise, not to mention starry skies and the Milky Way. I was very lucky to have had that experience recently. 
This photo was taken just before sunset. My tent was set up and I was just killing time. The far mountains were still getting some golden light and it was a classically beautiful desert scene. Nice sky, too, with those cloud claws! I shared this photo with my friend Mitch, who is a professional photographer. His feedback was there is too much sky. I'm not sure all us sky watchers would agree with him (can you ever have too much sky??), but after reflecting, I think he's right. The sky draws your eye away from that beautiful desert landscape. Below is a "pano crop", and it does help you focus on the pretty light, rocks, flowers, and mountains.
Amazing how the yellow flowers were picking up the last light of the day!

Desert bouquet.
The very last light of the day was turning the mountains purple. Beautiful! I was pushing the limits of my camera for hand-held photography in low light (my tripod was set up for Milky Way photos back at camp), so time to head back to the tent.
Time to crawl into my sleeping bag and hope for sleep.💤 I have the alarm set for 3AM. You can see my Milky Way photos from this outing here.
I finished taking photos of the Milky Way sometime around 3:30am or 4am, and decided to wait for first light to hike back to my car. That would turn out to be a good decision.
I'm up by 5:30am, tired and groggy, but thankful that I didn't try to make the hike back to the car in the dark. Stumbling along, I come across this beautiful scene, with the sun rising over the boulders and providing back-lighting on a smoke tree. A wonderful treat!
Hope you enjoyed these desert landscapes, and thanks for stopping by!!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Rocks & Flowers

 I expected the rocks. But I didn't expect the flowers. I figured it was too late in the season to have anything blooming out in this part of the desert, so the flowers were a pleasant surprise!
Paper bag bush, AKA bladder sage. Aren't these unusual looking? The pink globes add color and interest to the desert landscape, and sometimes sound. On occasional windy days, the seeds rattle around inside the "paper bags" and make a delightful tinkling sound. Nature's wind chime!
Mojave astor
Boulders erode in mysterious ways!
Indigo bush deserves a mention. It was all over the place on this hike, yet it's distribution seems strangely limited. I frequently hike a mile or two eash of here and never see it. I also hike west of here and don't see it. Why it grows only in this area is a mystery to me.
It was crazy windy for the entire hike, and Mitch and I were laughing about the two crazy geezers out hiking in a wind storm. We didn't see another soul all hike, although that's normal for this remote area. All photos were taken using my iPhone, which did a remarkable job of capturing clear flower photos despite strong winds blowing them all over the place!

The Blob!
Orange, yellow, purple, and white flower's in a single photo!
This rocky spire might make a nice Milky Way foreground!
More desert indigo putting on a show.

Nice complementary colors!

A short climb up to a small arch resulted in the photo below.
Very cool little arch!
Thanks for stopping by!!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Milky Way over Ojo Oro Arch

 This stands out as perhaps one of my strangest and most memorable Milky Way experiences to date! I've mentioned my goal of "a Milky Way photo a month", and this is my post for the May 2024 Milky Way. The plan was for my friend Mitch to join me, but something came up and he couldn't make it. So it would be me, hiking solo, in the middle of the Joshua Tree Wilderness Area for an over-nighter in hopes of getting some decent Milky Way photos.
I had decided to use Ojo Oro arch as the foreground, with the Milky Way rising above the arch. Ojo Oro is a bit remote and not well known, but I've hiked to it several times. It doesn't get many visitors, but I have seen a few really nice photos of the Milky Way over Ojo Oro. Then a couple days before my scheduled visit, my friend Mark tells me he was out in the same general area with a buddy of his and they spotted a mountain lion! Mark's friend got a close enough look at it to know it was a mountain lion, and not a coyote or fox or something else. It spooked them enough that they didn't stay for the Milky Way but instead hiked back to their car and left the area. Smart move! They also told the Park Service about it, and shared the GPS coordinates for the location where it was seen. 
So here I am, a couple nights after the mountain lion sighting, hiking solo into the same area to spend the night. Strange indeed, but there's more strangeness to come. My original plan was to try and keep my pack a little lighter by not packing my tent and just "cowboy camping", but after hearing about the mountain lion I decided I needed that tent!
4:41PM. A little cloudy, but hopefully the clouds will blow away by Milky Way time (around 1AM). Stay positive!
I call this one "tiptoe arch". A cool arch, but not oriented correctly to be used as a Milky Way foreground. 
A big, fat chuckwalla lizard!
The rock formations in this area are simply amazing! The way they erode creates alcoves, arches, and all kinds of weird shapes. The bushes at the base of the rocks are about 2-3' high for size perspective, so these are huge boulders!
After hiking about 2.5 miles, I finally find Ojo Oro arch.
Ojo Oro close-up.

View from the "back" side of Ojo Oro. 

Using the arch as a picture frame!
5.10.2024; 6:43PM. I get my mountain lion proof tent sent up.😉 Wow, look at those clouds!! I'm highly doubting I will see the Milky Way tonight with clouds this thick moving in. Unbelievably, I feel a few big drops of rain!! It only lasts for a few minutes. I'm thinking about what to share for my blog post if I can't get a photo of the Milky Way, and I smile at the thought of an AI-generated image of the MW over an arch. Here you go:
Yuck, that's terrible. But I'm not giving up yet!!
7:27PM. I'm eating my "dinner" (PB&J sandwich), facing the arch, and on a whim look behind me and see this view! The sunset is behind the mountain, but I'm still able to catch a little bit of it. Here's what it looks like through my telephoto lens:
It looked even better in person. It reminded me of a volcano erupting, with molten lava flying into the air. I literally whooped out loud after taking the photo!
8:13PM. If anything, the clouds are getting heavier. If by some miracle the clouds part and I can see the Milky Way, the photo above will be my foreground. My camera will not move from the tripod for the rest of the night. Then I can blend the two photos together, and have not only sharp focus and better light on the arch, but also sharp focus on the Milky Way. Well, that's my plan anyway!
I manage to stay awake until about 9PM or 9:30PM. I set my alarm for 12:15AM. There's nothing to do, and it's dead quiet. No cell service so I can't use my phone. It's just me with my thoughts and I let my mind wander where it wants to go. Relaxing and therapeutic.
I'm surprised when my alarm goes off. I actually managed to fall asleep! (I usually can't sleep when camping). While sleeping, a miracle has occurred: I can see the stars!!!👏 It's not a super-clear night, but I should be able to manage some Milky Way shots. Here's where things get weird. Below is my first photo (not a blend), taken at 12:26AM, 5.11.2024.
But wait, what is that red tint?? Even the rocks have a red tint. The red tint is not visible in the sky. Very odd. I take another photo and get the same results. Change the ISO and exposue: Same result. May be my headlamp as a red indicator light? Remove my headlamp, take a picture: Same result. I'm starting to feel discouraged and wondering if there is a problem with my camera sensor. Since it's not visible with my naked eye, I figure it must be a technical glitch of some kind. I decide to crawl back in my tent and try to sleep for an hour. The Milky Way will be a little higher in the sky, and may be another miracle will happen (the red tint will be gone!).
5.11.2024; 1:41AM. I stumble over to my camera and tripod and take a photo. Dang, no miracle. I still have that pesky red tint. I take a couple more photos with different settings, but the red tint is always there. I give up and go back in my tent, frustrated, and try for more sleep.
I get up around 5:30AM, pack up my gear, hike back to the car, and drive back to my desert house. I notice I have two messages waiting for me from Mitch.
Message 1 (from last night): "If you are still out there and have a signal, I hope you see this. Shoot to the north and you might get the red northern lights."
Message 2 (Saturday morning): "Facebook is awash with aurora pix from phones locally!"
Message 2 actually comes to me as I'm typing a message to Mitch to let him know last night was a failure, and I think my camera sensor died resulting in a weird red tint on all my photos. But I don't send it yet. Did he say red northern lights? I thought they were green!? I do a quick check on Facebook, and sure enough, there are boatloads of people posting red aurora skies (unheard of for the high desert or anyplace this far south). Some of the photos even resemble my red "tint". It finally dawns on me that my camera isn't broken, and the red tint is actually the aurora borealis (aka northern lights). Yippee!!! My mood quickly changes from frustrated to elated when I realize how lucky I was to get a photo of the Milky Way that also includes part of the aurora. Talk about dumb luck!!! My camera was pointed E/SE, but with my wide angle lens, it picked up a section of the sky to the NE, so you can actually see the interface between the aurora (to the north) and "regular" night sky to the east. How cool is that??
After just a bit of editing and blending of the foreground, this is what I came up. I'm so incredibly lucky to have gotten this image. A very strange night indeed, and one I will never forget. Oh, and no sign whatsoever of the mountain lion!
Thanks for stopping by!!
Linking with Skywatch Friday,

Thursday, May 9, 2024

April 2024 Milky Way

 I'm still on my quest to capture a "Milky Way a month". Really just getting started, having only posted March Milky Way Madness so far, and the April Milky Way today. The Milky Way season goes through August or September, so I have a ways to go!
For April, I tried a different approach. I normally have my foreground all carefully planned out. This time, I really couldn't think of anything to use as a foreground, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and just go out in the desert and wander around and see what I might stumble across. You are probably thinking the same thing I was thinking: Not a sound strategy.🤣
First stop: Scorpius Arch (see photo above). That's a pretty little Desert Chia in bloom, with the arch in the background. Scorpius Arch is a challenge to use as a foreground in a Milky Way photo. You need to get the arch with open sky behind it, which requires that you get close to the arch and practically on your hands and knees, shooting up. That being said, I've seen some really good MW photos with Scorpius Arch in the foreground, but I decided to pass and continue looking.
Close up of Scorpius Arch, shooting up from a low position (I think I was sitting).
Here's a beautiful little arch not far from Scorpius Arch, but unfortunately, the arch opening gets lost in the rocks and wouldn't make a good foreground. It looks much better shooting from the other direction (NE... see photo below), but you need to be shooting south for the Milky Way.
Let me introduce you to "Chuck". Chuck is the biggest chuckwalla lizard I've ever seen, and the only one I've ever seen out in this part of Joshua Tree National park. I had to get in close for this photo (my only lens on this day is a wide angle 16-35mm). Chuck surprised me: As I moved in closer, he didn't scurry into his burrow. Instead, he came out towards me! I decided: You don't mess with Chuck!

Which reminds me: As I was starting my hike today, I found a rattlesnake. Actually, he found me. I never would have seen him if he didn't rattle, as he blended in perfectly with his surroundings. So a rattlesnake and a giant lizard on the first part of my hike. Glad I packed the tent this time. It will (hopefully) keep the critters out of my sleeping bag!
Not a candidate, since the view is not to the south.
Also not a candidate, since the view is not to the south, but an interesting formation. I forgot to mention all the plants in bloom during this hike. It was really impressive! And look at that cloudy sky. As you may recall, clouds are the enemy of Milky Way photographers! Let's hope they dissipate.
About 6:30PM, I came across this rock formation, and figured this might be the best I can do. I'm looking S/SE, so the direction of view is good. It's a huge formation, so there's no way I would be able to light up all the rocks using my headlamp. My plan was to take some late day/underesposed shots that I could blend with Milky Way sky shots. I would leave my camera on the tripod without moving it, which would make the blend easier to do. But you know what they say about best laid plans!
7:40PM. This might work for my foreground shot. I have my spare headlamp shining up towards the eye-like alcoves. Pretty cool!
Setting up the tent, I found myself getting totally distracted by this beautiful sunset!
The sky was so pretty, I couldn't resist taking the camera off the tripod and taking a few photos. The problem was, when I put the camera back on the tripod, the focal length was now a little different that when I took my foreground shots (I didn't realize this until I was back home, trying to blend my Milky Way and foreground images, and scratching my head about why things weren't lining up!!).
Now it's time to climb into my tent, set my alarm for 3AM, and try to get some sleep. But as per my usual camping experiences, sleep wouldn't come, and I tossed and turned until finally getting up arount 2:30AM.🥱
Here's my Milky Way photo (3:24AM). This might make it easier to understand why there is a need to blend foreground and sky photos. With just this single image, the foregound is a silhouette and overall kind of a boring photo. As mentioned, I forgot to double-ckeck my focal lenth after remounting my camera to the tripod. The focal length for my Milky Way photos were 22mm while my foreground photos were 16mm. That's going to make it really difficult to blend the images!
Blending foreground and Milky Way images, here's what I came up with:

Not my best work, but given the circumstances, I'm happy with it and feel lucky to have gotten these photos. After taking my Milky Way photos, I'm feeling exhausted and decide to crawl back into my sleeping bag and wait for first light. I have quite a few more photos to share from this adventure, so stay tuned. I'll be heading out this weekend for May Milky Way photos, so wish me luck!
Thanks for stopping by!!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.