Painted Quaking Aspen

The early morning session featured in the Mount Thielsen Stars post was a bit of redemption for what I had considered a poorly executed star shooting session a couple of weeks earlier.  During that earlier session, I did quite a bit of experimentation, which is good, but came back with very little that I considered worthy of sharing.

Twenty-five years at this game and I’m still learning.

I like that.

I was hoping to get some more late night images this weekend.  I was down in California doing some work for the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA).  It was trail work in the mountains during the day, but I’d have free time after dinner to get out and shoot the stars some more.  Since we were in the area, I was really looking forward to getting this tree in the foreground.

Instead, it was cloudy and rainy.  Snow had fallen in the area the night before we set up camp.

That made for poor photography options, but made for a memorable trail work weekend.

It was great to see so many people out enjoying the mountains, regardless of the weather.  It was the second weekend in the deer hunting season, although none of the hunters we talked to spotted anything other than does and a few fawn.  In other words, no luck.

There were also plenty of hikers, including a father and his young (7-8 year old?) daughter, out for her first backpack trip.  We talked to them on Saturday, then again on Sunday as they returned to the car, no worse for wear after a rainy and cold night at their back-country campsite.  She was all grins.  There just might be a lifetime of adventure for that young lady.

Anyway, what does any of that have to do with this photo?  Well, I had some time to let it set after giving up on it a couple of weeks back.  That was plenty of time to remove any notions of what I wanted to get out of it, which let me experiment.  Considering it’s the result of a night of experimentation, that was perfect.

Shot a little bit after the moon rose in Fish Lake Moonrise, I turned my attention to the south in the direction of the Milky Way.  There was also a single Quaking Aspen on the hillside which had, luckily enough, already popped to its full autumn color.

The moon lit the ground and I used an LED flashlight to paint the aspen.  Meanwhile the stars and Milky Way did their thing, occasionally masked by cirrus drifting across the sky.

Painted Quaking Aspen

Messy, but quite a bit of fun.

Wildhorse Lake

We were disappointed in the lack of clarity in the sky, as there are several wildfires in the region.  Luckily we got there when we did, as a thunderstorm rolled through two days later and started a wildfire on the slopes.

Wildhorse Lake

Steens Mountain, Oregon.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make the hike down to the lake.  You can see the trail extending down from the lower left, using switchbacks to drop down the steep slopes toward the lake.  It’s only about two miles round trip, but in our haste to pack the car and drive out to southeast Oregon, we left all of our water carrying bottles and bladders at the house and the water filter was back at the camp.  So at the elevation (~9,000′) on a hot day, we wisely decided to not make the jaunt.  Oh well, a good excuse to return to the lake.

Perhaps even camp.

Fish Lake Moonrise

Early last week, there were a few very large flares on the surface of the sun.  Each larger than the one prior, the flares ejected enough energy towards Earth that there was a promise of aurora.  Some forecasts even had aurora visible as far south as northern California and Nevada.

Late Thursday evening, Goddess and I discussed the opportunity, and the likelihood that we’d be skunked, but it was a chance to get out into southeastern Oregon.  The part of the state that most folks out this way don’t talk about.

“Because there’s nothing there”.

Some folks just don’t know how to look at things.

After a long day’s drive to Steens Mountain, we got out there just in time to start setting up camp before it got dark.  After astronomical twilight passed, we had but 45 minutes before moonrise.  That was our window to catch a glimpse.

We noticed a very diffuse glow along the northern horizon, from northwest to northeast, but nothing that would stand out as a definite observation.  While taking pictures, I started to notice the moon rising to the east, some 20 minutes before we saw it.  It wasn’t really visible to the eye, but quite obvious on 15 second exposures.  The clouds over that direction helped with the effect.

Fish Lake Moonrise

The picture doesn’t do justice to the amount of stars we were able to see out there.

Our camp was at 7,400′ and, as is typical of a desert, very dry.  Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of smoke and haze in the area, thanks to the many wildfires burning in the surrounding states.  You can catch a hint of that smoke in the reds near the moon and along the ridgeline to the left.

So while the aurora was a wash for us, the trip wasn’t.  It’s an area I’ve been looking at for a while, trying to figure out a good reason to make a road trip out there.  Well, other than making it a road trip.  The promise of aurora was the trigger and even though we didn’t catch but maybe a hint, we’re glad for the trip.  Many firsts for Goddess (like driving alongside a herd of wild pronghorn antelope) and hopefully enough of a hint of the beauty and history that she’ll be willing to go back.

Speaking of hints, that tree line is a grove of quaking aspen.  Our campsite was among them and the mountain was covered in a patchwork pattern, each grove in a different stage of color, from normal summer greens to bright yellows to deep reds.  An autumn worth of color in one spot.

Perhaps I’ll share.