This line is from the John Denver hit song “Rocky Mountain High” and was reportedly inspired when he and some friends spent the evening in the high Colorado Rocky Mountains (above tree line) staring at the clear night sky, and were captivated by the intensity of shooting stars during the Perseid Meteor Shower.
This weekend my bride Ginger, a couple of buddies of ours, and I went camping and fishing up near Steamboat CO. One thing I was looking forward to (in addition to ‘getting away from life’s daily small stuff’) was having opportunity to cross off one of my Photography ‘Bucket-List’ entries. Taking a good star field photo, to include the Milky Way if possible. I had forgotten, until Friday that the annual Perseid Meteor shower was this weekend!
We arrived at our campsite Friday evening about 7:30, greeted by a low cloud deck and notification that the local ‘Fire Ban’ had been re-initiated that very day… Meaning no campfires! Ok, that’s like going to a movie and finding out there’s no popcorn! But what option do we have, we’ve journeyed 3 hours to get here, its not like we’re gunna flip a uhey and head back home. We’ll tough it out… and do what I did before during a ‘Fire Ban Camping Trip’… put one of our electric lanterns in the pit and gather around the warmth of a glowing LED!
Fortunately gas stoves were not affected by the ban, Beer Brats (and Saturday night’s chicken) were tasty!
The serendipitous advantage of the fire ban was a great reduction in nighttime ambient light… Looking up, as the clouds began to yield to the black, stars began to appear. And once the lantern was extinguished, our canopy was a cathedral of light! The Milky Way directly overhead…
We were still pretty close to the Steamboat City Limits so every cloud reflected the red-orange glow from the town, still made for some interesting images.
The next evening promised clearer skies, so Dan (my fellow photography hobbyist) and I planned for greater opportunity to photograph the star fields arrayed above us. Late Saturday afternoon, we had gone fly fishing on the Elk River, and on our trek to the fishing grounds, we reconnoitered locations for good dark conditions for our expedition. The best we could find (within 20 minutes of our campsite) was a rancher’s field a few miles north.
That night, the mostly clear skies materialized! And off to our spot we went, Nikons and tripods in hand! Always good when the directions to our spot included the sentence, “Ok, turn left here and proceed up the dirt road for about a mile!”
We set up our rigs, set our cameras with the proper parameters necessary for capturing the stars (there’s a lot of technical considerations when doing this by the way), did our best at focusing (not an easy task in low light conditions mind you…) and fired away. Within a couple of minutes of our arrival in the field, the show really began… Intense, long trail, brilliant streaks of light began to sprint across the heavens. The Perseids! Some burned across half the sky! Others dashed like a stone skipping across a pond, it was a sight to behold! and… photograph! If I could!
In this first image below, you can see a few (3 actually) streaks just above the ridgeline. Two of these streaks are actually aircraft, the long exposure allowing their anti-collision strobes to form trails in the sky, the third (highest one in the image) is one of the meteors.
In another shot, a slightly different angle of that same telephone pole, you can see another couple of meteors (one crossing left to right just above the transmission lines, and the other paralleling the Milky Way just below the transmission lines). The clouds are reflecting the lights of Steamboat Springs to our southeast.
And then finally a shot looking at the Southern sky… The lit-up trees are what I presume to be the Rancher’s residence, and the glow off to the right is once again light pollution from nearby Steamboat Springs.
And there you have it…