After much planning (and scaling back) of our late night (9pm-11pm) expedition, the middle three children and I spent a couple of hours shooting the stars during a new moon. I’d originally planned on driving down to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, as the dark skies are renowned, and the dunes are just a cool place to shoot. But as the date neared, the prospect of driving 3 hours with the possibility of unexpected cloud cover was not enticing.
So we pivoted, as we often do when making grand plans. We drove to Wilkerson Pass, about 20 miles west of our house. At Wilkerson Pass the trees and hills of Pikes Peak’s western slopes open up to a massive glacial valley. This area is sometimes broadly referred to as Hartsel (a small town in the middle of the valley) or South Park (yes, that South Park – Park County, Colorado). Further to the west lies the Sawatch Range, where I have spend many summers climbing numerous 14ers. The sky is wide, with Orion shining brightly to the south and the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) to the north – and millions of stars in between.
I am not an experienced astrophotographer. Over the past 6 years since we moved to Colorado I’ve shot the stars maybe 5 or 6 times. My equipment is the same kit I use for portraits, landscape photography, trips to the zoo, and other general shooting. There are astrophotographers that shoot with telescopes, tracking heads (to move with Earth’s rotation), and employ advanced editing techniques to create amazing detailed photos. For me, the night was about doing something new with my children and taking in the enormity of our little slice of the universe. I can’t wait to see what Isaac and Liam came back with – honestly more excited than I am for what I captured.
Honestly, of the 75 or so photos I shot, I wasn’t wowed by anything. In the summer months I have been able to capture colorful and textured images of the Milky Way. Last night I just came back with photos of millions of stars against a dark sky, sometimes punctuated at the horizon with the glow of Colorado Springs or Buena Vista bouncing off the distant clouds. That is a bit tongue in cheek, of course, as the night sky, so vast, is incomprehensibly beautiful. In truth, I think I was just disappointed that I was unable to capture what I experienced in person – a sky of such enormity that I could feel my own being so infinitesimal in comparison.
And so, I did what any decent Photoshop con artist would do and created my own colorful artistic interpretation. To be clear, for full disclosure, the images below have had the colors manipulated substantially. In fairness, our atmosphere applied its own filters first.
Sometimes – often times – I don’t return with that for which I first hoped. Yet, I rarely regret spending time outdoors, experiencing the world in a way that puts my human presence into a greater (and much, much smaller) context. I hope you enjoy the photos. Snow is coming, so I hope to have some more shortly!
(Click on any thumbnail image to open the gallery.)