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Sunday, May 5, 2024

Astrophotography at Valley View

We skipped going to Valley View for New Year's, and it's a good thing we did since that was only a few weeks after Katie broke her ankle. Instead, we made plans to go in early May when the weather would be a little better and we could go over a weekend when the Eta Aquariids meteor shower was peaking with little to no moon. Along with the meteor shower I planned to do some astrophotography. Of the two nights we were there, only one of them looked good from a cloud coverage standpoint, so at midnight on the night we arrived I woke up and hiked 2 miles to the bat cave. There were other places I could have done astrophotography, but that was the easiest place that I could get up high. After an hour hike, I made it to the caves a little after 1 am where I stayed for about 2 hours before I needed to leave to get warmed up. If it was a little warmer or if there was a little less wind I probably could have stayed until sunrise which would have produced some better photos of the foreground, however, the position of the Milky Way wasn't great the later the night went on.

During the day between soaking in the hot springs I went on a nature walk. I explored a new trail and saw some incredible wildlife, everything from squirrels, snakes, insects, and birds.

The evening was mostly cloudy but that didn't stop me from trying to do some more astrophotography. I found an old firetruck that I wanted to make my primary subject and tried to light up with an external light source to make the photos more interesting. The light ended up being too harsh, no matter how quickly I tried to light it up, and the stars in the background weren't that great with the cloud coverage. With rain forecasted all night after midnight, I called it an evening at 10 am and woke up at midnight to a completely overcast sky. I didn't bother setting another alarm to wake up in the morning before sunrise to try again. I woke up in the morning to perfectly clear blue skies and was disappointed I didn't set an alarm in the 3 am hour.

SwirlingMilky WayFriendly SquirrelWestern TanagerStretchingLower Top PondGarter SnakeValley View RidgelinePokeyTurn at the Skull CairnMeadow PondFire Truck

Friday, May 10, 2024

G5 Solar Storm

A giant solar storm allowed us to see the Aurora Borealis from Colorado. It was a spectacular event that gave a great showing. The last time a solar storm this powerful happened was in 2003, so I knew I needed to go out to capture it. I had been getting notifications from NOAA all day about how powerful the storm was, and I was hoping that it would hold out through the night for me to peek at such a unique phenomenon that rarely visits Colorado.

At 9:30, I drove an hour and a half to the Pawnee Grasslands to hike a little bit of the Pawnee Buttes trail. When I got to the trailhead around 11 pm I was not the only one who had that same idea. There were several dozen cars along the road car camping and spectating as well as a nearly full parking lot with an additional 20+ cars.

I figured if there were this many cars up here that the showing was good, but before I left the warmth of my car I took a shot from inside using my steering wheel as a tripod. That first photo showed me a beautiful green sky with the silhouette bathroom outlined in the foreground. With just one photo I went from being skeptical of if this long drive would be worth it to being ecstatic and needing to get out there to start taking photos with something a little better in the foreground.

I got out there right as the moon was setting. The moon was just a sliver in the sky about 12% full. With the moon on the horizon, it was a gorgeous addition to the framing. But by the time I got my camera set up, I only got about 5 photos before the moon was gone. All 5 of those photos had the moon overexposed and weren't good enough to share. But I wish I had paid attention to the moon when deciding when to head out for shooting.

The area was busy but not packed. The Pawnee Buttes trail has lots of open space where people could spread out. There were spectators in lawn chairs simply watching, camera-phone photographers with silly phone tripods, amateur photographers (like myself), and serious photographers. Surprisingly, I didn't have to go far to be alone. Where the bulk of the people were was an area with a terrible foreground. The foreground from the meadow by the trailhead was only a few bumps on the horizon from the bluffs in the distance but nothing special or interesting. I knew from previous experiences here (in the daytime) that it was a short half-mile hike to the canyon where the Bluffs were in the direction of the Aurora. I was shocked that no one was in the canyon with me photographing (at least that I know of), but I won't complain about having that area to myself.

I was out shooting for about 2 hours including the hiking and didn't get home until nearly 3 am. The show was the best right before midnight when you could see the solar radiation rippling across the sky. That radiation line was a bright line spanning the entire horizon from East to West that would quickly shoot across the sky starting from the Northern horizon and ending straight up. These ripples lasted about 15 minutes before calming down. I've never seen anything like it.

Lone WindmillIncredible ShowingNorthern Lights PanoramaStar TrailsLips Bluff

May 2024

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