The Milky Way soars above the Mesquite Dunes in the small hours of the morning in Death Valley National Park, California. Creosote Bushes (Larrea tridentata) cast shadows in the foreground, and the northern rampart of the Panamint Range creates the jagged horizon. Death Valley is known for its dark skies and in recent years the Park Service has built on that reputation by removing unnecessary lighting and by installing downward-facing lower-wattage fixtures where lighting is deemed necessary. The result is a portal to the galaxy, a lost doorway to the heavens for many who live surrounded by light-polluted night sky.
I found myself in Death Valley meeting up with a college friend and his family for two nights before we journeyed south for our 20th-year reunion. The timing was unfortunately difficult with respect to dark skies, as the waxing moon dampened the starlight for much of the night. However, I did my homework and discovered that there would be an hour or so between moonset and sunrise when the stars might shine brightly over the darkened diamond deserts (queue Woody Guthrie tune now)... My friend and I got dressed at 3:30 and found ourselves out in the dunes a little before 4:00. It was dark enough that it was quite difficult to discern the contours of the undulating sand. After raising the hackles of a nervous sidewinder rattlesnake when I set up my tent in camp some hours previously, I was also alert for sounds and movements of the serpentine type. Nothing eventful came to pass, and the starlight, darkness, and peace were enveloping.
Technical details: Single exposure with low-level LED lighting with a warming filter to bring out the foreground dunes.
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