I recently had an opportunity to practice some Astrophotography with a friend of mine, we'll call him James. He and his wife own an upstart little Bed and Breakfast named The Coulter Inn in a small agricultural town in southeastern Colorado named Pritchett. The town is on the northern edge of one of the four Easternmost VERY dark night sky locations in the Eastern portion of the Intermountain Western United States. Why is that important, you ask? Well, basically, in the USA from the north of Maine, to the West, all the way to Wichita Kansas, there is so much light at night that the folks who inhabit these areas don't get to see much at all of the night sky any more. As such it is one of the four most easily accessible dark site's to all those unfortunate folks who happen to live in that very populous, and therefore very bright, region of the United States. As Real Estate Agent's don't have to be prompted to say; "location is everything".
Being adjacent to the northern border of the Comanche National Grassland means it's a pretty good bet that this resource will be sustained for some time to come. Although these days, in terms of National Parks and open spaces under the purview of the Dept. of the Interior and the USDA, the continued longevity of the wild status of these places is far from certain, and it is in that spirit that I intend to begin visiting these Dark Night Sky sites for photography sessions in order to try to preserve something for the future that is rapidly disappearing from our modern national heritage,...namely a view of the marvel that is the night sky. Standing under it and gazing upward in the midst of wild places will provide a sense of the awe and wonderment that ancestral peoples, and critters, have had about it for many millennia. It switches on body adaptations and instincts that have not been exercised by people and animals in well lit places for quite some time. Your pupils dilate as widely as possible and your optic nerve receptors become hyper-sensitive, your nostrils flare, your hearing turns up it's gain dial to 11, your nerves reach all the way out through your hairs to sense the motion of and vibrations within the very air around you. It is thrilling, primal, and essential to our spirits and souls, in my opinion. Making evocative images of it seems to be the right thing to do for posterity. A component of ones legacy that can preserve something as it vanishes all around us.
I'm no luddite. Digital imagery is my game, and it is one played on the bleeding edge of electronically powered illumination and digital technology these days. At it's core, it is all about light. Either it's brilliant abundance or it's total absence and the contrast between those two as well as the perceived color it creates when it reflects and refracts off of surfaces. Perhaps, it is the very nature of digital imagery/photography to be fascinated by the appearance of things, that is to say how things look, in places where light is nearly absent and as I said, this place we visited was D-A-R-K. A darkness like I had not experienced in the out of doors since I was a child.
That darkness on this 24 degree early April morning provided for spectacular star gazing conditions, as well as the conditions that heightened the senses I described earlier, in a way that I can only faintly recall having ever experienced. I've been to dark locations in the Rocky Mountains, but had forgotten what it was like to be in the wild, on the sweeping and nearly horizonless shortgrass prairie in the middle of the deepest dark night. Moonless, cloudless, dry, and cold are all the conditions needed for excellent star viewing, and out on the vast open prairies the night, we had them all in spades. Under those circumstances, when the horizon is very low, and in the dark nearly featureless beyond just a few feet all the way around, the effect can be, and was, utterly stupefying.
When I finally recovered enough of my senses to try set up my camera to record some of the unimaginable scenery the night sky was offering, I finally managed after several attempts, to make a few images of which I was somewhat proud. They are hardly up to the standards of the skilled photographers who are practiced journeymen & women of the craft of night sky photography, but they are satisfying to me. That is a great deal of the battle, since I am now compelled to try again, and again, until I make something that captures the Brobdingnagian splendor of it all. I'm thinking I may have to try some 360 degree knitted panoramic exposures next time. Until then, I hope you enjoy this fledgling image.
If you have a hankering to photograph this spectacle yourself, or just see the truly awesome site, (that word was meant for this experience, and not for cupcakes), check the website for The Coulter. James hosts outings to do just that and he and his wife and several others in town, are working to leverage this majestic untapped resource for this small and challenged community in Pritchett as a vehicle to revitalize that little town. It's a place that like so many Western US agriculturally based towns, has been devastated by the globalization of the food-chain and the efficiency and pricing power of Industrial Agriculture. So your patronage would mean a lot to James, his wife, and the community there.
As always, link back to my website here to see another image from this night sky series, (my favorite), and others, that are offered there for sale. Mention this blog post when you contact me for 10% off any image purchase from my website.
Until then, I stand in praise of darkness, and the trillions of tiny yet brilliant lights it reveals.