Not available to those without a serious off-road vehicle and two and a half hours out on dirt roads, Michael became obsessed with making the trip.
The park ranger warned that getting stuck might result with having to walk 29 miles in rocks and heat to get help might be our fate.
Undaunted, Michael found a jeep rental place and for a mere $350 for the day, we hired a rock crunching, road eating, brain rattling driving machine and made our way there. As usual, we were just a little late the party. The sun was starting its rapid descent and we were just getting set up.
Disappointed but not defeated, we began walking the Playa looking for the iconic stones which moved seemingly under their own power, a feat even modern science can’t fully explain. We found several, but the sun no longer lit the best stone of all and we were not happy.
Disappointment comes with the photographic territory since there are no guarantees a decent image can be made just because we show up. It’s usually the latter, finding other than what we expected is sometimes better and more exciting than what was originally planned.
The Magic of Darkness
In the case of the sun, a decent facsimile is a good flashlight and a little handiwork: “painting” the artificial beam into the cracked, flat surface. It was fun to experiment with when finally we found a combination of light and dark which felt satisfying. It was never a one-shot experience, we repeated the process about a dozen times until we were sure we weren’t going to improve the last best attempt.
Darkness descended quickly and the sky began to glow a deep blue while a sliver of the moon showed up to help decorate the celestial theater where the performance would soon begin. Now that too was an experience we hadn’t expected as the glow of the Playa and the smoldering fire of sunset began to spread through the sky. WOW. What a show and what an experience as we now repeated the light painting but with an entirely different perspective.
Invigorated by having created some really interesting images we decided to press on and shoot the Milky Way. Using our simulated sun sticks we lit the local waypoint carefully to show it in the foreground under the magnificent sky.
It’s hard to paint light evenly with a hand held flashlight and we tried several times until eventually we discovered that a single pulse of the break lights did a credibly job with little effort.
Now, onward to Ubehebee Crater to shoot the night sky. Upon arriving, we met up with a Las Vegas couple that were avid Astro-Photographers and were extremely helpful getting us set up. It was there I saw the Milky Way in all its grandeur for the very first time. It was there I made my first exposure of the night sky capturing its immense scope. I knew I was hooked all over again on turning my camera upward in the wee hours of the day’s end.
Back to our hotel at about 1:00 am gave us barely time for a long nap before the next sunrise shoot.
This photography stuff is tricky business and requires the voluntary surrender of a good night’s sleep. So when people ask me if I “relaxed” on vacation, I laugh. I generally come home exhausted and in need of 3 days sleep!
Now, you know, that rarely happens!