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A Wild Night Under The Milky Way

The Milky Way in Concrete, WA
The Milky Way in Concrete, WA

During my 2-week Northwest trip including Olympic National Park, Glacier National Park and Banff National Park, I knew I'd be under some dark skies. The perfect opportunity to get some Milky Way shots.

There are two challenges I encountered during this endeavor. The first being limited time and LOTS of driving left me a bit on the tired side in the evenings. The second is it's WILD out there. In this area I could cross paths with moose, elk, cougars or grizzly bears. I don't tend to shy away from wild animals. I'm obviously cautious, but I generally feel safe in most situations. EXCEPT when it's pitch black outside and I can't see a damn thing.

On this night we were staying in a small cabin outside of Concrete, Washington. Nearby are Baker Lake and Mt Baker where I had hoped to get some shots of Mt Baker reflecting in Depression Lake during sunrise and/or sunset. Once it was dark I went outside to see what I could see. Once my eyes adjusted, I could see the milky way all the way from the horizon arching over the center of the sky to the horizon behind me.

I wasn't crazy about the foreground and I was having a hard time locating the North Star (Polaris) due to some trees and hills behind me. My star tracker requires pointing it directly at Polaris. All the stars rotate around that. So I decided to drive out the dirt road a bit which goes through some farm fields with cattle. I came to the end of a fence and decided park the car and get out to scout the area. I walked about 50 feet from the car and was looking at the milky way. It was pitch black. I couldn't see my own hand. All of the sudden I hear something running at me. At first, I obviously assumed it was a cow and knew that it's inside the fence. But it kept coming and was approaching fast. I freaked out and ran to the car which was pointed in the direction I came from. As I got to the car I heard it hit the metal gate that was where I was standing. When I turned the headlights on I did not see anything. No cow. I have no idea what it was, but I decided HELL NO. I'm not standing out in the middle of nowhere by myself in the pitch black dark.

I went back to the cabin and decided to brave it out right outside the front door. Still scary, but I felt a little safer. This is the shot I took. Nothing special. The lights are from the cabin up the street.

For you photographers, there's nothing special about this shot. It's shot on a Canon R5 at 11mm. It's a single 6 second exposure of the sky on a star tracker and a single 6 second exposure of the foreground without the tracker composed together. That was enough for me to pack it up and get back in the cabin for some rest. I never ventured out at night again on the rest of the trip.

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