My First Milky Way Photo, Almost

We planned our road trip to take photos of the Milky Way. We would visit three national parks known for dark skies around the new moon. We scouted rock formations to add foreground interest to the Milky Way. Near Moab, Arches National Park has interesting rock formations, but Arches roads were closed weekday nights. Canyonlands NP was open at night, but using canyons to add foreground interest to star photos seemed difficult.

Our first opportunity for open roads at night at Arches NP was early Saturday morning, and we took it. We went to bed early, got up at 2 am, saw stars, and drove to Balanced Rock.

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Canyonlands Island in the Sky

After seeing Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock on a Thursday morning, we drove to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park that afternoon. Shown above, we’re standing on a high mesa, 1,400 feet above a flatland sliced by 1,000-foot-deep canyons. The sides of the mesa are on the left; Wingate sandstone forms the red vertical walls. This high mesa is like an island in the sky.

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Balanced Rock

After the hike to Delicate Arch on our parks road trip, we scouted Balanced Rock as a potential foreground subject for a Milky Way photo. For an interesting photo composition, you want something in the foreground to contrast with the Milky Way. Despite several tries, I had never been able to photograph the Milky Way. Arches NP is known for dark skies (favorable for star photos), and we had scheduled this road trip to take advantage of the dark skies of a new moon.

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Delicate Arch

To kick off our southwest USA road trip, we scheduled three full days in Moab to see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and to photograph the Milky Way.

We were hampered by road closures at Arches National Park (NP). This season, all park roads are closed for construction weekdays from 7 pm to 7 am. Since dawn was at 6 am and sunset was at 8:30 pm during our visit, the road closure prevented photos of sunrise, sunset, and stars on weekdays. A significant hiking area was closed entirely.  😦

As planned, we arrived in Moab on a Wednesday, one day before the new moon. Moonlight can obscure the faint stars of the Milky Way, so considering the moon phase is important when photographing Milky Way.

Our first morning in Moab was overcast — unfortunate because flat, gray light doesn’t bring out the best in the red rock. We started with the area’s most popular sight, entering Arches NP before the Visitor’s Center opened to hike to Delicate Arch. The hike is 3 miles (4.8 km) roundtrip and climbs 480 feet (146m). With no shade, hiking on a cloudy morning is easier than on a hot afternoon.

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Southwest Parks Road Trip

This spring we took a road trip to see spectacular, eroded rocks of the southwest US. We hiked and marveled at the grandeur of nature, and I took my first Milky Way photos.

Above is Landscape Arch in Arches National Park. Landscape Arch has a span of 290 feet and is the fifth longest arch in the world.

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