Santa Elena Canyon and Milky Way

In late October my photography turned to west Texas and I began planning a trip to Big Bend National Park.  This was a bit of a change for me as I normally spend time in Guadalupe Mountains then chasing fall color.

However, this year, I had decided on a different goal-the dark night sky of Big Bend.  After my spring trip where I was able to capture some outstanding images of the Milky Way over the park, I decided to go back to try more.  Specifically I wanted to see if it would be possible to photograph the Milky Way rising out of Santa Elena Canyon.  In the spring I had photographed out of the canyon to the Milky Way rising just before dawn.  Now in the fall the Milky Way is in the west just after sunset.  I was hoping I could get it in the right spot.

I planned for 5 days in the park and timed the trip for the week of the new moon.  After arriving in the park, I set up camp in Cottonwood and found there was only two other sites taken.  Both left the next day and we had the entire campground to ourselves!  

I went down to Santa Elena Canyon in the afternoon to see what condition the river was in.  The view I wanted was only a few hundred yards from the parking lot, so not far, but the constantly changing conditions of the river meant I wanted to see what it was like.

Glad I did as the water was up and Terlingua Creek was a big mud hole.  I brought Wellies in case the water was up but found the mud really deep.  After sinking a good six inches in the muck I realized it was not going to be an easy crossing if at all.  Then I watched another person go past their knee in the mud.  Ok, so the canyon is a no-go this year.

After watching sunset down the road with a view of the few clouds around the Chisos, I had a quick dinner and packed my kit for the Milky Way.  It needs about an hour after sunset to get dark and about 90 minutes to see the Milky Way.  I got down to Santa Elena Canyon and it was dark.  One of the many great things about west Texas is how dark the night sky is and it was dark and clear.

I set up three tripods and cameras.  I was using my Canon 5D Mark II with Bower (Samyang) 24mm, my Sony NEX6 with Rokinon (Samyang) 8mm fisheye, and a rented Canon 6D with Bower (Samyang) 14mm lens.  All three are excellent night combos and let me shoot from moderate wide through the huge view of the fisheye lens.

The Milky Way was already perfectly aligned coming right up out of the canyon.  I was thinking I might have to wait, or worse have missed it, but it was perfect.  I spent about 30 minutes there taking different compositions even though I had the shot on the first one.

Planning paid off and I was able to get the shot in the bag on the first night!  I now had the rest of the trip to work on other areas in the park.  What a great way to start the trip!


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