Nolan River Milky Way-Nine Months of Trying

Nolan River Bluff
One of my favorite areas to photograph here in north Texas is the Nolan River south of Fort Worth.  This is a small river that runs through just two counties (Johnson and Hill) before joining the Brazos at Lake Whitney.  The Nolan runs through some nice little hills on what is often a rocky bed and has a few sections of limestone bluffs.

Add in the fact it is also just far enough away from the Metroplex to see the Milky Way in the night sky and you might see why I like it for photography.

I can be there in just under an hour from my home making it a great location for sunrise or for a 3am departure to photograph the Milky Way before sun up.

I had some great success photographing the Milky Way there last year  Nolan River Blog Post    and hoped to get a chance to photograph there again.  I also wanted to see what my Sony A7S camera could do.

Well 2015 was a year in frustration in getting to the area I wanted to get to.

High water is too fast and deep
I knew in February I might be able to capture the Milky Way in the eastern sky just before sunrise.  I went down under partly cloudy skies but at the bluff it was 100% cloud cover.

In March I went down and it was raining.

In April I went down after a few days of rain and found some partly clear skies but the river was in flood stage from the rain and I could not get to the bluff.

In May we had epic rains in north Texas and the Nolan had a flood the crested some 25+ feet above the normal river level.  After the flood passed I tried again and found Lake Whitney had so much water it had backed up into the Nolan River and some of the surrounding bottom land and we could not even get to the river.  The trail in the trees disappeared into the dark water of the lake.

Lake Whitney backs up into surrounding creeks
June was much the same.  We could now get to the river but it was still far too deep to get to the area I wanted.  I went as far to go buy chest waders hoping I could wade along the bank but found the water at least 6 foot deep.

By July the water had receded some and I went back about 3 in the morning with chest waders  but still found it too deep.  I just was not comfortable going into 4-5 foot deep murky water in the dark with camera gear.

August was much the same.  The lake level was slowly going down but remained too high to get to where I wanted to get to.  There is another section of bluffs that remained above the lake level and we visited them in the late summer instead Nolan River Bluff
I can see the bluff but cannot get there

In September I was able to get to the river and get partially where I wanted to go but a side creek was still deep enough and muddy enough to not cross it.

Finally in October the lake level had dropped to what I thought might work.  But by now the Milky Way was so late in its season that it looked like going at sunset would be the best bet.  I was hoping there might just be enough of the bank showing to walk there and at worse walk along some rock ledges in just a few inches of water.

Could not get to the bluff but I got this shot along the river
That was exactly the conditions we found.  The lake/river level was far above what we had seen in 2014 still but it allowed us to get to the bluff.  Several of the rocks I had used for compositions were still under a few feet of water so we had to adapt.  We also found a large boulder had fallen from the bluff and was partially blocking the main ledge.

It was a clear day so there was no sunset to photograph.  However when it got dark we were able to see the Milky Way was in the south-southwestern sky and started photographing it.

We stayed for a few hours and as it swung around more westerly I was able to get the top image here looking down river.

It was a very tough year of many attempts and much frustration trying to photograph the bluff this year.  From clouds, to rain to floods, to full lakes were all things that made it difficult but in the end perseverance made it happen.

Those are just the things you deal with as a landscape photographer.  It can be difficult and then one day it all works.


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