September 22nd, 2012
It was tempting to stay in Spearfish Canyon for the rest of the night and shoot sunrise there, but I'm glad we ended up going to Devil's Tower. The plan was to maybe shoot a couple scenes at sunset and then stay up for the Milky Way over Devil's Tower op. Of course, things almost never go as you expect them to.
Filled up with gas just outside Sundance, WY (already in a new state I hadn't been in before!) and was immediately greeted with a National Lampoon-like scene lol. I went inside to get a couple bottles of Mountain Dew while Chris filled up the car. To my surprise, there were about 50 Asian tourists packed into this tiny little convenience store lol. Looked around and I guess they had just gotten off of a giant sightseeing tour bus of some kind. Just a classic Clark Griswold Family Vacation scene unfolding lol. 50 Asian tourists getting maps and fruits and stuff, and me standing in line, with two Mountain Dew bottles. So that took about 15 minutes to get through the line. Finally got out of there and had to have a good laugh when we did.
As you approach Devil's Tower from farther off, you're not exactly sure which one it is, because there's a couple other rocky granite intrusions behind it. Once you get closer though, it's pretty apparent. Our trip was further delayed since part of the highway just outside the park had collapsed and fallen down a hillside, so we had to wait for a pilot car (one-lane highway shenanigans, no longer reserved just for chasing!). Here's the scene when you finally arrive outside the welcome center though.
Devil's Tower, a western-themed Trading Post building, and an American flag. Basically a postcard!
Paid the $10 entry fee to get in and met up with Mike H in the parking lot near the base of the tower. The trail around the thing was surprisingly legible. I was expecting to be doing some scrambling over rocks and such, but the thing was paved. And not even paved-with-roots-cracking-cement-everywhere. There was a kit using a freaking razor scooter on the thing lol.
Hike up the trail to the tower (not long at all, maybe a couple hundred yards) it's a landscape photographer's dream in that area. Like a thin forest with lots of chunks of granite laying around. I kept picturing how many places there would be to set up a timelapse rail rig if I had one lol.
All of these rocks are actually talus, which are pieces of the columnar joints of the tower that have crumbled off.
Just lots of unique little landscapes to be found in there if you step a few feet off the trail. Legible too, so you'd have a hard time getting lost while hiking.
Shooting at Devil's Tower, maybe I should turn around and actually take some photos of the tower lol.
Would have been fun to climb up that ankle-twisting talus pile right to the base of the tower. Maybe next time.
Decided light was getting low enough that we ought to head back down into the prairie below the tower. We wanted to be right at the base for the Milky Way op later, but figured sunset would be a lot cooler to shoot with a landscape in the foreground. We got way luckier than anticipated.
I know people will probably give me crap for the colors in the following shots, but I assure you, they've undergone no more than the standard processing. Got lucky in a couple ways. First of all, we happened to time this trip with near peak fall colors in Wyoming, as we found these incredibly bright golden trees! The rest of the magic was done with the help of a circular polarizer on my lens. If you don't know how a polarizer works, check out this site. Basically, polarizers cut down on reflections and filter out the haze. It simultaneously darkens the sky while bringing out more detail in the shadows. The luck part of all this? Where we stopped, the tower happened to be right about 90 degrees from the sun. In other words, the tower was due north and the sun was due west. 90 degrees is the angle of maximum polarization, essentially where the effects of your polarizer will be the greatest.
Oh yeah, plus golden hour lighting. Always a bonus.
Hands-down one of my favorite images I've ever taken. Might have to get a print of this for myself!
Wider shot of Chris checking his LCD while shooting.
A national monument at its finest.
Finally decided to leave that location (really tough to do when you have that in front of you) to try to find something else to frame with the tower. We settled on a more distant spot near a campground.
You can see what I mean by how it's a "thin forest" around the tower. Lots of landscape potential in there.
Again, shooting not-the-scene-we-drove-hundreds-of-miles-for lol.
I'm such a sucker for good light.
Would be cool to wake up from your tent and be greeted with this scene.
Stopped back at our original location as the light faded.
Crazy how fast your color palette changes as the sun goes down. From brilliant golds and deep blues, to subtle pastels.
Mike headed up to the parking lot to shoot a huge number of vultures, which ended up being pretty cool and apparently happens regularly. Chris and I put a little more distance between us and the tower again, hoping for a cool silhouette at sunset. Ended up setting up in the prairie a bit father back. Lots of deer started to come out at dusk and we heard a couple coyotes off in the distance. Unfortunately, our sunset op never really lit up like we had hoped. Wildfire smoke to the west was likely hindering our sunset light (may have aided in the extended golden hour earlier as well).
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Could have been worse. At least we had a little cirrus to add some pink color!
Alright, now for the grand finale! The op of the night! Milky way over Devil's Tower!
... and we never got it.
Still, wound up with a couple decent shots from the base of the tower while waiting for what felt like days for the moon to set. Should have walked around more and shot moonlit landscapes, but I didn't want to go off on my own from Chris and Mike in the middle of the night in a place I've never been to lol. Sat around and shot star trails, just talking about crap to pass the time.
Moved a little farther around the tower once the moon was getting lower. Should have been over here the whole time, as the moon was actually casting better shadows on the columnar joints. You can sort of tell in the top right how our Milky Way op was going to get screwed. Just a constant thin layer of cirrus of fire smoke streaming over.
No Milky Way, but star trails over Devil's Tower... I can't really complain!
Really really wish we could have shot a truly dark sky over Devil's Tower, but no such luck. Still, we got super fortunate with the sunset ops earlier, so the trip was already more than worth it. Shot a couple national parks and discovered one cool place (Spearfish Canyon) we didn't even know existed. All in all, it was a fantastic trip, and I can't wait to go back!