It's Good to be Back
Holy crap. It's been a while. I've been kind of busy with not being busy. And also being busy, mostly in places with limited internet. I think this is gonna be a long post. Buckle in!
After South Dakota, I headed to Fort Collins in Colorado, and I finally felt like I could slow down. I think it was a mix of things. On the purely practical front, Fort Collins was perfect weather. It was warm during the day but cooled way down at night, to the point where I finally had to sleep under my blankets. I found a Wal-Mart that was very amenable to me staying there, and it had a little lake right next to it. On the squishier, feelings-ier side of things, it just felt so good to be back west. I have a complicated relationship with California at this point, and being there doesn't feel like home anymore, but something about Colorado (a state I can't recall ever going to before) actually felt familiar. Almost reassuring. Maybe it was just seeing mountains again. I had no idea how much I missed them. I found a 24 hour coffee shop, and for about five days, I just took a break.
I've had some ideas bouncing around my head that live on the computer, so I worked on them for a bit. One of those ideas is a data visualization of which states I've ever been to, and what route I've taken so far on this trip. So, now there's a Where I've Been page on the site (as well as smaller versions in the sidebar and navigation). Another idea I put some work on is an app on my phone that will tell me when they sky will be dark and the galactic center is visible. It turns out that astronomical position formulas hurt my brain a little bit, but it's interesting to learn about, and I think I'm finally getting a handle on it.
Then I drove to Denver to hang out with a friend that moved there from Chicago. We ended up drinking and chatting until five in the morning. I had to move my van at seven in the morning. I spent most of the next day finding places in Denver to sleep.
After Denver, it was time to head towards Utah. It was getting close to the new moon, and I wanted to be in either Arches or Bryce Canyon (or both, if possible) to take photos of the Milky Way. I was told by multiple people to check out Hanging Lake in Colorado, and I saw it was on the way to Utah. Perfect.
What they didn't tell me is that although it's only a one mile hike, it ascends 1,000 feet. I didn't make it to Utah that night.
The next day I made it to Arches, only to find out that it had road work and was closed every night except Friday and Saturday night, which were both overcast.
I took a bunch of photos and realized I didn't have any photos of arches. Even though it's been photographed roughly a billion times, I wanted to get a photo of the Delicate Arch. If you don't know which one that is, it's the one you're guessing it is. Super famous. It's the background of the Utah license plate. And the road to it was closed because of the thunderstorm the night before. Dammit.
Luckily, it wasn't closed ALL day, and after it dried off, I hiked up to see it. This time, it was a 1.5 mile hike, but "only" a 610 feet elevation change. But it was 99 degrees. And there's no shade. And there was a lightning storm on the way back. And it was uphill both ways.
Then it was off to Bryce Canyon, to get a photo of the Milky Way. I have no photos of the first day, because I was so focused on scouting locations. Which was really dumb. The spot I chose looked terrible once I came back with a wide angle lens. On top of that, it was cloudy for the first hour and a half I was out there. I hiked back up to the van and picked a different spot. I wasn't able to get any foreground, so I had a nice clean, boring shot of the Milky Way with no identifying foreground. Whoops.
The next day, I learned my lesson and took some photos during the day. I'm not really happy with any of them. Bryce Canyon isn't meant to be photographed, it's meant to be seen. Go see it.
But then it was cloudy all night. No Milky Way for me. But! I did have a great place to sleep. There's national forest land right outside of the park, and they have free dispersed camping. I was so happy. This is what I had imagined when I started off on this trip, not Wal-Mart parking lots. And Bryce Canyon had a general store where I could get coffee. And $3 showers! (nb: $3 is how much it costs me to drive 20 miles. So a $3 shower I don't have to drive to is like having a Planet Fitness 10 miles away). I felt like I could have stayed there forever. Until the forecast was thunderstorms for two days straight. Same for Zion National Park. So, I decided to take a sudden detour to Vegas.
When I got back, it was a beautiful clear night. I had done an extra day of scouting, and it paid off. I got a damn good shot of the Milky Way.
And this is what I had hoped for. Not just to be in one of the darkest areas I've ever been in. Not just to have a beautiful foreground to put in front of the Milky Way. The time to plan. The time to course correct. The time to wait for the weather to work in my favor. This is the shot I've been hoping for.