I wanted to go to Lassen Volcanic National Park and take a photograph of the mountain with the Milky Way. I had earlier seen a photo of the two together and thought I could maybe take a good one myself.
I have found that the Mount Lassen area also has cultural significance for Native American groups. Although not suitable for year-round camping due to the high altitude and snowfall, the Atdugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu groups formally camped in this area during the summer months for hunting and gathering. The mountain does inspire a sacred presence in me.
I started to research the photo and it looked like the Milky Way would be visible from Manzanita Lake near the north entrance to the park. There was also going to be about a quarter moon, but it would be setting pretty early into the night. So my plan was to try and take a long exposure photo of the mountain and landscape with the help of the light from the moon. Then I would wait for the moon to set and take a separate photo of the Milky Way without ever moving my camera. Then later I would try and combine the two through Photoshop.
According to the sites/apps I use for planning, this would all work as planned around May 18th. Of course, on both sides of this day – it was raining! The further I delayed, the more moon would be in the sky. I could wait until the following month, but then all the tourists and campgrounds would be open and possibly ruin the photo with light pollution. Memorial Day weekend was also coming in a week and everything would be open causing the same issues. But it looked like there was a break in the weather on May 21st, so off I went.
As I was driving to the park from the north, I could see a large collection of clouds near the mountain. Even worse, it looked like a large rain cell heading that way. I was already committed, so just continued and hoped for the best. By the time I arrived at the park, there was cloud cover hanging over the mountain and most of the area. I even felt a few raindrops, but it didn’t last. The clouds even looked like they were starting to break up shortly after I got there. Maybe this will work out after all.
As I came to the north entrance to the park, there was nobody in the entrance booth (just a sign saying to pay before entering). I drove up to the visitor center which was closed and nobody around. No campgrounds were open yet and nobody was in sight. The highway through the park was also closed beyond the visitor center due to the winter snowpack. It looked like I had the northern portion of the park to myself.
After taking a few sunset photos, I set up near the west end of Manzanita Lake and waited for darkness, which didn’t take long. I took some photos even though there were some clouds remaining around the mountain. I realized the lone street light at the entrance was affecting the photos in a manner I didn’t really like. After a few photos, I decided I would like to see if I could find another place for better photographs. Of course, I was hoping to get there earlier than I did so I could explore more – but of course, didn’t work out. So off I went to search. Being the only person in the park (kinda strange for a National Park), I could just leave my camera while searching without any fear of theft.
What I found was the lake has a lot of bushes along the shoreline, blocking the view of the mountain and lake together. I finally found a very small opening but didn’t think it would be big enough for a good photo. But I had nothing to lose so went back and grabbed my gear and returned. After a few test shots, it was going to work out – much to my surprise.
The clouds had mostly gone away but were floating in and out. Luckily there was no rain, so I didn’t have to worry about getting wet. So I would wait until the clouds were minimal and took several photos trying to get some with a good look. As you can see in this photo, the clouds are slightly moving, giving an interesting look, but not enough to cover all the stars.
But what about the Milky Way? Unfortunately, the moon was still going strong and wasn’t going to set for a couple of hours. My planning had agreed with the time, but because of the time crunch to try and beat the tourists, I had to try anyway. Before the moon was going to set, the Milky Way was moving out of the range of the photo frame. I did get some photos with the Milky Way over the mountain, but because of the brightness of the moon, it washed it out too much to be able to get a good photo. Even though I didn’t get the Milky Way photo I was hoping for, I was pleased with how this photograph turned out!