As stated in a previous post, I went to Mt Lassen Volcanic National Park with the hope to photograph Mt Lassen with the Milky Way – without success. Before that attempt, I was already planning another trip to this National Park to photograph the Milky Way.
Every year, Lassen National Park holds a Dark Sky Festival. For 2018, the dates for the festival were August 3 & 4. When I looked at the map of Dark Sky locations, Mt Lassen falls under the second darkest skies listed. This has helped encourage me to visit the Dark Sky Festival at the park, but I always just keep forgetting about it until it’s too late. So this year, my brother Ron called me and asked if I was interested – which of course I was.
To reserve a campsite at the park you can only do so six months in advance. So in February we tried to make reservations. Of course we waited a week too long and all the camping cabins were already booked for the festival dates. So we decided to enact Plan B and made reservations for the Tuesday-Wedsnesday prior to the festival. After all, the stars will still be there and maybe we won’t have to worry about the crowds.
Now fast-forward to the about a week prior to our adventure. We are in California, so naturally forest fires start breaking out in the general vicinity. But we just don’t get a few small fires, major fires break out in Redding (west of Mt Lassen) and Eagle Lake (east of Mt Lassen). So when we arrive for our camping/photography adventure, the skies are filled with smoke. Obviously not something you could have predicted six months ago.
On the first night, it seems pretty smoky on the west side of the park. We didn’t get there early enough to scope out both sides, so we can only imagine the east side is just as bad – at least it looked like it when we viewed the webcams on our way to the park (very limited cell coverage in the park).
We headed out to an area named Chaos Crags to see if we can catch sight of the Milky Way. The skies are definitely smoky, but we are hoping it will lift as darkness falls and we can still get some photos. Of course it did not and the skies remained terrible. I tried taking a long exposure over Chaos Crags and walked away only with a dark outline of the Crags with a nice brown photo of the sky.
The next day seemed more promising. We drove to the south entrance and visitor center and the skies still had smoke, but it seemed lighter. We planned a couple areas to take photos and hoped for the best. As the sun was starting to set, we headed out for Bumpass Hell with our fingers crossed. When we arrived, there was a definite line of smoke in the air, mostly to the east but looked like it was coming west. Instead of taking a chance, we returned to Chaos Crags and found mostly clear skies and sure enough – the Milky Way.
This photo is a panoramic combination of five photos looking over the crags. We did get some photographs at a couple of other locations before our night was over. Even though skunked on the first night, overall it was a success. Oh, the streak of light in the sky – it is a passing satellite and I decided to keep it because I liked what it brought to the photo.