Star Trails and the Milky Way

This summer I was going to try and finally get a decent Milky Way shot. But in the SF bay area you have a lot to contend with. I mean, the moon of course. I love that my Apple Watch shows me the phases of the moon. Then there is light pollution, and when you get out to a place where it's darker (usually nearer the coast), you have the fog to deal with as it floats in at night to obscure that faint bruise of stars and rocks and gas. 

Don't get me wrong. I love the fog. I mean, really love it. Not sure if it's my northern european skin longing to be where it belongs, or if it's just that I run very hot, but that natural air conditioning spilling over the coastal hills in the afternoon is one of my favorite things.

Not only is it beautiful and ominous as it stacks up like snow drifts along Skyline Blvd., it's also what keeps the bay area from turning into a desert.

But I digress. And to shorten what would turn into an even longer story, suffice it to say that I got lucky a couple nights, the moon was new, the light pollution slightly muted out on Alpine Road, and the fog... I just got incredibly lucky one night.

This night, I saw the fog rolling in and gave up halfway down the road. Decided to grab the sunset and some passing cars up on Skyline.

This night, I saw the fog rolling in and gave up halfway down the road. Decided to grab the sunset and some passing cars up on Skyline.

Barely any fog, but a full moo, haha. The cars on Highway 1 made for a cool, fiery line in the trees though.

Barely any fog, but a full moo, haha. The cars on Highway 1 made for a cool, fiery line in the trees though.

So I turned the camera north and got star trails. The lights are Half Moon Bay.

So I turned the camera north and got star trails. The lights are Half Moon Bay.

Wasn't even going for Milky Way here. Star Trails above the Golden Gate was cool enough.

Wasn't even going for Milky Way here. Star Trails above the Golden Gate was cool enough.

First decent Milky Way. That's Crystal Springs Reservoir which marks the San Andreas fault line. The fog was politely waiting on the hills. The plane emerging from that fog in the far right of the photo was pretty surreal. This is barely out of the city, so pretty surprising that you can see this at all.

First decent Milky Way. That's Crystal Springs Reservoir which marks the San Andreas fault line. The fog was politely waiting on the hills. The plane emerging from that fog in the far right of the photo was pretty surreal. This is barely out of the city, so pretty surprising that you can see this at all.

Finally this night. I got this shot right away off Alpine Road...

Finally this night. I got this shot right away off Alpine Road...

But then the fog started to fill the small valley below me and splash up over the side in front of me giving all the stars a fuzzy glow. I was pretty upset and thought, oh well, that's over, might as well turn the camera and get some trails.

But then the fog started to fill the small valley below me and splash up over the side in front of me giving all the stars a fuzzy glow. I was pretty upset and thought, oh well, that's over, might as well turn the camera and get some trails.

This is about 10 minutes. Why only ten minutes? When you're out in the middle of the woods, the dark dark woods, every sound becomes very... well, creepy. I literally started to freak myself out. I swear I heard a woman cough somewhere in the tree. I about shit myself. When the sounds can be explained (in my mind at least) as sounds animals would make, I usually just clap my hands loudly, maybe shine my phone light in the direction of the noise to scare off whatever is rustling through. But when they are human sounds... oh fuck that. Get me out of there. You'll notice a bit of light in the lower right on the trees. This is where, finally, a car came and drove right at me, parked right in front of my car. I was thinking, well this is it, this is how I die. Some backwoods maniac is going to hack me up and toss me into the bowl of fog below. Then this old guy hops out of the car and says, "Hi, taking some pictures? Sorry, just gotta pick up my can," as he walks over to a large plastic garbage can that I was only vaguely aware of next to me. "Should have picked it up hours ago." I burbled some vague responses, a smattering of relieved, nervous laughter and bid him farewell as he packed the "can" into the back of his car and drove off into the dark trees, turning his lights on only after he was out of the photo. But, as he was futzing around, I noticed the fog had retreated a bit back down into the valley. I could see the galaxy again. So I took a bunch of shots.

This is about 10 minutes. Why only ten minutes? When you're out in the middle of the woods, the dark dark woods, every sound becomes very... well, creepy. I literally started to freak myself out. I swear I heard a woman cough somewhere in the tree. I about shit myself.

When the sounds can be explained (in my mind at least) as sounds animals would make, I usually just clap my hands loudly, maybe shine my phone light in the direction of the noise to scare off whatever is rustling through. But when they are human sounds... oh fuck that. Get me out of there.

You'll notice a bit of light in the lower right on the trees. This is where, finally, a car came and drove right at me, parked right in front of my car. I was thinking, well this is it, this is how I die. Some backwoods maniac is going to hack me up and toss me into the bowl of fog below. Then this old guy hops out of the car and says, "Hi, taking some pictures? Sorry, just gotta pick up my can," as he walks over to a large plastic garbage can that I was only vaguely aware of next to me. "Should have picked it up hours ago." I burbled some vague responses, a smattering of relieved, nervous laughter and bid him farewell as he packed the "can" into the back of his car and drove off into the dark trees, turning his lights on only after he was out of the photo.

But, as he was futzing around, I noticed the fog had retreated a bit back down into the valley. I could see the galaxy again. So I took a bunch of shots.

Light pollution was still pretty bad, but still pretty cool what I got given the millions of people who live right over the hill.

Light pollution was still pretty bad, but still pretty cool what I got given the millions of people who live right over the hill.