RMNP Trip, Sept 27th: Trail Ridge Road Night Sky
After getting settled in for the weekend, grabbing some local tacos, and falling slightly short on our sunset shoot Colin and I decided to continue on up Trail Ridge Road to shoot the night sky. This would be the first of several wardrobe selection fails on my end. Temperatures being in the 70s down at the base, shorts and a t-shirt had served me just fine. I think “well, of course it will be a little bit cooler up there, throw on a sweatshirt”. Lots of altitude gain later I’m feeling 40 degrees for the first time since April on top of a mountain with 25 mph winds and the sun disappearing. Embrace the cold, they say. We were initially in that awkward phase immediately after sunset where you don’t have that magical late day sunlight anymore, but there is also too much twilight remaining for decent night lighting to set in. My general rule of thumb is to hang tight and then go nuts about 30-45 minutes after sunset. When it seems like the perfect time to begin shooting with the naked eye, I usually wait another 15 minutes. That’s when you’re able to get capture the stars popping, but have just enough barely visible to the naked eye twilight on the horizon that with a long exposure on the camera you’ve got some beautiful lighting.
Anyway, we scoped out a location and parked it for a bit while waiting for the post-sunset lighting to adjust. Once it did, I was in absolute sky ecstasy mode. For a deprived sky photographer, moments like these on top of a mountain with your camera and a friend, deafening silence, a vivid night sky, and a cold breeze are soul cleansing. I bounced around the road and tundra trying different angles working in the occasional traffic headed down the mountain, the cliffs, the distant lights of Boulder, Colorado. I had forgotten all about the cold. At one point, all that was audible through the wind was a bull elk somewhere down across the tundra that was bugling loudly. Oh, and don’t forget the distant lightning from far away thunderstorms over the mountains to our west. These moments keep me alive.
We shot for several hours, well into the pitch black night, stopping periodically as we headed back down the mountain. After sleeping about 3 hours out of the last 36 hours (15 of those driving) and 500 photos later, day 1 of our trip was finally in the books.