Camping Under the Darkest Skies In the Continental United States

We recently spent a long weekend camping at the Wheeler Peak site in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park under quite literally the darkest, most exquisite night sky I have ever seen. The only comparable skies Blake had seen was the view from the Keck Observatory atop Maunakea in Hawaii. The whole experience was surreal. Never before had I seen so much detail in the night sky. Upon arrival, we stopped at Mather Overlook on our way to the campsite and immediately saw a large meteor pass through the core of the Milky Way. We had timed our arrival with the night of the new moon and the tail end of the Aquariid Meteor Shower, which peaked earlier in the week.

A meteor streaks past Jupiter and the Milky Way in the center of the frame. This is one frame, entirely unprocessed. The final product will show the details of the mountains and the Bristlecone Pine in the foreground, in addition to revealing sharper detail in the night sky.

A meteor streaks past Jupiter and the Milky Way in the center of the frame. This is one frame, entirely unprocessed. The final product will show the details of the mountains and the Bristlecone Pine in the foreground, in addition to revealing sharper detail in the night sky.

The lack of moonlight allowed us to photograph the night sky without having detail washed out by moonlight. The elevation of the park—7,000–13,000 ft—meant we were looking through less atmosphere and therefore the light had less distortion. The desert location meant the air was clear and dry, again contributing to better seeing conditions. And because Great Basin National Park is so remote - located in one of the least populated areas of the country, hundreds of miles from major cities - the lack of light pollution meant the band of the Milky Way was so bright it literally illuminated the landscape. For reference, the park is located in northeast Nevada near the Utah border, approximately a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City, and four hours north of Las Vegas.

Looking south, the core of the Milky Way dominates the night sky over the peaks in Great Basin National Park. Present in the foreground is Stella Lake, one of the numerous pristine alpine lakes you can hike to in the park.

Looking south, the core of the Milky Way dominates the night sky over the peaks in Great Basin National Park. Present in the foreground is Stella Lake, one of the numerous pristine alpine lakes you can hike to in the park.

These combined factors afforded us stunning views, which we attempted to capture during our all-too-brief three-night stay. We spent the daylight hours hiking to scout ideal locations with interesting scenery and returned each evening to snap as many pictures as we could. Along the way we explored the richness of the park, encountering a variety of ecosystems with unexpected flora and fauna. We also witnessed thunderstorms, which we photographed in exquisite detail.

Lightning strikes to the east of our vantage point at the Baker Archaeological Site. We created numerous time lapses during this storm and also captured lightning strikes in the same frame as the Milky Way - stay tuned for those images!

Lightning strikes to the east of our vantage point at the Baker Archaeological Site. We created numerous time lapses during this storm and also captured lightning strikes in the same frame as the Milky Way - stay tuned for those images!

We couldn’t believe our luck; a thunderstorm rolled by during the afternoon and evening when we were already setting up time lapses in the wide open desert plains just outside the park. The lightning strikes never approached close enough to cause us any concern, and despite not having any lightning triggers, we were able to use longer exposures to capture many detailed strikes. We hope you enjoy our work from this trip. We will be releasing new images weekly, and will make the final, processed images available for purchase as metal prints.

Sam Deery-SchmittComment