When we lived in the Denver area, I absolutely loved visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park whenever I could. It was about 1.5 hours away, and had some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States. On one visit in 2015, I wanted to find some scenery from the Trail Ridge Road up high in the tundra, but I struggled to find a good spot. On a hunch, I parked at the Lava Cliffs Overlook and walked up the hill across the road where I found this amazing view of the Trail Ridge Road zigzagging down the mountain with Longs Peak in the background.
This is one of my favorite photos from recent years because it really captures the beauty of the Milky Way from a remarkable location. My cousin (the very talented Allison Otto) and I had been scoping out good weekends to take Milky Way photos from somewhere in the Colorado Rockies, but our schedules never quite aligned to make it happen. So when my wife suggested a trip to Aspen on one of those weekends, I already knew it would be a good opportunity to see the stars from nearby Independence Pass. While Aspen is certainly beautiful, Independence Pass is a marvel and one of the most spectacular passes in Colorado.
Whenever I visit my family in Colorado, I always look forward to taking night photos. On the same trip where I took my Snowball Road photo in 2011, I also took a drive down nearby Piedra Road to see if I could find any good shots. I discovered this wonderful little barn on that road (it’s almost a shed), and it’s been a go-to source of photos for me for many trips since.
Taking astrophotos can be a challenge – you need to be in the right place (dark skies) at the right time (little moonlight) with the right weather (no clouds) at the right time of year (the Milky Way is only visible in the warmer months of the Northern Hemisphere). Fortunately, all of this worked in my favor on my backpacking trip to Quartz Lake in August, letting me take a truly dream come true photo of Mars and the Milky Way together in the night sky. There was a reason I lugged all of my heavy camera gear up and over a mountain pass, and this was it.