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Mars and the Milky Way, Quartz Lake, Colorado

Mars and the Milky Way, Quartz Lake, Colorado

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.

Clouds at Sunrise, Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Clouds at Sunrise, Grand Tetons, Wyoming

When my company had a team trip to the Grand Tetons in 2016, I was super excited for the opportunity to see an incredibly beautiful mountain range. One of the activities we could choose was an early morning animal photography experience, where hypothetically we would get to see some of Wyoming’s extraordinary wildlife up close. This event turned out to be kind of a bust – we mostly stayed in a bus and drove around looking for wildlife. And while we got to see some animals here and there, it was tough taking great photos from a bus by the side of the road. 

Backpacking to Quartz Lake, Colorado

Thanks to a helpful coincidence in work travel, I was able to make a trip to Pagosa Springs, Colorado to see my parents for a few days. While planning my stay, I decided I also wanted to add some solo backpacking to my visit. My first plan was to hike the Lime Mesa trail to Emerald Lake in the Weminuche Wilderness, but while the stretch from the trailhead to the overlook is well documented, I had trouble finding information about the trail down to the lake itself. With the overlook portion sitting well above tree line, I realized I did not want to be caught there during one of Colorado’s infamous afternoon monsoons – especially given the lightning danger. I would be taking on a lot of risk if I couldn’t make the supposedly tricky descent down the unmaintained trail to the lake before lunchtime.

Thankfully, I had a good last-minute recommendation from my mother and one of her friends to switch my plan to Quartz Lake in the South San Juan Wilderness instead. The trail to the lake is well documented, and it had just as much scenic promise as the original plan. Even though I had never been to the lake, I had previously hiked a portion of the trail as a day hike – a plus because I knew what I was getting myself into. After some quick map reading, Google Earthing, and GPS checking, I locked in my plan and set out the following morning.

Sunset, Elmore, Vermont

Sunset, Elmore, Vermont

Vermont is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I have always found the sunsets there to be magical. On this summer trip in 2013, I was out and about scouting for a photo during the sunset hours – trying to find that miraculous combination of subject and background. I took several in different spots around this area northeast of Stowe, and it wasn’t until I stumbled across this farm equipment that I finally found my photo.

Barn Cupola, Waitsfield, Vermont

Barn Cupola, Waitsfield, Vermont

Right after I wrapped up taking my photo of The Barn at Mountain Valley Farm, the owner suggested I check out the view from his apple orchard up the hill behind the barn. The light was fading quickly, and by the time I made it up the hill, the scenery was lit only by an orangey glow from the setting sun behind the Green Mountains. In my mind, I knew I wanted to compose the barn and mountains against that orangey sky. The question was how exactly to do that?