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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.

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.

Night on Snowball Road, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Night on Snowball Road, Pagosa Springs, Colorado

I love Pagosa Springs, and on one visit in December, 2011 I decided to try taking photos of the night sky using a rented 24mm f/1.4 lens. This was the first time I had taken night photos, so I learned a lot of valuable lessons on this trip. The biggest: finding a shot at night is much harder than finding one during the day.