Star Trail of the Sequoia

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Flat grounds are always recommended to observe the night sky, where one can find the heavenly bodies’ easily due to lack of obstacles such as trees, building, or landscape such as hills or mountains. I did not get this luxury when I camped in the Sequoia National Forest, California. In return, I gained other advantages that helped me in my stargazing, backpacking weekend. There was no heavy light pollution for being away from major cities or towns, and whatever light pollution there was, it was blocked by the giants trees. Another advantage was the elevation of 5000 ft (~ a kilometer and half) above sea level.

On Friday June 1st, I arrived after passing a beautiful lake goes by the name Lake Success near Porterville, Springville towns. I met and joined a group of backpackers that I was going to spend the weekend with. We camped near our trailhead in place called Coy Flat campground.

I woke up with few dears passing my tent, and got ready to hit the trail. We passed few creeks that were part of the Tulare River and small human made, and natural made bridges (falling trees).

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We reached our distention. After, I checked the surrounding, with admiration to the massive size trees. I picked up my tent location to be away from the rest so I can have my night of astrophotography without disturbing.

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Then I got to trek and take a look at the sequoia, fir, and pine trees. The place I was in wasn’t at the heart of the forest, nor the densest, yet, the trees were still so big, that many of them had to be cut open to make way for the passers. Another feature that was notable on the tallest trees was burning marking. I heard from the locals that the seeds of the trees need to be burn in order for them to be able to come out of their shells and grow.  The obvious explanation for the cause of the fire is lightning strikes.  It’s beautiful how the constant occurring of natural phenomena for many years can shape life.

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This forest considered to being one of the richest consternation of the endangered sequoia trees in the world. This thought gave a little more romance to the experience I was having of stargazing by relating the giant trees to the giant objects of the night sky and their great distances.

The night curtains start to cover the day, and the brightest summer stars start to twinkle against the dark blue background, above the campfire.  We exchange stories in many subjects of life. We talked about the forest, the bears, and history of paper and newspaper.

When the sky turns completely dark, the fire was put out, and everyone went to their tent for a good night sleep. The Moon was nearly full, so it was present for most of the night and light up my way to my tent.

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The trees were so high, they swallowed and cover up the moon even when it was 35 degree above the horizon. I can see Vega clearly, and Arcturus (not so clearly), and the planets Saturn and Mars. Then, the camera were set up, and left alone around 10 pm, to capture the twinkle.

00The view above my tent. 7 hours of shooting (June - 2nd3rd - 2012). Sequoia National Forest, CA.


Inside my tent, the temperature was warm. There was no need for rain cover. I turned off any light source and enjoyed the view from my tent ceiling.

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June 1st ~ 3rd 2012

Sequoia National Forest, California.


The Celestial Equator

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The Death Valley in California is a region famous for several extremes. It is one of the driest places in North America, and the hottest in term of temperature. I got the opportunity to find a campground reservation February the 15th. The timing of the year is great, to avoid those extreme temperature.  It also meant a lot of people will be present.

Before I left, I did a quick research on what to expect. I knew the planet Jupiter will be present for most of the night, and Saturn will rise roughly 2 hours after midnight, where the Moon will set near midnight with it 33% illumination (Phase.33). Mercury was also a target and possibly, there would be a chance of catching Mars before setting if a clear horizon was available with good seeing. I couldn’t wait to get there to see the unpolluted night sky in this famous valley.


I packed my equipment, and lots of water, and went headed to the valley. The road to the Death Valley was certainly drier than most of the trips I took in the past few years in California. However, before I reached the red rocks hills which located a little earlier than half way through the trip. I made a pit stop to fill gas to the car, and made sure I am not lacking any more supplies. I made a small conversation with the sales man at the gas station, and asked him if he heard about the Chelyabinsk meteor. An event that happened less than 24 hours from the time I asked my question. He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about, but he was deeply interested. And he was shocked how such a big event didn’t reach the public news. I explained to him that a meteor struck Earth above Russia, and it evaporated mostly, however, it shattered a lot of glass in a huge area with great shock pressure.

At the time of the Chelyabinsk event, it wasn’t certain if pieces of the meteor had survived, so I told him that, and how little do we know yet of the whole situation. I was sure there will be a lot of miss information due to that fact the event was extremely recent.

After I finished with him, I relies that not a lot of people know about it yet. My sources were from Astronomy related website from the web.

The trip continued, and I admired the rock formation as always of California geology, and the industrial factories I came across. I even made few stops to walk around the rock formations to examine them up close.

A little more than half way through, I saw an old man on the side of the road with what seems a non functional vehicle. I stopped and I asked him if he needs help, or water. I also noticed his wife was in the passenger seat. He smiled, thanked me, and told me he is OK, and waiting for expected help to come. I moved on to the road.

When I got close to the Death Valley, I saw the welcoming sign and followed the road to campground and ascend the valley in unusual path. The car seemed to move in a roller coaster like waves up and down to the point where if I didn’t slow down, the car would had jumped up of the road, which was not good to the car, but entertaining none the less.


Before I reached the top, I stopped in one of the turn out, and took a picture back of the bottom of the valley from near the top. I continued then, to reach to the campground, and ate at the local restaurant with what seem to be homemade chicken strips and french fries, and went to the campground to do the paper work, and set up my tent and the camera.



The temperature was warm, even at this time of the year, and I didn’t have to cover up my tent until later the night. I did my observations, and then, when everyone at the campground went to sleep, I set up the camera to take a star trail photo. I wanted to shoot the eastern and capture the celestial equator, however, late campers showed up, and they were in the shot. So I had to discard the 4 hours attempt, and choose the western horizon, and hoped people won’t pass by the camera.

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Luckily, no one passed, and the images turn out to be clear. I had to get more sleep, to walk among the trail, and stargaze once again the night after.



February -15th- 2013

The Death Valley, California.


Star Trails. Alabama Hills, CA.

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Alabama Hills Startrails website-1

One of the things that are common knowledge to the ancient, and not so common in now days, is the behavior of our night sky on the planet we live in. Our senses and intuition of the movement of the heaven above us is so distorted because of the way we live in society, and because of our growing technology that allow us to relay on conventional wisdom too much, and for the light pollution we leave behind among other many types of pollution.

Our senses is so distorted, that we think of the ancient monuments that left by our great ancestors seem so high tech, and hard to understand, when it is simply made with simple math and physics, and a little understanding of the night sky that they got, not from reading text books, or being held in a class room all their life, it is simply by the way they lived, and the dark night sky. The view is up there, and it is hard to miss, and no one needs to teach anyone how the heaven work on the surface level. Those monuments alignment show how great little understanding of the night sky was being part of their daily life, something always impresses me every time I see their engineering feats.

There for, photographs of long exposure of the night sky is always fascinating to us, and shows us what really is happening, and what we are really missing. The earth is spinning, there for, it will spin around the relatively static starry night. A fact that we all know, but we don’t have it in our intuition. I say relatively, because compare to an individual life spam, the stars seems never changing, which is a beauty in itself, and comfort in an ever changing world.

This photograph was made in a long exposure that took from before midnight, to near sunrise, at the dates of 9th/10th of November 2013. The direction is north obviously, since the starry background is revolving around the North Star Polaris, and gives this beautiful shape of star trails. A group of friends and I were practicing rock climbing/paragliding around the Sierra in California, and we camped in Alabama Hills. A place near the highest peak in California, and in the Contiguous United States.


Before this shot, I was having a great stargazing nights in a place where light pollution can only come from nearby town, Lone Pine.  The Milky Way looked great as always in good details to the naked eye. Even with the present of the Moon. The rocky landscape helped to give the illusion as if I was in another planet.


So after stargazing, the camera was set up, to take this exposure, near my tent, which I set up under a hanging rock.