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May, 2014:

Trip to the White Mountains

White Mountains
Day 1 5/22/2014

Left Rancho Santa Margarita around 10 am after spending the previous night packing everything up. Ordered Pizza the night before as I figured I was going to be eating simple camp food the rest of the trip.
Didn’t hit any traffic, arrived in Victorville around 11:40 and fueled up. Jumped back on the 395 for a few hours, traffic was again light (a benefit of leaving on a Thursday). Hit a few rain showers on the way but it was pretty patchy, nothing that concerned me. Got to Big Pine aroud 3:00 pm, fueled up and then took the 168 to Death Valley Road. Next destination was supposed to be Eureka Dunes. The drive was a lonely one, only passed one other vehicle near the beginning. The paved road wasn’t in too bad of shape. Passed through a cool canyon with some interesting anticlines (I think thats the right term), a Joshua Tree forest in what I think is Papoose Flats and then the road spit me out into Eureka Valley. From here it was an unpaved 12 miles. Road was a little bit washboarded but nothing 40 mph couldn’t take care of. The general area of Eureka Dunes was coming into view when all of a sudden several lighting strikes broke out of the dark clouds above. I could see them hit the ground around the area I’d be staying at. I reached the end of this section of road and turned onto Eureka Dunes Road (I think). The washboard here was much much worse, similar to the road on the way to the Racetrack. Granted, this was only 10 miles vs the 30 mile road to the Racetrack, I didn’t want to get a flat by myself out here. A few more lightning strikes directly to the ground a few miles away from me convinced me to turn around and head 1.5 hours back to Big Pine. The storm seemed to follow me, a light rain on Death Valley Road turned into a torrent once I hit Big Pine. Hail started coming down, could barely see anything in front of me. I seeked cover in a Shell gas station parking lot and waited the storm out. Since I had reception I figured I’d call Kaela and update her on the situation.
Rain seemed to subside after 30 minutes and since I still had a bit of daylight I got back on the 168 but this time headed up to White Mountain. Very twisty steep road, down to one lane in a narrow rocky canyon section. I was alternating between 2nd and 1st gear the whole way up, this was a result of all the equipment I decided to bring. Arrived at Grandview Campground (8,400 ft elevation) and began unpacking the basics. Skies were still cloudy but looked like they may clear. I didn’t want to take a chance on my gear getting soaked so I just got the tent set up. As I was in the middle of preparing my home for the next five days it began snowing! Quite a contrast from last week in Southern California reaching temps of over 100 for five days in a row. Ground temp seemed to be too warm to support much snowfall so it melted right away. Snow eventually trickled down to a little flurry and I could see the sunset poking through the clouds. Drove up 2.5 miles to the Sierra Viewpoint where I actually got cell phone reception. That was great to know for the next few days as I like to check in with Kaela and make sure she knows I didn’t drive off a cliff.
Took a timelapse of a beautiful sunset over the Sierras from the viewpoint and headed back down. The sky had cleared up but things still felt very wet as if the clouds would roll in and it would start snowing again any minute. I opted not to set up my equipment, rather just two cameras for timelapse work. If it did begin to precipitate they would be much easier to cover up than two scopes, laptop, etc.
Next morning I awoke to below freezing temps. Got dressed, made a fire to cook some brats on and then headed further up white mountain for a bit more exploring. I checked out the Schulmann Grove but it was too tourist oriented for my taste so I headed further up the unpaved roads. Some some awesome landscapes, all dotted with the Ancient Bristlecone pine.
That night two engineers from JPL had come up for the much hyped Carmeloesdidis meteor shower and they joined me as we waited for the sky to clear. It didn’t. I was briefly able to show them Jupiter and Saturn in the XT8 but that was all the sky allowed. It wasn’t exactly cloudy, just a thick haze that completely destroyed the wonderful clarity this site boasts. Instead we discussed working at JPL which of course I found fascinating. Their names were Danny and Mike, roommates. One of them an electrical engineer, the other one mechanical. They worked on science packages for satellite missions. They also had only worked there a year but it was still interesting to hear them talk about. Like many professional astronomers and space-faring engineers I had met they knew little of the night sky and amateur astronomy but they were still up there so at least they had some curiosity.
The next day I went further up White Mountain, nearly all the way to the Barcroft Gate but deep snow hindered me. While the BF Goodrich All Terrain K/O tires are fantastic for dry off roading they are terrible in mud and snow and I didn’t want to get stuck. I spent several hours photographing some of the more desolate looking Bristlecone Pines. The landscape up there is very stark, I’ve seen pictures but it really looked like what I’d expect dry frozen tundra to look like. Just sand, light scrub and a few Bristlecones. The sky was bright too, being at 12,000 feet elevation sunglasses are 100% necessary.
After exploring for hours I eventually returned back to camp. Skies looked much better this night, just a few cumulus clouds. No haze, no looming thunderheads, just deep blue sky and a few puffy clouds that would disappear once the sunset.
I couldn’t believe how dark it gets up here. And I use the word dark not to mean how little I could see but I use it in the sense astronomers use it. The darker a site is, the more you can see. The zodiacal light was clearly visible, airglow flashed in the upper atmosphere above me. The milky way looked light a bright cloud rising from the east and the few clouds that were floating around where completely black. That is a very cool site to see, normally you expect clouds to be brighter than the surrounding sky but here its the opposite, just like ink blots wandering around.
From the east side of the campground you can look down into the beginning of the great basin that stretches all the way across Nevada and into Utah. This is a land where supposedly no water escapes and hardly any other water reaches. I’ll have to get out there some time.
The milky way rose over the great basin and it was clearly visible even right on the horizon. I have not been fortunate to experience that before, normally its hard to make out from the background muck until its maybe 20-30 degrees overhead. I stood at the edge of this overlook for an hour with the 6D and a tripod taking a timelapse and then a panoramic shot of the milky way rising over the mountains.

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M16 Eagle Nebula

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RGB subs were taken from Grandview Campground in the White Mountains and HA was from my clubs site in Anza.

Image Location and Date: OCA Anza site, Grandview Campground May 25th, 26th and 30th.
Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G
Imaging scope: Orion 8″ F3.9 Astrograph
Imaging FL: 800mm
Imaging focal ratio: f3.9
Imaging camera: Canon 1100D (Rebel T3) Modded and cooled to 4c.
Lights: RGB 35x180sec @ ISO1600 HA 24x180sec @ ISO1600 Calibration: flats, Bias
Guide scope: 50mm finder with Orion StarShoot Auto Guider
Other details: guiding with PHD, captured with APT, processed in PixInsight

New Site

Hello all, I will no longer be updating pocketrubbish. All new stuff will be posted at my current website, danwattphoto.com

Screw that, I like this site. Portfolio sites are stupid for a hobby.

Some wide angle stuff I’ve been taking here and there.

Been doing lots and lots of off roading lately to some pretty interesting locations, figured I’d share a few images!

Milky Way over the Fish Creek Mountains

Mars overlooking a canyon in Fish Creek

Another image of the Milky Way rising over the Fish Creek mountains. This is 1 frame from a timelapse.

The OK Mine north of Joshua Tree National Park in the Old Dale Mining District.

A Cave in Anza Borrego

The Wind Caves in Anza Borrego