Thursday, September 6, 2012

Twisted Forest Startrails


Most people are familiar with the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountain area of California, but small enclaves of forest can be found in Arizona, Nevada and Utah. The Twisted Forest Bristlecone Pines are the Great Basin variety found around the Cedar Breaks National Monument in Southern Utah. I always like speaking to the Ranger to get some inside information. There is a Bristlecone Pine trail within the park but, after speaking to him I decided to find another trail he told me of outside the park in a small wilderness area. There you can camp much closer.


I got directions and began my quest. What he didn't tell me was that you had to get there through the Brianhead ski resort. Literally you have to drive to the top of the ski runs and back down the back side. It would definitely be more fun on skis. Originally I wasn't going to spend the night, but since it took some doing to get there, and the trees were so cool, I really wanted to spend some more time and make some images. The Bristlecones got their name from the dark purple female cones that have curved in prickles that don't really resemble bristles. It's the arrangement of the pine needles that resemble a bristle brush. Some trees in the White Mountains have been ring dated by dendrochronologists to be well over 4500 years old. The trees in this particular area are believed to be only 2500 years old, but if Moses was still around, they could swap a lot of stories together. The tree attributes it's longevity to its dense and resinous wood which maintains resistance to insects and fungi.


As soon as I hiked among the twisted and gnarled trees I knew that a star trail photograph would be in order. I began to investigate each tree and it's position to Polaris. This normally couldn't be done during the day with out a compass,  and then only generally, but the techo-geek in me had the iPhone app 'Star Tracker' installed and ready to go for occasions like this. I simply held up the phone to the north and using cell tower telemetry narrowed the position of the North Star to a small window. I was then able to find the star in relation to the perfect tree. It was tall enough, and on the top of a ridge so I could get close to the ground and look up through the branches to Polaris.  The ridge line eliminated any background hills and forest. I then set up the tripod and made note of it's position so when I returned after dark I could easily find the correct composition.  As dusk started to roll around I took some images with the low warm light of the sun, then packed up and headed back to camp.


After dinner I consulted the iPhone again and realized that the moon was soon to rise dead north. That would certainly put the kibosh on any star trails right after dark, at least with Polaris in it.  It just meant that I could have a few extra beers and catch some zzz's before heading back up the hill. I deduced that about 3 in the morning would give me enough time before the light of dawn and allow the moon to reposition from behind the tree to in front, giving me natural light so I didn't have to use a flash light to illuminate.  My alarm went off at 2:30 and I packed up my gear and headed back up the ridge.  I felt pretty good having gotten some sleep, at least a lot better than staying up until exhaustion like on other occasions. I set my gear up at the spot then did a test exposure at iso1600, first at 25 seconds, then another at 20 seconds. The second exposure had the better lighting on the tree, so I then calculated down to iso100 and determined that 2.66 minutes would get me the right exposure on the tree. For simplicity I  set my intervolometer to 3 minutes for 20 frames.



The rest was a waiting game.  Again my iPhone came out and I read some eBooks about photography while I waited on a flat stump for the hour. I spent a little more time shooting then packed up, hiked back down the hill and went back to bed.  A little pre-visualization and preparation plus gadgetry equals some favorable results in this case.