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Joshua Tree Hiking/Camping/Milky Way & Astrophotography Workshop

Joshua Tree Hiking/Camping/Milky Way & Astrophotography Workshop

Indian Cove Campground

June 12-14, 2015

After Action Report

What an awesome, exciting and hot event!

With such a large group, coordinating began weeks before the actual event. From rides to reschedules, everything was done to make the event as seamless as possible.

Day 1 - Milky Way/Nightscapes

When June 12th arrived. Everyone knew what to expect. The San Diego group met at around 10:30am and headed out shortly after. On the drive from San Diego to Joshua Tree one thing was very noticeable, the change in weather. We went from

cool, grey and overcast to mostly blue skies and HOT.

We arrived at our campsite and began unloading our gear. The site was perfect for our needs. Very wide open space with a clear view of the eastern sky. Adjacent to the camp on the west side was a very large rock formation. After setting

up, a few of us decided to climb up while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive.

About an hour had past and according to weather forecasts the clouds and weather should have dissipated. They were wrong. About 10 miles north of our camp were very large, dark, looming clouds with streams of rain pouring from them. Then

lightning began appearing. All of us got our cameras out in an attempt to capture a bolt. Many of us were there with our expensive tripods and thousand+ dollar cameras with equally expensive lenses trying to get a shot. And who should

actually capture a perfect lightning strike? The guy with the $150 point and shoot on a $10, 5" bendy leg tripod! Haha! Awesome!!

We shot a couple of amazing landscapes with the clouds above as the sun began to set displaying beautiful blues and pinks in the sky. We were fortunate that the weather stayed north of us. Although clouds did make their way over our


At about 8pm the 1st part of the workshop began. Milky Way/Nightscape Photography. We went over many aspects of DSLR usage, how to shoot in low light, DSLR functionality, how to capture the Milky Way and more! Fortunately by the time we

began shooting, all the clouds had cleared up and we shot away into the night!

With some hands on help and guidance, everyone in the group was successfully able to get a shot of the Milky Way!

After everyone had their fill of the Milky Way, a few of us stayed up later into the night playing around with some light writing and drawing. Lots of fun!

Day 2 - Astronomy/Astrophotography

The day's schedule is packed with things to do! At about 8am everyone is awake and ready to get the day started. We enjoy a nice breakfast together and talk about the plan. First was to go on a morning hike around the outskirts of the

campground. We filled up our water bottles and hydration packs and headed out into the desert. About 3/4 of a mile into the hike, heat started to get to a few of the members who decided to turn back and instead drive into the park and do

some sightseeing. We parted ways and set a time to meet up back at camp.

Our group continued the hike seeing all kinds of interesting rock formations, plant and animal life. It wasn't long before one member spotted a snake! We all checked it out and got a few images of this Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

that lay on a rock warming itself. We continued on our hike and before long the next big sight came up...Mountain Goats! A rare sight to see as they usually stay away from camp sights. They were gracefully scaling up one of the large

rock mountains. We walked slowly in their direction trying not to spook them. We got our shots and pressed on. Now about 5 miles in, it was getting very hot. Fortunately the trail was coming to an end and we were making our way back to


Back at camp we relaxed in the shade of our lifesaving canopies. Next on the agenda was to drive into the park stopping at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, "Sky's the Limit" a local observatory and nature preserve, the famous "Skull Rock"

and Keys View Point.

At the visitor center we were greeted by a park photographer snapping photos of desert lizards in the branches of a small tree eating the berries growing from it. He showed where in the tree they were and where to get the best shot of

them. Funny little lizards. We went on to tour the rest of the center and then headed out. Next stop, Sky's the Limit.

Sky's the Limit offers an awesome outdoor scale model of our solar system (an orrery), zen garden, an observatory and more! We were fortunate enough to run into one of the founders of the organization and he kindly offered us a tour of

the area and even inside the observatory! He then invited us to come back that evening as they would be holding a Mid-Summer Celebration with talks by astronomers and astronomy professors, stargazing with over 12 telescopes and even live

music. I inquired to the possibility of using our adapters to attach our cameras to their 14" telescope. Possibly after the crowd died down. Awesome!

We left and drove into the park stopping at Skull Rock. A huge rock face that has been eroded over time to look like a giant skull. We got some fun shots and hiked all over the area for some time. Finally we made our way to keys view

point. It is the highest point in the park and offers a nice wide view overlooking the entire Coachella Valley. We got our shots and headed back to camp. Everyone was so tired by this point, we ended up napping in the van on the way. And

it was only 3pm!

Back at camp, everyone ended up napping a bit to catch up on some much needed zZzZ's. A while later we had lunch and then at around 6:30pm we began the topic of the nights photography focus, Astrophotography! The talk was extensive but

very engaging and informative. After everyone had a grasp of how to do it, we hopped in our vehicles and drove back to Sky's the Limit to attend the stargazing event.

We entered as a group and were greeted by many people operating telescopes. They were very welcoming and all too eager to share their knowledge and a view through their scopes at different subjects in the sky. We spent some time at the

different scopes, toured the orrery, then back to the scopes. Then we got word the people from the observatory were ready to receive the StarDude Astronomy group!

All of us packed in and listened as the local astronomer talked about the operation of the scope, dome and a few subjects of interest in the sky. Then he allowed us to attach our cameras to the main 14" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

Switching off between Canon, Nikon and Pentax, all were able to capture beautiful images of the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules - M13 as well as the Swan Nebula - M17. Very exciting! We said our thanks, took a group photo and headed

back to camp.

Back at camp, I quickly began setting up our scope to capture Saturn and other celestial objects. Saturn shone brightly in the night sky which made it easy for us to capture. Now close to 1:30am, all said goodnight and went to

sleep...except for me of course. I stayed up and captured more including the Ring Nebula, the Dumbell, Vega, Lagoon Nebula and Trifid Nebula before finally decided it was time to call it a night. At around 4am I fell asleep.

Day 3 - Judgement Day

The last event planned for the group was to hold a contest to see who captured the best image!

We got up, grabbed a quick snack and began packing our gear away for the trip home. A few members came to me and thanked me for the weekend but decided that they were going to go straight home. I thanked them for coming along on the trip

and wished them well. Then those us of who remained drove out of the park and to a local Denny's to cool off, have some water and breakfast. Contest time!

Everyone who participated selected their best photo and submitted it on my laptop. After receiving them, I handed out scorecards to all the participants to judge based on specific criteria. Each photo entry was then displayed for

admiring and judging. Once the last entry was displayed and all scored were marked, I collected the score cards, tallied up the points and began reading out the results, channeling my inner TV game show host, "in 7th place with a total

of 187 points....entry number 3!!!" Then I would display the image and name of the contestant. Cheers and applause followed from the group! It was a blast!

Each person who came to this event knew nothing or little about low light photography, Milky Way photography and Astrophotography. In the end, all group members had captured the Milky Way, celestial objects and gained new knowledge and

understading of the night sky. To me that makes everyone a winner!

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