March 11, 2012 Badlands Night Photography

This turned out to be pretty fun. There was a big flare from the sun and at least some small cloud concerns at home. I've needed and wanted to do a Badlands trip for moon-lit stuff yet. So I decided to head for the Badlands for aurora ops and if that didn't happen, I was there for the moon-lit ops anyway. On way there another big flare went off. So now the second night was an option too. Neither of those flares would work out worth a damn for this, so no auroras.

I replied to a Tyler e-mail that I was in the Badlands, then said he should come. I then talked to Chris and said he should too. Before you know it, those two, along with Evan were enroute! Chris nor Evan had ever been to the Badlands, so they couldn't lose on the trip. I couldn't lose because I wanted the moon-lit ops I'd been wanting to do.

I was awake at 6 a.m. that morning, so once the sun had set I tried to nap till they got there or till the moon would rise. Never really got that to happen. Soon the moon rose and I was out shooting solo. Not a whole lot longer they arrived. It was oddly warm for early March. Upper 70s there that day. The night would really only be upper 50s at worst, with strong winds. Perfect.

It wasn't long till we were in climb mode, trying to climb whatever we could. This stuff is hard, yet has a slick coating of almost like chalk. Other areas are not hard but quite loose. The hard stuff is tricky to climb. For as rough as it is, it's damn slick. Tyler and I made it up this thing above. The hard part was that part clear over on the left of the image(like that left 1/20th of the pic). You don't want to go sliding off the right. You could get up that slant part easy enough(ok kinda easy). What was harder was that top straight up part at the end of it, highest point on far left. Keep in mind it is night out, even if the moon was bright it wasn't as bright as the images. Some of the parts you just didn't want to go sliding. I don't even remember exactly how that one part over there was bad, but it was tricky. Once you were up on there it wasn't bad, sorta. Like you could walk easy enough, but there are sections where it is more skinny and you would clearly not want to slip near the edge of it, towards the camera/south. Looking north from up there, it was less clear what you were looking over and down at, given less moonlight on things.


We noticed what was probably coolest, would be the images Chris and Evan were getting of us up there. But our cameras were with us. We knew we'd have to take them down and shoot those guys up there. Problem was we could see them over at that "spot" for a while(the tricky part way left). I said, "I can't hear what they are saying, but I don't think they are making it past that spot." Bet if they tried it again now they'd get it. Anyway, I thought, well we can take our cameras down there and I can run back up there lol. So that is how this shot was taken. I ran back down, set up my camera, then ran back up there and had Chris take the shot. One thing is clear with this climbing around thing, it's worse to watch someone else on stuff usually than to be the person on the stuff. I'd rather be running back across that up there than down here watching someone else do it. Fall off that and you'd be dead in a hurry. You'd really have to screw up up there though.

Cropped in some.

This was taken from somewhere up there.

A different location we climbed. Tyler top, Evan below. It was super windy at times right here. Surely in the 50mph realm.

Same location looking south at Chris driving the car for our lights shot. It's a pretty fun road that goes through the park.

Chris holding his hands up in excitement over the view. We should have strolled/rolled down to that stream. Has to be great views looking back north from down there. There were actually some places on the cliff stuff were you could imagine getting "rim-rocked". Those places were you could slide down onto something but not be able to get back up or go further down from there. You'd stop yourself and think, hmmmm I might not be able to get back up here and I can't see if I could continue down from that.

Tyler and I walked out to this point in a different area of the park. There were some nasty nasty drop offs to the left/east here. Again the bottom was more of a black shadow than anything else.

Chris and Evan strolling back from where they walked out to.

We did at least a few star trails from the various places we stopped. It took us forever to even get out of the Yellow Mounds and Pinnacles Overlook area on the west end.

In the dark those trees looked more like just shadows.

It's now near morning on the first night and we've finally made it over towards the east end. I love this rock. It slid here evidently.

This was actually the first trail I took before they arrived.

Evan on left Tyler on right.

My favorite place/view we came across. This was seen after climbing over some formations. Just an odd plateau over there with this big peak next to it. Tyler did a cool star trail from here, leaving his camera here as we walked over there and he lit up the circumference of that plateau with a flashlight. I wasn't smart enough to leave my camera here as I thought the view from there had to be cool.

This is the view from that plateau looking back where we came. Looks like an area of grass and then the peaks, not what I had really imagined for whatever reason. The smaller peak on the right you can see Evan and/or Chris.

Really weird lighting as early twilight from the east hits these, with the moon lowering west of things.

Brighter twilight on peaks now.

Ok, alpine glow from within the glow and not shot from below kinda rules. I shot down at the tripod leg to get some perspective. Didn't want to fall off this. We need to do this next time from away from the man-made stuff. The thing with this terrain is, most of it is all just a lowered into thing. Where it is all flat plains, but then it drops down into this stuff. Not a whole lot of peaks that start up above the higher plains to the north. This stuff is really hard on the ol jeans, fwiw. Looks like cracked dirt, but it is more like cracked pavement.

Moon in the middle. Moonscape.

We were pretty damn tired now. I went back to my motel and got 3 periods of 2 hours of sleep before the second night. Those guys tried to sleep in their tents during the day.

Nice sunset the second night. It was amazing how much of an orange wall was out there shooting straight down behind the bank of clouds. I'm not sure if those far hills are far enough away to be the Black Hills but I believe that is what those are.

I swear there is always a sunset/sunrise op at this place.

Light painting and trails as we wait for the moon to rise and try to stay awake. Feet shadows showing up for an odd effect. Jupiter and Venus in the middle.

Badlands version of crop circles. We made a ufo for this but it didn't turn out so well. We needed to block the light out itself as well. One thing was for sure, we really never redid anything to get it right lol.

It's funny how this actually wound up looking like someone standing there spray painting.

It was now around 1 a.m. and we were back at the Pinnacles. There is a stupid drop off right here on the left. I would scoot out there with my feet over on the right formation and try to get a shot down over to the left. Didn't take long and that was just creepy as all hell. You'd get a bit of vertigo even thinking of looking back over there and trying to get a higher perspective with the camera. That got me back off there. Sorry I couldn't really get the look down shot there lol. There was no way in hell I was going to stand up on that with the tripod. There is no slide on the left, it's just go straight down and be dead.

Those guys had now left me to head back to their tents and sleep. It was only around 2 or something. Maybe 3. I forget. I really wanted to go down there and get shots looking up this valley, but not alone at that point. We had just been in this one spot, tucked away down a road, shooting shadows when we pretty much were hearing people. Like hell if I'm parking here and strolling down there in the moonlight solo after that. No one goes through this place at night. Pretty high creepy factor when alone. But I've said I wouldn't do things like that before and have wound up just doing it when I really wanted a shot. I evidently didn't want this shot bad enough lol. What I really noticed this time with these guys, compared to normally being alone, you are always talking. Your ears don't miss a single thing here alone. Yet while we were all together I noticed they were essentially completely missing out on the silent aspect of that place. The wind furthered that cause. Much better with others, for sure.

One more star trail on my way back up the road. I get back up above and check out the aurora stuff. Soon as I look at data it was clear the CME from the sun JUST hit. 2 hours to go till twilight would kick in. It was a pretty good looking hit too. But it wasn't to be. I gave it to about 30 minutes to twilight and hit the motel for a few hours before the drive home.

The motel deal works out pretty well for this. Get there early in the day, then force a nap at the motel. I didn't do that. Then stay up all night in the park. Then run back to motel and catch 3 hours of sleep before check out time. Then drive home on that. That last time I was here, 2 months ago in January I didn't do a motel or get sleep. That drive back sucked.

Anyway, much fun was had on this trip with those guys. We need to do it again with the moon. It was kinda a learning experience. I screwed up plenty by forgetting to switch back to RAW after a star trail in JPG. I also trusted the LCD instead of the histogram, even after noting the histogram was kinda low/left/dark. Thought it was good anyway and was wrong. Should have been doing 30 seconds 800 ISO and not 400 ISO on about everything. Star trails limit what you can shoot cause they take up time. Also the morning stuff with the alpine glow needs done somewhere else. Just would really like another shot at this moon-lit badlands stuff. Also we more or less blew the second night, everyone being too tired by then. Moon rise was sorta late too. But it was fun climbing the stuff. Next time we'll go further in and do different cliffs of death. Park is pretty darn big so made sense to stick near the road so they could at least see that stuff.

A funny side story if you are still reading. Before I pulled the trigger on going here I tried to convince myself with a coin flip. I couldn't decide if it would be worth going and that drive or not, so I thought I'd flip a coin. I grab a quarter from my pocket and before I even flip it, I think aloud to myself, flipping a coin is so dumb because you really never listen to the answer anyway. I thought, if I call wrong I'd still want to go and if right I might still have hesitation. I say heads I'll go and flip it. I catch it and flip it over and can see it wasn't heads. I really wasn't for sure without looking closer at the design. I flipped again, best of 3 of course, and again not heads, but I had to look closer at it to be sure. What is the freaking design of this quarter? It's Mt Rushmore....it's a South Dakota quarter! Whaaaaaattt? I flip it again and hit tails again....or in other words South Dakota. This was highly strange given what I had just thought about flipping really never mattering. To then be flipping a freaking SD quarter and it being tails 3 in a row. Turns out I had 7 other quarters in my pocket and each was a different state. I thought, ok, if there are signs I should go, that would kinda be it lol. I shook my head for a long time on that one. Figures though, no crazy auroras anyway. Oh well, good times were had and I was only going solo at that point too.