Trona Pinnacles was the totally uncharted out of the way location on our trip. It’s somewhere south of Death Valley, literally in the middle nowhere. The pinnacles are basically a group of tall rock formations on an otherwise flat plain. Check out the satellite map below. If you zoom in, you can see the pinnacles jut out.
A small mishap
It was a long drive from Joshua Tree. It was Beau Rogers and I in his Ford Expedition (I think?) We found the almost invisible turnoff for the dirt road leading to the pinnacles. As we were driving along the bumpy terrain, all of a sudden the car was making a lot of noise. We realized that we had a flat tire in the back.
Luckily Beau had a spare, but no manual on how to jack up the huge vehicle. We tried doing it from the side and the jack started getting bent. It was almost a 100 F with no shade anywhere around. I think it took almost a couple of hours for us to figure out where the jack went and change the tires. We went back 40 miles to the nearest town of Ridgecrest CA and luckily found a place open to fix the flat. So if you go out there, first of all make sure you have a 4 wheel drive and secondly have a spare tire and know how to change it. Chances are that there won’t be anyone coming along to help.
Finally at Trona!
We finally got back to the pinnacles a couple of hours before sundown. Our buddy Evan Jones was waiting for us there, having driven down all the way from Idaho in his cool camper. Check out his website rusticlens.com for some really amazing rustic scenery. His camper did look really cool hanging out with the pinnacles. The sunset was a bit of a bust with barely any clouds in the sky.
A Stunning Moonrise
We did get an incredible treat of the full moon rising over the mountains. Out in the desert, the light of the moon is amplified so much. It almost felt like silvery daylight. The rocks took on a gorgeous purplish hue. An alien landscape was spread out before us.
Star Trails – On a Full Moon Night
We still had some time to kill before going to sleep. There was zero light pollution and a clear and cloudless sky. Even with a full moon the stars were very visible. So we decided to do some star trails photography. I was very happy with how it turned out even though some clouds started streaking across the sky. And you can see how much the rocks were being lit up by moonlight.
Star Trails – A short tutorial
Here’s a short tutorial for those who are not familiar with it. You can find plenty of detailed ones on the web. First thing you want to do is find the north star and point your camera towards it on a really sturdy tripod. Make sure some interesting foreground is also in the photo.
Basically it involves taking a series of photos and combining them using a free software called StarStax. It is best to use an ultra wide angle lens and have your F-stop wide open enough to have the stars visible. Try a couple of shots to make sure that the stars are visible. For this photo, I took 20 second shots at f/4. Make sure your camera is in manual mode including focus so that nothing changes while you take the photos. Then use an intervalometer to automatically take a series of photos for at least an hour. While that’s happening, go have your dinner or whatever. You can find cheap 3rd party intervalometers for any camera and they work really well. They are fantastic as remote controls and to take time lapses.
Once you have the photos, just let StarStax do its work. It’s pretty straightforward. You may have to clean up comet and plane trails that cut across. In this photo, I had to take out a couple of shots because someone opened a car door lighting up the whole area with a red light. I threw in a shot from the star trails and you can see how brightly the moon lights the landscape
That was my favorite night of camping under the stars. There was no campground, so I just picked a place and hoped nothing would crawl in. The next morning sunrise was again boring. At least I got a couple of good photos of the shadows made by the early morning sun on the pinnacles.
Next week – adventures in Death Valley!