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May Roadtrip Day 4 (May 26-27)

Travel log

May Roadtrip Day 4 (May 26-27)

Jesse Attanasio

One verrrrry long day...

I was woken up rather early from neighboring campers dogs feeling the need to bark non stop. I figured I might as well make some eggs and hit the road towards Toadstool. The town of Crawford, NE is about 20 miles away from Toadstool and is basically the entrance to the park so I stopped by the gas station for some snacks and then headed towards the park.

About three quarters of the way there, there was a road closed sign. Which was incredibly annoying to me since there was no warning off of the highway about the road being closed and there was signs about a detour. 

So I did what any young chap with a red bull in his system and a jeep with 4wd would do. I tried to find my own way around. I noticed some tire marks off to the side of the train tracks that led down towards a small creek that looked to be low enough and filled with rocks enough that I could make it over no problem. With a split second decision I hit the gas and took of down and up the creek bed. It wasn't until I was about halfway up the other side that my car was unable to continue and started sliding back in the mud. So of course what else does one do besides throw it in reverse and floor it backwards and attempt again at a different angle. It wasn't until the thirst try that I realized I was getting lower and lower in the creek bed on my attempts and by the fourth try, I was high centered in the middle of the creek with water just barely able to pass my vehicle without rushing in the door when I opened it.

A call to AAA and I felt much better about the situation. Until they called back 2 more times and said they have tried places in South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska with out anyone responding. My luck of course is that I get stuck in the middle of no where on Memorial day and no one is able to pull me for 24 hours. 

At no point did I let this get to me though, I just went to the trunk of my car, pulled out my tow rope and camera gear and headed off back towards the main road. Quite a few other cars came to the road closed sign and sat puzzled on how to get around, but they were all too small to pull my car out so I didn't even bother asking. I did check the nearby construction equipment with hopes they were unlocked with the keys in them, but no luck there. Finally I decided I might as well setup a timelapse since I was going to be there for a while and there were some pretty neat clouds in the distance and it wasn't like I had anything else to do haha.


Almost immediately after I setup my timelapse I saw a guy in a suburban look like he was going to attempt the same thing I did and follow the tracks. I flagged him down and told him it wasn't a good idea to attempt the make shift detour and when I told him I was stuck I could tell he was slightly adamant about helping since he had a a few elderly women with him who probably wouldn't appreciate it if he got stuck trying to pull me. But he volunteered and gave me a ride down there. After searching through the manual we decided there is no legit way to attach my towstrap to my Jeep. Apparently Jeep didn't install factory tow hooks on ALL of their Patriots, only the trail rated ones which is just plane silly. Finally we just attached it to the best looking point we could find and was able to pull me out of the creek with no problem. He refused any sort of compensation and said he has been in situations like that before and he was just passing on what has been done for him. 

Now that I was out of the creek I thought I should just entirely give up on trying to get to toadstool. Agate Fossil beds were my next idea for a destination, but not to walk the trails just to explore the crazy empty countryside in that area. I had this idea to do a timelapse with my camera suction cupped to the roof of my car and finally found an incredibly straight road, some pretty cool clouds and not a car in sight. 

After my drivelapse was finished I drove for hours trying to find my way to the opposite side of these bluffs so I could shoot some more clouds. It was nearly impossible to get close enough, but fortunately I was able to find some cool mound formations as a foreground and bluffs in the background. The clouds were way less dramatic by then and it was deathly hot so I didn't stick around for too long.

I drove for a while longer trying to find a way into the hills when I randomly came across a dead end that happened to have what looked like an old primitive campground area. It didn't look very well maintained but there was a map that showed you could drive off trail a bit to a different area and park to go backcountry camping in the bluffs.

I immediately fell in love. This spot was incredibly secluded and perfect for a night of shooting astrophotography. I was so excited to start scouting for locations but I really wanted to film some behind the scenes stuff. This was my first time doing the whole one man camera crew thing and let me tell you something, it is exhausting and I basically just crossed my fingers that I was focusing correctly and wasn't messing too much up for continuity. Basically what I had to do was setup my tripod and camera, hike past it, turn the camera around and move it to a different spot for a shot from behind, then hike to a random spot, run back down the hill, grab the camera and run back up the hill to setup for the next shot of me coming towards the camera. I had to do this 3-4 times which doesn't sound like much, but with 40lbs of gear on my back it really took a lot out of me. When I found a spot to setup, I timelapsed me setting up for a bulb ramping sunset to stars shot with a pan move that would hopefully get the milky way in the end. 

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The sunset wasn't very impressive to the West, but the sky to the east had some incredibly vibrant pinks in the clouds so I quickly grabbed my other camera and climbed to the peak and shot a quick hand held panorama before setting up to timelapse the already dying colors in the sky. When that was over I climbed down and used the little light I had in the sky to scout for a location for my milkyway rise.

Once back at basecamp I grilled up some cheddar brats and fried some bacon because I was nearly ready to pass out from hunger. 

It wasn't long until the sun set enough for me to go check on my bulb ramping setup. Normally I stick around my bulb ramp setups to ensure the best possible sunset timelapse. And of course it was incredibly under exposed because I misjudged the twilight coming in when it did. So I completely restarted the timelapse and decided it was probably going to be a throw away shot anyways. Then I went back to my camera setup for the milky way rise and took some fun silhouette shots of myself and the tree I was using for foreground.

After about an hour of my milkyway timelapse going I decided to take down my sunset shot and shoot some panoramas of the milkyway. My emotimo TB3 pan/tilt head was going haywire (broken hand controller) so I had to shoot my panoramas manually which gets a little hairy when shooting 35mm and doing multiple rows and columns. My first panorama setup I did, I decided to move right to left while shooting which is opposite of what I normally do in panoramas. Luckily I did though because I was able to catch this incredibly long satellite trailing across the sky in 5 of the shots. 


Then I climbed to peak of the hill where I shot the Eastern sunset early and attempted to shoot a selfie with the stars as a background. As mentioned before there wasn't much room up there so it was rather difficult, luckily the Canon 6D has wifi capability so I was able to control my camera with my phone although my lens is all manual so focusing was still a pain. After a few silhouette shots I realized that I liked the message that comes across when you see a photo of someone focused entirely on their mobile device with a whole field of unfocused stars as a background.

Anyways, after that I thought i'd check on my other timelapse so I climbed down and went to hop the barbed wire fence. Unfortunately I forgot that there was a second piece of barbed wire hanging off to the side. Which I happened to snag on my pants as I was in mid air, basically went from vertical to horizontal in a half second and landed directly on my chest on the edge of the hill. I did everything I could not to drop or smash my camera and was successful at that, but I had the wind knocked out of me and could already feel blood going down my leg. Once I gathered myself and realized that I was okay and had no broken bones. I dusted myself off and went to my other camera to shoot some behind the scenes stuff.

Since I wanted that shot to catch some more of the milkyway rising, I left it there and decided to setup a little timelapse of my basecamp. Then I decided it would be cool to do some product shots with the milkyway since I plan to offer that kind of stuff to clients and needed some example content to show them. First I took a few stills of my Pelican cooler. 

Then I decided to hike back up the hill and grab my other camera so I could do a short timelapse clip of my F-Stop Gear Tilopa BC Backpack. I originally had it setup with a focus push but the completely spaced the fact that the moon was soon rising and eventually washed out the stars anyways. 

Now that I had a little more light I realized that my legs were cut a little worse than I thought and I should probably clean them up with my first aid kit. For some reason, my guess is out of pure lack of sleep itself, I packed up all of my stuff and left basecamp and drove CLEAR to Chadron State Park, payed another $20, took a shower, cleaned my wounds and fell asleep after making some pancakes. I guess now that I type that it was probably a good move, after the day I just experienced a shower made things a whole lot better and I was able to sleep relatively well besides the fact that my neighbors were just waking up and dogs were barking like crazy.