On my way to Snake River Campground I came up on a turtle and decided to take him off the road. At the campground I found someone else in my usual spot. No problem, my only requirement was that I had a two trees for my hammock. I ended up with a pretty sweet spot that offered two trees that hung above the sandy beach.
I was even greeted by a nice 3 foot long bull snake right next to my campsite. He was harmless enough and as long as he stayed in that tree I had no problem with it. The temperature was nearing 100 again, but luckily I bought a pool toy from a walmart in Chadron so I could relax in the water during the day. Eventually I fell into my hammock and woke up hours later.
Strangely enough there were already a couple people up in the mowed off observing area and since I saw a small storm on radar passing to the South West, I drove my jeep up into the hills and setup a little timelapse of the sunset and the storm. There were some clouds above me that were putting out a light sprinkle but that wasn't enough to stop the timelapse.
I turned around from adjusting a setting on my timelapse and saw a double rainbow formed in the sky. I quickly grabbed my other camera and started taking photos of it with my jeep (of course) as the foreground. Even snuck in a photo of myself pointing at the camera with force. One of the star party guys must have saw the sticker on the back of my jeep and came up to talk about the star party and showed me a couple of photos he took of the rainbow. When my timelapse was finished, I packed up and drove back down to my campground to make some dinner.
Sitting in pure boredom, I decided to dig out my set of christmas lights and placed them below my hammock in a pattern. I could here a group of young kids on the nearby dock talking about the stars above and how many there were and calling out when they saw a meteor fly over. I knew they didn't see me setting up my lights so when I was done, I sat in my hammock and turned them on. You'd be surprised on how bright those suckers are haha. Immediately they started freaking out and yelled over that my setup was sweet. I already had my camera in place so now it was just the game of how long to set the shutter to avoid blurriness from my inevitable movement on the hammock but be able to capture the stars in the background and not over expose the christmas lights. After a few attempts I was able to turn the lights on for a couple of seconds then turn them off for the remainder of the exposure.
After that, I called it a night and went to bed with my trunk open so I had a nice breeze throughout the night.
The next morning I made myself a fat stack of pancakes and ended up going to the RV campground to take a shower.A friend and fellow photographer Mike Hollingshead was planning on coming out for the star party but was chasing a storm earlier that day and wouldn't arrive until later on. Mike showed up about the time that I was fixing up some steaks for dinner, apparently his pringles were enough food for him so I had to overstuff myself since I couldn't let it go to waste haha.
Mike parked up in the observing area and setup his tent and I eventually packed up my stuff and walked up there to shoot for the night. This was by far the clearest darkest skies of the days we were at the star party. Mike has a tracking mount setup and rented a couple new lenses so he could test them. He rented the 50mm sigma art lens which I have been waiting for since the Sigma 35mm art lens was so sharp and had basically no coma wide open. Unfortunately, the 50mm version did have coma up until f2, but it was still fun to shoot with and gave me some pretty sweet shots of the milkyway galactic core. You can read more about his thoughts on that lens and the other lens he rented (8mm-70mm?) Here.
Being that I there really isn't much for foreground there and timelapsing there are a ton of cars that come in and out of the campground, I didn't feel like I needed to timelapse. So I went back to my campsite and went to bed around 2am.
The next morning I decided not to reserve my camping spot for another night and instead that I would be going up on the hill. For some unknown reason I thought it would be a good idea to head into Valentine and try to get some sandals and try to find somewhere with free wifi so I could download some music. Although plenty of places had signs that said free wifi, non of their connections were strong enough to even load a website. On top of that, I couldn't find any sandals in my size.
By the time I got back to Merrit Reservoir and used the RV park for a shower, it was time to register for the Nebraska Star Party. It became very apparent to me how big of a waste of money this was for me. I was pretty excited about attending this event but $40 for entry + $15 for a shirt and $10 for a meal wasn't worth it for me. All I wanted was to get a good shot of some telescopes with a milkyway in the backdrop.
The place seemed to fill up pretty nicely and was showing some promise for the nights sky. After sunset I came into the same predicament as the night before, no foreground. I walked around hoping someone would look friendly enough to talk and maybe I would be able to find a place out of the way to setup a timelapse of the fields of people and their telescopes and red headlamps. Nothing. I gave up and went back to the the cars where Mike was and setup a couple shots but once darkness rolled in it seemed like everyone just went to bed and didn't really stay up to shoot? It was kind of strange. Eventually Mike crashed because his tracking mount wasn't powering. So I just sat around shooting various shots that I thought would be cool since the milkyway was masked by a layer of clouds.
Then I thought I'd try to locate the Andromeda galaxy and see how well I could capture it without a tracking mount and just using high ISO with a 200mm 2.8 prime lens. After timelapsing Andromeda I gave up on waiting for the sky to clear to the South West and went to bed.
When I woke up Mike had already left to go home and the sun was starting to burn down on the sandhills. I packed up a few things but left enough to keep my spot held so I could go to the trading post and charge my off grid battery system.
After a few hours of driving aimlessly I returned to my spot and got ready to go to the nebraska star party's catered dinner. That night was shredded beef sandwiches. Once I got my food I sat at the first spot that looked like it wasn't being held for someone. Of course seconds later a guy walks up behind me and awkwardly stands there and says to the other guys at the table, "I guess I'll sit over here". By the way, "Over here" was on a different table, but still parallel and butted up against the table everyone else was at (so I don't know why he was whining). You could cut down a tree with the awkwardness that was present. Luckily a guy across from me broke the ice by asking what kind of telescope I had. Unfortunately, since I don't have a telescope and I shoot wide field astrophotography, they were completely uninterested in anything I had to say. They continued to tell me I should get a telescope and after pretending to drink out of my cup that was only cubes for about 5 minutes, I said thanks thanks for letting me sit at their table and got up and left. I walked around for a while, but after the prize giveaway I went back to my car and started to pack up my gear for the night since I planned to finally get my shot of silhouetted telescopes with the night sky.
I found a pretty good spot for the sunset, but the way everything was layed out I knew right away I wouldn't be able to get a full lower frame of silhouettes of the telescopes. The worst part was how incredibly unprepared I was for the amount of mosquitoes that were eating me alive, and with a timelapse of the sunset going, I couldn't just walk away and get spray.
By the time darkness started to set in, the clouds started to roll in. I eventually called it quits and setup a timelapse pointing straight up and went to bed.
About 3 hours later there were flashes from lightning that woke me up and with my cameras outside of my car, I jumped out and packed them up just in time before the rain came in.
I woke up around 6am, put my cooler in my car and took off for home.