The Milky Way over Corona Arch & Mesa Arch

Duke Johnson

During my trip to the Moab and Canyonlands area, my hope was to capture the Milky Way over both Corona Arch and Mesa Arch while using the moonlight from a waning crescent moon to illuminate the canyon around False Kiva. Due to their locations and the fact that I didn’t know if the alignments would be right for Mesa Arch, I had to do Corona Arch first.

I allowed the better part of an hour to get there with all my gear, and when I did, I found out that the Arch was facing 90 degrees from the direction I had assumed, which meant that the whole shot was going to be much different from the one I had envisioned. Don’t even ask me about the mosquitoes! After I got set up in the stillness and waited for complete darkness to fall, the canyon winds started to gust. What was stillness one minute was a series of 30 mph gusts the next. As I shot my pan, I had to reshoot 3 of the images due to camera shake during the 40 second exposures. You can block some of the wind with your body, but just not enough. Luckily, I was able to get both a decent panorama and several good single shots of the summer triangle over the arch. Note the great rift, the dark zone stretching from the galactic core (right) to a point about mid-way overhead. I only got lost for about 10 minutes while hiking out in front of the advancing mosquito hoard, so I considered it a success.Milky Way over Corona Arch

Sleeping a little in the shade of the car as daylight arrived; I got enough rest to fuel my attempt at the two shots in Canyonlands National Park. At Mesa Arch, you have to set up in not only the exact location, but at the right height as well. That’s critical if you want to have the silhouettes of the La Sal Mountains in the opening of the arch. Then, you have to plan ahead so that the Milky Way is in the correct place when it actually gets dark or else you have to move and quickly reset. The light on the foreground was provided by a 1,000,000 candle power spotlight. (I usually use a 2,000,000, but didn’t here due to the close proximity of the arch.) I had to quickly move the light from left to right in the same motion for each shot, allowing slightly longer for objects farther away to receive the light. Each burst of light was less than one second. I took a dozen shots and then stitched them together (just as I had done at Corona Arch). Conditions were perfect and I was amazed that the arch completely mirrored the arc of the Milky Way above it.Milky Way over Mesa Arch I enjoyed the solitude and I thought that it sure beat the crowd that usually shows up for sunrise. All too soon, I had to quickly pack up and drive to the trail leading to False Kiva…which presented its own challenges…

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