Big Bend National Park: Landscape & Astrology Photography, February 27 - March 5, 2020

Big Bend National Park, Maverick Junction Entrance on Highway 118

We last visited Big Bend back in the summer of 2012 where we made a large circle of the area that included stops in Belmorhea State Park, Davis Mountain State Park, Fort Davis, Mc Donald Observatory, Marfa, Big Bend NP and Marathon. I clearly recall the magnificence and grandeur of Big Bend with its dramatic sunsets and incredible landscapes, and before having newer camera gear. Having a new interest in astrology photography (will be my first time taking photos of stars) and researching areas without light pollution and dark Skys at night indicated Big Bend is one of the best, especially in the winter months. So, a trip was planned.

Big Bend National Park is in southwest Texas and includes the entire Chisos mountain range which includes the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains and a large swath of the Chihuahuan Desert. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive leads to the ruins of Sam Nail Ranch, now home to desert wildlife. The Santa Elena Canyon, carved by the Rio Grande, features steep limestone cliffs. Langford Hot Springs, near the Mexican border, has pictographs and the foundations of an old bathhouse.

We would begin this visit by staying at the Terlingua  Ranch made famous by none other than Carroll Shelby and friends which is a 16 miles drive north of Study Butte/Terlingua and another 6 miles to the Maverick Junction park entrance.  If you are interested in staying off the beaten path and really enjoy the West, Terlingua Ranch is the place with landscapes like no other, and great staff have incredible knowledge of the area. A great example was the recommendation to hike up the Christmas Mountain Pass where the photograph below was taken from. Another bonus is the night sky on a clear day provide incredible mountain accents for astrology photography. Clicking on the image below will redirect you to the Terlingua Ranch web site.

Road Trip

Home away from home with the Crosstrek tote

Terlingua Ranch

Terlingua Ranch from high up on the Christmas Mountain Pass

One of my goals of this trip to the desert Southwest was to take photographs of the stars and the Milky Way. I had never done this before so with a new Rokinon 14mm lens and a sky tracker, a device that permits very long exposure times by rotating the camera at the same speed as the earth’s rotation to prevent the stars “streaking” I had purchased just 3 days before departing, it would be a “learn as you go” experience. Luckily, my research on the web provided good base camera settings which turned out to be great. 

This part of the country has some of the least light polluted sky’s anywhere in the world and the winter months typically have clear Skys with little to no clouds. As it turns out, the only clear Skys were the very first night, and the last two nights had a few clouds but still permitted opportunities to take photos of the Milky Way and an incredible number of stars. So, in the early hours of the first morning starting at 3 am, I began my adventure into astrology photography. Below is one of those images taken from our RV Site #19 looking up over the Rosillos Mountain Peak with an elevation of 5,373 feet or 1,638 meters.

Facing east from Terlingua Ranch RV Site #19, one of my first images of the stars. D850, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, ISO 6400 @ 25 seconds & 4600 k White Balance

Terlingua Ranch images

The highest point we hiked to up the pass with 5 focus stacked images
A Pano of a section of the Terlingua Ranch Road using the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 manual focus lens.

Birds from Terlingua Ranch

HWY 170 Between Study Butte/Terlingua, Lajitas, Hoodoos & west to Presidio along the Rio Grande

This section of the area includes the old Terlingua Ghost Town, Texas Big Bend State Park with amazing dearest scenery and landscapes.

The Hoodoos are the Stonehenge of West Texas. These three sit at the edge of the Rio Grande just off of Hwy 170 in the Big Bend Ranch State Park
A roadside Pano of amazing desert landscape and mountains

BJ's RV Park & Terlingua Ghost Town

After three days at Terlingua Ranch, we transferred 20 miles southwest to BJ’s RV Park located about a mile east of the famous Terlingua Ghost Town. This would be our base for visiting Big Bend National Park, and the Panther Junction entrance just 8 miles south of the park. 

Our RV Site #6 where the sunrise and sunset images below were taken from

Grapevine Hills Road to the Balanced Rock

Under the Balanced Rock at Sunrise
Dawn Landscape Pano from behind the Balanced Rock looking east

Glenn Springs 4x4 only Road Scenery off the beaten path

Yacca & Sierra Del Carmen
Glenn Springs Road Canyon Pano
A Pano assembled from 19 D850 with 20mm lens images of the Siera Del Carmen Mountain range that at sunset on a clear day is mostly pink like a slice of bacons describe by the locals

Chisos Basin Road & the Window

Taken exiting the Chisos Basin Visitors Center

Big Bend National Park

Images in and around Big Bend National Park beginning with the landmark Santa Elena Canyon. Unfortunately, this day was overcast and cloudy so we made the most of it which was a challenge for photography.

Santa Elena Canyon with three Ciack
Mule Ears Peaks Pano

Astrology

One of the reasons we made the 400 odd mile trip to Big Bend Area again was two fold. To capture good images from in and around the National Park plus learn a few new methods to capture the stars and the Milky Way. After purchasing the new 14mm Lens, reading a few articles to collect recommended camera and lens settings and watching a few u tube videos on how to set up and use the SkyTracker that rotates the camera and lens at the same speed as the earths rotation to prevent streaking stars, it was time to put that knowledge to work in one of the best locations on the planet (no light pollution). I have to say it is time consuming, like anything else, planning for the composition is very important and working in the dark, cold and wind all at the same time for hours on end takes some getting used to. On one of the early morning shoots, I am alone in the Park, it’s pitch black, the camera is taking images and all of a sudden, there is the noise close to me. I about jumped out of my skin as I certainly had not even thought about critters or animals prior to heading out to this spot.

I took a few short time lapse sessions and several images from different locations that included Terlingua Ranch, four areas of the Park and at BJ’s RV Park. Enjoy! 

Facing east from Terlingua Ranch RV Site #19, one of my first images of the stars. D850, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, ISO 6400 @ 25 seconds & 4600 k White Balance

I hope you enjoyed these images from the second largest national park in the United States of America, second only to Yellowstone National Park. Certainly well worth the trip and in retrospect, perfectly timed now that we are stuck at home due to the Covid-19 virus.

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