Grand Road Trip of 2013 – Part 1

Beautiful sun, warm sea and beach, that was my memory of the family trip back in 2001. It’s been more than 10 years since my family vacation together in Sanya, China. Now this opportunity finally came again during my school transfer in summer 2013.

So this was it, after one month of planning, hotel, flight ticket, rental car, and after all, the necesarry rigs for photography, I was waiting at the international arrival for my parents. We got back in town and stayed 2 days to adjust the jet lag, then we flew out to Denver and started the journey. I printed out 2 copies of schedule with detailed map and kept them in the car for my parent. Thus making sure we stick to the time and route on this 11 day long vacation.

Rental Car

We picked up a rental on the afternoon we arrived in Denver Intl, a Ford Escape mid-size SUV. I brought my dashcam and fixed it to the windshield. This helps us recording the scenic driveby and of course, any unexpected encounters.

Day 1

Next day early in the morning, we hit the road for a 8 hour drive across the state of Colorado. I knew that’s intense drive, that’s why I made 1 hour shift with my dad along the road. The plan was not to take the more straight forward interstate highway, but to cross the mountain through the 285 then 50 till we get Gunnison, CO for lunch.

Day 1

Snow on mountain top


Once we left Gunnison, the river flows into the Blue Mesa Reservior, the highway took us away from the south of the black canyon downstream and continue southwest of the colorado.




Another 4 hour drive finally brought us to Cortez, CO, right at the junction of 4 states. And we stayed the night in the White Eagle Inn just west of the town.

Night sky for a typical desert town is simply awesome. Milky Way, thousands of stars are clearly visible to naked eye. Even thought the local light pollution prohibits serious astrophotography, I took the opportunity to check out the rig before going to sleep.

Day 2

Mesa Verde is just east of the town and we paid a vist to the tourist center. But due to time constrain, we hit the road directly for the monument valley.

The visitor center of Mesa Verde

We took the highway 160 south until the junction to highway 41. This led us to US-162 and the most scenic drive in my opinion – the US-163. While pulling off the road to switch driver with my dad, I did not slowed down enough and I immediately realize the danger when sundenly lost my breaking power to the car. It’s apparent that the graval and sand off road offers little friction to the tire and I almost ran into a ditch… Another lesson to learn!

A near miss

I kept all the files from the dashcam and later compiled it into timelapse. I figured out that the Zack Hemsey’s the Way is a perfect match for this utterly emptiness and majestic towering buttes scattering across the desert! Enjoy~


The Lonely Drive

– a timelapse on US-163

That noon we checked into the most expensive lodge I had ever been to on the whole trip just outside the monument valley tribal park. Well we cannot argue, but that’s the only one you could sleep in the desert. When we figured out that we could get a clear view of the valley with a solitory cabin in glass wall, it apparently makes the money worthwhile!

The Cabin

The cabin we stayed for the day

The valley has the most clear and protected night sky across the United States. With its remoteness and high altitude in the unhihabited desert, it made itself one of best place for astrophotography. A bortle scale 0 is registered on the light pollution map. (Black zones) This means you could see the shadow of milky way if you leave the lodging area.

That night I set up the equatorial mount in front of our cabin and did my first astrophotography on the journey. A timer would wake me up every hour and half to change the target. The first target was the veil nebula, but it turned out the annoying glare from the hotel sodium lamp could shine into the lens hood. But it’s lucky that it only affect one corner of the frame.

The veil nebula

The Veil Nebula

Tens of thousands of stars on the milky way that almost block the view of the veil nebula. A H-alpha narrowband filter could suppress the stars and bring more contrast out of the target. This image is taken at F3.5 for a total of 1 hour exposure.

The next imaging target is the North America nebula in the same constellation of Cygnus.

North America Nebula

The North America Nebula

The same exposure was made for the North America Nebula with great amount of detail reveiled under the prestine night sky.