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I created this star trail image at the Racetrack Grandstand in Death Valley National Park one cold January night.First, this was NOT the shot I had in mind when I left my hotel room and bounced my truck down the 26 miles of washboard road to get to the Racetrack. See, the Racetrack is famous for its mysterious moving rocks and my thought was to find a composition that included a cool rock, a cool trail behind it, and then sprinkle in some stars for good measure.(Side Note – The rocks really do move and no one knows why. There’s lots of speculation, with the top theory stating it’s a result of wind blowing the rocks across the playa when it’s wet and slippery, but since no one has ever actually seen it happen, no one really knows for sure. I can promise you that the place just feels mysterious as you walk across it.)Anyhow… When I got there, the rock trails really weren’t in the best condition (I’ve seen them look better) and I just couldn’t find one that I really liked. However… The Grandstand kept catching my attention.The Grandstand is kind of strange. It’s like a miniature mountain range rising up right out of the perfectly flat playa of the Racetrack. I couldn’t help but notice that if I got right in front of it, I’d be facing directly north – a requirement if you want to have the circular motion you see in the photo above.So, I punted on the rocks for now (I’ll be back), and made a beeline down to the Grandstand.Now for the dilemma. Although I knew where north was, I needed a composition with Polaris (the North star) in the right spot (all the other stars rotate around Polaris). Only problem was, I had NO IDEA exactly where it was going to be. Sure I knew it was due north, but how high? That, and was I a little left, a little right? I had no clue, but I knew it had to be close. (Yup, this photo is the result of my guess)So, I setup the tripod so the camera was as low as possible (I literally had to lay on my side to see though the viewfinder) and captured the foreground with the last light of day. Then I waited. Despite spending quite a bit of time in desert environments, I’m still amazed at how quickly the temps drop once the sun sets. In less than 20 minutes it was in the 30s (by the time I left it was in the upper 20s) and the wind began picking up – glad I had my heavy winter coat with me!About an hour after I shot the image for the foreground, the stars were ripe enough to start shooting again.As the camera clicked away, I went back to the truck and grabbed the binoculars. Despite the cold, I couldn’t resist checking out all those stars. The clarity was some of the best I’d ever seen, and I was amazed at what I could spot – I could even make out a few of the moons orbiting Jupiter (even without the binos)!It was super cool to be there, all alone in literally the middle of nowhere. Although, I have to admit it was a little creepy at the same time. You really feel small – 26 miles from the nearest paved road at one of the most mysterious places on the planet. Very humbling to be sure.Before I knew it, I had taken all the images I needed and was on the way back to the hotel, wondering if I got the shot. See, the stars were 120 frames of 30 seconds each. So until I got home and stacked the stars, I had no way of knowing if I even had the shot – reminded me of shooting film, LOL!Needless to say I was pretty pleased with my guess on the camera position when I got home and finally saw what I had captured!- See more at: http://www.backcountrygallery.com/photos/grandstand-vertigo/#sthash.uYJgxPl7.dpuf

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