Los Portales Morning, Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas
My first vacation of the year was the last week of April 2014. I drove 13 hours from my home in southeast Texas all the way over to southwest Texas to Big Bend National Park…in one day. I wasn’t able to get a room in the Chisos Mountains Lodge for Saturday the 26th, so I instead stayed in the beautiful Gage Hotel in Marathon, about 60-some miles north of the park.
One of the main reasons I timed my trip for late April was because of the new moon. When I visited Big Bend back in December 2013, there was a gibbous moon, the light of which blocked out the wonderful stars and purple-white line of the Milky Way. For this trip, though, the stars out-performed themselves.
Starry skies over Casa Grande
Stars and the Milky Way over the Chihuahuan Desert
Stars and the Milky Way along Basin Road, toward the Chisos Mountains
I used three different cameras for these shots: my Canon 5D Mk III, Canon 1DX, and a rented Nikon D800. For the Canons, I used two lenses: 24-70 and 16-35; for the Nikon I used a rented 24-70. The ISO was 3200, f-stop was 3.2 and I varied the shutter speed between 20-30 seconds. I had to use manual focus because of the lack of light for autofocus. The images were all taken between 2-3AM.
The park’s most recent newsletter talks a lot about the starry skies in Big Bend, as well as the problem with light pollution elsewhere (which is why parks like Big Bend are so important). Many nocturnal creatures guide their lives by the stars and even by the straight line of the Milky Way, believe it or not.
If you ever have a chance to visit this amazing, out-of-the-way park, try to go during a new moon so you, too, can see the starry expanse of the night sky.
The Milky Way over the Los Portales rooms of the Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX