Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV -- September 28, 2019

I visit Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area with some regularity.

Occasionally, I've dropped in the visitor center. There's a picture they sell in there of Comet Hale-Bopp, over Red Rock. So after seeing that, I thought it would be nice to try to get my own shots of the night sky over Red Rock. But there's a problem: The main area of the park (around the 13 mile scenic drive) is almost entirely closed by dark. Listed operating hours for the scenic drive are:

Nov – Feb – 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM
March – 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Apr – Sep – 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Oct – 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM

Last summer, I specifically asked a ranger if the hours meant that just the road was closed, or if you actually had to be out of the area by then (i.e., can I just park outside and walk in after hours?). The answer was that the whole area, not just the road, was closed.

So I fiddled around, searching on the internet, and using my planetarium app to figure out when sunset would be early enough before closing hours to allow for a reasonably dark sky before I would have to drive out. And the answer was, there were two brief periods when night sky photography might be possible: In early March, after the closing time shifted to 7pm, but before the start of daylight savings time, or at the end of September, when "astronomical twilight" ended just as the road would close.

Late last March, I made a visit and got some decent pictures of the winter constellations.

In late September, I made my try at catching the setting Milky Way. The best of my catches is at the top of this post.

I also got some pretty dramatic clouds.

Even after astronomical twilight, the whole of metropolitan Clark County is right behind you when you shoot Red Rock, so the sky never really gets dark, any more. Not nearly as dark as back in the 1990s, when I also saw Hale-Bopp and Hyukatake, back in the 1990s. But the city lights do light up the red rocks nicely, and you can definitely still make out some Milky Way from Red Rock, despite the burgeoning population of the Las Vegas area over the past twenty years.

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