On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
This series was created by Alain Chamot (1971-2020).
A fellow photographer asked if I knew of a dark location with low hills that would be good for a Milky Way panorama. I suggested the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns on the western shore of the dry Owens Lake. There would be less light from Ridgecrest and not too much light pollution from Lone Pine to the north. The mountains to the east are pretty far away since this is a wide portion of the Owens Valley.
The Cottonwood Kilns would take lumber from the Sierra to the west and make it into charcoal that was shipped by boat across Owens Lake (it was before LA stole the water fair and square) where it was used as part of the silver extraction process for silver being mined in the mountains east of the lake, the silver was then shipped back across the lake and then shipped by rail to Los Angeles. We setup for shooting just east of the kilns with myself and two other photographers using star trackers.
This was the first time I’d attempted to shoot a tracked panorama. The tracker is aligned to Polaris and matches the earth’s rotation so the stars are stationary which allows for a much longer exposure time. Being that the camera is moving to follow the stars and the foreground is not, I took a foreground panorama before setting up the tracker and shooting the sky. While my colleagues were just shooting panoramas of the Milky Way, once I’d finished with mine, I left to shot at a couple of sites further north in the Owens Valley.
I had identified a couple of placed that I’d wanted to shot at last year, but the fires in the Sierra made visibility in the Owens Valley less than optimal. There was a railroad line that ran from Nevada down though the Owens Valley, ending at Keeler on the easter shore of Owens Lake. One of the stations was about 5 miles east of Independence and they’d left a bit of track, the railroad crossing sign and the station sign that says Kearsarge.
I took two shots there (20 stacked images of the sky and several light painted foregrounds), one looking down the small section of track they left there and one of the crossing sign and the station name. About a 1/4 of a mile east was a large ore loader that I shot with the same technique (stacking and shooting light painted foregrounds). Leaving Kearsarge and heading home, I stopped at Manzanar and photographed the reconstructed guard tower for the relocation center.
The Cottonwood Kilns were used to make charcoal for silver extraction at the mills across Owens Lake. The silver was then shipped across the lake and taken by railroad to Los Angeles.
Looking northwest up Owens Valley during sunset.
Milky Way arch panorama over the Owens Lake dry lakebed. I expected some light on the horizon at the south(right) from Ridgecrest and a small bit of light from Lone Pine in the north. What was surprising is the light dome in the center, that’s from Las Vegas which is 160 miles away.
North American nebula, this is about a third of the way from the left of the panorama.
The site of the railroad station at Kearsarge, they’ve left a bit of track from the railroad the used to run from Nevada down to Keeler on the eastern shore of Owens Lake.
Railroad crossing sign at Kearsarge.
Ore loader about a 1/4 mile east of the railroad station site.
Guard tower at the Manzanar Relocation Center.