Jul 14

Milky Way above Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon

The Milky Way over Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon.

The Milky Way over Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon.

I spent last week on the Zumwalt Prairie near Joseph in northeast Oregon. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has a 33,000 acres preserve in the middle of this 250,000 acre prairie ecosystem. The surrounding prairie is mostly privately owned and TNC is exploring cattle production while maintaining ecosystem function. Maintaining healthy prairie ecosystems through sustainable cattle production is probably the best conservation strategy for this area. The bunch grass and junegrass swayed back and forth in the light breeze and few clouds drifted across the landscape. Walking through the prairie listening to western meadowlarks, vesper sparrows and barn swallows was beautiful.

One night I couldn’t sleep even though it quickly cooled down in my tent after the sunset so I hiked across the prairie to just down stream of the cow pens and barn to sit in the grass. The moon, half full, had drifted west and created wonderful shadows across the landscape. I had come to watch the Milky Way rise above the mesa and valley. In the moonlight I could faintly see the Milky Way but in the long exposure in my camera, it pops out against a blue sky. I find it interesting that the moon keeps the sky blue in the photographs while once the moon sets the stars shine through a black sky. I found this setting relaxing and mesmerizing. The light breeze, rustling of grasses around me, and night smell almost put me in a trance. I thought about setting my camera for a time-lapse movie and staying up for the rest of the night. Why are stars so fascinating? As I watch the Milky Way, I wondered what is happening in the gas cloud through the center of the galaxy and in star clusters and other planets in our galaxy.

The new moon is July 26 and because the moon is in the complete shadow of the earth, the Milky Way should be spectacular. I want to make a time-lapse photo of the Milky Way drifting across the sky.


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