A Cold Winter Morning in South Park

     I had been making plans since early January to get the Milky Way season started off strong, with the first two weekends of February surrounding the first window of the season to see the galactic center of the galaxy. Unfortunately the first weekend of February was clouded out, but I had big plans for the following week. Colorado weather in the winter has a way of forcing flexibility however, and as the weekend neared I scrambled to adjust to conditions that appeared less than ideal in my top two planned locations. Scanning the weather maps for predicted cloud cover, I settled on the large valley we know here in Colorado as South Park. Yes, it is also "that" South Park, which also serves as the setting for the Comedy Central animated series.

     Like many mountain areas in Colorado, the history of South Park for westerners begins with mining. A small group of prospectors arrived in the area in 1859 and began staking out claims. The mineral resources of the valley were limited however, and many who stayed turned to ranching instead. Much of the land in the valley still serves this purpose. The home in this photo was first built built in 1879 along the Tarryall Road, which still today connects the small towns of Jefferson and Lake George. Silas Wright was granted ownership of the homestead in 1912, stating at the time that he had arrived there in 1895. The log residence & shed in this scene remain as they were then with few alterations, having survived here for nearly as long as Colorado has been a state. 

     I've been searching for abandoned historic sites such as these to include in my Milky Way compositions this year, so that was a big part of what drew me to this spot. As temperatures plunged down to near 0 degress Fahrenheit in the early morning hours, I also liked it's location right along the roadside with a convenient pull off just across the road where we could be near the heat of the cars. It also had favorable views to the north and east that could be captured without entering the property. Many abandoned sites such as these in Colorado are on private property, with owners who wish the areas to be left alone, and this one had clear No Trespassing signs present. We honored that by doing all our photography from outside the barbed-wire fence that surrounds the property. Arriving at 2 AM, I was pleased to find the clear skies here I was hoping for, and quickly set up to capture a star trails photo of the main house. After doing test shots to dial in the composition and exposure, I started the hour long exposure and retreated to the warmth of the car.

     With the Milky Way due to rise at 4:30 AM, we got back out shortly after 4 to move our tripods to the side of the property to capture the scene shown in the image at the top. Looking back towards the east now I was surprised at how much light was creeping over the horizon from the area of Colorado Springs, 60 miles away over the mountains but still shining bright. This delayed our view of the Milky Way as it had to climb above this band of light on the horizon before it became visible, but soon the view became much of what I had hoped it would be. As dark as the lightly populated area of South Park still is today, imagine what it must have been like for those early settlers here. A night sky filled with stars was all they knew, now we have to come to places like this to capture it, and even here the city lights still reach. This night was very cold, but the great images we captured made it a worthy beginning to the 2019 night sky season just the same.

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