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Sep 03, 2018
After going out for the Leonid Meteor Shower last November, I had been looking forward to August's Perseid Meteor Shower for many months. The timing was going to be right at the new moon, which would make for very dark skies in a good location. As it got to be within a month of the peak of the shower, I started researching for a good location I hadn't been to yet, and found that one of Colorado's most well known passes also happened to have very dark skies too. High above Aspen in the Sawatch Range, Independence Pass is just far enough away from the ski towns of Aspen & Vail to have some of the darkest skies you'll find in Colorado. As I started to research the area, since I hadn't been there before, I also discovered that the ghost town of Independence is located just to the west of the pass itself, making for another great opportunity for night shooting.
The route over Independence Pass is a Colorado favorite, opening up on Memorial Day weekend nearly every year and remaining open until the first significant snow in the fall. At 12,095 feet, it is the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the US. Previously known as Hunter Pass, it was renamed after gold was discovered just to the west below the pass on July 4, 1879. The mining town that sprung up there was named Independence, and the name was given to the pass and the mountain that rises above the town as well. For a brief time, the town of Independence was larger than the town of Aspen below, but in 1883 the gold production started to slow, and by 1888 only 100 residents remained as the railroad had reached Aspen and the harsh winter climate at 10,830 feet made life challenging. In the midst of a severe winter in 1899, supplies in the town were running low after a blizzard cut the town off from Aspen. Nearly all the residents of the town tore siding planks off of the buildings and made skis to escape down the valley to town. Shortly after the town was completely abandoned. The buildings that remain at the townsite are now maintained by the Aspen Historical Society. There is a small parking area on the highway for visitors to stop and explore the site.
With my family and a few other photographers joining in, we planned to meet at the pass for sunset. I made a stop at the ghost town shortly before to explore the site in the daylight and plan a few Milky Way compositions to return to after dark. The sunset at the pass did not lack for drama, and then we settled in to plan our spots there and wait for darkness. It didn't take long before we could already see some meteors streaking across the sky. As the galactic core of the MIlky Way would drop behind the mountains before midnight, we chose to return to the ghost town to merge the history of the town with the dark sky above, which in the dark felt much like one would have imagined it nearly 140 years ago. I brought along my recently purchased Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini LED lantern to provide some lighting for the old miner's cabins, and we tried a few different locations and compositions in the town. With meteors streaking overhead and the MIlky Way rising above the mountains, joined by a bright planet Mars only a few days removed from its closest approach to earth in 15 years, we were not disappointed.
After spending around an hour in the ghost town, we packed up and headed back up to the pass to look for opportunities there. There is a short paved path that leads south from the parking area to an overlook with mountains upon mountains stretched out before you. In the darkness we set up our cameras and pointed them in the direction of the Milky Way and started firing off some shots. It wasn't long before a bright fireball shot across the sky, and when the image popped up on my camera screen with the meteor streaking next to the Milky Way it was an exciting moment. We continued shooting there, then moved over to the shore of the small pond at the pass for another composition, then set up our cameras with the intervalometer running and settled in to just watch the sky. It wasn't long before sleepiness crept up on us, the camera batteries starting running out, and we retreated to our vehicles to get some sleep before the drive home in the morning. It truly was a special night out under the stars. We found this location to be a great location for night sky viewing, and we were not alone. There were many other people that spent the night at the pass as well to enjoy the show, and there were people passing through all through the night.
If you went out to see the Perseids this year, tell me about your experience in the comments below! I hope you found an excellent place to watch as well. If you haven't signed up for my email list yet, you can do that by entering your email address in the subscribe box right here. You'll receive a new customer discount code as a thank you for signing up. If email isn't your thing, you can also sign up to receive my updates via Facebook Messenger. Just click that link, and you'll get a discount offer there as well. If you're enjoying following my posts here on my blog, don't forget to follow me on Facebook & Instagram too. You'll often see my newest photos there first. Thanks for following along!
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