Returning Again to Mayflower Gulch


I made my first visit to Mayflower Gulch back in May of 2019. On a spring night in early May, I drove up to the trailhead and hiked in to the valley buoyed by a forecast of clear skies for the evening. Sometimes the mountains make their own weather though. Upon arriving and setting up my equipment, I looked up and realized that I couldn't see many stars. Even Jupiter was nowhere to be found. A test shot confirmed that the sky was filled with clouds, and they only got thicker and lower as the night went on. I'd have to come back and try again....


In April of 2021 I came back again, but began the night joining a large group of people from the Colorado Astrophotography Enthusiast group at nearby Clinton Gulch Reservoir. I captured some great images there, but by the time I moved over to Mayflower Gulch and hiked in, I only had about half an hour until blue hour and there were a lot of other photographers already there. I was able to capture this image of the Milky Way above the old barn, but it's not the most interesting of compositions and you can see other photographers in the shot.



That summer I returned again for a daytime visit, and an opportunity to see the valley when it's green and not buried under multiple feet of snow. In the summer you can also drive the bumpy road all the way up to the mining camp, cutting down on the hiking time. I enjoyed the wildflowers and the spring-like experience, but I still wanted that perfect night sky shot.


The angle of the valley in Mayflower Gulch, pointing towards the southeast, means that if you're going to photograph the Milky Way there it has to be done early in the year to get the composition I wanted. I also wanted to capture it with the snow in the valley, and the snow is at its deepest most years in mid-April to early May. In April of 2023, I saw another opportunity in the weather to return again. While the forecast was very cold, the wind was supposed to be light and the sky very clear. So off I went back up to the trailhead to hike back into the gulch once again.


It was 8 degrees when I arrived at the trailhead at 1 AM, and it only got colder from there. It certainly felt like the coldest night I was out in the winter of 2023, likely below 0 up in the valley by the coldest time of the night when I was finishing up shooting. Hiking up the hill to get there keeps you pretty warm, but once you're there standing in the valley just taking pictures for 2 hours, the cold seeps in even through the down parka and multiple layers of clothing. For some reason I decided it would be a great night to try out my star tracker for the first time on this night, but I was unable to get everything tightened down well enough to hold steady for the longer exposures. I ended up just going back to my normal method of shooting. The cold also quickly took the life out of my DJI Pocket 2 video camera, leaving me to shoot video with my phone to finish the night.


Despite the bitter cold, I was excited to finally get the clear skies I hoped for and finally capture the shots of the Milky Way I had envisioned all those years before. I also had the whole area to myself, the bitter cold must have kept all the other photographers away on that night. The whole experience was a little crazy.... Here's the beautiful images I captured on that icy night in the mountains.



One of the most interesting and humbling parts of my landscape photography experience is the ways people connect with my images in ways I would have never imagined. In the case of my photos from Mayflower Gulch, I've had descendants of those who once lived here reach out to me on multiple occasions to talk about their connection to the area through my photos. When I shared these photos to Facebook this spring, one of them posted a photo of their grandmother sitting in front of the same cabin I've photographed here 90 years later and shared stories of her grandparents living in the valley. It's a beautiful thing to share in that connection.


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