An Owyhee Outing

Saturday was interesting. I left to go get gas before visiting a friend to pick him up before we headed for the Owyhees for an astrophotography session, hopefully. There was a lot of traffic before I could turn onto the road I needed. Then I had to wait at every stop light. After that, I had to wait for a train. After that, another two stoplights, then while getting gas I discovered I’d forgotten my phone. I was already running half an hour late, so I headed home to get my phone and have my wife call my friend to update him. That was lucky for me.

It turned out that my friend had sent an email to my work address, after I’d already left for the weekend, saying he’d had to bow out. My dad had already had to do so, and now him. My wife asked what I was going to do and I said I was still heading out. That didn’t sit well with her, my going up in the Owyhees by myself, so she came along. I thought that was great.

On the way in to Leslie Gulch, Oregon, I stopped and took a GPS averaging reading at a very specific turn in the dirt road. On Friday I’d been looking over my topo maps and had suddenly noticed a place called The Rocks near the the edge of one of the maps. Just the other day I had come across a mention of the history of the place and where the school had been. Looking at the map spread out and seeing the back roads, I suddenly realized I knew the shapes of those turns in the road very well. I knew exactly where on that map I would find the school, based on the shape of the road, and sure enough, it was marked right where I expected it to be.  I’d been trying to locate that particular place, the Rocks, the location of an old stage stop, for years without satisfaction. But now, I knew the lay of the land and I was willing to bet that particular curve The Rocks was near was right where I now thought it was. So, when I got there I pulled over and took the GPS reading.

360 spherical view of the location where the Giant’s Skull is visible.

When we got to where The Giant’s Skull was, I took some more GPS readings and also some compass bearings. We had some issues with flies, but fortunately not biting flies. It was smokey there but it looked like the skies were clearing out so I was hoping for a fair to good photography session. In the meantime, we enjoyed the place, company, quiet, and I took pictures. Then as the sun began to set…clouds moved in again for an overcast sky. So much for that. At 9:00 PM we packed up and headed back.

Looking down Leslie Gulch Road from where we parked.

Almost right after we got home, after a detour to visit my daughter and her family, it rained.

Think something was trying to tell me I wasn’t going to get any astrophotography in that night?

Well, it turns out that I did indeed recognize those curves and roads on the map after having driven them numerous times since I first started looking for The Rocks. Up to then I’d been thinking the location was somewhere else and it turns out I’ve actually passed it by many times. My GPS reading was almost spot on. So, next time I head out for astrophotography in that area, I’m making a point of locating the spot accurately, once and for all. And once I’ve located it I’m going to find a certain picture of when the old freighters used to stop their wagons there for the night and try to replicate that picture, but with my Tahoe. Once I have a good picture of it, I’ll share a little of the history here.

While I didn’t get to see the night skies, my GPS readings and compass bearings were sufficient to let me know that the picture I had planned on working would be difficult to take. From that location by the road there happens to be a turnout where you can park off the road. The Giant’s Skull is visible only from a very short section of that road: from any other angle it doesn’t resemble a skull at all or it’s hidden by towering rock formations. Where I set up my camera that day is about the only place I can safely pull over and set up. That gave me a bearing of 120 degrees magnetic. Looking on Stellarium later, I verified that the Milky Way would be almost overhead, and not over the Giant’s Skull.

So, that’s out now. I might still try it with the fish eye lens, but I’m not going to get the awesome shot I hoped for, a close-up of the Giant’s Skull with the Milky Way right over it.

And no. I know the Uber Photographer moves stuff to get the perfect picture he wants, but man, that rock is 10 to 12 feet high and wider than it’s tall. No way I can move that, without a helicopter, to a better location. Moving to any other vantage so that the Milky Way does line up means losing the holes in the rock that make it skull-like.

Still, there are other options.

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