Dark Skies in New Mexico

Looks like I’m going to have another go at the Bisti this weekend. It’ll be the first real road trip of 2017 and I’m excited. After recently getting the 645 dialed in I’m feeling ready for whatever happens.

Dark Sky is a great weather app for the iPhone. At first glance it’s simple, easy to use and understand. But there’s a lot more power under the hood, like the satellite tracking map at far right.

I’ve been watching the weather and depending on how you see things, it looks great. When we were down in October we had – by most accounts – fabulous weather. Clear, sunny days, no clouds, warm temps. Who but a photographer would complain about such weather?

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico, February 2017

Researching the Bisti before our October 2016 trip I came across a variety of images, many of which seemed to be made under the same conditions. It’s easy to see why. Most people target nice weather (who can blame them?) and therefore come away with the same pictures. This trip I’m hoping for something a little different: rolling, dramatic, billowing skies, maybe even some frost, a little snow, and that gorgeous earthen color only emerging in the soft, diffused light of blue hour beneath overcast skies.

To hit such weather patterns means skirting the edges of the habitable. In my research I found a great web site, weatherspark.com plotting annual average temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, snow, humidity, dew points, wind… you get the idea. It’s a gold mine for determining the most statistically probable time of year to experience one weather pattern instead of another. Not surprisingly, October is one of the highest probable times of year to experience perfect, blue bird weather. Not such great news if you’re looking for the drama fringe weather provides.

Dreaming of the Bisti, Fort Collins, Colorado (2017). It’s one thing to plan a trip in the warm comfort of home with a good cup of coffee. Quite another to be out there in the elements.

I began looking for those times of year in the transitions where things happen. Early in the year (January/February) is one of those times. The down side is, it’s cold and possibly rainy – which unfortunately means mud. Mud is no friend of a car, or hiking boots. Getting stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere isn’t a best case scenario. Hopefully it’ll get cold enough the mud will freeze, allowing firm footing – which will present its own challenges. My sleeping bag is rated to 0 degrees and if worse comes to worse the heater in the car has brought cold appendages back to life more than once already. As I write this the wind howls outside my window in northern Colorado. Weather-wise I can take just about anything – except the wind.

At the moment it appears Friday night and Saturday morning are my highest probability of success. Looks by noon Saturday things begin to get wet and stay wet through Sunday night. I can work with that, as long as I’m on gravel roads. I have 15+ rolls of Chrome film and more C-41, as well as plenty of Pan F and Delta 100. I’m ready to go. Oh and I almost forgot: this Friday night is a full moon. So ideally what I’m hoping for is brightly moon-lit badlands beneath dramatic skies before the rain makes everything too muddy to get out. When all is said and done you just have to roll the dice and hope for the best. It’s impossile to know what the weather will do. Be there and f8, right? But if you’re not there – you’ll certainly get nothing.

Picked up a new headlamp earlier this week in preparation, a Black Diamond Storm. A good headlamp is worth its weight in gold. Late last year Tecla dismembered the old Petzl I’ve had for years, along with my favorite, tattered Lowe Pro gloves. I guess she was after the salt soaked into each of those items. These gloves are thin and therefore not that warm – but highly usable with the fine controls of something like a camera. After checking around, they’re no longer made. Fortunately my wife had a spare pair I’d given her years ago but she never used. The Storm headlamp is a significant step up in terms of Lumens and will more than light my way on long returns from shooting sunset deep in the badlands.

More to come.