Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Hawthorne, NV Yacht Club

"Hawthorne, NV Yacht Club"
See the UPDATE at the end, I was able to get info on the history of this boat.

Last weekend the Milky Way was in full bloom. 

I had some photography friends that I love invite us to Bodie, CA for some night shots which I wasn’t exactly excited about because everyone goes there to get their astrophotography and when you are there you are competing with 25 other photographers with their flashlights and flood lights.  

I prefer to find obscure subjects that no one else is capturing instead of producing "another" nightscape of the same old commercialized Ghost Town.

It sounds terrible and mean but the truth is that I like the people a lot and decided that I would relax and simply be there to enjoy their company if nothing else. He is the man I credit with my ability to go off Auto or Aperture on my camera and operate on full manual. He is an amazing photographer.

We took the side-by-side and headed there early in hopes of doing some exploring in the back country. Jim's parents had actually lived in Bodie in the 1930's. We would love to know which house it was and if it's still standing so if you have a way of looking that info up, we would appreciate it.  Jim was taken to the house once when he was young in the 1940's or early 1950's but he can't remember much of it. He mostly remembers that they were visiting a guy who still lived there and of that he only remembers that the guy had a water barometer on the table that Jim thought was really cool.

As we approached Bodie we saw a haze forming on the horizon and started to realize that it was growing larger the closer we got. At one point in the distance to the south we could see that there was a large fire in Lee Vining on the other side of Mono Lake and the air was filled with smoke and soot obscuring the Milky Way "YAY!" oops, I mean “Bummer”.   

We were first to arrive and since it was only 3:00 and sunset is at 8:30 I called my friends to tell them about the fire. Fortunately, they hadn’t left Reno yet. I told them it was a bust and to not come. Then I called another photography friend who I knew was also going to Bodie and told her about the smoke. I was glad I was able to save my Reno friend the trouble of driving 111 miles to find that they could even get the shots.

My other friend was eating burgers in Lee Vining so we drove over there to get gas and at the restaurant, I jumped out of the car and ran in to surprise her.

It was a great surprise, her boyfriend doesn't know me and has never met me so I quietly walked in the restaurant, walked over to the booth they were sitting in and quietly sat down beside her. John, her boyfriend watched me the whole time with the funniest blank look on his face.  When she finally looked up she was so surprised and we hugged and laughed.

She knows I'm a burger snob and immediately asked me if I wanted a bite which is testament to our fast friendship. It's like we've known each other our entire lives.

I told her of the smoke and she explained to me the dynamics of the wind and the smoke and that she was fairly certain that the smoke was not an issue.  I just smiled and let her talk but I was certain that my experience in those hills was accurate; there would be no clear Milky Way shots in Bodie, CA that night.

Jim pulled up in front of the building and I hopped in the car, “I bet you $5,000 she goes to Bodie anyway”

He asked where I wanted to go and I said east, away from the smoke and to some dark skies. If nothing else, I would simply take pictures of the Milky Way in it’s full glory.

I knew of an abandoned boat somewhere on the shore of Walker Lake which is quite a generalization since Walker Lake is about 20 miles long but since we had no formal plans we let that knowledge lead us to Walker Lake, NV, over 50 miles to the east and north a bit.

About an hour later I sent the friend in Lee Vining a text and asked her if she’d driven over to Bodie anyways since I was fairly certain she would have to see for herself. The Bodie Hills are a cellular dead zone so I told her, “If I don’t hear from you I will assume you have gone back to Bodie to see for yourself”

Sure enough, she had gone back there and turned around. She sent me a text, “Busted, I had to go see for myself and we turned around due to smoke” I was actually kind of relieved since I would have felt bad if she’d gone anyway and got fabulous shots. How would I explain that to the other friends I had called in Reno and turned away?

It was about 6:30 by the time we found a road that even went around the lake (thanks Google Maps) so we off loaded the side-by-side and my camera equipment and started toward the lake.

After about 45 minutes of driving it was apparent that we would not be able to get to the lake shore let alone find an old abandoned boat since there was a railroad track between us and the lake.  I hadn't entered a railroad track barrier into our calculations so it started to look like we would not be getting anywhere close to the shore.  I had already relaxed and decided to just have fun. The goal now was to pay attention to all Jim’s turns so we could get out of this remote area in the dark and in the middle of the night.

At a weird intersection where you could barely tell that another road went left, Jim asked me if I wanted to turn off the road we were on.  I stared at the road that obviously didn't cross the raised railroad tracks and I told him, “Why not, let’s just have some fun exploring out here.”

After driving a while, we saw a truck by the lake shore kicking up some dust and that gave us hope that we could at least find our way down there at some point in time.  I could see a structure of some kind in the distance and pointed it out to Jim. It looked to be a semi trailer that had been abandoned although I had no idea how they would have gotten a semi down these sandy remote roads.

By watching the truck, we were able to find a small narrow road that crossed the railroad track and we headed down. 

We met the truck, gave a kind wave and drove on to the thing we thought was a trailer. About a football field away from it we realized that it was the boat I’d heard about.

The sun was just above the mountain range near Mount Grant so we quickly set up the equipment and the chairs to sit in while we waited.

I was so excited and felt overwhelmingly fortunate to have found this needle in a haystack. The circumstances that led us to this boat were ridiculous and we spent the next half hour gushing about our luck.

I could hardly believe we had cell reception but I got a call from the friends in Reno, they had also gone to Bodie and agreed that the smoke was too much. I have spent years suspecting that no one listens to a thing I say and this evening was proof of that. They asked where we had gone and I told them our route. They wanted to come back to where we were but I explained to them that the road was 4 wheel drive only and it would have taken them over two hours to get to us. Civil Twilight was about to start so I knew they would never have made it in time, even if the road wasn’t so terrible and remote.

When the sun set over the mountain and all that remained was the small sliver of moon we sat in silence and enjoyed the peace around us. 

That is until…..

I started to hear a roar of high pitched sound that kept growing louder and louder. Jim didn’t hear it but I was certain I wasn’t mistaken. We hadn’t seen any insects and since there was a breeze I was pretty certain the mosquitos would have left us alone but this sounded like a swarm of insects was headed our way.  I continued to listen and realized that this was not the sound of  wings buzzing, this was the vocalization of a swarm of bats.

Jim didn’t believe me till the first bat showed up at our little campsite and fortunately, they dissipated and got busy eating insects. I have way too much hair to be comfortable with a swarm of bats in the area.

That drama was averted and we sat in our chairs to relax and wait but as soon as Nautical Twilight began we heard the first howls. A few seconds later, we heard the second set of howls and uncomfortably closer than the first.

This went on for several minutes and it was apparent that some coyotes were coming to see what we were up to. It seemed that our fortune was limited to the finding of boats since it looked like we may have been in the accidental path of their hunt.  I finally stopped, stood up and started making noise and moving around. Jim thought I was nuts but I had imagined a coyote coming up and grabbing me in the neck as I sat all comfy in our rocking lawn chairs. After shining my light into the open desert for a few minutes, they finally went away and we didn’t hear them again for the rest of the time we were there but I'm pretty certain that they were keeping an eye on us.

This is the draw back of finding dark skies for astrophotography, you are sitting in pitch black conditions.

The Milky Way came out as predicted and it was stunning. Jim light painted as I took photos and we hung out there for the next four hours. 

When I was done, we had to try to find our way out in the pitch black. 

It took an hour and 15 minutes to drive the 17 miles back to the car. Fortunately I have hiking apps on my phone and I turned it on when we made the first turn off the main backroad. We were able to follow that recorded trail back to the main road but even with that, Jim made a few wrong turns.

Just make sure that if you decide to go on an adventure like this that you are prepared to vacate the area in the dark. You don't want to have to spend the night out there, it can get cold in the desert at night and the fauna can be a bit hostile.

We were done and had the side-by-side loaded about 2:00am so we got a hotel and stayed in Hawthorne, NV the rest of the night .  

Since we are gluttons for punishment we stayed out another night and moved further east about 50 miles to another ghost town for some more night shots.  

I processed my first photo and we are thrilled with the result. This is a composition of 25 shots that are stacked and merged to give the photo depth and definition and reduce visual noise.

I'm offering the printed photo for sale on my website www.lizzieflower.com or my SmugMug account by clicking here

For more photos and stories, check out my website at www.lizzieflower.com 
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Peace and Love,

Thanks to Facebook and the fact that I posted the photo on a page that shares photos; a woman named Patricia C commented on the photo with a question wondering how I found the boat in the dark. I assured her it was still light out and she confirmed that it's even hard to find in the daylight.

She informed me that it was once a barge that went from Smith Valley to Walker (or so she has been told)

The barge is estimated to have been abandoned between 1928 into the 1930's when the railroad tracks were installed. With the use of railcars they of course abandoned the barge.

She also told me that the lake level was once 110' and is now 65' which explains the massive amount of shoreline you have to navigate to find the boat in the first place.