Star Trails over Zion's Big Bend

Zion National Park — 2015 View Full Star Trails Portfolio »

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Image Notes

Zion's Main Canyon is a challenging location to make Star Trails photographs from because the canyon's access is restricted to the park's shuttle system for 9 months out of the year. Worse, the shuttle system only runs until shortly after sunset. And 2015 visitation to Zion was so high (3.67 Million), the shuttle schedules were extended well into November. The image here, completed just after midnight, would have required a near 5-mile road hike out of the canyon.

During 2014, I made a number of successful Star Trail images from locations outside Zion's Main Canyon. But this image at Big Bend had been tempting me for nearly 2 years. I'd previously inquired about special permits to get access into the canyon at night but was told by two Park Rangers, on two separate occasions, that was not allowed. Then in 2015, while passing through the Main Entrance Gate, I recognized the presiding Ranger as someone who'd been there for at least a decade. So I decided to inquire yet again and, this time, my luck changed. As it turns out, anyone can request a special parking permit that allows access into Zion Canyon at night during the hours the shuttles aren't running. It's not an advertised option anywhere in the park but, if you inquire at the main ranger desk, you can get one.

As for the image, the vantage point at Big Bend creates this nice silhouetted canyon shape but, to get the North Star positioned as I desired without any foreground objects in the sky field, required a significant scramble up a steep rocky hillside in pitch black night. Cold and windy, I returned to my truck for the 2+ hours as 220+ exposures were made. Returning to try and find where'd I'd placed the camera in the first place was a whole unexpected adventure. While I survived unscathed, I have a unique appreciation for nocturnal animals.

About the Star Trails Images

I first dived into Star Trails photography during a trip to the White Mountains of California during the Perseids meteor shower of August, 2012. A small group of us, having taught photography workshops in the Whites, had the unique opportunity to stay at the Crooked Creek White Mountain Research Center at an elevation of 10,100 feet. Despite some initial failures, it only took a couple nights of photographing to get hooked.

Star Trails images are exposed in 20-30 second intervals in succession for 160 to 500+ exposures which equates to 2 to 6 hours of exposure. Images are uniformly processed in Adobe Lightroom and then stacked in Star Stax. Once stacked, I spend hours meticulously spotting noise and nighttime objects out of the image in order to create a final Pigment Ink Prints of exceptionally quality and longevity. Prints are available in limited edition at very reasonable valuations. I've also provided an extensive tutorial for anyone interested in trying Star Trails photography for themselves.

Star Trails over Zion's Big Bend

Zion National Park — 2015

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