Being woken by howling predators, I began to think that the choice to sleep on the ground exposed under the stars might have been a bad idea. The Texas pan handle is hot in early June. The high temperature that day hit triple digits. The dry air cools quickly on cloudless nights, but it was still oppressive in the back of my truck. I could have pitched the tent, but it isn’t clear that would have done much good, and then my last sight before being ripped apart by coyotes wouldn’t have been the Milky Way arching overhead.
I lay on my sleeping bag, stacked on a pad and tarp, staring at the naked sky as the howls of the coyotes marched around me, some distant, others sounding as if they were just outside the tiny circle of my vision, all mournful and touching something primal deep inside me that screamed “RUN NOW!” At moments like these a big fire to huddle near suddenly seem like a very good idea, temperature not withstanding.
After a few minutes, the howling subsided and I decided I really couldn’t go back to sleep just yet. The sky was still the black of night with no hint of the deep blue that proceeds dawn. The patch of sky I could see from my sleeping bag was dotted with more stars than most people, huddled in their cities, big and small alike, never see. The pale white smear of the Milky Way cut across that expanse, impossibly far away and dim. I got up and walk the short trail to the truck without using a light, intending to get out in the open where I could see more of the sky.
As I cleared the mesquite scrub that circled the camp, I experienced a moment of surprise. There, above me, all around me, was the the band of the summer Milky Way stretching from the galactic core to the spiral arm, from southeastern to northern horizon. My dark adapted eyes could see details and structure in that band of billions of stars, so many they blend together. I had walked without a light for a reason.
My main camera was sitting on a tripod a mile down the canyon trail, clicking away on an all night star trail, assuming of course, that it hadn’t been eaten by coyotes. Luckily, I had a second setup in the truck. I got out my DIY wooden tripod, panoramic-head and backup digital camera. It was time to try something I hadn’t tried before.
Location: Cap Rock Canyon State Park in the Texas Panhandle.