We decided to take a short detour from our Lone Pine/Alabama Hills road trip to visit the Trona Pinnacles just east of Ridgecrest. The full moon had begun Waning but for the next few nights would be 99% to 96% full. The only catch being a longer wait for the moon to rise after sunset. Ridgecrest is short one hour drive from Lone Pine straight down hwy. 395 and then east when you reach hwy. 178. We parked the trailer in the Ridgecrest Fairgrounds RV Park as they have full hookups for only $25 per night. From Ridgecrest, the turnoff to the Trona Pinnacles is about 20 miles east on hwy. 178 towards the town of Trona. You will turn right onto a dirt road, be prepared for 5 miles of washboard, rocky, sandy, and, a dusty dirt road that will keep you off the gas pedal and your kidneys screaming at you. The Pinnacles are managed by the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, and the only restriction is that you must keep you vehicle on the designated roads, such as they are. Camping is allowed without a fee and so are campfires, although you must get a campfire permit. During our visit we only had one car drive through and the local Sheriff, otherwise we were the soul survivors for the evening. My only real concern was retuning down that dirt road well after dark and being able to avoid the frequent sand pits. Don’t start bitting your nails just yet, the return trip was completely without worry, the sand pits were easy to spot in the headlights and we cruised through without incidence. Off road in my chair was quite easy as the ground was mostly hard and the sandy areas were easy to avoid. I will say the hardest to negotiate were the small jagged rocks, and there were a million of them. I believe you could, with some difficulty, negotiate the terrain in a manual wheelchair with your limiting factor being the size of your front casters. Anyway you visit, visiting is a must if the desert is your thing. This place will make you believe that you have just landed on the lost planet or were just teleported into the movie Planet of the Apes. I’m not sure our experience would have been the same had we been there with less than the full moon to light the landscape. I would suspect that in the absence of the moon it would be difficult to see your hand in front of your face. This visit we arrived late in the afternoon which gave us plenty of time to see the pinnacles, find a good location for a sunset shoot, and, plot out our starscape shoot. Anyway you look at visiting, sunrise, sunset, or starscapes, it’s worth the visit, you will not be disappointed.
Because of the bright full moon I chose an exposure of 110 seconds, (1 minute, 50 seconds), with an aperture of f/5.6 and an iso of 200. I used a TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt-Shift on a Canon 5D MkII. I didn’t use the features of the Tilt-Shift for this shot , but chose this lens for it’s sharpness. I also chose the aperture of f/5.6 to make sure I had sufficient depth of field. My tripod is a Really Right Stuff TVC-23 Versa with a center column and a BH-55 LR Ball Head also by Really Right Stuff. The 35 images were then stacked using Dr. Brown’s Stack-O-Matic in Photoshop CS6 Extended. I could have loaded all the images into any version of Photoshop in a stack and changed the blend mode of each of the layers to “Lighten”.
When you find yourself in the sand make sure to plant your tripod as deep into the sand as you can. A common cause for misaligned star trails is due to your tripod settling in the sand over your shooting time. Even suspending your backpack, gear bag or a weight to your tripod can help eliminate tripod movement during your shooting period.
You can read more on the Pinnacles in “Interesting/Trona Pinnacles”