Mystical Rocks at Racetrack Valley

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Racetrack Valley is a mystical place in Death Valley.  The famous rocks move and leave trails but no one has seen them move or knows exactly how or why they travel.  The Racetrack Valley is at the North end of Death Valley down 27 miles of very rough, bone-jarring, suspension ruining gravel road that might as well be a dead end.  Other roads out are even longer and just as rough.  There is no camping at the racetrack; however, there is a primitive camping spot about 3 miles South of the racetrack.  It is very, very dark at night when there is no moon and it is extremely quiet with only the sound of the wind at times.  It is a magnificent place for stargazing.

Chris (the long-suffering sherpa) and I spent 3 days there at the end of April working on a new theory of how the rocks move – it is the pull of the North Star vortex!  The main work had to be done at night after the North Star was out.  We have photographic evidence of the North Star Vortex at work on the rocks.  See for yourself, maybe the rocks are blasted out of the vortex instead of being pulled along.  Who knows it may be true?

How I made the shot...

The shot is a composite image consisting of the foreground and the star trails.  The star trails were shot in 24-5 minute exposures and then blended in Photoshop.  I have found there is less noise with 5-minute exposures than with a single, two-hour exposure. The added advantage is that if your battery dies, all is not lost.  My vision was to find rock trails that pointed toward the North Star.  They point in many directions, but finding one that points North was a challenge.  We arrived before dark, found our rocks and using a compass set up the cameras on tripods and weighted down the tripods for extra stability.  Next were test shots to get the proper balance between foreground and sky.  Focus was turned off and the ISO set at 200 and the f-stop at 4.  We made the foreground shots while waiting for it to get dark enough to shoot star trails.  We tried the lakebed under twilight and various light painting techniques.  I used a small flashlight to make very narrow light streaks and a big flashlight for broad illumination.  As long as you do not point the flashlight at the camera, it and you do not show up.  Only the light streaks are recorded on the image so you can walk out and light paint a narrow path. The shutter was opened and then the foreground was light painted as long as needed, usually less than a minute and then the shutter was closed.  With some practice, you can obtain the proper exposure with light painting.  The foreground shot was blended with the star trail shot for the final image.

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