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Apr 18, 2018
I love a good adventure.
I love mini-car trips, long car trips, far-away airplane trips, seeing new things, and photographing new places.
Fun. Good fun.
So when my friend, Lauren, suggested we take a trip up to Brasstown Bald to shoot the stars, I was all for it.
Neither of us had been there. And we've both been itching to shoot the Milky Way for some time now, but it's impossible in the city. Too much light.
Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia. It was once an Indian camping ground. It's one of the best places in Georgia to shoot the Milky Way.
There are a few things you have to know if you want to get photos of the stars.
You have to use manual focus in the dark. That's tricky.
A wide-open aperture is needed to capture as much light as possible.
Also, you have to use a high ISO, which I hate doing because it creates a lot of noise. But, that's what all the tutorials say, so it's a good starting point at least.
And long exposure, of course. But, not too long or the stars will be blurry from movement.
You have to do a little light painting with a flashlight to get your foreground to stand out.
There are only a few nights of the month when it'll work because the moon has to be dark. The new phase of the moon is the best.
According to the phase of the moon, it looked like Friday would be perfect, so we made our plans.
We left Atlanta around 3 pm. We hit some traffic. Of course. Plenty of traffic.
Lauren's Google maps started behaving strangely when we got up around Dahlonega. It kept telling us we had arrived. But, it also said we had 35 more minutes to go.
A Wrong Turn
At one point, we were supposed to make a right, but we blew past it since the GPS was running a beat behind.
We made the next right instead and found ourselves on a rustic asphalt/gravel road with a perfect fence running on for what looked like miles. It was gorgeous, we had to stop.
Lauren pulled off to the side of the road, and we jumped out to get a few photos.
It was such a classic pastoral scene. It looked like we were at a ranch, but it was so well manicured. I thought maybe it was some sort of event venue.
The huge swaths of grass were impeccably well maintained. There were cute barns and a little windmill. Everything was so pristine.
We didn't stay long. We were anxious to get up to Brasstown Bald.
We kept driving and eventually connected back up with the road we were supposed to have turned on.
After a while, we passed some sort of hiker's rest stop and store. We turned around and went back to see if anyone could enlighten us about Brasstown Bald.
At that point, our plan was to go hike to the top (you have to park in the lot and hike up), shoot pictures of the sunset and then hike back down and sleep in the car for a little while. Then hike back up and shoot the stars.
According to the app we were using, it looked like the best time of night to shoot the Milky Way was around 3 or 4 a.m.
But, the weather app predicted heavy cloud cover rolling in around then.
We compromised with shooting the stars around 1:30 a.m. in the hopes the Milky Way would be visible but without too much cloud cover.
When we stopped at the store, we went a little crazy thinking we were totally unprepared for being in the car half the night. Other than a couple of oranges and apples, we'd brought no food.
We stocked up on cheese and chocolate, because really, what other food does a person need?
The folks at the store assured us we were going in the right direction. We got back on the road.
Ugh. The road. All switchbacks, winding back and forth. I get car sick. Not all the time, but on a windy road like that, I get pretty woozy.
When we made it up to Brasstown Bald, it was beautiful out, but the sky didn't bode well.
There were a lot of clouds.
We parked, grabbed our camera gear and headed up the road. We didn't see a marked trail anywhere. But, I had read that it was a half mile hike to the top.
Piece of cake.
Unless you're at almost 5,000 feet...
Carrying a bunch of camera gear...
And you take the wrong way up.
The hike/walk was incredibly steep and was over a mile. Every time we went around a bend and expected to see the observation tower, we saw another stretch of road.
We finally saw the stairs that led up to the tower.
Turns out we had missed the trail, which would have cut the walk at least in half, probably more.
It was windy as heck up there and getting colder by the minute. But, we climbed the stairs to the lower viewing deck. The tower was closed because the park officially closes at 5:30. It was now about 6. We still had nearly two hours until sunset.
We walked around and got a few shots, though not a lot. It was beautiful out. The sky was blue. The clouds were puffy. I love the clouds. I love the texture in my photos. But this was one time we didn't want clouds.
That's when we changed our plans.
Lauren and I have both shot so many sunsets. Every one is different and most are beautiful. But, the sunset on Friday wasn't shaping up to be that spectacular. And we decided we didn't want to hang around to get the same shot of the Milky Way that every photographer in Georgia has.
We wanted something different.
That's when our adventure began.
We decided to go back down toward Dahlonega and find the cute barns where we'd made the wrong turn and stopped for photos. It would be the perfect foreground setting for the Milky Way.
We had some time to kill. It was only about 6:30, and we weren't going to get good pix until at least 1 a.m.
We drove to Blairsville to grab a bite to eat - yup - the cheese and chocolate stayed in the car.
Let's just say there aren't a lot of options in Blairsville. We ended up at a little Mexican restaurant. We didn't think Mexican could be too bad.
The food was not up to Atlanta standards.
It's not a good sign when the guacamole looks like it came out of a container. I make my own guacamole, and real guac does not look like that! Or taste like that. Ugh.
We had dinner and hung out at the restaurant for a while.
We got back in the car and decided to take our time driving back to our desired shooting location.
On the way, we'd stop at various locations for a few night sky shots.
How hard could it be to find the place, right?
We started driving. Ugh. Back on the super windy, curvy switchbacks. We got turned around and almost ended up back at Brasstown Bald.
We figured that out pretty quickly and got back on the right road.
We stopped at the same little store we'd been to on the way up and got out of the car to see if the sky looked good.
The store was closed for the night, but there were some outside lights on. It was too bright to get any photos from their observation deck. Too bad - their deck had a spectacular view.
We got back in the car and kept driving. I tried to keep the bad Mexican food from coming back up.
We drove back and forth on that horrid road.
We couldn't find the turn to our earlier spot. At one point, we knew we had gone too far. We were almost back to Dahlonega. And the sky was way too bright with light pollution to get good photos from there.
We turned around and drove back toward the store.
We turned down another road and found a little cemetery. It looked familiar. I think we had driven by it earlier in the day.
It would have been a perfect spot for photos, but it was right next to a church that had a huge light blasting the parking lot. We wrote down the name of the street, though. It looked like a good backup plan - we could drive far back into the cemetery away from the light.
Back on the road. No idea what time it was at that point.
We made another turn when we saw a sign for R-Ranch. Maybe that was our little spot!
Things got weird.
We found a fence just like the one we'd seen when we stopped earlier in the day. We high-fived. We'd found it!
Or had we?
We followed the road for a bit but the fence disappeared and we clearly weren't in the right place. We turned around and went back toward the entrance. We turned into a little parking lot but then we came to a gate - the kind with the swing-down arm that lets you into a parking lot.
We couldn't go in.
We turned around.
We were so frustrated. We'd thought we found it.
Lauren parked the car, and we pulled out all our stuff anyway.
The heck with it.
There were some horses and a fence and we could see a few stars. There was a lot of light coming from the gatehouse behind us. But we were tired and frustrated and wanted to get photos of something!
As soon as we got our tripods all set up and got a couple of photos, a car pulled up right next to us.
It was a little unnerving. Two women alone on a deserted road in the middle of the night. And, oh ya, Lauren reminded me it was Friday the 13th.
I'm not superstitious, but it was starting to seem like a plot to a bad horror movie.
Turned out it was a security guard. We'd stumbled onto a private ranch resort.
The guard seemed friendly enough.
We told him what we were doing. He said we were okay, but not to stay too long. Although his initial friendliness turned odd.
He told us to watch out for bear and bobcats.
"Yep, you could get hurt," he said in a thick Southern accent.
"Bears and bobcats. And, there are a lot of weirdos that come out at night, ya know?"
A lot of weirdos?
We were in the middle of nowhere. We hadn't seen a single person, except him, since we left the restaurant.
We told him we needed a nice dark spot to get photos of the stars, but we were going to try here for a few minutes.
I showed him a photo from our wrong-turn stop earlier in the day and asked him if he knew where the place was.
"Oh ya! I know right where that is!" But then almost as soon as he said it, he backpedaled.
"Well, I think I know where that is. Hmmmm... Oh ya, that's Dick's Creek!"
He told us how to get there.
We tried to get a few more photos, but the security guard kept driving past us and creating a horrible lighting situation. I got one okay shot - it's the one I used above. You can see a few stars. And I managed to get the fence in focus, which was tough.
The fence and horses are lit up by the car headlights a little too much.
We decided to go to "Dick's Creek."
Dick's Creek my ass.
We followed the security guard's directions and ended up on some little dirt road. It kept getting darker and creepier, and there were so many trees.
There's no way we could shoot the sky.
Was the dude on drugs? This didn't look even remotely like the photo I showed him.
We kept hoping it would turn into a nice clearing or something.
We couldn't even turn around. The road was too narrow. We went almost three miles. We were worried about getting a flat tire out there in the middle of nowhere on that rough road.
Well...at least I remembered to bring my AAA card with me!
Then we came to a sudden stop. If we went any farther, we'd be in a ditch and into some water. Thankfully, we didn't go that far.
Lauren managed to get the car turned around and we started back. It was nice out, and the windows were down.
We drove by something and heard the creepiest bird-like howling noise. I can't describe it. It sounded like it was almost in the car on Lauren's side.
It made every hair on my body stand on end.
We were both ready to be the hell out of there. The movie Deliverance sprung to mind. I told Lauren, and she said she'd had the exact same thought.
We laughed nervously.
It was about midnight or so at that point.
We found our way back to the cemetery and drove as far in as we could go.
Okay - I just read that. Does that seem weird? We were a little scared so we drove right to the cemetery?
LOL - it's amazing what we'll do for a good photo. But really. The cemetery seemed like a safe place and the best option for some star photos at the moment.
Even though we were in the middle of the country, everything looked like private property - gated and closed. There wasn't anywhere to go.
We turned off all the lights to let our eyes adjust to the dark to see if we could see more stars. We sat in the car for a while.
We enjoyed some of that fine chocolate.
We got out after a little while and looked at the sky.
What a bust. There were more clouds than ever, and they kept on coming.
We decided to pack it in and make the long drive home.
Lauren dropped me off at my place around 3 am. I was tired. I could barely keep my eyes open.
I dropped into bed and slept without moving until around 9 am. I was so excited my body let me sleep until 9! Usually, I'm up no later than 6.
Oh well, you win some, you lose some. But, we learned a lot, and it was a good adventure.
We're going to try again soon.
Oh...and this isn't the adventure I mentioned last week. I'll tell you about that one later...
Have a great rest of your week!
And, see you between the raindrops!
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