Colorado Perseids Meteor Jam Report

Colorado Perseids Meteor Jam Report

In July of 2016, I recruited Nancy Nguyen and Theresa Lopez to join me in the Colorado mountains to shoot the annual Perseid meteor shower, light painting-style. For 2017 I decided to get more people in on the opportunity.
We scheduled the jam for the peak nights of the shower, Aug 11 and 12, 2017. It was three weeks after the LPWA meet-up at Mt St Helens, which Nancy and I also attended. We had driven for that, 19 hours each way, and were home for four days before we hit the road for steamboat springs, Colorado, to go on our scouting mission.

Finding a Spot

We had to find a place that could handle 15-20 people, one that preferably faced northeast (best direction for this particular meteor shower), that wasn’t too far from where we were staying. Located in the Colorado mountains are lakes, parks, hiking trails, but we decided in advance that we might have to satisfy ourselves with a parking area or the middle of a small mountain road. We picked some possible locations and we drove. One big challenge we found ourselves running into was that all the good spots we were finding were privately owned, but with no indication of who the owner was. Six hours later, after driving all kinds of roads we didn’t even know existed, we had settled on one location, Sarvis trail head, but we weren’t even sure we would be able to access it after dark due to a potentially locked gate. Exhausted, and a little discouraged, we called it a night.

The next day we had an early lunch and visited Fish Creek Falls. This would potentially be a good location to shoot but it didn’t make our short list for shooting meteors due to the proximity to town and how bright it would be. Once there we added it to the list as an option for the first night or for a cloudy night. We stopped at a few more trails in the way back to Denver. They were a little farther out but they weren’t bad options in a pinch.

For the next week and a half, we were happy not to drive but soon enough it was time to hit the road.. Johnny Griffin had driven up to Colorado Springs from Arkansas and met us after work on Thursday. Taking two vehicles, we set out to get things started.

Night One: Fish Creek Falls

Things were already underway for Gunnar Heilmann (Germany) and Natalia Cerqueira (Brazil). They had spent the past week driving from Los Angeles and were waiting for us in steamboat when we arrived. After refueling with some Vietnamese food we packed our gear and hit fish creek falls. Two weeks prior I had asked a ranger at the falls how late we could be there. He said late night was probably totally fine. This time, however, we noticed the sign that said to be gone by ten. The parking lot was vacant when we arrived, save for a porcupine that was finding its way into the trees after having recently lost a battle, or won it at great cost, so I left a note on my windshield and we got started. The five of us hauled out gear down about a half mile of inclined trail to get to the bridge and river at the base of the falls, and we got to work.

The waterfalls were loud and communication was hard, even with walkie talkies. Johnny ran his spiro jib, Gunnar threw some spirals, Nancy and I did some tubes. The moon was nearly full and showed itself early, casting full shadows on the ground, but Gunnar still captured one meteor. After the night of shooting, walking back to the cars, uphill with great, took all we could muster.

Night Two: Sarvis Trail

Friday started with steamboat local-and-friend Maquetha Lester (aka M) joining us for pool time at our resort. Maximilian, our inflatable unicorn, made his second light painting jam appearance of the month. We grabbed some dinner and drove to Sarvis trail, hoping everyone else would be able to find it in the dark and meet us there. That was a bit of a concern since cell phone and internet reception is very inconsistent in the mountains and the last mile of road before the trail head was a bumpy dirt road.

 

The five of us arrived to look at where we would want to shoot and slowly people started to arrive. Paul Burns, from Colorado Springs, had also been at Mt St Helens and he was next to arrive. We threw some tubes in the bridge during blue hour. Over the course of the night we would add Geoff Decker, Kaylyn Dong, Matt Osier, Molly Martin, M, and her friend Jeff.

Gunnar took his drone for a spin, I shot some 360, Geoff set up for some astro photography, Matt did the same but also set up a film camera alongside his digital camera. We did a fun group shot in 360 then split up. A few of us ended up at another location with a slow running creek, others stayed back and played with fire. You’ll notice that the title of this article talks about meteors but that I haven’t said much about them yet. For all of our planning, one thing we couldn’t control was the weather. This night had a later bright moon but also some clouds the clouds added good atmosphere to outdoor shots but really got in the way of catching meteors. We caught a few anyways but unfortunately, nobody had an exposure open for the one single largest fireball that tore through the sky, one that was so impressive that it forced us to actually turn our heads and our bodies as we tracked its low trajectory through the sky. That one got our hopes up but we didn’t get a repeat. We did get some false positives as airplanes left their tails in the sky instead.

Night Three: Pearl Lake

The forecast for Saturday wasn’t great.  All directions from Steamboat said clouds were coming and, at M’s suggestion, a few of us went to check out a new location even farther north than we had previously scouted. It wasn’t very close but it was our best bet at having low cloud coverage. We found a parking lot overlooking a lake, with a boat launch and dock and decided to use it for night three.

After driving back to Steamboat and having burgers with our group we drove north again to Pearl Lake. Earlier we had found three spots we could shoot at but we ended up really just using the dock. We took turns lighting with blue hour tubes, then darkness tubes, swords, and steel wool. We finished off doing some 360 group shots in the parking lot as well as some tighter head shots. Maximilian made an appearance and we called it a night.

On the third night of shooting we captured no meteors.

Last Year, This Year, Next Year

Last year, in one night, I captured around 25 shots with meteors; some with more than just one.  This year we only got a few meteors over three days but it was a great excuse to get together with like-minded friends and create some art.

Stay tuned for the 2018 Perseids meteor jam, possibly in a new location!

(Note: a variation of this article appeared in Light Art Digital Magazine)

About The Author

Dan Chick

Dan started as a studio art photographer and eventually switched his entire art focus over to light painting. He has a background in applied physics and computer programming and enjoys hockey and motorcycles. He lives in Denver, Colorado, USA but was born in eastern Canada. He created LightMonster, runs Light Painting Lab on Facebook, as well as Denver Light Painting. He is open to reviewing any products you want to send him including expensive prototype cameras :)

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