Hell’s Backbone Milky Way – Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Hell’s Backbone Road (Forest Road 153) is a 38-mile mostly unpaved road that connects the towns of Boulder, Utah and Escalante, Utah.

Halfway along the road is Hell’s Backbone Bridge, which is 109 feet (33 m) long, and 14 feet (4.3 m) wide. A 1,500-foot (460 m) drop is on either side. Near the bridge are views of the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. From late spring to autumn, the road, which climbs to more than 9,000 feet (2,750 m) elevation, is passable by ordinary passenger vehicles, but it is very narrow and winding.

The road was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in the 1930’s. A side road branches off to an excellent campground at Posey Lake.

Hell’s Backbone makes a nice milky Way image Mid-summer through September.

I shoot the milky way with a star tracker that moves with the sky. That means the land is blurry and I have to blend two pictures together for an image like this. The result is a sharper image in both the land and the sky.

I like to do “blue hour” blends to pick up predawn or post sunset light without having to resort to higher ISO and other issues such as wind moving tree branches.

I find images by using a phone app called Photo Pills. It shows you where the milky way is at any time of night on any day of the year. The core of the milky way is only visible from late February (barely) through early October.

I am fearful of the reality police prone to say that such and such a shot is not possible. My remedy is  to take a screenshot of where Photo Pills says the milky way should be.

In this instance I have the milky way a little lower and to the right, but that’s about where it would be about an hour or so later or the same time a few weeks later.

When blending, I am not looking for perfection to match my screen shot, but a composition that looks the best and is actually possible in practice.

I have a specially modified camera that I use to take images of the sky and use a different camera for the land. I used a 24mm lens for each shot, but the night lens was different than the day lens.

My exposure data changes with each camera and one could not duplicate it easily so there is no point posting it. The night sky was about a 1 minute exposure which would be very blurry without a star tracker.

Sunrise Images

Hell’s Backbone is a great place to be at sunrise. That means means getting up early to allow for travel on a winding unpaved road. The high point elevation is over 9,000 feet with drop offs of 500 feet down on both sides of a bridge that crosses Death Hollow.

I discussed sunrise possibilities in my previous post Hell’s Backbone Sunrise – Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

4 thoughts on “Hell’s Backbone Milky Way – Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

  1. If you received an email notice, an extraneous image went out with a terrible color artifact. Investigating the cause. Thanks.

  2. I love the shot and also your explanation on how the images of the sky and land were blended together. It’s fascinating the technology that is out there to process the final image.

    Being raised and living in metropolitan areas most of my life, I can only recall a few instances in my 66 years in which I could discern the Milky Way. Ambient light from cities makes it impossible to see the Milky Way in its splendor. The first time I saw the Milky Way was on an offshore fishing trip. I was amazed at the site of all of the stars. I was hoping for the same a few years when on Lake Powell in Utah, but the full moon prevented that, although the full moon in itself was spectacular in that canyon setting.

  3. I’m going to be buying at least one of your pictures for a client that is moving… and I told my husband we need to buy one a year for our home. You are SO GOOD I still can’t figure out which one I like better!!

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