Bucket List Check #26 - Stargazing in a Sand Dune

Last year we rented an RV and traveled through Yellowstone National Park. After a full week in Yellowstone, we traveled down through Utah. We stopped in a small town called Kanab, Utah, checked into the RV campsite and went into town to grab a bite for dinner.

While there, I started searching online to see what was around and to my delight, I discovered that the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park was very close. Located between Mount Carmel Junction and Kanab, south and west of U.S. Highway 89 in southwestern Utah, I begged my husband, Mike, to take me there that evening. I knew with the few towns in the area, I would be guaranteed some dark skies and I had high hopes to capture a shot of the Milky Way galaxy.

He obliged, and I packed up my gear, along with some fold up chairs, and a cooler full of drinks. We headed out and fortunately, despite no street lights, very little cellular reception, and lots of random wildlife crossings, we were able to safely locate this hidden gem of a state park. We had to pay a small entrance fee to get in. We made it to the sand dunes a little before dusk and was pleasantly surprised at the sheer beauty of the park. It was easy to see why they call it Coral Pink Sand Dunes...

Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park in Utah
Add some wind, and you start to see a lot waves in the sand...

Insect Tracks in the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah
It was fun spotting certain tracks in the sand.
This particular track was of some sort of insect.

The sand dunes cover several square miles of nice rolling hills. You could immediately tell from the tracks, that sand-boarding and driving ATV's are probably popular activities in the park. My son had a field day playing in the sand. Fortunately at that time of day (~ 8 PM) it was starting to cool down and the sand was not too hot. In fact, it was getting quite cold...

My Son At The Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park in Utah
My son, overlooking the mountain range in the Coral Pink
Sand Dune National Park.

Many people were leaving the park, but for me, I was just getting started. Given the super dark skies and relatively clear visibility, I knew I was in for a treat!. (Photographically speaking). The sun finally set, and I started shooting in the southern direction, looking for the Milky Way's vibrant colors. Unfortunately, you cannot see the colors of the Milky Way with your naked eye. It looks sort of like a cloud to the naked eye. So, to find the Milky Way (without any fancy photographer's apps they have available), I just start shooting and taking test shots until I find it.

Found the Milky Way in Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park in Utah
Found it...towards the trail end of the sun setting.  

Panoramic Shot of the Milky Way at the Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park in Utah
Taken a half hour later. You can see how dark the skies get...
so bring a headlamp or flashlight.

Milky Way Galaxy Overlooking the Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park in Utah
I believe that planet in lower right side is Venus.  The camera really captures the amazing colors of the Milky Way.

Be sure to use a tripod and camera remote, to keep your camera steady, and shoot in manual mode by adjusting your ISO and elongating your exposure time. I try to use the widest aperture I can get (f 2.8) and play with the ISO and exposure time to get a good shot. If any of this sounds like a bunch of goobligosh, don't worry. Many cameras nowadays have "night settings" you can help you, or your can learn about astrophotography. Just be sure to keep your camera steady with a tripod, given the longer exposure time (i.e. lens is open longer to capture more light).

I experimented with photographing my son looking up at this beautiful galaxy. I used a flashlight, and flashed it on him 2 to 3 times, to have his face highlighted in the picture. No matter what, seeing all the stars opens your eyes to how vast the universe truly is!

My Son Stargazing at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah
Those faint dotted lines are airplanes. This photograph was about a 10 second exposure. I was quite proud of my son for being able to hold still that long, particularly since the sand was quite cold at that point.

Are the Coral Pink Sand Dunes next on your bucket list adventure?

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