The Pillars of Rome and Milky Way

I just got back from a week-long roadtrip around southeastern Oregon with my family. We had a great time despite breathing a lot of desert dust, doing a little damage to both our car and our tiny camping trailer (southeastern Oregon is not kind to people or vehicles in general), and getting skunked (photographically speaking) for the first half of the trip.

One of our stops put us in Rome, Oregon, a tiny valley hamlet along the Owyhee River. There wasn’t much to the place, really. There’s a boat put-in for the river, a general store with gas and some camping (and one of the top-5 worst cups of coffee I’ve ever sipped), and a chunk of land north of town called “The Pillars of Rome,” where surprisingly unique and interesting rock formations erupt from the ground and tower over the dusty landscape, which is mostly filled with scrub brush and cows. The crumbly clay structures have a number of fossils embedded in them and apparently were a landmark to pioneers, who likely paused for a moment to admire their grandeur before deciding that there was no way they were going to homestead anywhere near there.

Because our gazetteer had a tiny camping symbol at the BLM’s boat put-in, we assumed we could trailer-camp there, although a gate at the gravel road’s entrance and a sign near a grassy spot stating “Do not place tents on grass – Day Use Only” hinted that maybe our gazetteer was wrong. The only other option was camping at the general store half a mile down the road. We decided to roll the dice and camp at the boat put-in anyway, knowing full well that there was a chance that I would return from shooting in the middle of the night with the car and find that the gate would be closed, thereby preventing me from getting back to our camp trailer and my family. It wouldn’t have been the first time I would’ve slept in my car, but luckily it never came to that, as the gate was still open when I got back.

And this was a good thing, as the general store, for some reason, had lit their camp area to near-daylight proportions with the use of two extremely bright sodium-vapor lights. The lights were so bright, actually, that when they turned on a little past sunset, I thought the BLM’s boat put-in had lights in its parking lot. But no, these were lights from the general store. Half a mile away. I’m not sure how anyone in the general store’s RV park got any sleep without blackout curtains and sleep masks.

Despite the obnoxious lighting practices of the general store, Rome has some extremely dark skies, which is great for photographers like me who enjoy photographing the night sky. The result of one of my photos is below.

Technical details: This is two exposures, one for the sky and one for the foreground, taken back to back, and blended carefully in Photoshop. This is the true position of the Milky Way at the moment in time in which the photos were taken.


The Milky Way over Rome, Oregon.

The spring Milky Way wheels through the dark skies of tiny Rome, Oregon, where just north of town the rock formations “The Pillars of Rome” impose on the dry landscape. Prints available here.


Early the next morning, I got the panorama below after finding this location the previous day. 


The Milky Way arches over a rock at Pillars of Rome, Oregon.

Moments away from becoming washed out by the dawning of a new day, the Milky Way arches over a sphinx-like rock formation at the Pillars of Rome, Oregon.


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