Thursday, October 4, 2012

Valley Forge Survey - Memorial Arch at Harvest Moon

I am intrigued by the moon. However, no matter how hard I try to photograph the moon, especially the full moon, the weather or my schedule or not having a camera seems to keep me from a respectable quantity of quality full moon images. 

The full moon in September 2012 was 11:38 EDT / 23:38 Saturday night.  I had an engagement indoors until 7pm / 19:00. When I emerged from the east facing exit of the building, the full moon was right smack in front of me.

The sky was overcast without a star in sight but the moon shone brightly behind puffy cotton ball like clouds. The clouds were loose enough to allow some direct light between. An area four times the width of the moon was backlit by a silvery blue light of the harvest moon. The sky was striking, eerie, beautiful and me without a camera.

Sunday I was indoors, again, in the same building, until the same time. The moon rises about 50 minutes later each day. This time the moon was lower in the sky. The clouds, however, were denser than on Saturday night. No cotton balls. They were more spread more like a blanket. A blanket with a few threadbare spots but a blanket nonetheless.

On Saturday I disappointed myself by not having a camera with me. Sunday I thought ahead and packed a camera with a charged battery and plenty of storage cards. I really wanted to get some full moon pictures. But, where to go to get some good full moon pictures? Pictures without buildings, utility poles, wires and people. Then I remembered Valley Forge National Historical Park was but a few miles away. No better place to mix my ongoing survey of the park with my ongoing desire to capture images of the moon. At that time of night the National Memorial Arch would be lit with flood lights and being situated atop a rise with fields all around, it might be a good location to photograph both the arch and the harvest moon. So off I drove.

I drove for less than five minutes when my car headlights were shining across the intersection at the main entrance of the park. Besides the glare from the traffic signals there was a sign that reflected the light of my headlights - park closed at dusk. It was already long past dusk.

Not giving up, I turned west onto PA rte 23, a road on which vehicular traffic is allowed 24 hours a day. After all it is a state road. I planned to turn onto County Line Road, which was the next intersection. This is the intersection on which stands the building of which I posted four entries back. I didn't think there was a gate on County Line Road that the park rangers closed at dusk. Without a gate I would have no trouble getting to the arch legally and unrestricted. I turned on my left turn signal and slowed as I approached the intersection. There was neither a gate nor sign. I made the left turn.

County Line is a two lane, two direction road without any shoulders. Trees line both sides of the road for much of the road. I drove slowly. Valley Forge Park is overpopulated with white tailed dear and I didn't want to hit any. About 3/4 mile/1.2km the trees stopped replaced by fields growing wild with plants near 3'/1m tall. A second or two later I could see the fully lit National Memorial Arch across an open field.

At the end of County Line Road was Gulph Road onto which I turned left. The arch was less than 1/4 mile /.4km away. I saw a car parked on Gulph Road in front of the arch. I drove slowly towards that car. Just before the parked car, I saw a road with a gate that led behind the arch to a parking area. There was a sign on the post supporting the gate stating the area closed at dusk. I thought about entering the gate but drove past.

I drove straight past the arch while searching the eastern sky for the moon. No moon. Not even an area of brighter sky. I made a U-turn and doubled back past the arch. I slowed down as I approached the gated road. I saw the gate was still open. I drove past. I made another U-turn at County Line Road with the goal of entering the gated road to park behind the arch and set out on foot to create some images of the arch with the moon, if it reappeard. 

There was a group of people around the arch. There were several children in their teens running around the base while adults stood by the road on which I recently drove. Once parked, I grabbed my camera and, while in my car where there was sufficient light, I set my camera to ISO 1600 with the white balance to incandescent. Then I ascended a low steep embankment towards the arch. 

There were many decisions I had to make for the best photographs of the arch. The teens were the first consideration. They continued to run around the base of the arch. I didn't want any people in the photograph. I would wait until they exited the area or time the exposure when they weren't visible. 

My primary consideration was including the full moon. I looked for the optimum location for photographing the arch and the moon. I paced around the western side of the arch looking to the sky. There was a small patch of sky that was brighter, but no visible moon. If I were to get the moon into the frame, I would need to stay on the western side. I found a place that would include the moon, if it broke through the clouds. 

If you think of a circle around the arch as a compass, I found that point near WNW. Staying on that heading, I moved closer to and farther from the arch still looking for the optimum spot. Another consideration for location, I had forgotten about, was trees. Although the larger area around the arch are fields, there are trees planted near the arch. The moon was behind a conifer tree from my point of view. I would need to wait until the moon moved through the sky, if I were to include it in the frame.

To recap, I had a location where my point of view included the arch and the moon, if the clouds were to open enough to see the moon. However, the lights that lit the arch were very bright and if I stood with the camera to my eye, there were two floodlights lighting the arch from which I saw direct light. To eliminate the direct light in the frame, I moved to a kneeling position to use some landscape to block the direct light. I was ready to wait for the clouds to open and the moon to rise above the tree. Then a park ranger appeared.

The white balance returned blue images of the arch, which you can see from the above image
I warmed the image in post-processing.
The teens were gone and the ranger was clearing the park of visitors. It was long past dusk. The ranger had already spoken to the adults who were standing by the road in the front of the arch. They were walking past the arch towards their car in the rear parking lot. The same lot in which I parked. A ranger was driving around the rear lot shining his search light in my and the exiting adults direction. Kneeling, I don't think the ranger saw me. I was close enough to the rear lot that I could clearly hear voices. When the adults arrived at the rear lot the ranger asked them if the two cars belonged to their group and they answered positively. However, one of the two cars was mine.

I created several photographs knowing the moon wouldn't be up high enough in the sky or out from behind the clouds before I was forced out of the park. I decided not fight the park ranger's authority and leave. I stood up and walked towards my car. The ranger still in his car, continued to speak with the adults in the parking lot. I got into my car, started it and proceeded past the assembled and headed for the lot exit expecting to turn right and exit via the same gated road I entered. The ranger started to call to me. I stopped. He turned on the car's emergency lights and tried to intercept me by placing his car in my path. My position was such that he would have to drive down a rather steep incline and over a grassy strip to block my exit. He stopped before the incline. I am sure he had thought of being caught on the edge of the grass with all four wheels off the ground. That would be difficult to explain to his superiors. I thought it better if I backed up and got along side his car facing in the opposite direction that we were driver's door to driver's door to converse. He anticipated I was escaping and quickly backed up his vehicle to block my exit. I stopped he stopped and we conversed.

We had a discussion about how I got into the lot, that the gate was locked, that I was in before the gate was locked and my car was there all along, that I wasn't with the other people and that I knew how to exit the park now that the gate was locked. With all discussion points clear I set out towards PA rte 252 to exit the park.

I was leading the other car of visitors and drove slowly down the one lane, one way road towards PA rte 252. I was fairly far along the road when I spotted a small female deer ahead on the right side of the road. I looked into my rearview mirror for the other car. It was back at least 100'/30m and not likely to hit my car from behind. I began to slow down from my 20mph/32kph to less than 10mph/16kph pumping my brakes so as to flash my rear lights to warn the trailing car.

I was within 6'/2m of the doe when I came to a stop. The deer moved quickly. I had figured the deer would run to the right onto the grass, since it was within a few feet of it on the the right side. It didn't. It ran straight for the front of my car. The deer then kicked up its rear hooves, with one hitting something on the front of my car and ran off onto the grass on the left side of the road. Would there be more deer to follow? I waited a second or two and without any signs of more deer, I continued on to rte 252. I turned right headed towards PA rte 23 and the back-way home over Pawlings Rd.

All the way home I thought of that deer running straight towards my car. What if it had jumped onto the hood or through the windshield. What damage that would have caused. Needless to say, I stayed alert for deer all the way home without the help of any light from the harvest moon still blanketed behind the clouds. One more full moon missed.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

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