Star Gazing on Byway

There is a place where the light solely from the milky way and stars casts a shadow on the ground. Pristine and clear dark skies are remote and rare, and by their nature it takes effort and dedication to get to places that have them. 

My experience:

Our entire lives we live and we go about our business seldom stopping to take notice. People go about life as fast as they possibly can, hardly recognizing the beauty of a landscape that is at the heart of the greatest grassland ecosystems on earth. 

While I appreciate the beauty of oceans and mountains, I have to confess, I’m most comfortable in the wide open space of the prairie. I am not an expert in most things. I appreciate birds, but I am not a birder. I love the sandhills, but I am not a rancher. I also marvel at the stars above, but I am not an astronomer. As a photographer, I see the beauty in them and want to photograph them, or at least try.  

I took astronomy classes in both high school and college, but never really looked up until I met my good friend Dan Glomski. For four years, Dan and I worked together at the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center located along the Platte River near Alda. Dan’s contagious enthusiasm for all things in the celestial universe got me to start looking upward, so it was only natural that he would invite me to the sandhills near Mullen and cause me to point my camera up.  

My astrophotography started closer to my home in the Grand Island area, but it became evident that the nemesis of night sky photography is light pollution. Light pollution is something that we seldom notice because we have grown accustomed to its ever present glow. When you take long exposures, it creates a muddy or cloudy look in the image that is evident immediately.  

When Dan reviewed my images, he said “you need to get out to darker skies” and the sandhills of Nebraska are just the place to start. Modern digital cameras gave a distinct advantage over film cameras of the past, opening up possibilities that heretofore were not possible. I also learned one of the most important parts of astrophotography is patience with the weather and practice with your camera. I continue to be drawn to the Milky Way against the Sandhill’s landscape and spend most of my time trying to capture with my camera what I can see with my eyes. 

There is proper etiquette while on the observing field. When your eyes become accustomed to the dark even a dim white light can be very annoying, therefore lanterns, campfires and other outside lights sources are prohibited. Flashlights must be equipped with red filters or red bulbs which is much easier on individuals’ night vision. Vehicle headlights and parking lights  must remain off at all times, and those that want to leave the viewing area before the night is over are asked to park approximately a quarter mile away from the observing field facing away so the headlights have minimal impact on the other viewers.

~Brad Mellema
Executive Director
Grand Island Tourism

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