Astrophotography in Toroweap, Arizona

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  • Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Toroweap. Of course it should be the first image of the year produced. No question. This western end of the Grand Canyon is amazing to behold and staggeringly hard to get to.
Toroweap. Of course it should be the first image of the year produced. No question. This western end of the Grand Canyon is amazing to behold and staggeringly hard to get to. Dave Lane Astrophotography
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This article is the second of a two-part series of conversations with Dave Lane, an accomplished astrophotographer, on how he is able to get the breathtaking images of the Milky Way that he is so well-known for.

Toroweap, Arizona. This western end of the Grand Canyon, where Toroweap is located, is amazing to behold and staggeringly hard to get to. The first 60 miles are a moderately washboarded dirt road and pretty easy to travel. It’s the last 20 miles where the going gets rough, rougher and roughest—slowing down to a speed where just getting out and walking might be faster. Then the last two miles are the worst. But at last the journey is over, and you have arrived at Toroweap. Eerie and haunting, almost surreal.

To say the cliffs here are steep is a huge understatement. No words or images do it justice, not even this one. Toroweap is one of the very few places in the Grand Canyon where you can look directly down onto the Colorado river.

This particular shot came at 3 a.m, from a point overlooking the canyon—literally just a couple feet from a 3,000-foot drop—in the dark, on very uneven footing. And it’s not just one shot and then go home, the shot above is the result of 20-25 minutes of standing in complete darkness to capture 42 images that will later be painstakingly stitched together. Even that’s an understatement of the difficulty of capturing a shot like this, because astrophotography is “taking tiny amounts of light, amplifying them, and making them pretty”, according to Dave Lane, the photographer. Because Toroweap is so narrow and the cliffs so sheer, the photons that manage to make it from the stars in the sky to the bottom of the canyon are so few and faint that it takes a lot of patience and skill to come up with an image that is even presentable.

To be a dedicated astrophotographer, you have to really love it. Driving 30,000 miles a summer, buying massive piles of gear, and going to locations that are not only incredibly remote, but can be downright dangerous, aren’t for the casual photographer. Hours spent searching Google maps for hidden places and then figuring out how to get there is par for the course. While most photographers are chasing the light, an astrophotographer avoids is like the plague. Even a few flashlights can completely ruin a shot.

But then, after all that time and effort, you get a shot like this one. And it’s all worth it.

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Shooting the Stars in Utah: A Conversation with Dave Lane, Astrophotographer