Perseids in Rocky Mountain National Park

It's really fun to be outside at night under the stars, especially when skies are dark, and the Perseids come out to play!

This year's Perseids meteor show was hyped up to be unusually good, with a closer approach of comet Swift-Tuttle's tail debris passing through Earth's orbit.

We went to Walden, Colorado in 2013 to observe and photograph the Perseids, but this year stayed close to home. The sky in Rocky Mountain National Park isn't as dark as Walden, but once the moon set, it was dark enough to get a good show.

At about 11:30pm on Aug 11, I drove up Trail Ridge Road, stopping at Many Parks Curve, Rainbow Curve, Forest Canyon Overlook, and Milner Pass before turning around to head home and get some sleep.

As always, click on an image for a larger version.

View from Many Parks Curve, looking east towards Estes Park and the plains. Deer Mountain center, YMCA far right

Here are some of the night shots I got during my outing.

Looking northwest from Many Parks Curve

Even with the bright moonlight, you could still see Andromeda (top center in above photo).

From Many Parks Curve. YMCA of the Rockies at lower left

The moon was illuminating the clouds as the passed overhead going east. I went west from here. Rainbow Curve was very crowded, so I drove on up the road, climbing higher and deeper into the park.

At the Forest Canyon Overlook, I found several cars in the parking lot, with a couple sitting in lawn chairs near their car. I decided to stop and walk out to the overlook. The moon was almost bright enough that I didn't need my headlamp. When I got to the end of the paved path, I found I had it all to myself!

Me and my moonlight shadow (bottom right) near the Forest Canyon Overlook

A meteor streaks by at far right center of frame

Looking east from Forest Canyon; Longs Peak with moon shadows, too!

After I bit I went on down the road, finding Rock Cut to be too busy, so I drove on to the Lava Cliffs overlook. It was busy too, but I want to be here as the moon set.

Another meteor at left

Finally, the moon went down and began to get a lot darker, making the Milky "pop" quite a bit more.

My car with the Milky Way over it

Meteor at left; Ypsilon, Chiquita, Chapin peaks at far right
Some of the people at the Lava Cliffs parking were walking around with their headlamps, so I decided to move on. I skipped the Alpine Visitors Center which had about 20 cars in the lot, and also drove on past Medicine Bow Curve.

The Milky Way over the parking lot at Milner Pass

I stopped at Milner Pass, where I had the whole place to myself. It was very dark here, now, with only starlight illuminating my path. I used my red headlamp to preserve my night vision.

I decided to setup to shoot some pictures with Poudre Lake in the foreground and was soon rewarded with a meteor reflecting on the lake.

Meteor over Poudre Lake

At one point, just as I had finished re-adjusting the framing of the camera on the tripod, I saw an incredible bright meteor flash by, but I didn't have an exposure going. I tripped the shutter release, and was still able to capture the "smoke" that still hung in the atmosphere!

Meteor "smoke" at top center; it hung there for over 4 minutes!

Soon, I realized that the moisture evaporating off Poudre Lake was fogging my lens, so I packed up at about 1:30am and headed east. Again, I skipped Medicine Bow Curve and the AVC, and didn't stop again until Rainbow Curve, where I joined the still active party of observers and photographers.

Looking east from Rainbow Curve; light curves are cars on Trail Ridge Road at 2am!

As I had done earlier, I setup my gear to shoot continuously, hoping to catch a big meteor, and it wasn't long before I was rewarded with this shot, the best one I captured of the night.

This huge meteor streak left it's own little smoke cloud for several seconds

I was getting pretty tired, so at about 3:30am I packed up and drove back home, but couldn't resist taking a shot of our house before I went inside to hit the sack!

It was a very fun night!


  1. Wow! Beautiful pictures and so many stars!! Thanks for sharing, Mike! We had clouds and rain here most of the week, plus lots of humidity and light pollution even when the clouds went away for a few hours.

  2. Very special. And inspiring. I'm considering the idea of changing our sleep pattern to include awake hours from midnight to 4am just so we can get a bit prepared for Fairbanks!