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Vanderhoff Images of Comet Hale-Bopp

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Observers: Dewey Vanderhoff, Mack Frost, Andrew Frazier, Sean Campbell
Location: Near Cody, Wyoming
Date: April 20, 1997

The Comet trek last Saturday night included a fine pass of the Mir space station near Hale-Bopp, and a trip to a historic ( if dubious ) site of northwest Wyoming war history.

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After driving frantically to find a hole in the clouds, we observed a predicted pass of the Mir space station near Hale Bopp , at UT 3:11 on April 20 , which was late Saturday night in Wyoming. We observed and photographed Mir passing obliquely between Hale-Bopp and the bright star Capella in Auriga ( as shown here) , then passing on and brightening dramatically to graze the Moon and fiery Mars. Micro-Nikkor 55 mm 2.8 lens for thirty seconds; Fuji Super G 800

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The skies having cleared, and being in the vicinity, we sojourned at the site of a dark piece of American history from WWII. A windblown mesa between Cody and Powell Wyoming was the site of one of the Japanese-American Relocation Centers, where over 11,000 Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from their homes on the west coast a relocated to these barricaded and barb wired camps for the duration of the war. All that remains today of that tragic episode are a few meager buildings , and this tall red brick chimney alongside the former power plant. This edifice is visible for miles around, and serves as a grim reminder of the true costs of conflict.

Nevertheless, it makes for an interesting foreground for viewing Hale-Bopp. 24mm lens at f/2.8 on Fuji Super G 800, a nearly full Moon , about 45 seconds ; my friend Mack Frost obliged by standing in the far doorway and tracing himself with a red military surplus flashlight to add a human element to the ruins of wars past... but not forgotten


Our trek to photograph Hale-Bopp on Sunday night April 20th took us over a high mountain pass to the lost world of Sunlight Basin in northwest Wyoming. It might as well have been a trip back to the late Pleistocene Period ( as was the next night's adventures, too ).

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"Winter Stars and Hale-Bopp receding" As Hale-Bopp pulls away from both Earth and the Sun , the favorite starfields of Winter seem to be going with it. This view from the Riddle Flats in the bottom of Sunlight basin shows (from left) the king of stars, Sirius; all of Orion; Aldeberan and the Hyades ; and Hale Bopp. The mountain at the right is the remnants of a volcanic caldera known as White Mountain, named for the bright mineral on its flanks. Nikon F2As camera with 24mm lens; Fuji SuperG 800 ; f/2.8 for forty seconds in bright moonlight ; shot across a pond of snowmelt.

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"The White Mountain Wanderer" Hale-Bopp appears above the aforementioned White Mountain in rugged Sunlight Basin about an hour's drive from Cody Wyoming on Sunday , April 20th. Nikon F3 camera with 35mm f/2.0 Nikkor AIS lens; Super G 800 for 40 seconds +/- at f/2.8 in a strong cold wind.

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" On Location" I included this self-portrait to illustrate some of the environmental aspects of landscape based astrophotography. For one thing, the wind was howling , and it drove the windchill to well below zero. In order to get a stable image, it is necessary to keep the camera and tripod close to the ground. The Bogen 3020 series tripods excel at this, since their legs lock at various angles outward, and you can anchor the unit by planting the centerpost on the ground, too ( Shown). The layers and layers of warm clothing were barley enough in the wind: Patagonia caprilene longies ; wool sweater and Gore-Tex jacket, and my trusty Swedish Army wool combat pants are standard issue for Wyoming night photography.

I mentioned a trip to Sunlight Basin is like going back to the Pleistocene. We had to forego the first two locations for shooting Hale-Bopp, because the space was occupied by some rather large herds of Elk. In order to keep from bothering them ( and stressing them after such a cold hard winter as we had in Wyoming this year...which ain't over yet!) we had to position oursleves inbetween the three large hers we encountered on the wide-open Riddle Flats. Maybe a thousand elk were within a mile of this photo when it was taken. Thankfully, none of the area's Grizzly Bears were very interested in us that evening, but they've been harassing the mercenary horn hunters in the area recently. Go Bears!

The following night, up the other fork of the wild and scenic Clark's Fork River, we had to deal with an unusually large number of Moose. The Late Pleistocene never went out of style in northwest Wyoming... (* Afterthought: These two nights of travelling the Chief Joseph country along the Clark's Fork wild & scenic river revealed a wealth of wildlife...over 2,000 elk and countless mule deer; moose a-plenty. But NO people...we saw no other vehicles; no other people. Nada. Come summer the tourists will drive that newly paved road by the thousands, and the wild game will be back in the high country as far from the motorhomes and station wagons as they can get. But during the Spring of 1997, we get to share a Great Comet with our animal friends, who did not mind us being around much at all...)


These two views show Hale-Bopp hovering over the wildest, most remote part of Wyoming , known as Sunlight Basin. It is the region between Yellowstone Park and the front range of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains and, just south of Montana and northwest of Cody WY .

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In the horizontal scene, the view encompasses the Clark's Fork Canyon, the only designated Wild & Scenic River in Wyoming amd the route that Chief Joesph led his peaceful Nez Perce Indian tribe through eluding the U S Army in 1871. The granite gorge visible along the foot of the Beartooth Mountains is possibly the wildest river in the lower 48 states.

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The vertical scene shows Hale-Bopp over the newly paved Wyoming State Highway 296 , officially called the "Cheif Joesph Scenic Highway", Unofficially, we call it Chief Joesph's revenge...it's not for the faint of heart nor motorhome novice ( no services, and a world class collection of hairpin turns, switchbacks, and steep grades. You should've seen it when it was just a two track dirt road...those were the days !) the Cheif Joe connects Cody Wyoming to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone Park at Cooke City, Montana over 8,400 Dead Indian Pass and a long drive on the rim of the Clark's Fork Wild & Scenic River. The tallest peak in Montana , Granite Peak, is visible on the far snowy skyline of this scene. the prominent round butte is Sugarloaf Mountain , and the highway can be seen winding thru the lower part of the frame.

Hale-Bopp leaves us no choice: It insists on hanging over most of the scenic and geologic wonders of northwest Wyoming , begging to be photographed... only interior snowbound Yellowstone Park is off-limits to us ( so far ).

Dewey Vanderhoff, with Andrew Frazier, Mack Frost, and Sean Campbell
deweyv@trib.com


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