As a young Boy Scout and backpacker, my friends and I proclaimed we would one day hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine. While that never happened, I knew back then Clingman’s Dome mountain was the highest point on the AT. At 6,643 feet (2,025 m) Clingman’s Dome straddles the Tennessee, North Carolina boarder in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The location features an iconic 45-foot (14 m) spiral concrete observation tower offering a 360 degree view of the Smokies.
Clingman’s Dome was on my recent fall foliage expedition itinerary for both astrophotography and a sunset. I first arrived on a Wednesday night around 9:00 PM ET. Anticipating cold weather plus wind chill, I was prepared for the 25° F lower temperature. From the parking lot, I slogged up the steep half mile paved trail to reach the observation tower. Luckily, there was no one else at the tower.
I shot with my 15mm – 30mm Tamron ultra-wide lens and tripod at ISO 3200, f2.8, with exposures around 5 seconds. Using a 20 second delay, I was able to use my Black Diamond head lamp to ‘light paint’ the tower during exposures. The Milky Way wasn’t quite as clear as I hoped, not sure if it was light pollution, regular pollution, weather related haze, or a combination of all.
Around 10:30 PM, moonrise began and I was able to capture a few shots before the moonlight washed out the night sky.
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