Billions of Stars above Point Reyes

Milky Way Reflecting over McClures Beach

I’ve caught the fever – I can’t believe how fantastically, incomprehensibly, and unfathomably beautiful the night sky is! I’m hooked…. I’ve been watching the sky. Whenever it looks clear and the moon is dark, I find myself heading out to one of our wild and remote beaches at Point Reyes. (Once atop the Inverness Ridge, I hope to discover that the coastal fog is gone, making starry night photography possible.) I’m happy when conditions are right. I’ve photographed the night sky frequently, in the last few weeks, since I posted my essay, Starry Night at Drakes Beach.

I’ve visited McClures Beach on two evenings in recent weeks. McClures Beach is my favorite Point Reyes beach. It is the most northern accessible shoreline in the park, tucked below the rugged highlands of Pierce Point. Out there, it feels like I’m at the end of the earth. Windswept and carved by the Pacific, its wild shores are populated by mammoth stone seastacks. It’s a little spooky walking down the steep trail to McClures at night, alone. So, for my first night photo visit, I asked my wife, Jean, to come with me.

On a clear and moonless evening, we left the dogs in the car and walked down the creek-bed trail to the beach. We arrived shortly after sunset. We were the only souls on the beach that night. I found a fine place to stand where I could photograph the Milky Way streaming above the rocky point to our southwest. Jean ran the flashlight between exposures so I could adjust the settings on my camera. It was misty but the long exposures cut through the atmosphere to record the beauty of the starry night sky. From time to time, I’d hear Jean sigh. She told me she was so happy she was there with me, under the splendor of this star-crazed heavenly view! Later, as we walked up the trail, I vowed to return again, soon, to visit the “secret” beach at McClures.

Monolith, Elephant Rock & The Milky Way

A week later, I took my good friend Hadley to McClures Beach for a second visit. It was his first time there which was exciting for both of us. This time we walked further, past where I photographed the rocky point, until we reached the “secret” beach, which is unknown to those who do not walk far enough south. We slithered through the narrow chasm in the rocky point to the this steep crescent beach. It is treacherous there. The beach is narrow and steep, pushed up against even steeper, nearly unclimbable cliffs. I never turn my back on the sea when I’m on this beach.

We witnessed the final moments of light on the rugged sea stacks there.  Hadley had earlier alerted me to the fact that the moon wouldn’t rise ’til late and that the tide would be extremely low. This was good news as we were able to set up our tripods behind the “Monolith.” (I called this seastack “Monolith” when I photographed it pho on a winter afternoon some 20 years ago — this is also the cover photograph of my book, Point Reyes 20 Years.)

I’ve been coming to McClures Beach since 1974 and have made many of my favorite seascape photographs there. But on these two recent nights, first with Jean and then with Hadley, I photographed the night sky there for the first times.

The fever still rages…. I’ve recently added a number of new starry sky photographs to my website. Fine prints of the photographs in this post are available in a number of sizes and presentations. Additional night sky photographs are also available and can be found in my new online collection:  Night Sky.

16 comments on “Billions of Stars above Point Reyes

  1. OK – Now you’re just showing off….. 😉 Seriously though, where am I going find all the extra wall space for some these! There are at least(!) 2 that I want now… Utterly Stellar Photography…. Literally *and* Figuratively…. No.1 Favourite now so far: “Boot Arch and Milky Way” – That’s just a Gorgeous High Contrast image. Not far behind is “Milky Way Reflecting at Lake Nicasio” – Brilliant use of the reflection for the visible star field. I’ll be up to visit some time soon, to come see these in person (i’ll give you a ring closer to the date). PLEASE Keep going with this project – This photography subject is just a complete Winner in every sense. Cheers, Stuart.

    • Stuart-
      I’ll look forward to your visit. Star photography is slower in the winter, or at least the Milky Way is. I’m still going to look for those clear dark nights, whenever they occur. I appreciate your continuing support and encouragement of my work. Be well, my friend.

  2. Hi Marty : Thank you for the “Billions of Stars Above Point Reyes” posting. A quick question. Is the sea stack you call the “monolith” the same sea stack on the cover of your book? Did the “monolith” erode from a pointed sea stack to the flat topped sea stack in 20 years?

    Thanks a million in advance for your historical perspective on the changes occurring along our coast line.

    • Brian,
      Thanks for writing-
      No, Monolith did not erode. What you are seeing is two different views of that rock: The cover of my book was photographed from a more southerly position on the beach than the one that looks more rectilinear. People are surprised to discover that seastack looks so different from various viewing angles! If you navigate through the Night Sky collection, you’ll find a couple of others that show the pointed angle appearance of “Monolith”

  3. Marty, I can’t tell you how excited I am that you are experiencing the wonders of the night sky. It is mesmerizing, compelling and gives a nice perspective. This is a gorgeous photograph. Marsha

    • Marsha, I am totally stoked photographing the night sky. Some of my inspiration came from seeing your beautiful work on Flickr site. Was great having dinner with you and Bill the other night. I enjoyed learning from you. My three 14mm Rokinons are do to arrive tomorrow. I hope to find a gem among them. One of these days we’ll end up shooting the sky from the same place!

  4. Marty, these are lovely, captivating images which help to maintain an eternal perspective in light of the day to day. It was a pleasure to meet you last time I was in Pt. Reyes Sta. I bought one of your infrared horses cards and we discussed the possibility of my taking a Lightroom class with you. My brother may also be interested. How would it work as a class for 2?

    • Natalie- Thanks for the compliment on my work. I’ve written to you direct about Lightroom coaching. Looking forward to helping you.

  5. Beautiful images, Marty. Thanks for introducing me to McClures Beach. What an introduction!

      • Hi Marty ,
        we are so very appreciative of your work !
        Rhonda and I have recently relocated to Gig Harbor Wa from Belvedere after over 40 years in Marin . All that you do is a constant reminder of time and place … and a touchstone for Pt Reyes loveliness . Thank you !

        Also if you have a copy of “Pt Reyes 20 years” , and a catalog of your recent photographs , please do be in touch .
        Our best ,
        Lou and Rhonda Burnett

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