Life + Outdoors » North Coast Night Lights

Happy Endings at Vista Point



After paying a second nighttime visit to this vista point in two years, I can safely say that a dull nocturnal moment rarely passes at this viewpoint looking up the Eel River Valley. I had come to the spot precisely two years before to make some nighttime photographs, and on both occasions the comings and goings of travelers tossed an interesting spice into the night.

When my friend Ryan Freitas and I arrived (in separate cars due to COVID-19), there was a vehicle already parked where I needed to put the camera for the angles I wanted. Pulling in behind them, we turned off our cars and headlights to await their departure. It was a short wait, for apparently we had unintentionally crowded them sufficiently to cause them to scoot down the way a little.

Excellent! We fired up our cars and hastened to fill the spot they had just vacated ... which was evidently again too close for them, for they soon left with what I believe was a cry of exasperation sounding from within their vehicle. Many apologies to you, good people — just trying to get the shot.

This time of year, the Milky Way is the star of the heavens, but a dark cloud hung obstinately in the nighttime sky, perfectly obscuring it as other clouds blew by. Is that even possible? Almost anything is possible when trying to get a nighttime photograph. We waited, hoping it would blow away, using the time to make a few experimental exposures to test the evening's lighting.

As we waited, another car pulled up not far behind us, bathing us in the glare of its headlights. Standing in their twin spotlights, it occurred to me that my first impulse is to turn my headlights off as soon as possible when there are people about. But their headlights remained trained on us, casting extended shadows down the road and along the hillside behind us.

We couldn't photograph while standing in their twin spotlights. I considered walking over to ask them if they would turn their lights off for us but, as we waited, sounds of merriment began to issue from their car, and it was soon evident that their attentions were entirely engaged within.

"Ryan," I said, "I think they're having sex in there."

He indicated the hillside. "Yeah, look at the shadows on the hill."

The long shadows cast by the vehicle's headlights moved on the hillside.


We waited. Their headlights remained trained directly on us.

The sky finally cleared and the Milky Way was revealed. But in the blaze of their headlights we still could not photograph it.

At last the activity died down, and soon their headlights moved off down the road. The sideshow was over and we were once again in darkness. The Milky Way was still visible between passing clouds and we could finally take some photographs. It was a happy ending for all concerned.

To any new little lives that might have been conceived that night at that vista point, I dedicate these photographs.

To keep abreast of David Wilson's (he/him) photography or purchase a print, visit or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx and on Twitter @davidwilson_mfx. David teaches Art 35 Digital Photography at College of the Redwoods. Find Ryan Freitas' (he/him) photos on Instagram at @rjf_photo.

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