Above: Boondocking at the SETI Array, Hat Creek Radio Observatory, California
The time-lapse of your camper at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory is simply amazing. Tell us about that experience.
That was so cool! It’s also another example of reaching out to an organization and hoping I could get a hold of somebody. I emailed the folks at SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and showed them some of my work. I threw out the idea that I could do a time-lapse at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory.
The facility is open to the public, so it was okay that I was there. However, being able to stay overnight was the question. I linked up with an astronomer who was working there overnight on a weekend. He invited me to stay.
As long as I wasn’t interrupting their work, they allowed me to park the rig in the dish field.
“It was awesome to see the dishes move as they tracked an object, to see the Milky Way rise over the dusk, to see planes and stars, and then the morning light again.”
I only had one camera at the time. Luckily I had a Goal Zero battery to extend the battery time of the camera. I wish I could have started the time-lapse earlier in the day, but I was touring the facility. Then I got set up, had dinner, and talked about astronomy with the astronomer who invited me out. After that I walked back up to my camper and enjoyed the night.
I was able to capture a day-to-night and back-to-day time-lapse. It was awesome to see the dishes move as they tracked an object, to see the Milky Way rise over the dusk, to see planes and stars, and then the morning light again. It was an amazing experience.
Above: Karl G. Jansky, Very Large Array, New Mexico
Have you visited any other space or science facilities during your travels?
I have been to several observatories as a visitor for their night sky programs. I will volunteer to help with projects they are working on. There are a couple in California that have photographer nights. They have a ticket system that’s a little expensive and selective. I would love to do that, but the timing has not worked out yet.
Above: Very Large Array, New Mexico
I spent a couple days at the VLA, or Very Large Array. It’s a radio telescope array in New Mexico. That is an experience that anyone can have, which I highly recommend if you are mobile and in New Mexico.
Go out and see the VLA facility and take the public tour. Also, there is a turnoff there where you can stay the night. Being out there late and watching the Milky Way is awesome. The dishes are huge and create a totally cosmic perspective. If you are into space, the night sky, photography and science, it’s a great free destination to visit.
It’s great to be able to stay in my truck camper in remote locations. For night sky lovers, a lot of states have off-grid areas including BLM and national forest. Being mobile and having your home with you gives you flexibility to do those things.
What was it like to photograph the eclipse?
Going to the eclipse was mostly for personal reasons. I wanted to experience it and then capture and share it in a unique way. I took time lapse and video. I got some killer images of my Capri. I wanted to show the truck camper with the eclipse at a certain angle.
I lucked out finding a place on BLM land near Debois, Wyoming for the composite photo with my truck camper in it. I looked at satellite photos of the area and used apps to find out where the sun would be at that time. I found a particular spot and got there a couple days before the eclipse.
There were lots of people there, but the spot I picked out was isolated. People were funneling into the lower parking area. I had a really good spot to myself for most of the time. With my camera I was able to get a low wide angle view of my camper and took it using a solar filter during intervals. I combined the intervals into a single photo.
The light on camper and foreground is the light of the eclipse. I used that as the base. I added in the shots of the sun as it went through phases before and after totality. It worked out really well.
How do you plan where to go next with your full-timing lifestyle?
It changes from month-to-month and week-to-week. Sometimes I’m focused on remote web work that I can do from practically anywhere. That work has low location pressure. If I’m happy where I am, I stay and get to know it. I even find favorite coffee shops.
Then there are location specific events that require planning to attend. Recently that’s been rocket launches. Sometimes these opportunities dictate a bigger travel adventure. The SETI opportunity is a good example.
“Now that I’ve taken some risks, I have had some amazing experiences. Traveling like this feels like home and my Capri Camper makes that possible.”
Above: Trona Pinnacles Ridge, California
It sure looks like you’re living your dream. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I have learned a lot since I’ve started living on the road. I have learned technical skills like installing solar panels and doubling my battery capacity. I’ve made some mods to my truck. I had not done this type of work before going full-time.
I have met a lot of great people, even in Starbucks. I have had great conversations with the people I’ve met. I have learned about places to visit. Being open has opened me up to people even more. I feel free to engage others to learn about them.
I am not sure where the end will be. I can’t look too far out. There are times of anxiety where I think about where to go next, but I try not to do that. I focus on what I can see because things change so much.
The opportunity to travel like this has always been there for me. I always felt I couldn’t do it for one reason or another and I was always making excuses. With creativity and hard work those excuses melted away. Now that I’ve taken some risks, I have had some amazing experiences. I have met incredibly interesting and talented people, especially in the space and science community. Traveling like this feels like home and my Capri Camper makes that possible.
Follow along with Ryan on Instagram @sciencetripper.