A Phenomenal Death Valley Dreamlapse

After the great response to Sunchaser Star Trails, my brave team and I trekked to the world-famous Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park, California, to search for some of the darkest skies on Earth. Despite below-freezing temperatures, we went on December 13, 2012—the night of the Geminid meteor shower peak, and a time of great planetary alignment. Armed only with boxed wine, firewood and our DSLRs, we had to conquer epic climbs, sand roads with the 4×4 Jeep and the occasional UFO!

But it was all worth it when the skies cleared and showed us an incredible galactic palette. Star trails shot at 25-second exposures. No special effects, just the rotation of the Earth’s axis. The Geminids get crazy as the sun comes up at 2:20–2:35 but you can spot a bunch more throughout, if you look closely. There’s also some passing planets at 1:15–1:30 and 2:15–2:25. I think these are Jupiter and Mars, but maybe some smart astronomer out there can verify?

The “UFO” appears at 1:30–1:35 and makes three broad circular sweeps over the desert. Though in timelapse it appears to be moving fast, consider that five seconds equals about 50 minutes, so it’s creeping. There was no sound, so it definitely wasn’t a helicopter. Closer picture in the gallery below.

Watch in HD with headphones on and volume cranked if you can! Hands and arms inside cart at all times!


Shot and Edited by: Gavin Heffernan
Producers: Michael Darrow, Rachel Payne, Ben Dally
Music: “Stay Down (Ambient)” by Moby (license courtesy MobyGratis.com—very cool!)
Thanks: Adam Jeremy Williams, Briana Nadeau
Camera: Canon 5D & 7D, with a 24mm/1.4 lens and a 28mm/1.8
Photography-merging software: StarStaX
Coloring and editing: Final Cut Pro


A Canadian-born indie filmmaker working in Los Angeles (primarily in the horror genre), Heffernan is also an avid timelapse photographer with a collection of acclaimed projects, including his Joshua Tree Journey series and a number of other popular works of astrophotography and experimentals. His timelapses and other videography can also be found on the festival circuit in his popular Devolution series, a still-incomplete trilogy of shorts examining the cost of mankind's progress. Follow him at: Sunchaser Pictures, Facebook and Twitter.