At this point, I knew my trip to Big Bend was over. I decided to pull one relatively low-risk attempt at getting some photo work done on the trip. However, I was still dead tired -- I had driven all night from Austin, and had been unable to get any meaningful rest while at Panther Junction or at any time since. Getting some shuteye was my first priority. It was already far too hot and sunny for me to get any sleep in the back of my Land Cruiser -- it felt like a greenhouse, even with the windows cracked. In desperation I headed over to the Big Bend Mission Lodge where only one room was available. A lucky break. Their rate was reasonable, especially since it was Spring Break (they apparently never price gouge, even during their busiest season), so I checked in and immediately passed out after setting my alarm.
I woke up at 2:30AM and had a quick shower -- a luxury I hadn't anticipated on this trip. The desert gets extraordinarily cold at night, due to a lack of warmth-retaining moisture in the air, so I bundled up against the cold and headed back toward Big Bend National Park. After driving back and forth on the amazingly well maintained desert highway between town and the park, I found the perfect spot for what I had in mind. The moon was setting in the west, and the lights of Study Butte-Terlingua were barely visible in the distance.
As the moon began to set, I saw the sky come to life with muted colors. The human eye renders the colors of low intensity light so very poorly, and seeing any color at all in such faint conditions was a good sign -- I knew then that my camera would pick them up. The resulting image, shown below and titled The Road to Terlingua, amazed me from the moment I saw it on the preview LCD. It is one of my favorite photos among the many hundreds of thousands I've taken in my life -- a moonset as brilliant as a sunset. The same Rayleigh scattering that gives a sunset its gradient from red to blue was in full effect, but its intensity was so much weaker, allowing the stars to shine through the glow as I captured the last seconds of direct moonlight cascading across the silent desert landscape.