This Timelapse of the Night Sky Over Old West Ghost Towns Will Leave You Misty Eyed

Photo Courtesy Gavin Heffernan / Project SKYGLOW
Photo Courtesy Gavin Heffernan / Project SKYGLOW

There’s an existential beauty in the fact that everything on this Earth will eventually fall into decay; that our vibrant world is littered with the abandoned husks of past life, past ecosystems, and past civilizations. Even relics that speak to humanity’s exploitation of the natural world can take on a quiet elegance with the passage of time.


Few artists capture that elegance like Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan, the duo behind SKYGLOW, an ongoing effort to document starry skies around the country as they disappear due to light pollution. In their latest work, “Mojave Forsaken” the photographers trekked out to the Old West mining towns of Bodie and Rhyolite, California, and Cerro Gordo, Nevada.

The footage they captured will most certainly mess you up. In a good way.


According to SKYGLOW, each of the 19th and early 20th century settlements collapsed with the end of the gold rush. The ghost towns now exist in a state of “controlled decay,” managed by National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or private owners. Against the dazzlingly clear skies of the southwest’s high-altitude deserts, the crumbling remnants of America’s early mining industry look like natural wonders.

“At night, due to high elevation, clarity of the skies, and lack of sources of light pollution, these [shots] give us a glimpse of the night sky as it would have been seen by inhabitants of these towns a century ago,” Heffernan told Earther.

Honestly, this may be the first time I’ve gotten misty eyed over mining.

Maddie Stone is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.

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1968 Falcon - 264,600 miles and still rusting

I’m fairly used to getting misty eyed over mining. Growing up and living in the Rocky Mountains, and being part of at least 5 generations that have lived in the same area, mining has shaped our lives. Abandoned towns and mining camps are common as long as you know where to look. Most are truly abandoned, not maintained like Bode, but not graffiti covered either. Just empty. A 6 hour drive from the city, 1 hour off the highway, then 3 hours up a four-wheel-drive road, then a 4 hour hike type of empty. They hold the stories of hundreds of people living hard lives, and often dying while trying to make a living. Sometimes underground in the mines, sometimes other ways - as one gravestone I remember reading attested to: “Frozen to death, starved to death, eaten by wolves.” Even when there isn’t much left of a town, no more than foundations and rusty nails and some china pieces and 120 year-old cans where the dump was, you can still learn an intimate amount about the people who lived there by just observing. My bookshelf is full of books about these places, and most of my personal work is about them in my attempts to be able to know them better.