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Photo of the Milky Way over Big Sur bridge was a labor of love — 5 years in the making

It took five years for Monterey-based naturalist, wildlife photographer and writer Bob Western to capture this shot of the Milky Way Galaxy  over the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur.
It took five years for Monterey-based naturalist, wildlife photographer and writer Bob Western to capture this shot of the Milky Way Galaxy over the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur. © 2018 Bob Western

Bob Western had been trying to get the elusive photo of the Milky Way Galaxy setting over the Bixby Creek Bridge for five years.

“The Milky Way doesn’t set over the bridge more than a few times during the year at night, though it often does it perfectly during the daytime,” Western said. “And we have weather issues along the coast a lot of times, so I’d consider getting the image and then be skunked because of those factors.”

He finally snapped the picture on the night of Sept. 10, completing a labor of love that began with his wife, Sharyn, who died in August.

While the Monterey naturalist, wildlife photographer and writer was caring for his ill wife, he took photos of wildlife and landscapes as a way for her to also experience nature when she couldn’t do it physically. He’d shoot his photos after dropping her off for dialysis treatment.

MW@BixbyCreek_BobWestern.jpg
It took five years for Monterey-based naturalist, wildlife photographer and writer Bob Western to capture this shot of the Milky Way Galaxy over the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur. Bob Western © 2018 Bob Western

“I’d come back, pick her up (from dialysis) and show her a slideshow in the evening before we went to bed of all the animals and behaviors and landscapes I photographed,” Western said. They both loved the night sky, and Western had talked to her about getting a picture of the Milky Way over the Bixby Creek Bridge.

But because the factors never aligned quite right — “when you get all the mathematics of planning out of the way, it’s the reality of nature that hits you,” he said — he gave up for more than a year and stopped checking apps like PlanIt! and PhotoPills to see when the Milky Way would be in the right spot.

But then, nearly a month after his wife died, he happened to check again and saw that the Milky Way was going to be vertical over the bridge.

Western hiked out to a viewing spot, and everything fell into place.

“There was a barn owl singing to me while I was out there, and I’d hear stones falling from a rock face behind me,” Western said. “It’s an amazing sight to be able to see the stars.”

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The first cars drive along the newly opened section of Highway 1 across the Mud Creek Slide near Big Sur Wednesday morning. The road was closed for over a year after the massive landslide wiped out Hwy. 1.

Western dedicated the photo to his wife, “a talented artist and a person of great courage and determination.”

“It seems like the right image to represent her memory,” he said.

“I just wish she could’ve seen it,” he said. “I know that she would really have appreciated the photo.”

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Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF

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