Hunting Island's Most Famous Tree
As the most erosive barrier island on the east coast, Hunting Island’s maritime forest is progressively consumed by the ocean. Boneyards of dead trees create photographic opportunities and become favorite playgrounds for visitors. Although the lighthouse boneyard was removed in 2019 to facilitate beach renourishment, there is still a large boneyard south of South Beach.
In 2015, nightscape photographer Zach Grether was filming the Milky Way with this tree in front of it. Suddenly, Elon Musk’s SpaceX-Falcon rocket passed his view and then the booster fell to earth. This photograph of the tree, the booster, and the Milky Way appeared in the September 27, 2016 edition of National Geographic accompanying an article about Elon Musk.
Capturing the Moment
By Zach Grether
“At around 1:10am I set up by a particular tree that I was interested in and started capturing data for an ISO invariance test, oblivious to the countdown happening 250 miles to the south. Since I was still new to the Sony a7R II, I wanted to know what its sweet spot was for ISO settings. I’ve been using ISO 6400 almost exclusively (with some minor exceptions on particular nights) with my old Canon 5D Mark III, but I expect that the Sony can shoot higher without any problem. I still need to work up that data, but it’s coming soon.
Since I was already set up on a tree that I sort of liked, I figured I might as well capture my normal Milky Way data. So at 1:17am I turned on the Sony PlayMemories Time-lapse app to fire off 30 frames with a 1 second interval. I stepped back, looked up, and let the sky take me in for five minutes while my camera did its thing.
As the camera slowly ticked down to its final few frames, I saw out of the corner of my eye what looked like a firework going off in the distance. I could make out a vertical red trail going straight up to the south of me. From the horizon, it was maybe a couple of fists tall before it disappeared and my timelapse completed while I shrugged my shoulders, wondering.”
At 1:21am on May6, 2016, SpaceX continued its run of aerospace brilliance with a night launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, carrying its Japanese communication satellite payload to geostationary orbit.
Photo courtesy of Zach Grether
Photo courtesy of @zgrethphoto
National Geographic and today
2016 – 2020
Hunting Island's Most Famous Tree, was the cover photo for National Geographic's Feature story "Elon Musk wants to go to Mars" in the September, 2016 edition which illustrated the iconic qualities of Hunting Island and this tree on the beach.
Today, we have brought it back from the boneyard location and have given it a proper spot in front of our new sand dunes at the Lighthouse Pavillion. This wonderful tree has had more selfie photos from our visitors to Hunting Island and we look forward to showcasing our most famous tree for everyone to visit and, who knows? Maybe Elon Musk will show up for a selfie…
National Geographic image