Sunday, May 31, 2020

It was a Dark and Clear Night!

I'm always a little antsy when there isn't a moon and blue sky beckons late in the afternoon! Particularly this time of year (Spring) when the Summer Milky Way rises in the early evening providing a plethora of pleasing perspectives! And it was special this time as my friend Dick had offered to let me borrow his recently acquired small telescope - a William Optics 71mm F/4.9 astrograph. What does all that mean? Well, it is a small scope, only 71mm diameter, and short-focus, so provided a wide field of view. Its 4-element design also provides a wide field of view, and a flat focal plane so it should be in focus across a full 35mm film format. So I was anxious to use it and another friend Laurie wanted some dark sky time too last weekend, so plans were made! Another buddy Roger heard about the outing and had a new 10" refractor he was willing to bring along for some visual viewing, so it was a trio! The lil' telescope is shown at left...

We didn't feel like going a long way, so decided to head out to Empire Ranch, where the Tucson astro club used to observe for many years. What we didn't plan on was that many others would be breaking their "shelter at home" stint - the old airstrip we used to use was filled with a good 10 or 12 RVs and plenty of ATVs rolling around as sunset approached. We headed to the far eastern end and found a relatively secluded spot and no one bothered us most of the night, though loud rock music wafted our way, only pissing-off one of our trio! First order of business, even before setting up gear, was to take a set of sky flats while it was still light. Regardless of how good the optics are, there are always some non-uniformities in illumination across the field of view. If you photograph a blank, uniform sky, you can help "flat field" the images to correct for vignetting - light falloff towards the corners of the frame. At right is shown the final stack of 12 shots of the overhead sky taken at 4 different rotation angles to average out any gradients in brightness... Contrast was adjusted to bring out variations, but generally the center of the field is a little brighter than the corners (by a fraction of a percent), and the shadow at the bottom is likely caused by the DSLR mirror shadow, flipped out of the way during the exposure...

I chased a few favorite targets to see how the William Optics system performed. First up was nearing the meridian (due south) as it got dark, Omega Centauri, one of the most spectacular objects in the sky! Located pretty far south, it isn't visible from the Midwest, but clears the horizon by about 8 degrees from AZ. It is called a globular cluster - a collection of upwards of millions of stars. Omega is said to contain up to 10 million, and is located about 16,000 light years generally towards the center of the galaxy from where we are. Its fuzzy appearance can be detected by eye, and even in binoculars is a very nice sight. A small telescope starts to resolve it into the multitude of stars, and a photograph like this one starts to see the small color variations in the stars. Believe it or not, this is a stack of 5 exposures only 30 seconds long each - so only 2.5 minutes total exposure! It is cropped and enlarged to show the full resolution of the camera. The images look very good indicating the optical system is a very good performer!

Next up was a test of scattered light and sensitivity to faint objects. Lower in the west, was Leo, and one of the easiest galaxies to find, even though it wasn't discovered until 1950! Find the brightest star in Leo - that would be Regulus, and point just north of it. The dwarf galaxy Leo 1 (UGC 5470) will be in your field... At 11th magnitude, it is likely one of the 200 brightest galaxies in the sky, but it was hidden behind the glare of Regulus until 70 years ago... Only 800,000 light years away (about one third the way to the Andromeda Galaxy), it is thought to be a satellite gravitationally bound to our Milky Way... It is the little smudgy glow above the bright star. BTW, North is up in all of these images!

Next up was the surprise of the night! Even though it was hanging over the glow of Tucson, the galaxy Messier 81 and 82 are the perfect sort of targets for this lens. But thanks to the wide field of view of this lens, as the first image read out, I spotted the green glow of a comet - sporting a tail too! Someone had mentioned that "bright' comet C/2017 T2 PANSTARRS was going to be adjacent to this pair, but had promptly forgotten... This comet was discovered 2.5 years ago by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System located at Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii. On this night it was about 150 million miles from both the sun and the earth. It has passed it's closest point to the Sun and Earth, and will now be slowly fading... This is only 8 minutes of stacked exposures, But even in those 8 minutes, the comet has trailed slightly. I chose to leave the galaxies sharp rather than center on the comet and trail the galaxies the small amount...

Then it was time - my favorite part of the sky finally got high enough to shoot. The area around the star Antares in the constellation Scorpius is full of globular star clusters, as well as bright and dark nebulae. How do you see a dark nebula, you ask? Well, you see it silhouetted against the star-filled background! It makes for a fantastical field. Here is a 3-frame mosaic of the area, since the field of interest is larger than can be taken in one field... Each of the 3 frames is 5 frames of 2 minutes exposure each, then assembled in Photoshop. Antares is the orange star below center - the brightest star in Scorpio. To its right is a fuzzy area - another globular star cluster, this one being Messier 4 - another object easy to find - shift west from Antares! The streams of dark clouds just knocks me out!

1600 pixels wide is not enough for these images (the limit for blog photo dimensions). So at right is the full-resolution blow-up of the part of the frame right around Antares and M4. The little fainter globular between them and a little higher has the romantic name of NGC (New General Catalog) 6144.

By this time of the night my compatriots were starting to pack it in. I always like to finish off an evening by taking a test shot of a field to see how it will look. In this case I finished with a pair of exposures of the brightest part of the Milky Way above the spout of Sagittarius' teapot. For just 4 minutes of exposure tens of thousands of stars are shown. Right at center, is one of my favorite objects - a little dark nebula between a small cluster and bright star. Barnard 86 (The Inkspot Nebula) is always fun to show people in my 14" telescope at the Grand Canyon Star Party (from a VERY dark sky). Lower left from that is B90. Most of the dark clouds in this field have Barnard designations - recorded and discovered photographically 120 years ago!

I hated to leave with such a beautiful Milky Way arching overhead, but it was after 1am. My opinion of the WO71mm? I thought it was great! It has a beautifully wide field, yet is high enough quality to support full-resolution framing and crops. If Dick ever tires of it and wants to find it a new home, would be glad to use it again in the future!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Look to the West!

Venus has been in our evening sky now since last Fall. The brilliant beacon is about to leave the western sky and zip to the morning sky as it moved rapidly in its orbit, moving ahead of the earth, then appearing in the morning sky. "Inferior" conjunction is is less than 2 weeks on 3 June. BUT, there is another show tomorrow and Friday, 21 and 22 May, when it appears to pass Mercury.  The innermost planet is on the far side of its orbit, moving away from the Sun, so the two will appear to align from our vantage point. 21 May they will be only 1 degree apart (twice the moon's diameter), and only a little further the 22nd. Be sure to go out and look!

Tonight I went out to take a few photos, and found a suitable AZ backdrop - a forest of cacti! At left is shortly after sunset.

And I haven't even mentioned the neatest part - Venus (and Mercury) goes through phases like the moon! Because its orbit takes it between the sun and earth, Venus' "dark" side is displayed towards our view, so only a narrow brilliant crescent is visible. Venus is so bright because of its cloud cover, so is always bright, and interestingly always about the same brightness - when it is on the far side of its orbit, a full but small disk, or nearing inferior conjunction when it is the skinniest of crescents but very large. It is so large the crescent shape can be seen even in binoculars. Tonight I got the brainstorm to try to photograph it with the 300mm lens - what to use as foreground - how about a saguaro with a bouquet of flower buds atop it? At left is shown a large part of the frame with Venus appearing over the saguaro. At rights the full-resolution crop of the image with the crescent more clearly seen. It can be seen pretty easily in binoculars as it nears the closest point in its orbit to the earth.

It finally got dark enough that could record both Venus and Mercury (considerably fainter) clearly. I happened to check and found out that the International Space Station (ISS) was going to move between the two planets in 12 minutes! How lucky is that?! Unfortunately, the ISS was 900 miles downrange, off the California coast west of San Francisco, accounting for its faint appearance. But it was caught in the 2.5 second camera exposure...

It was quite windy, so the spindly arms of the ocotillo were moving a lot, showing as blurs in the exposure. Tomorrow Venus/Mercury will be much closer. The sharp-eyed among you can likely spot the streak of the ISS, but in case you can't, a labelled version is at right...

So do check out the western sky the next couple days. I'll likely have a photo or two to post!!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

I Saw a Smudge!

Have been back in AZ for about 10 days, and finally back in Tucson for the next couple months. We had a storm system move through this last weekend, but it finally cleared out. I've been anxious to look for relatively new Comet SWAN (C/2020 F8). There have been spectacular photos from the southern hemisphere, and it has finally moved north enough to get a peak here. Monday was finally clear, so made mental plans to head to Geology Vista, a favorite place of mine to go for good horizons to the east and northeast. The comet is visible just before dawn, and I DO MEAN JUST - was only 4 degrees above the horizon as morning twilight started!

So Monday night I went to bed early (for me, 10pm), intending to get up at 2 to drive the hour up the Mount Lemmon Highway to set up a minimum amount of gear - tripod mounted Polarie - a little tracking mount that will handle my 200mm camera lens... I woke a little early, and got to Geology Vista about 2:30. There was a bright gibbous moon - one reason to head to the mountains, were the lack of haze and inversion layer would make for darker skies, especially near the horizon. Geology Vista is always impressive, as not only are the east and northern skies dark, there is a fine view of the lights of Tucson to the south if you enjoy that sort of thing. I enjoy most views off mountaintops, wherever they are! Anyway, the moon was in conjunction with the planets Jupiter and Saturn, and only about 20 degrees from the moon, even the brightest part of the Milky Way was visible! With the 15mm fish-eye lens, the whole southern sky was captured in this 30 second exposure at right, with an annotated version at right to identify the major players!

To the north, pretty dark skies, even with the bright moon a few days past full. The same exposure taken north shows a much darker sky, and a number of constellations that most people should know. In addition there are a number of radio and TV towers that cover a good part of the Tucson valley seen along a ridge top as well. I've used this spot for observing for decades when something is happening in the northern or eastern skies - from meteor showers to almost daily trips up to document changes in Comet Hale-Bopp way back in 1996! I've even run into friend and co-worker Ed Strittmatter when we both showed up to photograph the comet one morning! Once Melinda and I drove up to watch the Perseid meteor shower one (rare) clear night during a monsoon August - cars were double and triple parked for the crowd that night! Anyway, the naked photo is shown at left and the annotated at right - I even count my shadow as a selfie! The Big and Little Dippers everyone should be able to find - you are welcome!!!

As I mentioned above, Tucson is nestled down in the valley and if you like views of city lights, Geology Vista (GV) is about the 3rd best spot to examine them on the Mount Lemmon Highway. Best is likely Windy Point, just about a quarter mile down the road from GV. Better because the entire sweep of the city is seen from there. It serves as a destination location for bringing up tourists and girlfriends. The morning I was there, I saw three cars come up the hill just below my location at Geology Vista, but they evidently stopped at Windy Point as they came up no further! Second best view would be from Babad Do'ag lookout just past milepost 2 near the base of the mountain. 10 miles less to drive, and still high enough to take in the lights of the city. Geology vista is 3rd best in my opinion.

Regardless, with a small telescope, even a telephoto lens shown here, you can pick out a few details around the city. These were shot with a 200mm lens (about a 4X telephoto). At left is the center of the city (more like the near-eastside ad the entire city can't be seen from GV). The Tucson airport can be seen at upper right, and the keen-eyed who know their way around can likely see Davis-Monthan AFB.  At upper right the bright lights indicate activity in one of the copper mines along Interstate 19 south of Tucson... At right, the east side of Tucson is shown, with the diagonal streak of lights marking Houghton Road, which transverses the entire city from northeast to southeast... In that one you can faintly see the outline of the Santa Rita Mountains at upper left, Mount Hopkins, the cone-shaped center peak is home to the MMT telescope...

Finally, after the above fun stuff - comet time! With sunrise about 5:30, twilight started right about 4am, with the comet only 4 degrees off the horizon! That doesn't leave much of an observing window! I set up a normal lens shooting the area under Pegasus where the comet was to appear, but never saw it in those images. Finally about 10 minutes to 4, I pointed the 200mm where the comet was to be and sure enough, a faint blue smudge was visible in the viewfinder! Re-pointing the camera slightly, I set up to take 40 second long exposures every 40 seconds. I managed 14 of them before the sky was too bright to continue. I then also took some dark exposures (with lens cap on) to measure "hot pixels", and when I got home, took some "sky flats" to be used to correct for lens vignetting (light fall off) in the photo's corners. All were used in making the final image. Shown at right is the stacked 14 frames, about 10 minutes of total exposure. Unfortunately, the comet is moving so fast, even in those 10 minutes, the comet comes out as a streak - if you look at the full-size image. So I repeated the processing, this time stacking the exposures using the comet's apparent nucleus to center on. The result at right is a little better - stars are trailed a bit, but the comet is as sharp as it can be.

Oh and BTW, I could BARELY make out the smudge visually with binoculars, but was far from impressive... Reminds me of the time in 1970 when I woke my parents before dawn to see the BRIGHT comet Bennett - my first one, with obvious coma and a good 5 degree or more tail. My parent's reaction - "Is that all there is"?!

The prognosis for this comet is still up in the air. It might yet be a good photographic comet, given the link to the southern hemisphere photo up top. It never gets very high here, and will always be near the horizon. So we'll see. I'm going to give it a few days and wait for the moon to go away to catch the comet in a darker sky before passing judgement. So stay tuned!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

A New World!

Yes, it has been 10 weeks since I've last posted! The stats will show a big goose egg for March and April, assuming I actually finish this one in a timely manner... Why so long, you ask? Don't know. I seem to be suffering a lack of inspiration. I've traveled to "Ketelsen East" in St Charles, IL and back to AZ, where I've been for a week now. You would think that with the Covid "shelter in place" orders in effect in Illinois AND Arizona that I'd be posting daily. Such is not the case. I've got perhaps 6 posts in mind, but am not motivated much. Since my arrival in IL I've mostly been watching movies on TV and spending some time watching Spring arrive. Have not met up with any friends or family as all are following "social distancing" rules. The one exception was Melinda's niece Kathy who visited out here in the woods for a couple hour visit, took a walk in the woods and a picnic at Portillo's parking lot, mostly observing the 6' separation rule.  Other than neighbor Elaine, that has been the extent of my direct social contact there. Back in southwest, work is shut down, so ended up visiting friends in central AZ for a few days.

I wanted to finish posting about the last days on the Astoria before moving on. Funny that while on the cruise ship, we kidded each other about norovirus or other afflictions that run rampant on board. While none visited us that I knew of, ironically, the current pandemic ran rampant shortly afterwards. After dropping us off, the Astoria headed south towards the Panama Canal and was heading towards London for the Spring/Summer cruise season. I was watching Astoria on the "where is my cruise ship" app, tracking it's daily motion across the Atlantic. It took 4 weeks to the day to reach London. I read somewhere that it actually loaded its first set of passengers for the "Northern Lights Tour" before the Corona Pandemic called a halt to all cruise ships and the passengers were forced to disembark. It was about then that the world changed. I flew to Chicago on a mostly-empty flight to a nearly deserted O'Hare airport, rode in an Uber where the driver insisted on windows down on a freezing day to keep my germs away from him. The IL governor's "shelter in place" order started 2 hours after my arrival - just in time to go to the store for groceries - glad I didn't need toilet paper or paper towels or bread as those shelves were bare! Anyway, back to the task at hand, perhaps towards "my" normal...

I left you in the last post as we were leaving Cabo San Lucas - likely my least favorite stop because of the crowds, commercialization and heavy tourist trade that made finding the small Mexican village all but impossible. But the next 3 stops of La Paz, Loreto and Santa Rosalia were my faves of the whole trip! Seems like all these towns have the requirement to have the same multi-colored sign to identify where you are visiting! Pretty enough, and fun enough to stand next to for a travel photo. The sign of Santa Rosalia included a locomotive that also highlighted its mining heritage at right. The La Paz sign at left was located in town, a good half-hour bus rise from the port. But once dropped off, my friend Susan and I explored the village. Many are similar - the standard visit consisted of seeing the local church, other spots and events of interest, and looking for food - universally excellent and tasty (and inexpensive!)

As mentioned above, every stop required a visit to the local historical church or cathedral! In La Paz, it was a few block walk up from the sea where the bus dropped us off, but any effort is likely worth it! "Our Lady of Peace" has pretty amazing brickwork on the exterior - almost no mortar is visible! according to the plaque, after Hernando Cortez founded the location in 1535. Eusebio Kino, the famous Jesuit missionary who went on to establish 24 missions throughout Baja and Sonora, Mexico, visited and named the location "Our Lady Of Peace" in 1683. Forced to abandon it, the mission was reestablished in 1720 and the cornerstone of this church was laid 160 years ago in 1861. It is a beauty inside and out!

Loreto was of special interest to me as Melinda and I visited it back on our whale watching trip nearly exactly 9 years before. I would refer you to that blog entry for images of that church... More on Loreto in a little bit...

One of the main attractions in Santa Rosalia was also a church, but with a slightly more recent background. It was supposedly designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty fame... The pre-fab church, mostly of panels mounted to girders, was shown at the 1889 exposition in Paris where the Eiffel Tower was also built. Supposedly built for erection in Africa, it was found abandoned in Brussels and obtained by the Bolero Mining Company in Santa Rosalia and reassembled there in 1897. Subsequent research attributes it to a competitor, so there is some controversy over the original design. The "Church of Santa Barbara's" construction consists of a lot of sturdy girder and steelwork, and similarities can be seen to the Paris tower even to the untrained eye. Its walls have also been moved outwards to expand the interior space, but much of the interior steel work is still visible.

Part of the draw for the entire cruise was the Loreto port of call. When we visited there 9 years earlier, we were enchanted by the beauty of the place! While only 430 air miles almost due south of Tucson, it is a formidable drive - over 900 miles down the peninsula, or south to Guaymas, catching the ferry to Santa Rosalia and continuing south - 550 miles plus ferry. I didn't know if I'd ever get back, so a return was one of the reasons for the cruise... So one of the spots to visit was a curio shop that we had visited and took an iconic shot under the "since 1744" sign. I visited it again - the sign was gone! I asked the woman inside, and though she spoke as little English as I spoke Spanish, figured out it was lost in a storm along the way... The comparison shot is at left, the upper shot taken 7 February, 2020, the lower in April of 2011...

The cruise was a big thing for the Sea of Cortez stops.  Rarely do 450 potential visitors flush with cash drop out of the sky, and at every stop there were mariachi bands playing as we disembarked from the Astoria.  Many of the towns had dancing troupes displaying traditional dances and songs, many with quite elaborate costumes, including some native tribal dances too.  At left is a shot of some of the traditional dancing exhibition in Loreto's town square. And at right is a closeup shot of one of the dancers waiting to perform in Santa Rosalia...

The food on ship was uniformly very good! There were two options for dining - a sit-down restaurant with full staff delivering multi-course meals, and a "grill" with buffet dining for a couple hours for 3 meals served a day. Unlike the big ships you hear about, no 24 hour buffet lines or wide variety of food, but a good choice! I'm a bit of a picky eater, yet, both options had a couple choices for entree and enough sides that one could always be satisfied. Also, alcoholic drinks were complimentary during meals, as well as a wide choice of appetizers, salads, cheeses and deserts. I ate at the sit-down place twice - designed to be a leisurely meal with friends and conversation, I wasn't that chatty with the few I knew aboard ship, and since they both served the same main entrees, was happy with the buffet-style grill. Plus, I always got to see the lovely visage of Ukrainian Yevheniia, shown at left, serving me my 3 squares a day! I had minor issues - the scrambled eggs for breakfast were uniformly runny, and it was sometimes difficult to get the attention of one of the attendants seeing to drinks for breakfast, but overall I'd give the onboard ship a 9 out of 10 for grub! It was skewed a bit towards England, I believe - "blood sausage" made the breakfast choices a few times, but really, the food was great! And the presentation was fine too - they offered "fruit carving" as an activity once and the creations were displayed for several days, shown at right...

But when the time came to leave the ship, and I DID leave at every port-of-call, the chance to sample the local "Mexican food" was too big an attraction! My favorite trio of cities didn't disappoint! In a lovely 2nd story "hole-in-the-wall" with a spectacular view of the Malacon in La Paz, I had a trio of carne Asada burritos that were spectacular! Dressed up in bean sauce and salsa fresca (alternately called "salsa Bandera" for the red/green/white bands of the Mexican flag, or pico de gallo - translating to "rooster sauce"), they were delish! With them, the menu of "La Choperia" is shown. The "three burritos" was $80 pesos, about $4.50!

A couple days later in Santa Rosalia, in a little street side place where we sat under a tarp, I had a trio of shredded pork tacos, with a platter of various condiments to choose from.The woman behind the grill was both turning out the tortillas, and filling them as the orders came in - can't get any fresher!  The chef is shown in the photo inset - again, with a soda was about $5...

I think my overall fave stop was Loreto, not only because of my previous experience there 9 years earlier, but because it is such a lovely little town. The main thoroughfare along the town square has nicely groomed arches formed by vegetation with shops on both sides. It has a town square where we watched groups singing and dancing. I remember the same happening when we visited in 2011. And nearing the dock, our Astoria was nicely framed in an arch. There were also some nice statues along the shore that may make future posts...

The last stop in Guaymas was unimpressive. I'd visited the area in the 90s, visiting the tourist-themed stop San Carlos several times. Guaymas is a working-class city, seemingly not catering to tourists and lacking amenities.  We took a taxi to San Carlos - I couldn't convince myself that I remembered much about it after being away for 25+ years!

But I LOVED the cruise! I like looking out over the water as we were underway. I liked watching the southern star Canopus climb higher as we reached our southernmost port of Mazatlan... But cruising is getting to be a bit dangerous - 5000+ people stacked shoulder to shoulder as dangerous viruses roam the earth! I don't think that it will ever match the popularity it has seen recently. I loved our little Astoria - both the venue (Sea of Cortez) and the ship's capacity seemed about right for each other... I would do it again in a heartbeat, but the Astoria is likely on its way out, and who knows with the current lock down if it will ever happen again.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Mexican Ports of Call

In my last post, I mostly covered the cruise ship Astoria, and discussed the trip itself in very general terms. I was thinking this time I'd tell you a little about our ports of call and my interaction with our stops. Besides my previous entry above, I've also found another online article about the trip you can read here. At left is the Astoria at anchor in our second-to-last port of call in Santa Rosalia.

Our itinerary included 7 stops in addition to Puerto PeƱasco as the starting/stopping point. From the "top" of the Sea of Cortez, we travelled south a full day and a half to Topolobampo (no, I had never heard of it either!). It is the port city for Los Mochis, a moderate-sized city on the east side of Cortez. Very similar to our last stop in Guaymas, I found both to be gritty working-class cities, and not especially appealing to travelers. After taking the 40 minute (free) shuttle bus to Los Mochis, we walked a few blocks to the Benjamin Johnston Botanical Garden, built by an American businessman who jump started the local economy by building a giant sugar mill 100+ years ago... Interestingly, the area gets only 2" of rain a year, and of course, it started raining on us, so many headed back to the ship - highlight was buying a bag of freshly-made churros (with neither of us speaking the other's language) from a street vendor for a dollar - delish!

Another full day at sea before reaching Mazatlan. This was the stop where we were docked next to the behemoth holding 5500 passengers... Margie refused to leave the ship, so my usual travel companion Susan (shown at left) joined me leaving the Astoria. As soon as we got dropped off at the dock entrance, we met a very nice American working for a tour company who roped us into a 3-hour van tour (cue the theme from "Gilligan's Island"!). It was a GREAT way to hear and see the highlights of Mazatlan, with plenty of time to stop and visit a half dozen spots. I took a number of shots from the moving van, some better than others. An example at right a mosaic representing Mazatlan - meaning "place of deer". Preparations were in full swing for Carnival, which was a couple weeks away. It looks as if it would be quite the party place!

From one of the hills overlooking the harbor, turning towards the city the big cathedral in town stood out. Shown at left it was soon our destination where our driver gave us 45 minutes to walk around and explore, including a couple shopping options. ALL cathedrals in the Baja area are worth a visit. This one was no exception - the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Work on it began in 1856 and finished in 1899, its consecration as a basilica in 1941.  It was a pretty amazing place, every place you looked just held your attention.

I wandered around about half of the 45 minutes, then walked the 2 blocks down to the Mercado - not much that interested me. Before heading back to the van I did stop at a convenience store for some bottled water... The faucets in the ship's rooms looked a little brown, and waiting for meals to drink water left me dehydrated, so got a couple tall bottles. Interestingly, nearly 800 miles south of the US border, the local OXXO stores (pronounced Ox-o) seemed glad to take dollars, but gave change in pesos... After touring through town, the guide took us to a restaurant that specialized in seafood. About the only seafood I seek out is shrimp, and the Sea of Cortez is a "hotbed" of shrimp fishing, so was straightforward enough to decide!  Couldn't beat (in my mind) garlic shrimp and a Mexican beer!  We even had a view of the Sea of Cortez and strolling mariachis!

Another night at sea and we pulled into Cabo San Lucas early the next morning. It was a beauty of a day, and the stark contrast of water and sky against the desert tans was so striking! Caught Susan smiling (at left) as we passed by "Land's End", one of the postcard views of Cabo. The Astoria anchored in the harbor and used its own lifeboats to shuttle whoever wanted to go ashore into the dock area. You can tell the difference between Cabo and our previous stops - THIS was a pure tourist town, a land of time shares, condos and hotels. There was little sign of industry or otherwise "normal" city life. The part we hated once we got ashore is that you couldn't walk 30 feet without being accosted for a whale watching tour, or snorkeling, or fishing... It was a constant barrage of competition for the tourist dollar. We ended up just shopping at some of the shops and grabbing a bite to eat along the docks. We were also amazed at the number of swordfish and sailfish that were trundled by that sport fisherman had caught and were unloading... My fave trinket were the t-shirts hawked at one store, shown at right!

Since we spent so little time ashore, I set up my little scope at the fantail and took some close-up views of the mountains, structures and beaches. The ship is NOT a dull place to spend the day if you don't go ashore - besides the mealtimes, there was a small library, movie theater screening Oscar-nominated movies, and a constant roll of activities - 3 trivia contests a day, table tennis contests, and night time musical extravaganzas... The ship got underway again right about sunset and I caught some very nice views of the Land's End rocks with the sunset glows... At left the "arch" can be spotted on the left side, and on the right, I included another passenger enjoying the sunset with me...

Well, I figure I'm about halfway thru the coverage of the ports of call, and rather than make a marathon post, will close it out and work on part 2 in a couple days... Stay tuned!