Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Back From The Grand Canyon Star Party!

Just a brief post to tell all we've returned safely from the Grand Canyon. It was a jamb-packed 4 days and the narrative of all that happened would likely bore everyone, so will touch on some of the high spots here. No doubt Melinda will post her own pics from her camera and viewpoint.

We've landed running here - not a moment for a break from our "vacation". I worked today, and after sitting most of the day at the DMV, Melinda is back to work tonight too.

It is strange to depart after only 3 nights at "my" event - I restarted the Grand Canyon Star Party back in 1991 and organized it for 18 years, and it was interesting to keep my distance this year, though I was available to assist Jim and Susan, who are the main organizers this year. While more relaxing this way, it was still work to set up telescopes and deal with the public for several hours a day. Normally June is the clearest month in Arizona, but we've seemingly been plagued most of the spring with clouds, and our Canyon time was no exception. Both Saturday and Sunday evenings it looked totally overcast, but magically cleared both nights for a few hours to show the public some of the sky's highlights. Our luck ran out Monday, and it didn't really clear that evening, though we were able to show Saturn to a few dozen visitors through the clouds. We gave up by 10pm and a few of us drowned our observing sorrows by sampling some microbrew beer at the Maswick Sports Lounge till their 11:30 closing time. It has been a good 4 years since we've had a cloudy night to do that! I've heard reports since then that the weather has remained poor. But it is not for lack of trying!


So while we've not been able to stay out late observing, we did set up daytime scopes a time or two, interacting with the public, showing views of hikers, river rafters, the north rim lodge, and putting out the word about the night time observing. And of course, there is no lack of things to do if you look around. Even after 18 years of spending a week at the Canyon, we took in an art exhibit at Kolb brothers Studio (here, Tucson Astronomers check out some of the Lawrence Ormsby originals for a children's book on condors), we did some hiking, actually spending some time below the rim on the Bright Angel Trail, and here is Melinda getting up close and personal with a female mule wrangler. She might have been dressed exactly the same 100 years ago, save for the radio clipped to her back pocket!


With the clouds, the temperatures were cooler than normal - I wore long sleeves most days and they reached below 40F at night, making tent camping great, once nestled under the thick sleeping bag...

What observing we had was great. When the skies relented for the 2 nights mentioned above, we had a couple hundred visitors each night from all around the world. This was just about the most international crowd we've had at the Star party. It was difficult to get information across to non-english speakers, but all enjoyed the views. We had our normal crowd of telescopes - likely 50 or so any given night. The Park Service continues to do a great job making the parking lot "astronomer only" after 5pm, making setting up big telescopes a lot easier when you don't have to compete with the public going out to watch the sunset. With the shuttle buses running till 11pm, it was easier for them to attend by bus.

All in all, a great trip, though a couple more nights would have been fun. After 18 years, I thought 8 nights was too long, but I'm a little sorry I didn't stay longer now!

1 comment:

David A. Harvey said...

Nice to hear about the GCSP first hand. Too bad about the weather. I've been up at Mt. Graham for the last week - weather was variable here too during that time but we managed to get some science done. Finally got that picture I wanted of Rho Oph region I've always wanted to do after seeing yours . . . tell me what you think.

~Dave