Sunday, June 26, 2011


One of the more interesting encounters we had was on a little rim hike we took after taking the shuttle bus to Yaki Point, a few miles east of Grand Canyon Village. After taking in the spectacular view with the other 25 people who made the trip with us, we wandered a hundred meters or so eastward along the rim looking for photo opportunities. We certainly found it! There was a little rock squirrel making a ruckus around a clump of vegetation - clearly focused at his task at hand and paying no mind to us. Then we found the object of his attention - a meter-long gopher snake! The squirrel was going to town trying to get the snake to move along - effectively throwing rocks and dirt at it while the snake was hissing and striking back. Whether defending a nearby nest or just aggravating a predator, we don't know. Eventually the squirrel moved along, then the snake finally noticed us as I moved in for a picture. We continued our walk and 10 minutes later when we returned, there was no sign of either. A stalemate this time?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Canyon Visit

We just got back from 5 nights at the Grand Canyon, attending the 21st Grand Canyon Star Party. After all those versions of the star party, one would think it would start getting boring, but no, we were sort of sad to leave after only half the event. But with our next trip only a couple weeks away, jobs and duties called, so left the paradise of Northern Arizona for the 108F heat of Tucson and Phoenix!

It was a great event! We still do a great job of getting the public excited about observing in some of the darkest skies in the country. This year we had a new venue. For 2 decades, we set up in the Yavapai Point parking lot, but in some Park changes, Yavapai no longer had evening bus service, so we moved to a commercial bus lot behind the new Visitor Center. Instead of having an outdoor slide show, sometimes with 2 strong volunteers holding down the screen against the wind, we had access to an indoor auditorium that still had that "new auditorium" smell! The staff went to a lot of work to block stray lights, put in light ropes for visitors to find us, and it came out great! I was really concerned that moving away from the rim, we would lose a lot of accidental contact from the public as they left the edge of the Canyon after sunset. In fact, the numbers were down a bit, but only about 30%. In the old days, we'd peak at 330 people looking through our scope per night. This year we hit a peak of 230 at our scope.

The skies at the site were great - better horizons, and a very large intimate area with no headlights! The pics enclosed here are for a video time lapse and shows the Milky Way as it was rising and a few hours later as it neared the meridian. The former is a 30 second exposure, the latter 40, with a 16mm fisheye at F/2.8. Visible in the distance is the outline of the VC, lit up by the light ropes, with the "Telescope Field" in the foreground, lit by power indicators and red flashlights.

For the last few years Jim O'Connor has been running the event, with park ranger Marker Marshall on that end. After 18 years I'd had enough of dealing with everything, but I'm still glad to attend - and glad to let Jim take care of the details. He has done a fine job, ably assisted by wife Susan and this year, two of their granddaughters have made the trip and are turning into astronomers in a trial-by-fire as the hordes of public descend as quickly as the twilight.

And of course, there is more than just astronomy, socializing and eating (though that seems to be a big part of the event) going on! We got out nearly every day to do some exploring, check out new exhibits, and a bit of hiking. Here is a pic of Melinda getting out on a cliff near Yaki Point. Realize this was only a few yards away from where we saw a gopher snake (future post), and I had to do a quick inspection to make sure there were no other creatures around... More to come!

Friday, June 17, 2011

It's GCSP time!

We haven't been very loyal to our blogging responsibilities lately, and we apologize.  With work schedules and sick kitties, we've had our plates pretty full.  We're putting off blogging for yet one more week while we venture north and enjoy the GRAND CANYON STAR PARTY 2011!  We promise to blog about our experiences and fun there as soon as we return!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Relative Planet, and Her Satellites

Memorial Day weekend, and RTMC, brought us an additional bonus!  Over the past couple of years I have connected with second cousins, from my father's side of the family, through the wonders of Facebook.  I had seen that they have a vacation home near Big Bear - the site of RTMC.  While planning our trip to RTMC, I contacted one of those cousins - inquiring if they would happen to be up in that area for the holiday weekend.  As luck would have it, they would be, and we went about planning to meet up!

So, debuting for the first time in our blog - Planet and Shan, and their two little Satellites - Sedona and Everly!  They are a fun, beautiful, and loving family that I'm proud to say are related to us!

We met at a little restaurant that Planet suggested, The North Shore Cafe (on Rim of the World Drive, in Fawnskin, CA).  It's a great little place, serving something for everyone, and very amenable to lingering and visiting.   While we had never met in person, it was like treasured friends when they walked through the door! Hugs all around, even from the little girls!  Stories were shared, and lunch seemed to pass too quickly.  Before we left Planet wanted to make sure that we would be making the trip to RTMC next year, and she and Shan both extended the invitation to visit them in LA any time we can.  Sometimes meeting distant relatives can be awkward, sometimes you find that you didn't have any more in common than shared ancestors.  I am so relieved to say, this is not the case with Planet, Shan, Sedona, and Everly.  I look forward to visiting with them in the future, and hope that they will visit us in Tucson - we have too much to talk about to not get together again!