Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A "Found" Telescope

I have several nice telescopes.  One of the first questions that people ask when looking through them is "How much did it cost?"  Often I quote a replacement cost - what it would cost me to purchase one like it.  That is the answer they usually want to hear.  When at the Grand Canyon Star Party, they don't want to hear that my Celestron 14" on the G-11 mount cost me $75 out-of-pocket, which is the truth.  When I do quote that number, I usually explain that I work for a university - I couldn't afford to pay retail for a telescope like that - also the truth!  I generally either make my telescopes from scratch, or need to wheel-and-deal to get something serviceable.

The Setup shown here at left, for example...  The Losmandy G-11 mounting is normally about $2,500.  I got it as a gift - sort of...  Peter Ceravolo, when in town for several weeks to nightly observe Comet Hyakutake back in 1996 needed a van to haul gear and people.  He used the van, and left the mount as a barter exchange. 

The 14" Celestron is a more-involved story.  Normally about $4,000 new, my good friend Bob Goff who had a garage optics shop in town, originally bought the telescope on the used market, in order to replace the corrector plate that a customer had broken on his telescope.  This one, without corrector, was of little use to anyone.  Bob was in the process of making a new corrector plate from scratch when he died.  His widow Valerie ended up giving me the tube assembly.  At a recent Riverside Telescope Makers Conference (well, 8 years ago...), I had befriended an optician who worked for Celestron.  I had happened to call him on his last day at the company before he started his own business making telescope mirrors.  Steve was able to send me a reject corrector plate for nothing (had a small scratch near the central perforation).  Mixing random primary mirrors and correctors normally result in mediocre performance, so I ended up figuring the little secondary mirror to fix the half-wave of spherical aberration the combo had...  It is now a superb performer, though it carries a paper mask reducing the aperture down to 13.5" - a turned down edge that I may fix someday!  The $75 investment I actually made in the combo was for the dovetail adaptor plate to connect telescope to Losmandy mount.  The setup has served me extremely well the last 8 years - at about the size limit I can set up by myself for public events like the Grand Canyon, or for personal imaging from a dark site.

Fast forward to the present...  This summer I found the holy grail of telescope mounts!  The Gold Standard in sturdy and beefy, yet portable mounts is an AP-1200, made by Astro-Physics in Rockford, Illinois.  An acquaintance of mine not far from us in St Charles had upgraded, and informed me he would make an "offer I couldn't refuse!"  So for the first time in memory, I actually spent money for an item - a decade or so old, but still the ultimate in mechanical quality!

At the same time, there has been a telescope in my "storeroom" for some number of years.  It is a Schmidt camera - a 10" aperture of very short focus, this one about F/2 or 20" focal length.  Designed as a film camera, these Schmidts cover large patches of sky for the aperture, the drawback being that the film needs to be warped to a curved surface to remain in focus.  This telescope was made by a buddy of Bob Goff (first name Tom - his last name escapes me).  He died before Bob, his estate scattered.  Well, no one uses film any more - digital is the way to go. One day at Starizona I spotted his Schmidt back in the store room. Dean offered it to me, not knowing himself what to do with it.  Can't say no to a telescope like this, particularly after knowing the maker!   I had been thinking of repurposing the telescope for some time, since the Schmidt is limited as-is. 

With a 10" aperture, I assumed it had a 12.5" diameter mirror, and with the 48" long fiberglass tube, I was thinking that I could regrind and figure the mirror to a nice F/4 parabola for imaging with a substantially longer focal length that the Hyperstar plus C-14.  So finally, the other night, I lugged out the scope (seemed heavier than I remembered), and disassembled the thing.  I was surprised to find that instead of a 12.5" mirror, it had a full-thickness (something like 2.5" thick) 14.25" mirror!  And that stuffed inside a 15" ID tube!  Conventional wisdom says you should have at least an inch or more space between the mirror and tube, so something like 16.5" ID tube...  So I've been thinking hard what to do - the 2 choices are to lengthen the focal length to something like F/3.5 to squeeze into the present tube, or get a proper 16"-17" tube a little longer for an F/4 to F/5 Newtonian.  Either way the new AP1200 mounting should handle it just fine.  I'll post my decision and progress on this project - stay tuned!

Monday, August 27, 2012

ISS Syzygy

Occasionally I check the Heavens-Above website - they are a nice clearinghouse of astronomy and satellite information.  I've blogged a time or two about the International Space Station's appearances in the sky - in fact, a little under 2 years ago, I observed it passing by the globular star cluster Messier 13.  I happened to notice a couple days go it would pass it again tonight - this time I'd be ready with a little longer focal length to show some cluster detail!  Of course, the space station can also appear next to, or even in front of the moon or sun!  Tom Polakis up in Phoenix, and others, use a program called Calsky to calculate where they need to be to see these.  Tom has a nice collection of these images that are fun to check out.

But for those starting out, Heavens-Above couldn't be much easier to use!  First you have to inform it where you live.  This can be done a number of ways - entering the country and town where you reside will work alright, though when you live in a large metropolitan area, you need to be a little more precise.  For some observations, such as for Iridium Flares, your position needs to be accurate to less than a kilometer (half mile) or so.  In that case, if you enter your town in the database, you can then click the Google Maps option to fine tune your position.  Make sure your time zone is entered properly too, otherwise you might miss it if you entered Mountain Time, but not Arizona, which does not observe Daylight Savings Time!  You would likely be off by an hour and miss the observation!

When you click on the ISS link, it brings up the dates it can be seen - clicking on the date in question brings up a full-sky map like that above which shows where it will appear in the sky.  On the bottom of the page it will show a close-up view, like this one of tonight's appearance, with tick marks for the time it will pass.  Tonight's was passing the "keystone" of Hercules about 20:15, so about an hour early, I set up the G-11 tracking mount with the little Meade 80mm F/6 APO refractor (480mm focal length).  I also set up a 200mm lens with a second camera, but ended up not using that image.

Right on time, the Space Station appeared to the left of the Big Dipper low in the northwest.  It was quite bright, predicted to be about -3.3, about midway between Jupiter and Venus in brightness.  I waited until it was about to enter Hercules, and started both Canon cameras with a 30 second exposure as it passed the cluster.  Shooting from town at F/6 and ISO 800 was about right for the sky brightness (a bright moon graced the sky too).  The image shows the cluster well, the streak of ISS overexposed.  Interestingly ISS, if examined in a telescope, is quite large, and the width of the streak is not merely due to overexposure, but to the large size of the structure.  You can barely see in the stretched image that the outer edge of the trail is not overexposed, denoting outer structures in the trail...  Another thing to note in the image, at about the 11 O'clock position between the globular and upper edge of the frame is a faint smudge - the galaxy NGC 6207 shows up in the 30 second exposure.  Well known to amateurs who examine M-13, it even showed up from town.
I'll keep looking for satellite conjunctions - I invite you to do the same!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Birthday Girl!

As RAGBRAI drew to a close (3 weeks ago now!), we took one more opportunity for our family to get together.  We had several excuses for a get-together - the last chance for Melinda and me to join in before our return to Tucson, and my sister and her family from South Texas were visiting too.  And last, but not least, we were celebrating great-niece Alivia's 6th birthday! Shown here at left is the assemblage of some nieces, nephews and great nieces.  From left are great niece Clair, Brittany, Ceejae and Colton, with great nieces Alivia and Mya behind the cake.  Brittany and Colton are my youngest sister's kids, now living in San Antonio.  They only get back once a year or so and we've missed seeing the kids growing up the five years or so they've been gone.

We see the local relatives much more frequently, so Alivia is used to my pointing my camera in her direction.  She was born as we drove out to the start of RAGBRAI 6 years ago, so has a connection to one of my Iowa trips - that was about the first season I started visiting Melinda in St Charles, and the first time I drove support for the bike ride.  I don't recognize the characters on the cake, but the birthday girl is permitted to defrosting the decorations.  A fine time was had by all, one of the highlights, besides the cake, were grilled pork chops cooked by Alivia's granddad Lauren - now those were spectacular!  Thanks to my brother Jim for supplying the central meeting location, sister Sheri for making the trip up from Texas, Jeff and Sandy for supplying us another chance to visit with Claire, Sister Kathy for the chippy-dippy bars and fresh-picked sweet corn (!),  and the rest of the family for attending.  It was a great time, hopefully not another year till we're all together again!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Synchronized Bloomin'

A week or so ago we noticed that cacti we finally got in the ground last fall was budding out and soon to bloom.  They are generically known as Peruvian Apple Cacti, Cereus repandus.  Then last Thursday night it was apparent both buds were going to pop out the same night, so I went to get the camera to do some frames to put into a time-lapse sequence.  With the just-over Olympics, somehow the "Synchronized Bloomin'" title seemed appropriate.

I started out with 3 minutes between frames, using the on-camera flash for illumination and manual mode exposure, but it was apparent that wasn't fast enough for the quickly opening flowers.  So for most of the early evening I used a frame rate of once per minute.  After the flowers were open and I was heading to bed, I slowed it to 2 minutes, then 3 minutes between exposures before going to sleep about 1am.  I woke up with a start just in time at 5 to put it into aperture priority so the exposures would remain properly exposed during the changing twilight conditions.  I kept the flash on and turned the ISO down so that the flower illumination would stay consistent.  Once the sun started rising the flowers started closing rapidly and I stopped the sequence at 8:30 before going to work.

A quick review of the frames revealed some surprises!  We had some visitors during the night!  I assumed some pollinators would come out of the woodwork and indeed the exposures caught 2 different Rustic Sphinx Moths (Manduca rustica).  Interestingly, after the moths came by, just before sunrise the bees swarmed the flowers until they started closing just after sunrise.  Click on the picture at left for the full size image - check out those bee saddlebags filled with pollen!  Besides the camera flash drawing attention to the flowers, you can see the cats were also drawn likely by the buzzing of insects and the large moths coming by.  We think those are Hannah's ear tips in the moth pictures above, and Lucy is here watching the bees... 

Once all the images are taken (325 in this case), it is easy to assemble them into a time-lapse sequence using Windows Moviemaker, normally installed on most computers.  Load all the images and pick your playback rate and hit play is about all you do.  In this case, the playback is about 7 frames per second.  Add a title, upload to Youtube and you are done.  I think the clip came out pretty great - good motion of the flowers opening and closing, with occasional flashes of moths and bees and cats...  You can imagine too that other sizable pollinators came by as you can see where the stigma jumped as large insects invaded the flower.  At one frame every 3 minutes, it just isn't fast enough to catch many of them.  Anyhow, a fun project for a summer evening - would be glad for a chance at a reshoot!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Freshly Showered!

I've mentioned before that Tucson fully gets half of its rain in July and August, so normally those are months used to take a vacation from astronomical interests and get stoked for the clear, cool, dry observing to come later in October.  But August is also the best time for watching warm-weather meteor showers - the Perseids!  Sometimes you gotta try to get in some observing as clouds and storms allow.  Also, Melinda had never been out observing during a meteor shower, so she was looking forward to some sky-streaks!

This last Saturday, the 11th (12th, Universal Time), was predicted to be the peak of the Perseid viewing, and being that we were both sitting at home, we watched the weather carefully.  Of course, it was hot - 109F for a daytime high, and while not raining, it wasn't far away, with thick clouds hanging around.  Melinda brashly predicted it to clear by 10pm - her source - the Clear Sky Chart, a resource put out by the Canadian Meteorological Center commonly used by amateur astronomers for planning when conditions will be good for observing.  Well, it wasn't far off - we could see a few stars at that time, and by the time we hit the road about 11pm, headed for Geology Vista on the Mount Lemmon Highway, there were large patches of clear, with nearly perfect skies waiting for us at the nearly 7,000 foot elevation.  There were 3 or 4 cars already parked there, so we quietly set up a couple chairs next to the car and settled in for observing.

We didn't have long to wait!  While you should be able to see meteors anytime the apparent radiant is above the horizon, the higher in the sky it is, the more you will see.  Generally you see many more after midnight as well as the Earth's spin moves us more directly into the particle stream.  We started counting right at Midnight and they soon started popping across the sky, appearing to come from a point between Perseus and Cassiopeia very near the Double Cluster.  They were bright enough and numerous enough I set up a couple cameras to try to record some - a 14mm and a 16mm fisheye, both at F/2.8, mounted on tripods for 45 second exposures every 50 seconds.  Meteors are usually difficult to image - they always seem to appear away from where the camera is pointed!  But we seemed to be pretty lucky, catching some nearly right away, highlighted by the -5 magnitude one shown here at left about midway through our session.

Typical of many of the meteor trails we caught, the streaks start out with a greenish tint with this one undergoing three distinct brightenings as it burned up in the atmosphere.  This frame at left is the same as above, just cropped tighter to show more details of the streak and nearby galaxies identified in the annotated image above.   In the blowup, you can barely detect the trailing of the stars caused by the earth's rotation during the 45 second exposures.  I could have set up a tracking mount, but was a little more complicated than I wanted to get on this night.

The fisheye lens was set up a few yards away watching over the eastern horizon as the Pleiades and Vee-shaped Hyades star clusters rose into the sky.    In this view at left, a Perseid splits the Hyades star cluster.  Just to the left of the Hyades is the bright planet Jupiter, with the crescent moon partially obstructed by the thin clouds.  The rocks of the canyon walls are here lit up by the lights of Tucson behind and to the right of the camera.  The crop to the right shows again that the brightness varied along the trail, and it ended in a little pop as it was consumed in the atmosphere.

We ended up counting meteors for a little under 2 hours.  In that time, we counted 83 and caught 14 on the cameras during that time.  Since we were facing the same direction, we would have seen more if our views diverged, but we had a great time watching the natural fireworks!  I'm sure it won't take much arm-twisting to get Melinda to come out in mid-December for some Geminid watching...

Monday, August 13, 2012


Yes, I know I've not posted in nearly a month.  Of course, I was on the road with the bikers for the first week, and since it ended 2 weeks ago I've been caught up in the return to Tucson, and I've also been under the weather a bit from Olympic fever...  Nothing serious, was over it yesterday when it ended!

Also, it is difficult to write about "RAGBRAI immediately afterwards.  You need to stew in the memories a bit and let the pain and sweat and heat fade a bit and let the friendship and good times percolate to the front of your conscienceness.  After 15+ times at the event (this was the 40th edition), I can remember some truly miserable times, but I keep going back for more!  What does that say about me???

While I've been with "Team Toad" for nearly 20 years after my accidentally joining them (subject for another post) in 1993, the only other member of that first trip is our fearless-leader Carl and morale-officer Curt.  New faces come and go over the years, some permanently, unfortunately...  But every year Carl manages to find a few new riders to join in and it is a blast every time, experiencing the week with new personnel.  This year we had RAGBRAI veteran Katy join us, Lynn rode most of the week, 2 days with his great-niece Elizabeth, Romy and son Nick joined the whole week, with S.O. Julie jumping in for 2 days.  Newbies Bryan and Carole joined us from Tucson - I've known Bryan for a couple decades, and they finally pulled the trigger in joining us.  The trip across Iowa to the start in Sioux Center was uneventful this year (unlike the flat tire 2 years ago), but we knew we were headed into the "hot zone" with some pretty excessive temperatures and drought conditions in the western part of the state.  We stopped frequently for food, bathroom and fuel breaks to help break up the trip, and we got into town late in the afternoon.  The pictures here show new college grad Anne at left, who is moving to Tacoma as I write this to start her new job (cool shades!).  And at right are Lynn, Maggie, Dean, Romy and Nick enjoying the cross-state bus ride.

Our hosts in Sioux Center provided us with a spectacular shaded back yard, which felt a lot cooler than the upper 90 temps would indicate.  This is our standard "tent village" that we lived out of - a normal back yard being plenty of room for the dozen or so souls that were part of the group.  Carl at front center gave up the tent this year and mostly slept out in his cot - here getting a pre-emptive nap in after doing the bulk of the driving across the state.  The strategy worked pretty well - the normal need for a tent, other than keeping out rain of which there was little this year, is to separate you from the mosquitoes.  The one good thing about the drought conditions is that there were absolutely no bugs the entire week, so Carl's strategy worked out well!

About the time we turned in shortly after sunset (our group doesn't do much late-night partying!), we were treated to a fireworks show through the trees in the not-too-far distance (in these small towns, nothing is too far away!).  The next morning, after everyone had left and I was alone to scout out breakfast and restock coolers, I saw and interesting-looking pair of flatbed trailers.  A new type of calliope?  No - one of the labels reveals it to be the firework platforms.  The company is located just a ways over the Missouri river in Yankton, SD, so it is easy enough to set up the display at the warehouse, tow it to the location and back afterwards for cleanup - no muss, no fuss.  Uninteresting to some, but cool to me!

And speaking of interesting - I grew up in small-town Iowa, and while mostly you have to make your own fun, there are a few jewels out in the prairie!  Mentioned significantly in the RAGBRAI literature for our first overnight town of Cherokee was the Sanford Museum and Planetarium.  How could I not stop by and pay it a visit?  It was really a  nice little museum - they had a permanent display of some of the local geology mixed with what regional fossils tell us of the early flora and fauna.  There were also displays of early people (Native Americans) that lived in the area.  A temporary exhibit consisted of very nice images taken by a professional photographer on a summer sabbatical tour of the National Parks.  Of course, the main interest to me was the planetarium - the first one in Iowa, dedicated in 1951.  It was a small dome and projector, but the director of the facility gave a nice sky tour as part of an almost continuous tour for the RAGBRAI crowd that cycled through the facility.  It was a nice respite from the normal sorts of overnight town attractions.

Later that night, as all the team members wander in, find a church or civic group that serves dinner and we take advantage of our host's shower,  we sat around and reviewed the high points of the day.  I had joined Carl, Curt and Anne at the Community Center, just down the hill from where we were staying.  As we waited in line, we ran into Dean and Maggie coming out - turns out that instead of the long wait for the upstairs dinner, we should go downstairs where another group was serving.  We had pork sandwiches, cheesy potatoes, macaroni salad and home-made cookies for dessert for $8.  While they seemed a little chintzy on portions as we came through (they were trying to get to their listed 8pm closing time), by the time we finished eating, they reached closing and we all got free seconds.  It was a breast cancer benefit, and many threw in a couple bucks more for the second trip.  Cherokee was the first of several days where the hosts put us up not out in the yards, but in the air-conditioned interior.  It is a godsend sometimes (don't forget the highs were near or over 100F for much of the first half of the ride) to get out of the heat, at least for a good night's sleep.  Of course, the close proximity of snoring teammates affected the latter, but I'm not complaining!  To close out the evening, Carl and Katy formed a duet for our entertainment, singing some folk and popular tunes.  They are good!

While I have fun on RAGBRAI, realize that as a support driver, I don't often get on the bike route.  My duties involve keeping the cooler stocked and cold, keeping the requested snacks on hand and getting fuel as needed.  Occasionally riders have mechanical issues or breakdowns and I can come into play, but most of the towns have bike mechanics to keep them rolling  Often some riders want to be picked up or dropped off on the route - there is a "mid-town" where the support drivers are allowed access to the route.  On that next day Katy wanted a pickup, so we set up an appointment in Schaller, Iowa, the popcorn capital of Iowa!  While waiting I got to enjoy some of the amenities of the route, never seen on the support route.  Shown at left here are ladies from the Lutheran church serving the infamous "porkchop on a stick".  Back when I rode the route I'd had a "Pork Chop Man" chop, but these were pretty good for $5.  That is me on the right enjoying it.  Of course free popcorn was supplied to anyone who wanted any!  And while only Katy wanted the pickup, 3 other riders joined in for a "sag" to Lake City.

The next couple days were a blur of heat and more heat!  We enjoyed a couple days of temperatures more like those of Arizona, with the added humidity of the Midwest.  It peaked out at 105F as I recall.  Fortunately our hosts invited us inside for sleeping on the miserable nights.  Lynn was our studly biker - camping and sleeping outside through the worst of the heat.  Speaking of hosts - they were uniformly great this year!  We've had hosts that I've met at the door as they were leaving saying "fridge is full of beer - make yourselves at home!" as they head out to serve meals to riders.  Others you rarely see after pointing out the shower and bathroom, some hang out with you - sit and talk into the night, cooking you dinner and running a couple loads of laundry for you! This year's crop were all friendly, most offered drinks and snacks.  Nancy in Marshalltown had some killer chocolate chip cookies, and in Lake City we had a feast of burgers, brats, beans and watermelon.  The hosts that were the most fun were Roland and Joanne in Webster City, shown here at left flanked by Maggie and Dean(who supplied the picture).  They were just delightful - Roland is retired, but working as a substitute teacher, looking forward to the upcoming school year.   Joanne was a live wire - she was the only one from the household (including our team) who went to the Three Dog Night concert that night, telling us about it the next morning.  She proudly showed us her "HOT" sticker she was awarded by a 20-something fellow, and the pictures of her smooching with him are likely posted on Facebook somewhere!

While I specialize in the mundane tasks of driving and shopping, I try to keep an eye out for interesting items - in the case of Marshalltown, the HyVee grocery store had an interesting Coke display shown at left.  I've seen more elaborate displays over the years, but it was kind of cool.  Marshalltown signaled a change in the ride.  It was still a hot day, but that was about to change and a band of severe weather came through.  Fortunately it was about 10pm, so all the riders were in and mostly under shelter when it hit.  My tent was trying to take the shortcut to Cedar Rapids, left hanging from a single puny stake, but was rescued after the worst had passed.  The storm dropped the temperatures dramatically, and yes, all of us camped outside and even though my feet and lower part of my sleeping bag were in a puddle of water on the low side of the tent, it was about the best I slept all week!  Similarly, temps stayed a good 10-15 degrees lower the rest of the ride making it a little more pleasant.

Marshalltown also marked the addition of some young blood to Team Toad!  Dean and Maggie's grand kids joined the group!  I suspect that it was their first time camping out, and I'm not sure how much sleep the Grandparents got, but it was fun to have them along!  Here Linus and Becca are being put to work to break soggy camp in our Marshalltown back yard. At right Becca looks a little sleepy yet at  7am.

Our stay in Cedar Rapids seemed a slice of paradise!  Our host (a workmate of one of our team, I believe) had a pool in the back yard for us to enjoy and gather 'round!  It was great!  Maggie dropped Dean off at the midpoint town and brought the kids to enjoy the pool - they really enjoyed it, and I got to supervise for a bit when Maggie went to pick Dean up across town.  What a bunch of fun kids! Linus, by the way, is not named after the Peanuts' character, but rather was named after Linus Torvalds, who developed Linux (Linus' dad is a software engineer!).  Interestingly, Linus Torvalds was named after the famous scientist Linus Pauling, one of only 2 people to receive 2 Nobel prizes for different fields, and the only recipient to receive 2 unshared Nobels!  Fascinating what you learn on Wikipedia! 

The riders slowly accumulated to our grand back yard, and all agreed it was so nice that instead of going out for dinner, we'd call out for pizza!  And as pizza arrived, so did the visitors as we were close to the home base of Team Toad (Toddville, about 6 miles north of downtown Cedar Rapids). First Carl's wife Terri and lil' Billy came by (that is Bill at left with his Dad).  While not little in any sense, he first came with the Toads when he was about 5, so I'm still allowed to call him Little Billy, which we all did in those days.  I remember well riding with them and Carl would extend a helping hand to push him up the hills - not needed any more!  And besides those two, Sue Ellen, whose scrooge-of-a-boss wouldn't give her time off this week, stopped by to visit too.  She has promised to be with us next year.  Sue Ellen is at far left in the pizza panorama, followed by Anne, Carl, Romy, Julie, Nick, Billy, Terri and Curt.  What a nice evening!

Dean and Maggie had gone out with the grand kids for dinner, Becca showing me her lavender tongue.  Seems I had been shooting the growing crescent moon every night as it shown down on us, but this shot, taken about the right moment during the twilight best showed it against the darkening sky and canopy of trees.  But this day, just about the longest of the week, even after twilight we still had riders out.  Both Katy (who is known to get caught up in some of the celebrations along the way, shall we say), and the Bryan/Carole team were still out, both arriving about the time full darkness arrived.  Katy had eaten, but Bryan and Carole were grateful for the last pieces of pizza, now long cold.  They also took full advantage of the pool, soaking and swimming laps after I had turned into my sleeping bag.

Friday arrived - headed to the last overnight town Anamosa and the home base for Kurt and Anne.  At left Carl, Curt and Anne are shown leaving our poolside digs.  And the picture at right is Bryan and Carole on their Hase German tandem.  No, they are not on their way to rob a bank, but rather, Carole is avoiding sun exposure w/out liberal amounts of sunscreen...

Of course, we stayed at Curt and Val's house, so Kurt and Anne could sleep in their own beds...  This, at 42 miles the shortest ride of the day for the bikes, was only about 20 miles by car!  So I got in pretty early.  I got to spend a little time with Val, who rode a time or two back in the day, but retired from the biking long ago.  She is a mover and shaker in Anamosa, so on her way to church to serve meals, she gave me the 5 minute tour of town, while putting out fires with the issues at the grade school (about 500 people camping on their grounds) and dropping me off at what is just about the highlight of this little town.  A picture appears at left - can you figure it out?  Built of native limestone from a local quarry, it has been called "The White Palace of the West"  A spectacular structure, it is quite imposing and impressive.  One hint is the little hut on the right side - a guard tower!  Yes, it is the Anamosa State Penitentiary!  A maximum-security prison, it holds about 1200 inmates and employs nearly 400, our buddy Curt among them.  He supervises a kitchen staff drawn from the inmates.  I'll try to do a separate post, it really is an interesting place!

The rest of RAGBRAI is a blur - the last day always seems to be a rush to finish and get on towards home.  Curt and Anne stayed in Anamosa after seeing their own beds, as did Lynn.  Dean and Maggie also retired in Anamosa after bringing Linus along on a "tag along" attachment behind Grandpa.  I camped in Kurt's yard, even after being offered a couch - only my 4th night in the tent for the week!  I dropped off Carl in Charlotte at my step-mom's house, only 20 miles or so from the end, then headed to my Uncle John's house to meet up with a cousin who was there briefly.  Melinda joined me to drop off the bus in Clinton just as Carl rode up.  He waited for Bryan and Carol, then they headed back to Cedar Rapids in a nearly-empty bus.  Melinda and I were off to a great niece's birthday party, then we headed back to St Charles, home by 11pm.  It was a long week, but as usual, full of fun memories - the discomfort from the heat is already fading...  Can't wait to do it again!