Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Rest of the Road Trip!

Seems strange to still be writing about the eclipse road trip with the Russian kids, but since I've not done it yet, have been busy since, and haven't been blogging a lot, time to finish it out since it ended 3 weeks ago! I likely won't get very far, as I'm writing this from the sunroom of "Ketelsen East", where there is a perfect late-Summer day calling out to me! The temp outside is 73F and the acorns continue to rain down like shots onto the roof, distracting me to come outside and play... Maybe after a few paragraphs!

The last I wrote about the eclipse, we had just finished observing the spectacular totality! It was sad to see it end, but we were glad to have shared it with friends! Most all of those who joined us packed and hit the road for their next destination even as the partial phases ended. Our group made the wise decision to stay till the next morning to avoid the traffic jams of tens of thousands of people all leaving the narrow path of totality at once. And we did hear lots of stories of crawling traffic going on for many hours. So after another night's rest and more hospitality from our hostess Karen and her two lovely granddaughters, we left for parts south on Tuesday, 22 August. We had come up the eastern side of Utah and our idea was to come down through central Utah to visit some National Parks - Bryce and Zion to be the highlights...

No issues at all with traffic - the crowds were all hundreds of miles ahead of us evidently! We drove all day watching the pretty scenery from Central Wyoming to near central Utah. The highlight of the day was winding our way down past Flaming Gorge, with a visit to the dam and reservoir there. It is part of the huge complex of dams to control the Colorado River basin, and was interesting to see one close up. We stopped frequently, but never for very long, ending a long day of 450 miles (for us) at Green River, Utah... Interestingly, I didn't get the camera out all day!

Anaglyph of I-70 entering San Rafael Reef
Note that this post has an abundance of 3D anaglyph images - over a dozen!  Those photos captioned "anaglyphs" can be seen in 3D if you have a set of red/blue 3D glasses.  They consist of 2 photos taken from a few inches to many yards apart and when combined and tinted in Photoshop and viewed thru the glasses, a 3D image results.  Believe me, the results are worth it if you can find the glasses!

The next day we hit the road at the crack of 9am and made it a whole half mile till we hit a café for breakfast! We didn't have a goal for an overnight yet, which always makes me nervous... We had hopes of visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, but having not been to either, wasn't sure about the distance we had to go and the logistics of those visits. We stopped again at a rest stop looking up at the San Rafael Reef, where Interstate 70 traverses a swell of sandstone that blocked westward flow of pioneers in the old west. Showing the first of many stereo pairs in today's post (get out the red/blue stereo glasses!), you can see I-70 going thru the blasted-out canyon. The sign at the rest stop indicates in places, outstretched arms could touch both sides of the canyon before the widening!

We made it to Bryce by early afternoon. It is an amazing place! It is well hidden from the main road - a turn towards the east slowly transforms from red rock to the amazing amphitheaters of tinted hues and hoodoos that make Bryce like no place else!

Of course, as we hit highlights like this we restarted the tradition of the group photos in front of the park signs, then had to do the same in front of a multi-hued overlook.

We stopped at the visitor center and I was surprised by a very nice display on dark skies and light pollution. With my involvement with the Grand Canyon Star party over the last 27 years, we were among the early promoters of dark skies in the National Parks, but Bryce has taken the thought and run with it, hosting a similar star party to ours, though I've never been to their version. The display was nice to see and of very high quality and accuracy!

Anaglyph - close-up of hoodoos
Anaglyph - wide shot, overlook and trail in background
Similar to the San Rafael Reef above, I had to try to capture some 3D views of the amazing landscape at Bryce. It was almost impossible though as clouds moving through changed the lighting and strong shadows on a timescale of seconds... These two show a wide view and close up of the hoodoos from "Inspiration Point". It seems amazing that these structures were formed from water and frost weathering (erosion from freeze/thaw cycles). But it isn't only the shapes, but the delicate change in hues that make it amazing...

I would love to explore some of the hiking trails that were visible from our vantage points, but we were very limited in our time this trip. Perhaps in the future, a trip to the star party with some daytime hiking exploration would be in order!

Zion National Park is similarly a surprise - not revealing anything from the main road (only about 30 miles or so south of Bryce). It takes a turn off the road towards the west and a traverse of a dozen miles or so. We had an additional goal - our Wyoming hostess Karen, who used to be a ranger here told us we HAD to go to "Flying Monkey Pizza" in Springdale, just through the park. The scenery, like Bryce is AMAZING! The narrow main road winds down a canyon and includes a disconcerting narrow tunnel blasted through solid rock that is over a mile long! It is tough to drive because you want to be looking out at the view. Springdale is just past the west entrance to the park and looks to be very similar to Sedona, AZ, complete with high-end shops and restaurants, and of course, surrounded by red rock! We had a tough time finding the pizza place as the sign on the street had faded to nearly blank, but we eventually found it and truly enjoyed the wood-fired pizza there. We didn't get back on the road till about sunset, and drove the 45 minutes to Kanab where we overnighted very near the Utah and Arizona border...

I felt energized for the next day - back to Arizona! We were going to hit the north rim - for my second time, though it has been decades since I've visited! The first order of business was a rest stop at Jacob's Lake, where the road forked to the south to head to the park. It wasn't just a bathroom break, but a quest for some of the best cookies anywhere. On my first trip I was told I HAD to stop (advice might have been from our ranger Marker) at the Jacob's Lake Inn. I recall the cookie to order was the "cookie on a cloud", shown at left. It was as good as I remember from 20 years ago!

The Canyon is always impressive, the north rim significantly different that the south! The northern side is a good 1,000 feet higher, and the major vegetation is ponderosa pine, which limit the views off the north rim. The day we were visiting we had high clouds which also added haze and diffuse lighting that cut into the color saturation, but still - its the Canyon! We took some rim trails near the North Rim Lodge, taking some group photos and of course, Polina taking more of her selfies! We let the kids run around and explore some - not much chance of getting lost at the north rim, where the development area is pretty localized. I went in search of some lunch, and found a sandwich at the Deli adjacent to the Lodge. I think the kids went for pizza again, after gorging on it the night before!

Anaglyph - 3D at the Grand Canyon!
In part of our explorations as a group, I looked for 3D images to take, but the scale of the Canyon is so huge that you can't get much of a 3D effect. It wasn't till I looked at the downloaded images that I found that taking an image from 2 different pair sets taken worked - kind of! The image at left shows good 3D effect in the peninsula of land crossing the front of the frame, but the image separation is too large to easily follow around the rear of the Canyon to the treeline on the horizon, though it can be done. I like it - and since it is my blog, it stays!

We took the obligatory group shot with the entrance sign on our way out, after spotting it on our way into the park a few hours earlier...

From the north rim, it was a few hour run to Flagstaff where we stayed for the second time.  It was at this point that Donna got dropped off where she had parked our car and left our merry group to return to reality!  After another uneventful night at Motel 6, we toured the U.S. Geological Society in Flagstaff that works with a lot of the data from interplanetary space missions and had displays from early moon missions, to the latest Mars rover data.  They were very nice to us, since we showed up unannounced, and got poster packages for everyone along with some scientific research papers...  From Flagstaff, we hoofed it down to my place in Tucson where all found spaces to crawl into their sleeping bags among the couches, futons, carpet and cats.  Some even slept outside on the chaise lounge and my home-made wooden bench - for me, it was nice to see the kingsize bed again, even if Melinda's cat Annie was too upset with our visitors to share it with me!

Anaglyph - SR-71 w/Lockheed D-21B drone
Anaglyph - SR-71 engine
Saturday, 26 August dawned bright and clear - another hot day in Tucson! Hoping to get an early start, I dropped the kids and Margie off at a local breakfast spot while I returned to feed the cats in peace! The plan was to go to Pima Air and Space Museum - a great place for aviation in general. I had given up on matching the energy of the kids, and after negotiating them waiving our admission fee (they will do that for special groups, and have done it for us the last time we brought a Russian group), I wandered about, taking stereo pairs of my favorite craft.

My clear favorite is the SR-71 spy plane, shown at left. Nestled under its wing is a Lockheed D-21B drone, designed to be launched from an early version of the SR-71. I just love this, the fastest and highest flying plane ever designed, and the technology that went into it. Even one of its engines, exposed for display, makes a worthy 3D image!

Anaglyph - B-52 Looking north
Anaglyph - B-52 Landing gear
Perhaps it is the size of the plane that appeals to me - the venerable, long-serving B-52 also appeals to me and is a true behemoth! Although the older, and even larger B-36, the largest bomber ever produced appeals to me to (not shown). But the B-52 is shown at left. Note there is a little bit of "ghosting" from the red engine covers and the red/blue glasses - can't be helped with the anaglyph glasses! There are lots of things to find photogenic, but have chosen the wide view at left and the close up of the landing gear at right. In the wide shot, a little drone designed for use is also shown adjacent to the bomber...

Anaglyph - B-52 looking south
Anaglyph - F-14 Tomcat
A look down the sweep of the wing makes for a good 3D shot too. At one time they had a few B-52s on display, and a B-36 too, some of which appeared to be off the field this trip anyhow...

And of course, how can you not love the F-14 Tomcat, made famous by Tom Cruise in the "Top Gun" movie?! Especially in 3D, with the toothy grin, it looks pretty formidable!

After leaving the Pima Air and Space Museum late in the afternoon, we stopped by for a tour of the Mirror Lab where I still work part time. Our major project is the Giant Magellan Telescope, where they saw the front surface of GMT-2 that is being worked, and also the rear surface of GMT-4.  At left they are standing in the polishing lab in front of GMT2.  8.4 meters in diameter, it is one of 7 similar mirrors that will be mounted and work together as a single optical surface in the telescope! It is in fine-grinding stage and is a few microns (thousandths of a millimeter) rms. At right they inspect the finished mold for GMT5 that will be cast early in November. They seemed quite impressed with the largest telescope mirrors in the world!

After another dinner of pizza (at least their 4th or 5th meal of pizza by my count), we headed back to "Ketelsen West" for their last night in Tucson!

Anaglyph - Always loved this sundial - accurate too!
Anaglyph - McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope
While at Pima Air and Space Museum,
I had called up to Kitt Peak. They had been shut down even for daytime tours for some infrastructure upgrades made to the mountain observatory. It happened that it was their first day open for public tours, and so Sunday we headed up to Kitt Peak National Observatory, sort of on the way to Los Angeles! Kitt Peak, while less and less considered a national observatory as the NSF pulls back from funding the institution and they move into private hands, it is still an impressive place to visit and I really had wanted them to see it. We arrived just as the orientation talk started with Joe, our docent, who gave a great intro to the place! The afternoon tour normally went to the 4-meter telescope, but it was still closed, so instead went to the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, also defunded and closed, at least this day, even though it is tied with being the largest solar telescope in operation. It has been defunded in favor of the new 4 meter DKIST telescope on Maui, set to open in less than 2 years. That is the odd-looking solar scope at right as you approach it on the road.

Anaglyph - 2.1 meter from solar telescope
Anaglyph - 2.1 meter from near admin building
After walking up to the structure, we peered in at ground level to see the layout of the optics mounted in the inclined shaft, then walked down to go to the observing room where the action was normally taking place. Along the way we looked into a glassed-in case where an old logbook was displayed - Gemini and Apollo astronauts had signed in to observe the moon through this telescope back in April and May of 1964! Way cool! Joe gave a good talk about the sun, impressed that in his group were some Russian kids that just got back from the solar eclipse! I also won Joe's cookie contest for answering a question... He was talking about the sun being a plasma, a 4th state of matter.  He asked what the other 3 states were. While most appeared to be dozing and no one volunteered an answer, I correctly stated "solid, liquid, gas" and won a chocolate chip cookie! Woohoo!

After ambling back to the visitor center for some last-minute shopping of souvenirs, we descended down the mountain, but instead of turning east towards Tucson, turned left towards Sells and points west for the trip to LA. We got stopped by a border patrol checkpoint north of Ajo - that route a direct road north out of Mexico. While they were looking for undocumented aliens, they likely had rarely seen Russians pulled over at their stop! All the kids had to show their passports and visas, and we were on our way again. We spent one more night in Blythe and at 1pm met our contacts near Redding, CA that would transport them around for the next 10 days through the astronomical sights of Los Angeles and San Francisco!

And suddenly they were gone! Margie sped off in a cloud of dust and I was suddenly in isolation for the first time in 2 weeks! It was kind of odd... Anyway, drove through 2 haboobs in quick succession west of Casa Grande, and a little rain fell as I drove into Tucson, arriving after dark. It was a great 14 days of travel, formed some unforgettable memories with friends both close and far and witnessed one of nature's true spectacles in the total solar eclipse. It won't soon be forgotten, and almost everyone who witnessed it is looking forward 7 years to the next one in April of 2024.  Will we see you there?!

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