Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Sky's the Limit

Did some astronomy outreach at Sky's the Limit, a privately owned but open to the public spot of land, just north of the North Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. That's the entrance that's just south of Twentynine Palms. They frequently do public observing events here.

Compared to the Mojave Preserve, Sky's the Limit is not very dark. But it's plenty dark compared to most places closer to Los Angeles.
I brought my 8" dob, which my wife found at a thrift store for $200. Honestly, I think we're pretty much the best folks to have bought it. If a pure newbie bought it, they'd probably not know how to make it functional. Not that they're super-sophisticated, but it does take a little bit of experience (or reading) to know how to collimate the mirrors for effective observation. Knowing how to use a Telrad also helps, if you want to be able to point it accurately.
From Sky's the Limit, I showed Jupiter, Omega Centauri, Venus, the Leo Trio of galaxies, the M81/M82 pair of galaxies, M 4, Antares, M13, M57, Albireo, and Alcor and Mizar. I also saw M51, but I don't think I got anyone else to look at that. Oh, and a few people saw Saturn, very low on the horizon.
Not that many people looked through my telescope. I'd roughly estimate maybe 25 people. But those who did stop by got a really quick look at a wide range of objects. Nice thing about a Dob and Telrad is the ease with which I can swing around to these favorite objects of mine. And the folks who spoke to me seemed genuinely excited and grateful for the chance to see these objects.

This was my third outreach event with the new dob. I did an event at a school in Pasadena, and another event up at Mount Wilson. I managed to see the Leo Trio there, too. But it was definitely better at Sky's the Limit.

After my outreach, I drove into the park, wanting to get some Joshua Tree and Milky Way shots. Unfortunately, the rising moon, even before it broke the horizon, was already lighting up the sky.

All shots were with my Nikon D3400, ISO 1600, 11-20mm Tokina lens at f/2.8. First and second shots were identical, except I painted the foreground with my little LED flashlight. Jupiter is the bright object, and Scorpius is prominent in that shot. The third shot, I moved a bit, and placed the Joshua Tree on the opposite side of the frame. It's pointed towards Cyngnus.

Last two shots were from the Mount Wilson event. That one was also a lot of fun.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Cottonwood Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Spent Saturday night (May 18) at Cottonwood Campground, in Joshua Tree National Park. Took a short hike to Mastadon Peak in the mid-afternoon, then waited for dark. I initially intended to walk a bit further, for a better foreground on some of the shots, but decided that might be riskier than preferable. Maybe should have done it, anyway, but I did not.
First shot was a hand-held snap, shortly after sunset. Crescent moon, with yucca in the foreground.

Second shot was at ISO 3200, 25 seconds at f/2.8 and 12mm focal length, using my 11-20mm F/2.8 Tokina zoom.

Third shot was 20 seconds, same speed, same lens, same aperture, but at 11mm focal length. Also, I "painted" my tent with a little red light from my flash light. The more distant tent was illuminated by who ever was in there!
Fourth shot was 20mm f/1.8 Nikon prime lens, at full aperture and iso 3200, 15 seconds. Shorter exposure because of the slightly longer focal length, and to focus more on the individual stars. This is of the "Summer Triangle," composed of Vega, Deneb, and Altair. The constellations Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila are all contained in the shot. I also see tiny Delphinus the Dolphin, just below Aquila.

Same lens and settings on the Big and Little Dippers. There are some high clouds or in this shot, illuminated by light pollution from below.
All except the first shot were on my little backpacking tripod. I use the two second delay self-timer and live view, to minimize camera vibrations and to let the vibrations die down after I trigger the shutter. I do have a self-timer, but I had misplaced it, for a while. Ironically as I unpacked one of my lens cases, it popped up, again. May use it, or may not. The two second delay seems to work pretty well, and one less thing to lose.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rubio Canyon -- Little water, few wildflowers

Very short hike on Wednesday, April 11. The lowest waterfalls were essentially dry, so I didn't bother with any pictures. These few wildflowers were on the first trail that leaves the "main" Pleasant Ridge trail and heads up the ridge. Just took that detour on the way back because I hadn't gotten enough walking in on the main trail to the waterfalls.
Other than wild mustard, this was about it. The first shot is of some pearly everlasting. The seond is of something white, possible popcorn flower.
The third and fourth are of lupine. But these flowers were sparser and more purple than other lupine I've seen this season. Their leaves were also much narrower.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Millard Canyon and Brown Mountain Truck Trail

Short afternoon hike around Millard Canyon. Parking is at the end of Chaney Trail Road. "Adventure Pass" or Public Lands Recreation Pass required.
Modest flow over the falls, 1/2 mile spur from the parking area. Not bad for the calendar, mostly due to recent rains.

Scattered wildflowers along the Truck Trail.
Once back on the truck trail, I walked about a mile, then took the 2N68 spur to the Owen Brown burial site.

The cluster of sycamore seeds, above, was from the trail to the falls, as were the white flowers, at the top of the post. Annoys me that I can't recall what they're called.
Western wall flower, along the truck trail, right near the start.
One of a handful of scattered Canterbury bell.
Spanish broom a highly common exotic.

Tobacco tree flowers. Not a great shot, but the first I took of them this year.
White nightshade.
California buckwheat.
Possibly Cleveland sage, though I'm not sure.
Wild mustard, another common exotic.
Wild cucumber flowers.
Lupine.
Indian paintbrush. There were a few, on the spur, approaching the Owen Brown burial site.
Sweet pea.
Near the Owen Brown burial site. I've been here, before.
View across the mountains, as I began my return. Fairly cloudy until early evening then it cleared. Comfortable hiking weather.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Old Mount Wilson Trail to First Water

Been way too long since I've posted! This is not much of a hike, but it's the latest, hiked today, March 12, 2018. I was curious to see if the recent rains was producing any significant runoff. I also wanted to break a sweat, and this one's a short, but steep hike. My Fitbit said 190 floors by the time I finished, but I'm not sure what the count was when I started. Probably around 50, but possibly as much as 60. I go up and down the stairs at work for exercise during the day.
There were a couple of recently-installed benches on the side trails that have been engineered over the past few years. That trail work has taken some serious effort and the engineering is good Unfortunately it does fragment the habitat, and leads to even more cutting of switchbacks and use trails crisscrossing above the main trail. The trails mean more exposed areas for smaller animals where they may be spoted by predators.
This was my first free afternoon after the switch to daylight saving time. It doesn't get dark now to well after 7pm. That means and easy 90-120 minutes or so of hiking time from when I get to my day job to the trailhead, depending on which trail I choose and what the traffic is like.

I'm hoping to get back into the rhythm I had before my cancer surgery. Unfortunately, various family issues have limited my hiking time, and it may be having some significant health effects. Problem is, it could also just be after-effects of the surgery and chemo. But, either way, my blood sugar has been somewhat high the past year, and really spiked at my last checkup. I'm seeing my GP tomorrow to discuss this, and see what can be done.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

More Around the Observatory, February 2018

Several hikes around the Observatory in January and February of this year. It's convenient for me, as previously mentioned.

This first shot is kind of interesting when you compare it to the one I took around Winter Solstice. In just six weeks or so, the setting point for the sun has moved very significantly to the north.
Thoe shots were taken from the same place (Glendale Peak), but, near Winter Solstice, the sun set just a bit north of the Astronomers Monument, on the lawn of Griffith Observatory. Six weeks later, it's setting near the edge of the parking lot, south of the lawn.

I also enjoyed this second shot, taken a bit after sunset. There was a soft, pink light, very dim, but photographed well. It lasted only 10-15 minutes after sunset, before everything went to blue.
The rest of the shots were taken a few days later. I brought my 11-20mm zoom, with two goals: I wanted to get some sunburst shots, and I wanted some dark sky, ambient light shots of the building.
To get the sunburst shots, I stopped down the aperture. Some came out okay, but, still, you need to see the pictures relatively large to see the sunburst. They're created by light, passing through the small opening of a narrow aperture, with rays corresponding to where the aperture blades let a bit wider amounts of light in, near where each blade intersects with the one next door.
It's one of those things I only read about recently, though I had obviously seen the effect in my shots for years.

Sunset at the Observatory is often an "event," just because of the large number of people, gathering on west-facing overlooks to watch. I mostly just expose for the sky and aim for silhouettes. Adding sunbursts was just for a new twist on the shot.
Finally, out in front of the building, I utilized the fast lens (f/2.8) to hand-hold shots of the building and lawn telescopes. The first shot was at 12mm. At that wide and angle, you get some pretty significant distortion of the shape of the building.
The second shot is at about 16mm focal length. The distortion is much less noticeable. I shot a shorter exposure length to compensate for the increase in shake-blur that would be apparent at the longer focal length. Both are sufficiently sharp for my purposes, though, when I zoom in on the shot on my laptop, I can see some streaking of the stars, indicating I moved a little during the exposure.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Las Vegas Springs Preserve

Visited here over MLK Day weekend. I've been here before, but hadn't walked the trails for possibly several years. There's probably about four miles of trails, if you walk them all. I just sort of ambled around and covered most of those trails. It's not very scenic, but there are some birds and rodents in the area. Among the birds, mocking birds seemed to be the most common and most obvious.
This Elvis-haired bird showed up a few times, too He seems to be a phainopepla.

I also saw a number of hummingbirds, but apparently wasn't satisfied with any of those shots.

The Las Vegas Springs Preserve is supposed to be about 180 acres, which is, very roughly, a little smaller than the area of a square, 1/2 mile along each edge. Honestly, it seems larger than that. It also intersects with several washes, so perhaps that makes the area appear larger.

The northern boundary is U.S. 95, with a very tall sound wall barrier. The west end is Valley View Avenue, with no hard barrier, but a wide and busy road, and development on the other side. The east end is a concrete wash and developed land beyond, and the south is Alta Drive, and developed land. I think the wash provides a conduit for some wildlife to access between the Preserve and undeveloped land, beyond.
The antelope squirrel seemed to be the most common type of wildlife. I am told a number of fox live in the area, but they're less frequently seen.

In addition to the relatively-undeveloped portions of the Springs Preserve (besides the trails and roads), there are some demo areas for solar energy and low-water usage home gardens, near the south end of the property. On the west end is the developed campus, which includes several museums, classroom areas, a cafe, and gift shops. The last two shots are from those developed areas.
The other hike I took that weekend was to Petroglyph Canyon, in Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. I've have been there many times in the past, as well. May try to post some pictures from that hike later, too.
Looking forward to getting one or two more hikes in the Las Vegas area, before it starts getting warm, again.
Over the past month, and closer to home, I have hiked several more times around Griffith Park, returned to the Legg Lake / Whittier Narrows Recreation Area and Sturtevant Falls. Still well behind in my posting, despite the slow hike rate.