Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hike 2014.056A -- Hole in the Wall and Mojave Star Party

The bi-annual Mojave National Preserve star party was last Saturday. I drove out of the L.A. area on Saturday morning. Many clouds were around. Snow covered the high peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains. It was probably not going to be a very good star party, I figured, but I was committed to showing up, so, if the clouds did clear, those who did come to see the stars would not be disappointed.
The clouds thinned a bit as I reached Mojave National Preserve (exit at Essex Road, which is signed for both the Preserve and for Providence Mountains State Park), and headed north, then turned right at Black Rock Canyon Road.
I arrived at Hole in the Wall around 4:30pm, then took a very short walk to see the petroglyphs there (just south of the visitor center, on the outer part of the Rings Trail Loop). I wanted to get in a little walking immediately because, quite frankly, I was pretty sure the "star" part of the star party would be a cloud out, and I'd just leave after dinner for Las Vegas.
Hadn't walked this segment of trail in a while. Normally, when I'm here, I make a loop of the Barber Peak trail and the inner part of the Rings Trail (although, apparently, I also sometimes do include loop the outside part of the Rings Trail).
Been a while since I saw the petro-glyphs, so that was my goal--just a 10 or 15 walk, before getting back to my car and heading over the group campground across the road, for the star party.
I was the first of the main group of astronomers (which, was a small group this party--conflicting appointments, illness, and other issues prevented most of the Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers from making this trip). Being first, I was worried for a while that perhaps the others had been so deterred the cloudy forecast as to have begged off and cancelled. But, before long, the others I expected did arrive.

Though, even before they did, I started setting up my telescope. I was so impressed with the nice banners and posters made for this event, and the turnout of potential viewers was so great that I didn't want to disappoint them, in case the skies did clear, even briefly.
As I waited for dark, the clouds continued to dominate the skies. That made for some pretty clouds and nice sunset colors, but did not do anything for my lack of confidence in actually being able to show anyone the sky. So I clicked pretty sunset pictures, and waited.

As I waited, I reflected on the fact that this was probably my tenth or so time supporting a Mojave National Preserve Conservancy's star party.

This year's was part of the twentieth anniversary celebration of the California Desert Protection Act, which created the Mojave National Preserve, and also expanded and "upgraded" Joshua Tree and Death Valley from national monuments to national parks.
The Preserve super-intendent and the regional director of the National Park Service were there, as were numerous other NPS and Conservancy employees and volunteers. So I probably also reflected on the idea that my doctoral dissertation was on the subject of park expansion, and that, in an earlier life, I would have tried to spend more time talking to both the Park Service and Conservancy folks about environmental and political issues related to created and managing these parks.
However, in my current incarna-tion, I was a sidewalk astrono-mer, which meant I stayed with my telescope and waited for the clouds to part, so I could talk about the moon.

As dinner time ap-proached, we finally got a few short peeks at the moon. The first probably 90 minutes of dark was more of this intermittent moon viewing.

With occasional views of the moon but no telescope visitors, I sneaked in a few quick shots of the moon with my dslr.

As the evening wore on, we had longer and better chances to view the night sky. Of course, with the large gibbous moon, deep sky objects were less impressive than they would normally be from such a dark sky location. Still, you could see more here with a large moon than you could see back home with no moon, at all.
With no real deep sky agenda, I mostly just showed the typical highlights of a mid-fall sky: Alberio, a famous double star, with a yellow and a blue-white component, the Double Cluster in Perseus, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades (Seven Sisters, another open cluster), the Ring Nebula, and the Dumbbell Nebula (two planetary nebula, the remnants of old stars like our sun, nearing the end of their lives).

I also pointed out the stars of the Summer Triangle and said a few things about those stars, and Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda, and the Greek mythology associated with them.

By 10:30pm, it was getting dark. And, with no prepared sky tour agenda, I had pretty much show everyone what I could easily find. So I started breaking down my telescope around then. With the temperature dropping and Las Vegas (Henderson, actually) just a bit more than two hours away, my wife and I decided to leave the star party that night (unusual for us) and make it to place with actual beds and running water. So ended my Fall 2014 Mojave National Preserve star party experience.
Next start party will be in the spring. I'll try to provide advance notice of the date when I know that bit of information.

Hike-wise, this wasn't really much of a hike. But I linked it here because of the star party, and as a lead in for my previous post, on the new directions to the Sloan Canyon trailhead, in Henderson.

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