Astro 28M: Field Astronomy in the High Desert


Wednesday, Mar 17 On-Campus Session

5:30pm till about 8pm in Room 705 and the Planetarium next door. Get acquainted, logistics (firewood, carpooling), pass out maps and handouts, explain the roads. I'll give you time to decide who wants to carpool with whom. My little RAV4 will be packed to the gills with kitchen and telescope gear and my own camping gear and warm clothes. For those of you from high school, note that Cabrillo does not provide transportation - no big yellow busses for us! After logistics, we'll go to the planetarium and learn about lunar grazes in general and ours in particular, and have a show, and slide presentation on the solar system.

Weather: Predicted weather is sunny and dry this weekend. But it will be cool. At the Chimney Peak campground, high's in the 50's and lows around 32F, so keep water protected. However, during the day we'll mostly be down in the desert where the temperature will be about 70F during the day. Bring WARM clothes and sleeping gear for the nights. Bring firewood for all!!

Friday, Mar 19 At the Chimney Rock Campground

~7pm. Arrive at Chimney Rock campground and look for our group. My advice - grab dinner on the road. (Subway has great $5 footlongs that won't send you to an early grave). Many of us, I expect, will arrive at or after sunset and therefore we'll want to get to the telescopes immediately. We'll study Orion star formation regions, and other wonders of the Spring Milky Way. I'll have some hot chocolate to help keep us warm.

Saturday, Mar 20

8:30am - Breakfast. I'll cook my famous French Crepes breakfast as the sun peaks over the mountain and we warm ourselves next to the fire.

10:00am - carpool down to the desert and do geology/planetary science microlectures at selected locations which will include:

* Two adjacent sites which are believed to be ancient archeo-astronomy sites associated with the seasonal solstices. These are associated with house-sized granodiorite boulders. These are a special treat and I will be very interested to take plenty of pictures and log data to see the nature of these sites. They're in an unusual location to mark the solstice, and so will be a good puzzle perhaps for all of us.

* Ayers Rock - a site with huge granite boulders and ancient Native American pictographs and petroglyphs. Directions: Hwy 395 north past Little Lake, past Fossil Falls, turn right at Coso Junction. Follow road up alluvial fan. After you enter the hills, take first graded road to the left. Follow to Pumice Quarry, turn left before quarry and follow road to the parking area/turn around. Walk northerly about 300 yards to the big rock. another: "At Coso Junction, we turned east. When the paved road ran out after about three or four miles, we turned left on a bumpy road and followed it to a parking area overlooking a sandy ravine. A weathered sign announced this was Bureau of Land Management land and that taking artifacts from the area was against the law. We could see a group of large boulders about a quarter mile down the trail and followed it to one boulder the size of a house. This was Ayers Rock". Here's more info/directions on Ayers Rock (8mi total from Coso Junction)

* Fossil Falls - a prehistoric waterfall which was active during the Pleistocene, and has polished mafic rocks, Native American pictographs and grinding holes

* Red Hill - a cinder cone of extrusive volcanic rock which tells a story of the formation of the Basin and Range province.

* A hike along the Pacific Crest Trail to vantage points that allow a panoramic view of the Owens Valley, Coso Mountains possibly still capped with snow, Mt. Whitney (for sure loaded with snow), and will help us understand the Basin and Range formation and plate tectonics.

4:45pm - Back at camp, prepare our group dinner of Asian Rice a'la Nolthenius

6:30pm - drive to the graze site and set out our stations, with a final pep talk, instructions. Depending on road conditions, this may be just a few miles northwest of camp, in the mountains. Or it may be down below in the desert, requiring a bit more driving.

8:00pm - Our big graze! The entire event will only last 3 minutes. Afterward, I'll pack my station and meet up with the other station(s) to gather final positional information and make sure we've got all needed information before driving back to the camp

9:00pm - 11:30pm - Pull out the big 10" scope and resume our studies of the Spring Milky Way and the galaxies of the Ursa Major group and the Virgo Cluster.

If clouds ruin the observing, we'll gather extra firewood and have an extended campfire lecture session on cosmology and the origin of the Universe, as well as discuss our graze experiences.


8:30am - Breakfast of eggs and fried potatos and peppers, cooked by Chez Nolthenius.

9:45am - Short hike to a nearby overlook and another micro-lecture.

10:30am - Pack up camp and caravan down past Weldon, Onyx, and Lake Isabella, to Remington Hot Springs. A delightful wilderness hot spring which has been carefully constructed by locals and sits right on the Kern River. It's on forest service land and is an easy walk down a hill from the road to the river. Here, I'll have one final lecture, and take attendence again, and then pass out my final exams. Remember that your grade depends on your participation and attendence at all sessions.

Final Exam

The exam is a take-home exam. However, note that the exam must be returned to me by Saturday March 27. You do not need to be on campus, it can be mailed to me (Richard Nolthenius, Astronomy Department, Cabrillo College, Aptos, CA 95003) or left in room 701 with the NAS Division staff.