Astro 28M: Field Astronomy in the Mojave Desert - Two Lunar Grazes

Post Trip Highlights

The Graze Gods smiled upon us, and our trip was a big success in all aspects. In order to snag campsites on this prime spring weekend I left Santa Cruz before 8am Friday, stopping in Bakersfield for a few adjustments to my portfolio on the internet, and to buy more groceries. I got to Red Rock Canyon State Park a few minutes after Kirk did, and we got some sites near the south end of the loop as we'd hoped. Weather was perfect. Students gradually arrived, but the food czar Courtney did not arrive until 6:20pm so dinner was done quickly. Still, I put together a good feast of jasmine rice and fresh veges spiced with tumeric and cocoanut milk, and the students carved up more veges for the salad.

Friday's Graze: Upsilon Geminorum. While waiting for Courtney, we strategized our final station assignments and at 8pm we caravan'ed 25 miles south to Randsburg Cutoff. From north to south we stationed Eric & Patrick, then Kirk and the students, then Dave & Jeff, then a gap and Jessica, and finally me right across from the Hwy 58 freeway. Unfortunately, though this was by far the best graze location, but it's notorious this time of year as a wind tunnel, being at the base of Tehachapi Pass. McKulle and Jeff got the worst of it, and Jeff's new GM8 mount tipped over and smashed the RA motor cover. Duct tape got him back in action. Jessica also had issues, with tearing eyes mimicing D's and R's during the graze (pending more checking). But overall, we had good success. I got 6 events, the students all got to see and record 4 events using the binoculars and portable scopes. McKulle and Eric also had success. Walt Morgan's team in the Bay Area had a big success as well. Their preliminary observed profile is shown at right. A little oversight on GPS'ing our position was solved... by a second trip to the site. After returning, we had a quick debriefing, a victory firedance performed by Amber, followed by deep sky study of galaxies and star clusters using the 10" LX200 scope, and a well-earned good night's sleep beneath the spectacular painted cliffs.

Saturday Geology

Our crew awoke to find me working hard on the crepes batter. Courtney and Amanda were recruited to slice up the fruit while the master chef precisely levelled the stove and fine-tuned the pans and gas flames for what turned out to be the finest crepe creations yet. Then, full-throttle geology and inner planet science handouts were distributed, carpools formed, and 5 vehicles trekked to the nearby El Paso Mountains to study the land forms, the beautifully colorful cliffs, Holly Mine, and the bizarre Burro Schmidt Tunnel and Schmidt camp, followed by a lecture on the geologic history of California, the Basin and Range Province, and the Garlock graben stretched out below us. The rutted and sandy dirt roads were tough, but only one vehicle had to be abandoned before our final destination. Alas, the long-time sole resident of the extremely isolated mountain site of Schmidt camp, Tonie as she was called, died 6 months ago and her place is now surrounded by barbed wire. Carpets of tiny yellow flowers covered the landscape once we picked our way back off the mountains to the slopes north of the El Paso's.

Saturday Graze - 44 Cancri. We were back at camp for an early dinner of spicey Indian rice and salad, and then a streamlined veteran graze team mounted up for the 45 mile trip to our second graze site near Hwy 138 and Hwy 14 near Lancaster. This graze was too faint to see in binoculars, so some of the team stayed behind to get a start on other deep sky observing, as well as making 'smores. The graze team gassed up in Mojave, arrived in good shape, and set out 6 stations: north to south we had 1. Dave McKulle & Jeff, 2. Courtney/Rebecca/Nelson, 3. Eric & Patrick, 4. Kirk, 5. Jessica, 6. Rick. The profile was more promising than the previous night, but in fact, I had only 2 events. The secondary star remained visible and this was an unexpected problem for Kirk and Jeff, who had the largest scopes. Jessica had trouble with the wind and fainter star, but Eric and the student crew and McKulle came through with 4 events each. Considering this weekend was the first grazes for anyone except me and Dave McKulle, this was a solid success. Arriving back at camp we all inhaled some 'smores for celebration, as well as enjoyed another interpretive fire dance by A..... Then Kirk, me, and Jeff showed the students examples of galaxy structures and the outskirt denizens of our own galaxy, the massive globular clusters. Then a couple of drunken sailors crashed our camp - seemed like a good time to say good night as it was now nearly 1am anyway.

Sunday Geology, Solar Study

Morning breakfast was fresh fruit and granola with vanilla soy. Then a hike up to the ridge over our camp where I lectured on the volcanic geology and particulars of the Red Rock Canyon State Park and of the valley over which we were looking. Some wildflower photography, then a session of solar viewing and sunspot formation lecture, and we packed our camp and headed home. Amanda's car took my advice for the scenic route - Hwy 58 and Bitterwater Valley, while the Courtney/Rebecca/Nelson car and went north over Walker Pass and Lake Isabella to rendezvous at one of the hot springs on the Kern River for a glorious hour swimming and steaming in the hot springs and the icey river.

Thanks everyone, and especially to Jeff Jolin for his invaluable help in trucking students, graze gear, putting up his now-famous CycleWorks awning, and setting up his 10" LX200 scope for evening studies after the grazes.

Click on the photos below to bring up a full size version...


Prep'ing the troops before Friday's graze

A celebration of success...

...A firedance by Amber - artist and Astro student

Lyra rising above camp

Eric and the gang study my video recording of the Upsilon Gem graze

Jessica thoughtfully, and Rebecca intently... watch multiple events of this bright star on the camcorder

The group attempts to pose - rock band album cover - style at abandoned Holly Mine, where much of the 20th century's kitchen sink cleanser was mined

From the bowels of the cleanser mine

Burro Schmidt Camp; Tonie's ancient cabin

Outside the north entrance to Burro Schmidt Tunnel

A brave crew marches in for the half-mile long voyage through the mountain to the Garlock Valley overlook

Searching for buried treasure

"This be gold ore, folks". Gold is often a byproduct of copper mining

Courtney finds one of the veins of copper

Avoiding the left turn "tunnel of death" deep inside the mountain, we emerge to find Koehn Dry Lake and the Garlock Fault overlook

Students meditate on the cliffs above camp.

44 Cancri graze crew near Lancaster

Jessica is all smiles, at the 6" RFT scope after the graze

Amber, Courtney, Rebecca, Nelson, and Orion with his spooky UFO frisbee - celebrate another graze success

Kirk's 12" scope highlights the post-graze cosmic explorations back at camp.

Courtney fetches water for breakfast, African-style

...and a horny toad, pet for a day, being taken back to his home.

Sunday morn, Indian Paintbrush near camp...

Fashion shoot? ...or Jason and Amanda spellbound by my lecture on the ridge

Eric took this shot as I gesticulate clashing tectonic plates (!)

The ridge above camp (site of our awesome Leonids Meteor Storm of '01 astrophotography trip), is a spectacular overlook of eroded, faulted volcanic geology for our next lecture

Using Eric & Patrick's optics for studying sunspots highlight a solar lecture as our final official group activity.


We will keep this destination on our schedule for future adventures. Thanks to all of you for helping make this a fun, educational, and memorable trip for me!