Astro 28G: Field Astronomy at the Kern River

Scenes from the Trip

Our 17 year streak was broken - never has an Astro 27, 28, or 30 field class been clouded out of all observing, until now. We drove in with rain, and we had rain off and on all weekend. Aside from a few pointings of our new green laser at some stars poking through holes in the clouds around the campfire, we got zero observing done, to everyone's dismay. Karl showed up with an H-alpha scope prepared to give awesome views of the sun but even it couldn't make it through the clouds. Still, we had deep talks on planetary geology and crustal processes at the hot springs, and long talks on dark matter, cosmology, and star formation around the campfire. I give our class a lot of credit for even undertaking the 5 hour drive from Santa Cruz amid the rain and gloomy forecasts.

Saturday morning the rain let up enough to set up our breakfast gear by the stream. I made my famous crepes, to everyone's pleasure. I've got dual crepe pans working while master chef #2 Dave McKulle looks on.

Then we headed up the road past Kernville to show the fault-shaped upper Kern River and its granite plutons now exposed and weathered by the river. This boulder has a large clast of darker olivine.



A hailstorm dropped enough BB-sized hail stones to make a nice setting for the flowers...



...and more flowers. This spring gave the best wildflower display in a generation to the southern Sierra.

.... and also for a quick snow fight.

On the way back, the Kern River Trout Hatchery, a place of fond memories from my childhood.

As we rounded Lake Isabella heading back to camp, we saw this ominously creepy cloud formation seemingly right over our campground. When we arrived, 70mph wind shear had come through, scattering our tents to the 4 corners of the canyon.




The winds also apparently weakened the grand-daddy tree we'd set up our gear under to get out of the rain, because soon after parking my car I heard a loud CRACK! as half the tree came down and smashed my poor RAV4.



An hour of volunteer effort at cutting tree limbs and the remaining weight was light enough for 3 people to lift off so I could drive out from under it. But my roof was badly crunched, I lost a window, and crumple zones on the back door, and sides.



After the tree-clearing, I led the students down to the hot springs and lectured on the inner planets, cooling rate vs crustal thickness and crustal processes, and on the history of the morphology of the Sierra as well as the nature of the rocks and minerals found around us. All of this was delivered while we soaked in the delicious waters of the hot spring pools right on the shores of the Kern River - a beautiful spot and a nice moment.

Saturday night was a fabulous meal of grilled veges and marinated chicken from McKulle, an incredible salad from the vegan students, and pasta. All was eaten standing up under the tiny canopy of the remains of our tree, to keep out of the rain. On the drive I'd harvested a couple of big bags full of digger pine cones sufficient to get a nice campfire going all evening long as I lectured on cosmology, dark matter, and the nature of the early universe and structure formation.

Sunday morning was another delicious crepe breakfast before packing up and heading home. A few of us did one last trip to the hot springs on the way out. Thanks to all my students, who bore up cheerfully and had a great learning experience despite the dreary weather! Maybe some trip we'll come back under clearer skies.

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