This return trip to Mt. Lassen was blessed with an especially great mix of participants - all the more important since we had some weather challenges. Everyone found the campground just fine, no doubt due to my crystal clear directions. Weather forecasts suggested Friday night might be our only clear shot at the stars, so we opted to do the speedy dinner the first night - pasta. Our gang pitched in with a fine spinach salad, Ron did a spectacular job with sourdough garlic bread warmed over the campfire, and I cooked up linguine and organic tomoto/basil sauce with fresh mushrooms and red bell peppers. Nope, no cans o' spaghetti-O's when the mysteries of the deep cosmos need to be digested!

Jeff brought his 12" LX200 and had it set up and navigating by dark. Club member Shahram also arrived, with 8" Schmidt-Newtonian to demonstrate astrophotography. I had the school's 10" LX200 going as well, and we surveyed the star formation regions of the Sagittarius spiral arm, the globular clusters of the Milky Way's halo, and the cooling remains of freshly dead stars, both gentle (the Ring Nebula, the Dumbell) and violent (The Veil, and Crab nebulae). Cirrus clouds drifted in, and we decided to examine galaxies until late into the night, fearing Saturday would be spent around a cloud-covered campfire. We studied the Andromeda and associated dwarf systems, the brilliant black hole in the core of the Seyfert NGC 1068 and M74.

Lindsay, dumbfounded at the Dumbell Nebula

It's not Astro 28 without my french crepes breakfast

Cathy strikes a pose, awaiting our drive to the new SETI site

The Search for E.T. begins... here!

After a breakfast of crepes and fruit, we piled into our vehicles for the 9 mile drive to the Hat Creek Radio Observatory - new site of the SETI radio telescopes. Still under construction, this will house 350 radio telescopes with state of the art detectors to look for communications from those spooky aliens out there in the Galaxy. As we walked into the eerily quiet grounds, dark clouds (remember "Close Encounters..."?) gathered and set the mood. The bizarre-ly configured off-axis radio dishes seemed to awaken to our presence, and in a "take me to your leader" sort of way, the first antenna began to follow me as I crossed in front of it - totally freaking out the class.

Dark clouds... "Muldur...!" Is that white room where they hide the bodies of the aliens?!

I try and bring the class back from their nightmares and into Reality

Chris provides some color in a spooky landscape of half-finished SETI antennae

Jeff and Cathy examine the optics of the collector up close

The prior owners - the U.C. Radio Observatory, have moved their operation to the remote Inyo Mountains, where we plan to visit in the Spring. Returning to our cars, the clouds looked ominous enough to prompt us to stop by camp and weather-proof it before continuing on to Mt. Lassen National Park.

At the Visitor's Center

Sulphur Works

I explain the formation of hot springs...

...elemental sulphur, and why sulfur is so common in volcanic areas

At the Visitor's Center I give a lecture on the nature of the inner planets and what determines the thickness of planetary crusts, then plate tectonics and the Cascades Mountain Range we are entering. We continue on and stop at Devastated Area, where the great 1912 eruption blew out the north side of the mountain and most of this part of the National Park. Then, on to Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works. At Sulphur Works, I lecture on the formation of hot springs, boiling mud pots, and get a nose-ful of hydrogen sulfide from the bowels of the earth. Then, there's a bit of free time before dinner. Fawn, Eric and I stop at King Creek Meadow, just below the 8,500' pass which is the high point of the Park road. It's a beautiful spot, and dramatic in the late afternoon Autumn light filtered through dark clouds and light rain - the first storm of the season.

A boiling mud pot!

King Creek...

...winds through a beautiful meadow...

...backed by Mt. Lassen shrouded in distant clouds

At sunset, a lake near the entrance was backed by layers of wooded ridges and was our final stop before returning to camp. We'd hoped the rains were confined to the high elevations of Mt. Lassen, but at our 4,200' campsite, it was also raining off and on. Jeff brought out his CycleWorks canopy, big enough to cover two large picnic tables and keep us dry for dinner. Meanwhile, I cooked Thai basmatti rice with cocoanut milk, leeks, and lots of Indian spices. Ron wok'ed a great mix of stir-fry vegetables, Chris cooked over the campfire some New York steak, and a fabulous dinner kept everyone in good spirits despite the sprinkles. The campfire became the center of attention, and Lieven dragged an entire 20' tree branch over where it was set upon by hatchets and testosterone-crazed fire warriors. For the next 6 hours, I entertained the campfire-tranced group with stories of the birth and galaxies, the Big Bang, and how the theory of Inflation and parallel universes is consistent with modern data and helps explain the fact that our universe is inhabited by living beings. It was inspiring!... but failed to clear the clouds. Shahram gave in, packed up, and headed south in search of astrophotography-worthy skies. I told him that his chances were better going north or staying here but off he went. In fact, at 2am the front had passed and the skies cleared up - too late though; the class was now asleep.

Ridgelines at sunset

A campfire Cosmology Talk

Cathy and Leanna are all smiles after hot chocolate

Descending into Subway Cave lava tube

In the morning, we had crystal clear skies and tents frozen with the final raindrops of the previous night. We quickly got another good fire going and I carved up a big pot of potatoes, spices, and red onions, and complemented by fresh fruit. We decided to leave the gear up to dry in the sun while we had our final adventure - a drive 2 miles north to Subway Cave. This is probably the largest lava tube in the country. Inside, we found wierd formations that reminded us of the scary bubbles of the underground caverns in the 1950's classic "Invaders from Mars".


Bizarre ceiling patterns

bizarre cave inhabitants

We're forming a band - Dr. Rick and the SubTerraneans

Lindsay, Mila, and Topher - this part of the cave was humongous, and ceiling cracks were rimmed with mineral deposits

Mt. Lassen - thanks Leanna for this nice shot.


After our cave adventure, Astro 28P concluded - we said our goodbyes and headed home. Some of the class detoured north and took in Burney Falls State Park while Fawn and I stopped in the Cascades foothills and picked blackberries. A great weekend!