After two cloud-marred field courses this Spring, this time we got welcome clear skies. Both Friday and Saturday nights were cloud-free and dark. Nothing ever goes perfectly however. This time, we mis-connected with Ron - our eagerly anticipated chef. We also had moisture dewing our optics after midnight on Friday, and no one had a 12v DC blower. However, things mostly went very well.

Friday I drove into the Monument, and after navigating the mud puddles along Selby Ranch road, arrived at camp to find JP had set up the 25" Dob, and Jack Davis had set up his 17". Two monster scopes that made this trip something special. We set up at the same ridge location as the Astro 28K location. It's a great spot with a spectacular view and covered with grasses and flowers. Without Ron's special asian veges and spices, we had to dig deep to make dinner a success. Lynn contributed a lot, and with plenty of basmatti rice, curry sauce, and salad makings I'd bought, it all worked out. After dinner, we enjoyed the razor-thin cresent moon next to the Plieades and an occultation. After dark... the Orion Nebula and winter open clusters in the 25". Jack and JP did an excellent job enlivening the discussions and sharing their knowledge of astronomy. Thanks, you guys! The title photo above shows Painted Rock, and our group (the tiny ants on the right). Our campsite was high on the first ridge directly behind the Rock, and Caliente Peak is the highest point of the ridge behind.

Spectacular spring flowers along Shell Creek Rd on the drive down

Late spring rain puddles made for an adventurous ride up the mountain, as my RAV4 can clearly attest. (photo by Eric Messick)

3% cresent and the Plieades setting behind the Caliente's

At JP's 25" scope studying Saturn, with Orion setting

Comet Schwassman-Wachmann 3 was a headliner for this class, and it did not disappoint. It is in the process of disintegrating, and it showed a very obvious fat tail, made up of the outgassing from dozens of small fragments. At 11:45pm, I recruited some hard-core students and we drove a few more miles up to the 4,000 ft level at the top of the Caliente's for the Zelinda occultation on the southern horizon. It took all of us together to puzzle out the new 8" LX200GPS operation, getting the video gear working, and locating the target star. The extra 1000 feet of elevation made a big difference for this low altitude event; we were now above the marine layer and the star could be seen even in binoculars. Alas - a miss. We then checked out Omega Centauri, 5 degrees above the southern horizon. What was amazing was the the stars were sharper than even a zenith view at Cabrillo Observatory - the astronomical seeing was as good as I've ever seen it. Back at camp, Saturn showed 6 moons, cloud patterns, and sharply defined Cassini division, and Jupiter showed more detail than I'd ever seen visually. Scott Early, Jonathan Crockett and I tried some astrophotography after most of the crew had gone back to their tents.

Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann. 3x5min stack. I stacked on the comet, not the stars, since the comet was moving fast. I see a big dust tail, but no gas tail

The globular cluster M4, Antares, and surrounding ionized hydrogen clouds. Stack of 3x5min shots through the Megrez.


The astrophotography demonstration was cut short by dew on the Megrez scope, and lack of a dew gun. In fact, the Comet SW effort included 5 more 5min shots which I couldn't use because of dewing inside the chip chamber, overwhelming the dessicant.

Saturday morning, above the fog-covered plain

Victoria strikes a Russian pose at her micro-tent, with clouds below

A field of flowers by Soda Lake, plopped onto by Neta and Victoria

Great minds think alike...

Saturday we awoke to a spectacularly red sunrise over the fog covered plain; we were perhaps 200 ft above the cloud tops. I began with my crepes breakfast, then we trekked down to Soda Lake where I lectured on the tectonic activity which produced this unusual formation. This, amid a dense carpet of spring wildflowers. Then to the Goodwin Visitor's Center and on to a guided tour of Painted Rock.

A couple more Victoria glamour shots...

See more of pix of Neta and Victoria, and the gang here

...back to work; I lecture on the formation of Soda Lake and its relation to tectonic plates

Soda Lake was studied closely, and found to be pretty sticky

Our final stop for Saturday was Soda Lake overlook. Jonathan C arrived and joined us here, and I gave a lecture on plate tectonics and the geologic history of California focusing on the changing plate boundary dynamics. We drove back up the mountain to our camp, and most took a nap before starting on dinner. Kirk then arrived, and added his 10" Dob to our optical firepower. After dark, JP showed us 3C 273 - the brightest quasar, and I compared/contrasted the early vs. late type spiral structures by showing the Sombrero Galaxy vs. NGC 6545 and the Whirlpool Galaxy. With Jonathan's dew gun, astrophotography was back on, and I and student Scott Early teamed up to demonstrate to the group how to take auto-guided single-shot color images of the comet. Later, I did a series on the Rho Ophiuchi nebular complex, and then switched to using a regular 100mm camera lens to get wide-field views of Rho Oph and Comet SW3. By 4am Scott and I were ready for sleep.

At Painted Rock's inner grotto

Painted Rock's home to several barn owls

Part of the main panel, a beautiful pictograph

Getting a sample of alkali mud

Lynne, Michael, Bryan, and Victoria work on veges for dinner

Jonathan getting ready for some astrophotography Saturday night

Bryan on guitar while I cook asian rice

A stack of 5x5min of the Antares / Rho Ophiuchi region with the ST2000XCM + 100mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens stopped down to f/4

Sunday morning I cooked up our breakfast of hot cereal and fruit and we shared stories of our latest adventures. I explained the plan for the day, and we packed up and headed down the mountain to eventually end up on the eastern end of 7 Mile Road where we studied the split-apart hills and fault scarps created in the 1857 earthquake. Then on to ArrowBear road and our first views of an offset stream bed. Then on to Wallace Creek for more examples of offset streams, beheaded channels, and other bizarre pathologies associated with Killer Quakes on the San Andreas. I passed out the final exams, explained what to look for on Bitterwater Rd as it curved its way through the fault valley, and we said our goodbye's. I took a leisurely trip back home, stopping for wildflower pictures along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and appreciated how great this particular crop of students and volunteers turned out to be. We learned a lot, enjoyed a magical landscape, and got some unforgettable views through one of the biggest amateur scopes available. Thanks to all for making it a big success!

Eric Messick, an excellent photographer and student on this trip, has put together a pretty nice page of images from this trip, linked here.