Astro 28X: Field Astronomy - Limestone Cavern Studies in Sierra Gold Country

May 9-11, 2008

Post Trip Photo Page

This field astronomy course will keep us busy both staring upward at the universe, and staring deep underground at the amazing geologic processes happening in limestone caverns. With the recent discovery of possible running water and also limestone formations on Mars, the processes we'll study here may happen more widely on other planets.

Here's a link to the geology of Caverns. We camped farther up Hwy 4 back in '01 for Astro 28E; before I was so meticulous about photo-recording everything. However, check out the pix I did get.


The Utica Reservoir site is still snowed in, so we're going to be camping at a small meadow campsite on Beaver Creek just a couple miles north of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. I assume you can find your way to Hwy 4 which begins at I-99 in Stockton, go east through Angels Camp and up past Arnold and Calaveras Big Trees to Dorrington. Then look at the maps below. Click for a bigger image. The roads out of Dorrington are paved and then dirt, but graded and in good shape.

The red circle shows where we're camping.

Cross the Stanislaus River (a 1000 foot drop down to the canyon bottom!) at either Boards Crossing or the paved forest road which is a little longer

A close up of the meadow. The campground is a small forest service campground. Bring your drinking water although we'll have plenty of flow in Beaver Creek for other purposes.

Arrive at our campsite by around 6pm; I'll fix you a fine pasta dinner. Volunteer contributions of veges and salad makings welcome. We'll stoke up the campfire and enjoy a short lecture around the warmth about what we're going to be observing. Then, bring out the scopes and study the galaxies and planets that grace the spring evening sky. Saturn will be high overhead, Mars will be in the west, and Mercury just emerging from behind the sun. Comet Boattini will be in the southern sky and within reach of our scopes. The great Virgo Cluster of galaxies is high. Our little "Local Group" - consisting of the Milky Way, Andromeda, and a posse of little groupie dwarf galaxies, are on the outskirts of the Virgo Supercluster (cluster of clusters!) of galaxies, and the giant "cannibal" galaxy M87 with it's billion-solar-mass Black Hole, will be the featured object of study. Bring your chocolate chip cookies to enjoy around the scopes!

Saturday Plan

Breakfast!: As with all my Astro 28 field trip classes - we begin the day with my famous French Crepes breakfast. I'll get up early and begin the preparations of the batter. Help in carving fruit and we'll make it a communal experience. Breakfast will be leisurely.

Late morning: Drive down the mountain to California Cavern labelled "Cave City on your map, northwest of Arnold for a guided tour. Study the process of precipitation and calcium carbonate cycles. Our specially organized tour requires us to arrive at the cavern at 11:45am.

Then, a second tour at Moaning Cavern, with different formations to explore. Here, we can also optionally enjoy some of the technology of cave'ing; the "zip line" provides a good adrenaline rush for the thrill junkies.

Then, if there's time, another (short) drive further up Hwy 4 to a location where we can see a rare outcrop of the original, 100+ million year old volcanic mountain range that preceeded the formation of the Sierra (This may well not be possible. Snow still covers much of the area and the road is closed beyond Bear Valley). Second option is to explore the Stanislaus River canyon. We'll study glacier and water carved granite formations and lecture on the history of the Sierra. I'll also lecture on the processes which may affect other of the inner planets. I'll discuss the Milakovitch cycles and their grounding in the semi-chaotic nature of gravity in the solar system, the last great Ice Age, evidence for a giant comet impact at the end of the Ice Age. If it's warm enough, we'll have some relaxation time swimming in the river (if you like snow meltwater!)

Saturday evening - Another great campfire dinner! Likely an Asian theme'd jasmine rice and vege's creation. Follow up with more telescopic explorations of the evening sky. Contrasting galaxy types, nearby star clusters and the structure of the Milky Way disk that we live in. Late in the evening, the incredible objects of the summer Milky Way and the Sagittarius Spiral Arm will rise in the east. We'll study the birth (in luminous emission nebulae) and death (in a final exhalation of their last breath) of stars, with the Ring, Owl, and Dumbell nebulae.

Sunday Plan

Another fabulous breakfast creation - this one centered around eggs and simmered potatoes. Then, we'll aim the 8" scope w/ filter at the sun and I'll lecture on the solar cycles, their relation to sunspots, and to earth climate. We may do one more hike. I'm working on that. It would be short. Before we leave camp, I'll hand out the take-home final exams (you'll have ~10 days to finish and return to me). I'm also checking on locations which might be worth a stop on the drive home. My thought is to drive through Calveras Big Trees State Park and enjoy the giant Sequoias - largest organisms on Earth. Either way, you should be back in Santa Cruz by late afternoon if you have studying to do, so no worries.

Camper's Checklist


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