Unknown to me, our planned campsite on National Forest land had been sold by the Bush administration to a private logging company which was clearcutting the area. Our beautiful meadow campground was chained off with "no trespassing" signs everywhere. So my first executive decision was... retreat! Turns out the main campground at Boards Crossing was not yet open for the season, but the day use area was a much better astronomy site anyway, and the ranger was OK with camping there. A very nice solution - it was a beautiful spot right at the Stanislaus River. Anyway, Friday night was a bit chaotic, but we did get set up, got dinner made, and had an educational session under the stars using our 10" LX200 and also Eric M's 8" scope.

Next morning began, as always, with my crepes breakfast. Then, on to our first destination - California Caverns - a 45 minute winding drive through the Sierra foothills.

Jim stokes our little morning fire while Barbara and Leanna give moral encouragement


My traditional French crepes breakfast always produces some smiles. But it was Barb's chocolate nutella and home-cooked strawberry jam which made the sale.

At California Cavern visitor center, Holly and the Johns - ready for action

My group, massing for the assault on the caverns

Our class, dwarfed by the size of the first big room

"Soda straws" made by dripping CaC03 saturated water, covered the ceiling of this room

This amazing flow formation took thousands of years to make

These soda straws were in the secret room, sealed off from the 49'rs and only opened after the caverns were privately owned and cared for.

Holly hops into a narrow tube leading down to a deeper subterranean room. She was the only one with shoulders narrow enough to fit!

After California Cavern, we digested all we'd learned, and lunch too. Then, onward to Moaning Cavern. It got its name from the sound of the falling water echoing off the huge Statue-of-Liberty sized walls of this mostly vertical cavern. Quite different than California Cavern, which is mostly a set of horizontally eroded connected rooms.

The visitor center is built right on top of the entrance hole to the cavern. Note the giant winch gear from the old days. I'm on the right, camera in hand, shooting the reflection of our group.

Rappeling is the adventurous way into the cavern...

...all the way to the bottom...

The Chocolate Waterfall only looks delicious.

This CaCo3 formation reminds me of a scene from Alien Resurrection

Alien egg cases?

My students! trapped in Alien intestines?! (OK, sorry; enough with the Aliens)

Gearing up to do...

...the zip line

Back at camp, Saturday night's lectures around the scope focused on the formation of giant Cannibal Galaxies in clusters such at the Virgo and Coma clusters, high in the sky.

Sunday breakfast - eggs and veges w/ all the colorful flavonoids

After breakfast, my final lecture covered alien life, the anthropic principle, and the Big Bang origin of our Universe(s)

Thanks gang, for helping make this such an enjoyable learning adventure!