Nov 13, 2004
See the Post-Trip Highlights!
Our major trip will be Saturday night/Sunday morning Nov 13/14. We'll reprise our classic trip to Mercey Hot Springs of Fall '03. Like last year, we'll meet at Felipe's Mexican / Salvadorean cantina in downtown San Juan Bautista at 313 3rd Street, at 3:00pm for an inexpensive dinner and strategy, and so we can caravan together to our spot. Note that we're not camping at Mercey Hot Springs itself, but a few miles south east in the hills above. There's a map of the site at Topozone.com here. As the day approaches, keep track of weather on the latest satellite images. Note that we meet in mid-afternoon; 3pm! The reason is that one of the main photo subjects of interest is to get the tiny cresent moon and Mercury setting over the distant mountain range with background fading glow of twilight, and this requires being set up, tracking, and photographing at 6:00pm, and it's close to an hour drive from San Juan Bautista to our site. Give an hour for dinner and strategizing at Felipe's, an hour to drive, an hour to set up, and we'll just make it in time.
Note - all driving mileages are guesstimates! Start out as if you're going to the Pinnacles. Drive south on Hwy 25 south of Hollister. At Paicines you'll see a funky little grocery store / cafe on your left. Turn left (east) here onto the road to Panoche Valley. You'll drive into the hills and the road will get windy and narrow for 30 miles or so till you arrive in wide, flat Panoche valley. Look for the only public business in the vally - a bar on your right. Continue on for another mile or so and you'll see a sign to Mercey Hot Springs and I-5. Turn left onto this road and drive another ~5-7 miles, up over the pass, till you see Mercey Hot Springs resort on your left. Go another mile and on your right you'll see a dirt road with a parking area and sign describing the rules of BLM land (Bureau of Land Management; federal land that anyone is free to use, camp on etc.). Drive on up this road as it winds into the last mountain range before you get to the Central Valley (really more like big hills at this point). It has nice views once you get up higher. Our site is at 2000 feet elevation and will be above any marine layer. Our site is about 5 miles up this dirt road. It's a good road, any passenger car can drive it at good speed with no problem. Beyond our site there's a hilltop with radio antennae so they keep the road in good shape. You can't miss us - we're on your left in a large wide flat area where another ridge comes in, and right after a drive up a canyon; about 5 miles from the paved road. Here's the Topozone.com map of the site.
I'll bring along the Coleman stove and enough fuel to keep us in hot tea and hot chocolate all night long. Dress warm!!
Photo highlights of this weekend are...
(1) A slim 3% cresent moon will form a beautiful conjunction with both Mercury, just 2 degrees north east, and Antares, just 2 degrees below during twilight. The time to get this photo will be 5:40pm, when the moon is 1 degree up, Mercury is 3 degrees up, and the sun is 8 degrees down.
(2) Comet Q2 Machholz is rapidly approaching the earth and should be a nice photo subject in January when it passes through Taurus. It's at it's farthest southern point this weekend, but still visible; it'll be 5th magnitude below Lepus and Orion, rising in the late evening and getting as high as 23 degrees up by 2am.
(3) Comet K4 LINEAR, which put on a nice show in the evening sky of summer, is now closest to the sun and should have a more developed tail. This weekend is our best opportunity to see it one last time, in the morning sky before dawn. The comet will be 6th magnitude, 12 degrees above the southeastern horizon while it's still dark, off the tail of Corvus.
(4) Saturn will be rising in the late evening sky and getting closer to earth - we can try to get some video footage for stacking.
(5) A nice conjunction with Mars, Venus, and Jupiter all lined up in Virgo in the pre-dawn sky.
(6) Orion rises early enough (late evening) to allow photography of the beautiful nebulae of this area even if you're dog tired and want to sleep this night.