Monday, July 7, 2008

ER: GSSP 2008

ER is for Experience Report, although today I feel like a trip to the "ER" could be in order. I'm fuzzy headed, sun-browned, fully soaked in distant photons, and fatigue still has a firm hold on me.

But, I thought I'd share some impressions. Not my usual style report with a detailed listing of targets and descriptions of what I saw, but instead, what it was like *at* the GSSP, and about next year....

- Exceeding Expectations -

Everyone goes primarily for the skies. Each night condition progressively improved. Saturday, although (blessedly) cloudy all day, cleared out shortly after astronomical dark, giving us a very dark and transparent sky. Without resorting to the use of "squirrel meters - SQMs, I can say the only thing standing between us and the sort of dazzling skies I saw last year during the site survey, was some smoke haze. Still, it was so transparent that on Saturday night, as I was observing with Steve Gottlieb on his 18" Dob, his custom printed charts were not deep enough for what we were picking out, most notably in Abell 2256 (centered on NGC 6331). We had to fire up my laptop and use MegaStar to confirm or place dim galaxies that were at the threshold. I'm sure Steve will go into the details. But I believe if the skies go deeper than what Steve prepares for, we're doing pretty good.

- Pre-Party Party -

Several of the organizers were fortunate enough to take off last Monday, meet at a motel in Redding, and go out for dinner and drinks. We thought getting within two hours of the observing site a wise choice, and it worked so well I'm sure we'll do it that way for upcoming GSSPs. We had a great time, partying at Chevy's across the street from the motel. After that, it was an early night for everyone with a big job ahead of us on Tuesday.

- My Neighborhood -

The organizers decided to situate themselves in a group, at the center crossroads of the observing site. This would make it easy for attendees to find us if needed. I set up my 10x20 canopy, and shaded my tent and other camping gear under it. I had around me Alvin Huey, Steve Gottlieb (direct neighbors), Ken Archuletta, Ted Hupper and John Hoey, Paul Alsing, Jeff Gortatowski, Charlie and Susan Wicks, Jane Smith, Randy Muller, Ed Smith, Jim Bartolini, Evan Garber, and the across the north/south road was Rich Girard, Bob Jardine, Marsha Robinson, Peter McKone, Richard Ozer, Pete Santangeli and Dan Wright. Nothing like having so many of your friends around for a multi-day star party!

- Yea, Though I Walk Through The Valley Of Shadow Of -

The Dobs.... I felt small and almost insignificant with my 18" Obsession. Our little "corner lot" had a 30", two 25's, a 22" and 2 20's. I was reintroduced to the concept of humility. The last night I found it totally unnecessary to uncover my little telescope!

- Community Within And Around -

I was tremendously impressed with what a fine, considerate, helpful group amateur astronomers are. Everybody was friendly, cooperative, and understanding. When our shower truck was called away to support the firefighters, the GSSP's backup, which we though we'd never need but should plan anyway, worked great. The Beiber High School showers were very welcome, and got us out into that town, whereas if the truck was available, most of the traffic would have been into Adin. Still, the folks at Adin Supply were welcoming and gracious, and if you didn't realize it, they catered our Friday night dinner. I was pleased to hear that they saw significant benefit from our visit. I also *thoroughly* enjoyed the Albaugh family's "Ranch Days" event on Saturday. Those who went (and you *all* should) were treated to displays of products we all use daily that are supplied by rancher/farmers like the Albaughs. There was a man named "Buck" who was teaching how to rope a steer - with some horns attached to a small bale of hay about ten feet away - he called it the dummy, but after I had trouble "ropin" it, and a seven year old local walked up and showed everyone how to do it, I felt like the dummy (and enjoyed it!). It was very nice of the Albaughs and neighbors to create a GSSP brand! The Frosty Acres brand will be on the GSSP web-site soon, but the one they made for us was used to burn into about a 10 inch diameter piece of log we cut individually with a long lumber saw. What fun! Outside were sheep being escorted around by some neighborhood girls, and around back a man with a beautiful horse. Talking to him, I had to have him repeat what he told me about his family. His eldest child is 37 years old, youngest grandchild is 16, and youngest child is 2. Amazing! He may have set a record for widest age spread between children, short of perhaps some biblical stories....

I also had a very special treat this year. Turns out my observing buddy Richard Navarrete was unable to attend and sold his meal tickets to a local woman in the Adin area. We met, and she ended up hanging out with our group - Charlie and Susan, Jeff G, etc. I learned that her property has a lot of geothermal on it, and she had built a hot-spring fed outdoor shower. So, the last three days, while my friends would trek down to Beiber High School to shower, I'd be treated to that great hot spring water, with views of the big valley as my shower "walls". I'd first fallen in love with outdoor showers at Michelle Stone's which has one that is creek fed. Thanks again "Z" for the hospitality.

The most outstanding aspect of the community "around" us though, was our wonderful hosts, and their friends. Warm, welcoming people who you immediately feel a kinship to, and know you've found "the genuine article". From Barbara "mom" Albaugh to Becky, Helen and their friends, the women are beautiful, intelligent and healthy looking - the life there unquestionably agrees with them. Dale Albaugh, the patriarch, has lived in Adin since 1937, and along with sons Aaron and Andy, combine a sophistication and true "rugged" western look that is a piece of American heritage lost to many of us. What a treat to have been there, with these people, over 4th of July!

- Omnivorously Speaking -

The human species is successful in large part due to the fact that we are garbage disposals. We eat almost anything! But being modern and somewhat civilized, we have specialized and developed highly selective preferences. My meat preference became more refined last August at the Albaugh's dinner table, when I first tasted the Frosty Acres brand of gourmet grass-fed beef. Awesome stuff! Did you participate in the Saturday night BBQ at GSSP this year? That's it. I took an order form and am looking at ordering direct. I *highly* recommend it, and encourage others to order as well. Its no fresher or better, and supports our host! Here - - seriously, check it out, and tell your friends. This is a find!

- Organizer Notes, What I Would Do Differently -

One thing I love about our organizers is that we're all looking to improve our experiences - those who organize, attendees, our hosts, and the community. I know the Albaughs are looking already at new things to offer and show us for next year. The citizenry of The Big Valley now sees who we, their guests, are. That will help us all, locals and visitors, next year. But from a "star party" perspective, there are a few things I will be recommending, as a first time through at a new location, you learn. So here are some suggestions:

Speed limits. The only dust we had on-site was from vehicular traffic, especially along the long road running north south bordered by the bathrooms. We need a speed limit no faster than walking. That will go a huge way in controlling dust. If you noticed, even with the strong afternoon breezes, dust did not kick up. It was only cars, trucks and RVs "churning" it by driving too fast. Hey, what's the rush anyway, right? Slow down!

Grass length. With warm weather, we all would prefer to be in shorts and sandals. But that heritage wheat grass can be tough on the legs. It was upwards of 12 inches long this year. We expected it would be mowed, but the Albaugh's felt it was not too long, and left it. Live and learn, everyone's intentions were good. Next year a shorter grass would be helpful.

Porta-Potties. So many people camped by the hospitality tents, that the two handicapped units we had there were overused. Next year, they should be more even dispersed. And more porta-potties overall.

Hospitality Tents. More of them - expand the size. Move them centrally along the western edge of the star party.

Light Attenuation. While the local lighting on the horizon was mostly a non-issue when we are concentrating at the eyepiece, we can reduce it by having the RVs line up north south along the west side of the main road. This was our original plan, but the RVs surprised us by congregating en-masse to the north. By having them line up, not only would they provide additional light shielding, but those folks would be closer to the rest of the observers on the field, which would be nice.

Activities. Kites, we have a great venue for kite flying. A natural activity there. We should encourage responsible kite flying. We also found people interested in the Scrabble games going on near my campsite. We might have daily round-robin Scrabble games. More speakers, something that people seem to enjoy, so let's do more. Movies - - - something many star parties offer if we get skunked one or more nights - we can do them in the hospitality tent. Other suggestions? Ideas are certainly welcome.

I guess that's about it, for experiences and ideas. Oh, wait...

No more California wildfires! Mid-June to mid-July is usually pretty good for avoiding them. This year was a huge fluke, but fortunately we had a good backup plan for showers. In all likelihood we won't have fires next June, which means the shower truck won't be called into service for the CDF. That will make it an even easier event to attend.

And, without the fires, you all who were there Saturday night, enjoying a spectacular Milky Way, will be treated to an even more amazing sky.

I'm already looking forward to it, and I'm still tired from this year's event...

What will I remember the most out of it all?

That we had Four Nights of Peace and Starlight, on that farm in Adin...

What was your experience there?

Clear skies,


ps - One more aspect that needs to be noted. The Big Valley on Sunday morning, with much less haze than prior days, again because an awesome view. The huge bluff our star party is set on is dwarfed by the expansiveness of the area. I can't wait until my friends and fellow observers see it at its best....