Two Star Parties
With my telescope gear and provisions loaded, I set out across the mountains on Wednesday, June 21st, and arrived at Brooks Memorial State Park, near the Goldendale site, late afternoon. The following morning I proceeded to the star party, located about sixteen miles north of Goldendale and five miles east of highway US 97, at an elevation of about 2300 feet. The roads are all paved to the site property called “Skyview Acres,” a cut-over alfalfa field with about a dozen 5’x5’ concrete pads. There were no facilities other than a couple of porta-potties. The site has a clear view to all quadrants and the seeing was excellent, though not as good as Mt. Bachelor.
The ground was infested with yellow jackets. I needed to raise the front end of my motor home for leveling and threw a pair of gloves down next to my hydraulic jack. When I put on the right glove when I was preparing to operate the jack, I noticed a strange buzzing in one of the fingers. A yellow jacket had crawled inside the glove. Fortunately, when I removed the glove, it flew away without stinging.
I set up my eleven inch Celestron NexStar on one of the concrete pads, mounting it on my equatorial Mettler Wedge. It is the first time I have used the wedge and I was planning on a first attempt at imaging with an eight megapixel Olympus SLR digital camera. As the stars began to emerge I started my alignment procedure. Three separate alignments are performed for precise polar alignment necessary for imaging. My scope has a straight through 9x50 finder in which you must center each alignment star. Then you transition to a 9.5 mm eyepiece for more precise centering. This must be performed before the star drifts out of the narrow field of view in the eyepiece. After several frustrating attempts, I was able to complete the first two alignment procedures. By this time, with all the transitions from finder scope to eyepiece, each with precise centering, glasses on and glasses off, etc., I was loosing my balance. During the final alignment procedure I became so disoriented that I had to give up.
The next morning I reluctantly packed away my gear and started the drive home. I determined that I needed a finder scope that was easier to use and more efficient. Prior to the July Mt. Bachelor Star Party, I purchased a Telrad finder that utilizes a 1/2 degree field of view, and has an illuminated bulls-eye that is visible using both eyes from several inches behind the eyepiece. It is much easier to use and quite effective.
On Tuesday, July 25th, with the motor home loaded, I began the drive to Mt. Bachelor, near Bend, Oregon. My plan was to spend the night at a state park near Bend and then proceed to Mt. Bachelor on Wednesday morning. I arrived at the park about 5 p.m. and no spaces were available. I then spent the next two hours fighting the Bend traffic looking for suitable accommodations with no success. Well, there are several Forest Service sites between Bend and Mt. Bachelor, so I decided to try for one. I turned off the road to one about 8 p.m., but the sign stated, “Day Use Only, No Camping.” It was getting dark, I was tired and hungry, and my rig was self-contained, so I spent the night anyway. It worked out fine. I fixed a quick dinner and went to bed.
The morning arrived clear and sunny. I was parked in a pine forest next to a meadow along the Deschutes River, a delightfully beautiful setting. After breakfast I walked down to the river and discovered a well-used bike trail that followed the river between Bend and Sun River. I then drove on up to Mt. Bachelor and arrived just before noon. I picked a nice spot on the edge of the paved parking area and set up. A pretty fair crowd had already arrived. The day was warm with the usual afternoon wind that died down by dusk. Anticipating clear skies and good seeing, I decided not to use my equatorial wedge and just enjoy the viewing, using the go-to capability of my scope. I performed a simple two star alignment with my new Telrad finder. It proved to be efficient, and much easier to use than the straight through 9x50 finder alone. The night turned out to be beautiful, calm and mild. The Milky Way looked like a giant handle across the sky, extending from horizon to horizon. I stayed awake well past midnight viewing favorite astronomical objects. Thursday evolved clear and sunny with the usual afternoon wind, but not as warm as the previous day.
I spent the day strolling about the site looking at the equipment of others. One gentleman had a clever setup consisting of a reclining lounge chair that was motorized to swivel 360 degrees on a flat ring mount. He had a pair of 20x80 binoculars in an adjustable apparatus attached to the chair arms. I asked him if he tended to doze off while viewing.
I invited my neighbors, Geno on one side, Bill and Sue on the other, to join me for after-dark viewing if they wished. Well, we had quite a star party. The seeing was again perfect but the evening turned colder.
We used the go-to to look at everyone’s favorite objects until we ran out of ideas. We then started down the scope’s database list of available nebulas. My friend, Geno, had a nebula filter that we attached to my 9.5, 22, or 40 mm eyepieces, depending on the field of view needed, to view most to the common nebulas, and then a great many I had never seen. I was amazed to see how clearly the filter brought out the detail of nearly invisible nebulas. My two favorite views of the evening were of the Whirlpool Galaxy—the major spiral structure was clearly visible through the 9.5 mm eyepiece—and the Helix Nebula, low in the southeast at about 1 a.m. By this time the cold was taking its toll. The fingers of both hands were numb and my feet were two blocks of ice.
We called the end to a very special night of star gazing. Friday morning I slept late and spent the midday socializing. The weather had turned cooler and quite windy. They said it would be colder than Thursday night, so I packed up my gear and left for home about 2 p.m. I spent a couple hours in Bend—I always get lost there—looking for a bank. I drove through thick smoke from forest fires in the Sisters area. After some searching, I finally got the last site at Paradise Point State Park, near Woodland, about 9:30 PM, just before they closed.
I returned home Saturday about 1 p.m. I had spent the better part of eight days and logged about 1400 miles for two star parties. All for the love of dark skies.