Monday, August 1, 2011

TMSP Trip Report

Another year and another Table Mountain Star Party.

This was my second year as a member of the board of directors for TMSP.
Since I am on the board, I get the privilege of helping to set up all the tents which means I arrived on the mountain on the Sunday before the actual event.

Sunday morning I packed up my 1975 VW Kombi and set out for the mountain.

 My particular bus has more than enough power to conquer the highways and passes
between my base of operations in Des Moines and Table Mountain.

The weather was beautiful and the drive was uneventful despite having rebuilt my distributor on the previous Friday evening.

As you can see she cruises nicely on the freeway.

I made it to the most demanding and most picturesque portion of the journey at around 3pm

This portion of the trip has you climbing from the floor of the Kittitas Valley to Table mountain in the Wenatchee Mountains.  The first 5 miles up Reecer Canyon sees over 2400 feet in elevation gain.

The switchbacks give ample opportunity to gaze out across the valley, however the technical nature of this portion of the drive leaves the driver with little time to enjoy the vistas.

I made it to the site at around 4pm on Sunday.
I was pretty excited to be on the mountain and was thrilled to have arrived.  There were a few early arrivals who were already onsite.  Most of the other board members were also already on site supervising the setup of the speaker, registration, stuffshack and infobooth tents.

By the time I arrived, everything but the infobooth tent had been setup.
The weather was beautiful.  I got settled in and set up camp behind the infobooth.

This was my first year on the mountain running the infobooth, I was unable to attend the event last year, so the inventory and assessment of the info booth materials was postponed until this year.  I spent much of Tuesday cobbling together some display materials to augment the new area topo map and whiteboard that I brought with me.

I woke up at 2am on Monday morning and stepped out to the crescent moon and the milky way overhead.  I returned to bed excited for the coming nights, an hour later the sound of heavy rain, strong winds and loud thunder woke me again.

Monday was wet, and foggy.   The porta potties arrived on schedule Monday afternoon despite the wet and muddy roads.

No more hiking down to Lion Rock spring campground when nature calls.

That was nice.

Despite the rain subsiding about 1 pm , not much else got done in the way of setup besides the portapotties which meant Tuesday was going to be a busy day.

By Monday afternoon, it seemed to be breaking up, weather reports predicted improving conditions as the week wore on.  Bodies were damp, spirits were high and optimism was in ample supply.  It might have been the weather forecast, or it might have been the beer although I suspect it had more to do with the latter.

By 11 pm the clouds had mostly parted and the sky was clearing.  The milkyway even made an appearance however the dew was particularly bad.  It was cold with some dips into the high 30's overnight.

Tuesday saw several more early arrivals, which meant an influx of volunteers to help with parking layout.

I spent most of the day cobbling together new info displays and taking stock of the info booth materials.

By Tuesday evening the scope field was starting to look like there was a star party happening.

Despite some clouds and some wind, the skies cleared up and were again usable.  Dew was a major obstacle again causing most to shut down before 1am
but considering the amount of rain that fell on Monday it wasn't too shabby.

By Wednesday, the ground had begun to dry out and more people were arriving.

I was able to get enough spotty cell coverage to snap a picture of myself in my red directors shirt to send to my wife.

I was still smiling at this point, of course the busiest days were yet to come.

Wednesday was also the day of the annual shirt sorting ceremony.  Being a board member means lots of work on the mountain.  Being related to a board member ALSO means lots of work on the mountain :-)

There were a TON of butterflies on the mountain this year.  The wet winter made this one of the lushest years I have seen on the mountain.  All of the flowers were in full bloom and the Lupines and Agoseris were out en force.

Wednesday night was even better than Tuesday.  It was drier and the skies were steady and clear.  It was cold down into the low forties.  Despite the cold temps and breezy weather, activity on the scopefield  continued well past midnight.  I turned in around 1:30 AM.

Thursday was hump day.  It is the first official day of the event and one of our busiest days for arrivals.  

Our parking volunteers were an essential asset and things would not have gone smoothly without them.

The vendors were finishing setting up.

The scope field was filling up and the weather was improving every minute!

The info booth was even getting some customers.

Rudy was a regular visitor to the booth and always left with a smile on his face and a wag in his tail.

The speaker program was also underway with lots of applause for Shane Larson.

Thursday was also the first night that I decided to get out my barndoor for some photography.  There were several bad shots, lots that were out of focus, but I did have one standout.

This is a 5 minute exposure of Deneb and the surrounding sky.
I used my Canon XSi and was shooting at ISO 800 and F3.5 which was as low as I could go with my starter lens.

I am very pleased with the results and the scope field was busy and active well into the morning hours.  Temps were again in the low-mid forties, a little breezy but still one of the best nights I have seen on the mountain.  Dew was progressively becoming less of an issue and the road had dried out completely.

By Friday the dust was starting to get kicked up and we were in full swing.  Doyle and Debbie were cranking out the coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

The weather was just about perfect Friday.

Friday evening started out with a screening of The City Dark and a few words from David Ingram about Light Pollution.  The speaker tent was standing room only!

The scope field was jam packed and the excitement in the air was palpable.

I had another night with the barndoor and again had one stand out image.

This image covers Cassiopeia and is a 2 minute exposure at ISO 1600.

It features the double cluster, and an iridium flare.

I took about 37 shots on friday night but this is really the best one of the evening.

I am still playing with a few of the others but that may take some time.

I also spent some time on the scope field with my wife looking through the myriad of scopes out there.  One of my favorite things about Table is the enthusiasm and generosity of the attendees who are always looking for another eyeball to look through their scopes.  Also present this year was a plethora of solar telescopes.  I was able to watch an incredible series of sunspots and flares develop over the course of the star party.

Saturday was another beautiful day maybe even a little on the warm side with the temperatures getting into the 80's inside the info booth.  The Student programs were going well and the fossil hunting trip was a complete success.

There was a good turnout for the swapmeet, and the door prize drawing was was one of the highlights of the day.  One bittersweet aspect of the day was the successful sale of my 10.1" Coulter Odyssey Compact dobsonian telescope.  I brought it with me but never unpacked it and have been trying to upgrade my Super Polaris to a goto system so that I could do some more imaging.  I spent Saturday night using it for one last goodbye tour of the sky.  I am sad to see it go, but excited to get started imaging with my 8" scope.  Plus this makes some room for a 16" dob which I hope to get eventually.

The evening was a spectacular end to one of the best Table Mountain Star Parties I have attended to date.  Despite some chilly temps and some wind, every night of this years event was excellent and there were many folks who were able to complete this years VERY challenging observers challenge list.  This year saw a new list generated by Krieg "John Deere Telescope" McBride and Tom Masterson which contained some VERY challenging objects.  Despite the difficulty, there were close to 11 people who were able to complete the list.  The student observing program also saw several students complete the second set of observations and get the second pin.

By Sunday we were all very tired from the long week.  We packed up the tents, pulled up the stakes and picked up the few pieces of trash that we could find, most of which was obviously there before we got there.

After everything was packed and we were ready to go, I hopped in the bus and headed for home, my wife playing chase vehicle and snapping a few photos of me in the bus riding off into the dust.

It was a wonderful year full of great memories.  I made a ton of friends on the mountain this year and had a great time putting red film on flashlights and talking to people and asking the students about their favorite celestial objects.

I have to thank my wife for supporting me and helping to run the info booth, all of the on site volunteers that make the event possible and most of all everyone who came to the mountain this year.  I hope to see you all next year.

Happy Trails and Clear Skies!

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