Monday, October 16, 2017

Deja Vu, And Then Some!

My friend Donna had a hair appointment in Tucson this last weekend and suggested a road adventure, and another buddy Bernie was impressed with my photos from the weekend before on the Baboquivari 4WD trip. What could I do but suggest another trip to the most sacred site of the Tohono O'odham? Neither had been to the area, so by noon we were again winding down the Sasabe Road! As on the previous trip, my new riders were impressed with the view of Kitt Peak from 12 miles away. At left, Bernie shoots the observatory - the flat peak seen on the horizon.

We didn't waste a lot of time on the drive down - turned off the paved road just beyond milepost 16 and followed the road back NW towards the impressive profile of Baboquivari. With our little later start, we found a nice spot for our lunch with a view of both the peak and vistas to the east as well. The 5-frame mosaic here from our lunch spot with the 300mm lens well-captures the peak and surrounding area. Unfortunately, with the 1600 pixel-wide limit of pictures much of the impact of these panoramas is lost. At right what I've done is crop out the peak area of the panorama, keeping it at full resolution to give an idea of how powerful the full resolution panorama is! The crop at right is the same image, just cropped, not downsized from the panorama...

The previous trip I had seen a lot of huge grasshoppers, though didn't stalk one down on that trip. This time one came walking by at our lunch, so was able to molest it and take it's photo. It is a colorful fellow, flightless, though with underdeveloped wings seen here with black spots. It didn't take long to identify it on the Google as a Plains Lubber Grasshopper, Brachystola magma. Interestingly, in that link, they find that the Plains Lubber has a 2-year life cycle. I really love the subtle but strong earth-tone colors!

A little later we did some hiking when we hit the locked gate mentioned in last week's post. We turned a corner and I discovered the Praying Mantis shown at right at eye level on a plant. It was quite patient while I twisted the plant to bring it into the sunlight to get one or two good shots...

About 1km above the locked gate, we saw a ranch house that looked a lot better-kept than I remember hiking past back in the 80s! It appeared to have newer double-pane windows and a metal roof, even as the road leading up to it seemed long-unused. I ventured a little past the "private property" sign, but only to get the photo at left. Following the trail around the house and the corral, I took the mosaic at right. It looks like an idyllic place to spend some time! Back 30 years ago when last here hiking the peak, we parked much nearer the ranch house, but was pretty run down. In my reading, about that time it was known as Riggs Ranch. I'm not sure who operates in the area now. On our trip last weekend, we saw a big truck going in, but didn't stop to talk. Did not see any cattle either trip, though saw some white-tail deer (about a half dozen, including fawns) this trip.

We pointed the Jeep downhill about 4pm, making good time back to pavement without incident. Returning north on the Sasabe Road (the way we went out) we were rewarded with more nice views of Kitt Peak. Shown at left is an odd-looking view when 99% of the time you only see the profile from Ajo Way on the way to the Observatory from Tucson. Here, looking from the SSE, the 4-meter telescope appears between the solar and 2.1 meter scopes! This was taken with the 500mm lens...

Thankfully, one of us was thinking and we used Donna's phone to take a selfie of the three of us, shown at right. It was another beautiful, if not warm (temps still in 90s) Fall day that will remain memorable!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Another Jeep Adventure!

Well, it is October in Arizona, which means that the temperature has dropped below 100F - barely! After being back to Tucson (from Illinois) for over a week, it was time to get out of town for a drive. I still have Melinda's Jeep, so since it has been parked the last couple months, I thought it should get out on a day trip. I decided to redo a trip that Melinda and I had done almost 9 years ago shortly after she moved to Arizona - a drive out to a unique mountain, Baboquivari! Since the car was her daily driver, she got nervous when the road got a little rocky, and we turned around WAY early. Less chance of that happening today!

Anaglyph image - 3D pair of Kitt Peak from east
Anaglyph image- 3D pair of Kitt Peak from the SSE
The route from Tucson takes us out Ajo Way towards the SW, then turns south on the Sasabe Road at Robles Junction (Sometimes called Three Points). I've often been on this route when photographing sky objects in the west, as the silhouette of Kitt Peak National Observatory 12 miles to the west makes a fine foreground! I used the opportunity on Saturday to take some stereo pairs of the Observatory, taking image sets a couple hundred meters apart to show 3D effects at the distance of the mountain. Use the usual anaglyph red/blue glasses to see the 3D effect! While the image at left shows the usual profile one sees heading west towards the Observatory, the 3D image reveals the topography you don't usually see! As the road continues south and curves towards the west, you get a completely new vantage point of the mountain, as shown at right. Kitt Peak's top is sort of shaped like a "T" with the broad side on the south, and you can see this topography with a couple hundred meters separation. These pairs were taken with a 500mm lens out the car window, pulling over when there was a clear shot to the horizon...

Anaglyph image - 3D of Baboquivari over foothills
A few more miles and Baboquivari, which had been visible miles away, comes to dominate the western horizon. It is a spectacular mountain - the remaining lava plug from an ancient volcano. The anaglyph at left shows the peak towering over some of the foothills that surround it. The diagonal slash of green just above the foothills is a natural ledge (called Lion's Ledge) that forms a route across the sheer east face of the mountain. A lifetime ago, a Kitt Peak programmer (an experienced climber) led another employee and me across Lion's Ledge to climb that left side profile, called the "Southeast Arete". Never having been rock climbing before, I chickened out and met them back at the saddle on the north side, after they successfully summited and descended again. I've never been comfortable in highly exposed situations, and while I've climbed to the peak three times since, it was always on the easier Forbes route on the north and west sides...

Peak nears, road becomes a little sketchy!
The turn towards Baboquivari was near milepost 16 on the Sasabe road. The dirt road was near perfect condition, except for occasional small gullies that would have slammed your head on the roof of the Jeep if you didn't slow and didn't have your seatbelts on! It was about 8 miles to a locked gate, the road getting progressively worse as the peak became more and more impressive as it grew nearer! Really, only the last mile required 4WD in climbing out of a wash and a steep rocky hill beyond. Shortly after crossing a wash with actual standing water and deciduous trees showing some Fall colors, we came to the locked gate, the weeds growing on the route beyond indicating it is not open very often! But that is MUCH farther than Melinda let me go with her baby back in 2008! I took a photo of the Jeep and the gate with the peak in the background in celebration!

I didn't feel like hiking much beyond the gate and other than take a few stereo pairs didn't stay long. I had spotted a striking seed pod while climbing through the desert vegetation, the crimson seeds standing out against the browns and tans of late Fall. I took a photo of it against some striking pink metamorphic rock that I collected in a wash crossing.

I also collected a set of photos of the peak with the 300mm lens, zooming considerably into the slab, taking 13 frames to cover it down to the lower elevations. While the mosaic loses considerable power when reduced to the 1600 pixel wide limit of the blog, it still reveals lots of details in the sheer walls.

The return down the route seemed to go faster and the Jeep enjoyed returning to pavement in less than an hour. Like the trip in '08, returned via Arivaca and Amado to return to Tucson via I-19, arriving by sunset, making for a long, but memorable drive to some difficult-to-forget wilderness!

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Atwood Sphere!

While my last post stated that Adler Planetarium is America's oldest planetarium, there is an older device for visualizing the sky, if not an actual planetarium in the usual sense! Known as the Atwood Sphere, it is a 17 foot diameter sphere made out of thin gauge (1/64 inch thick) metal, made by a windmill company in 1913. Originally installed at the Chicago Academy of Science, it was carefully drilled indicating the positions of nearly 700 stars, and when viewed from the interior, provided a reasonable approximation of the night sky from light coming in the holes. Over the years the exterior was actually painted to resemble a globe of earth with continents, oceans and even the vertical relief of mountains pounded out from the interior. It fell into disuse after Adler came into being in the 1930s with it's state-of-the-art Zeiss projectors and massive dome, but the Adler acquired it in the mid 1990s, restoring the sphere to its original design, color, and construction with a motorized drive approximating the rotation of the stars overhead. The photo at left shows the "car" that will move up to 10 friendly people up into the viewing area of the sphere interior, at right, my finger points out one of the stars drilled into the surface...

The guides do a great job with a batch of visitors moving through the Sphere every 8-10 minutes. Besides the light coming into the holes from the upper illumination, there are constellation lines put on with luminous paint, kept bright with dim UV illumination. The image at left shows a view of the interior - if you know your way around the sky, you can see the late winter northwestern sky with the "W" of Cassiopeia at center, Andromeda at left, and Perseus on top. I thought the holes-in-steel worked remarkably well - well enough evidently that during WW2 they offered lessons in celestial navigation to flyers undergoing training at local bases!

At right is the drive mechanism that rotates the sphere around the viewers in the "car" to provide a leisurely tour of the entire sky in a few minutes...

Edge of Atwood Sphere - remind you of anything?
At left is a Gif of 6 frames that I took as the guide took a new group up into the sphere. As a joke, he stated that the short ride was the "world's slowest roller coaster"! Note the sphere starting its rotation in the last frame... It is a remarkable display of the ingenuity and inspiration of Wallace Atwood, who served on the board of directors of the Academy of Science. And it is remarkable today that Adler got it out of mothballs and made it into such a popular display!

At right is a view of the upper edge of the sphere against the illumination from above that provides light for the "stars" punched in the surface. Perhaps faintly you can still see some of the vertical relief they punched into the globe, or perhaps it is evidence instead of rough handling in the past. Regardless, it reminds me of an image taken a couple years ago as New Horizons looked back at Pluto. It is such a lovely and amazing image, show me the edge of a sphere and I'll think back to this image often:

Looking at edge of a sphere will always remind
me of New Horizon's look back on Pluto...

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Adler Planetarium

One of my obligations on this trip to "Ketelsen East" was that I had agreed to speak at the September meeting of the Chicago Astronomical Society - at Adler Planetarium! I think it was a big deal because Adler is a big deal! It is the oldest planetarium built in this country and is part of the lakeside museum complex where Chicago meets Lake Michigan. In fact, flying into O'Hare the day before speaking, we flew out over the Lake before turning and landing towards the west, and had a great view of the downtown area, including the shot at left of the museum complex. This is a full resolution (cropped from the full image) and labels added to identify some of the major structures. The planetarium is on a manmade island which also used to have a small plane airport (Meigs Field). The airport was demolished in 2003 and "North Island" is now entirely park land, as is much of the lakeside. From the base of the stairs at the entrance, mostly only the original marble building is visible with the projection dome at center.

The original building was a 12-sided structure, and perhaps you can make out in the wide shot above, that each corner of the building had one of the signs of the zodiac. Four of them are collected in the collage at left - I just love the art deco design of these! Unfortunately, most are hidden by building expansion and while some are visible inside the additions, I suspect not all 12 can be located (I didn't have the time!). If you get a little further from the structure, you can see some of the newer additions that wrap around the lakefront side of the original building, also, you can pick up the figure of Copernicus seated on a marble plinth in front of the planetarium! The photo at left was taken shortly before sunset...

And you can imagine that with Adler located on a spit of land so close to Chicago, that the view of the city is great - and you would be right! At left is a 2-frame panorama looking down Solidarity Drive towards the west. Not exactly looking towards the skyline, which is a little more to the north, that would be the image at right! The image needed someone in it and luckily these two girls served the purpose well! The skyline view is great and in fact, there is a webcam atop the Adler dome, but I've not found a public-available view of it! It is used for several of the local TV weathercasts as it is a good indicator of weather and cloud cover, so perhaps it is now a "pay for play" camera!

Fortunately, I had an escort to make sure I got to the Adler from "Ketelsen East" in the far-western suburbs! Mark met me at the Geneva, IL train station and guided me through the station downtown where we were picked up by Tony of the CAS for the drive to Adler. If not for all this, it would have been tough for me to make it on my own! Melinda and I made it to Adler once in the last 10 years, and it was a tough drive, needing a navigator, then paying $20 for parking once arrived. The train was a nice method, but introduced its own set of "need to know" facts!

Anaglyph - use red/blue glasses to see Gemini 12 in 3D!
We had a couple hours to go through some of the displays. One of my favorites was an entire gallery devoted to "local boy" astronaut Jim Lovell. There was quite a collection of his papers and artifacts of his growing up and time in NASA, including the Gemini 12 spacecraft on display! That is it on at left - amazingly small for 2 people to spend 4 days out in space! BTW, that is a 3D anaglyph at left, so get out your red/blue glasses to see it in 3D. For those of you without glasses or only one eye, check out the similar image at right...

At an institution like this, you expect a good collection of instruments both historical and more recent, and they had a very good collection. At right is a selfie image of me taken with a thermal IR camera demonstrating invisible wavelengths not visible to the eye. I was wearing glasses, and carrying my camera that took this photo of the monitor, so they are near room temperature, and it appears my cheeks are the hottest (brightest) exposed part of me... I was also wearing a hat, so the top of my head is clipped too... At right, Tony and Mark examine a collection of antique telescopes from the early 1800s...

Of particular interest to Tony and Mark was a large refractor (18.6" diameter) Clark refractor that was on display. There was some discussion whether it still belonged to the Chicago Astronomical Society as it once was. There was some uncertainty in that...

Adler officially closed at 4:30 until the evening programs started, but we had arranged a tour of the adjacent Doane Observatory which serves as a public telescope at the facility. Located on the lake side of Adler, it is blocked from direct lights of the city. Our tour was given by long-time employee Michelle Nichols who apparently wears many hats including director of public observing. That is her standing in front of the facility at left, and in front of the 20 inch telescope at right. We were debating the various effects on seeing of the building - Mark thought the concrete walls would heat up during the day, but my thought was that the ivy shaded much of that effect. The dome is a little unusual in that it is the truncated cylinder as shown in the image. Because one side of the "dome" is heavier, the wheels wear unevenly and require frequent inspections. There also seemed to be an ongoing issue with collimation of the telescope affecting the image quality, of which all three of us offered assistance to inspect and adjust. While my time in Chicago is limited, Tony and Mark may get put to work to try to improve the images.

After Michelle's tour, we had "dinner time" on the schedule and while we had talked about a ride over to Millennium Park to enjoy "The Bean" and get a snack, we stayed adjacent to the planetarium and talked about things over a couple chili dogs at the stand a few feet from the steps.

Eventually my time came and my talk about working on the GMT project at the Mirror Lab was very well received. It was under attended though - evidently the thinking was that with a local concert, the parking was enforced at $35, which might have turned off a lot of club members - a significant jump over the normal $4 for night time parking! And even with us amateur astronomers preaching against light pollution, I had to admit that the night time view of the Chicago skyline was quite striking! I've got more from this visit to post - stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Rest of the Road Trip!

Seems strange to still be writing about the eclipse road trip with the Russian kids, but since I've not done it yet, have been busy since, and haven't been blogging a lot, time to finish it out since it ended 3 weeks ago! I likely won't get very far, as I'm writing this from the sunroom of "Ketelsen East", where there is a perfect late-Summer day calling out to me! The temp outside is 73F and the acorns continue to rain down like shots onto the roof, distracting me to come outside and play... Maybe after a few paragraphs!

The last I wrote about the eclipse, we had just finished observing the spectacular totality! It was sad to see it end, but we were glad to have shared it with friends! Most all of those who joined us packed and hit the road for their next destination even as the partial phases ended. Our group made the wise decision to stay till the next morning to avoid the traffic jams of tens of thousands of people all leaving the narrow path of totality at once. And we did hear lots of stories of crawling traffic going on for many hours. So after another night's rest and more hospitality from our hostess Karen and her two lovely granddaughters, we left for parts south on Tuesday, 22 August. We had come up the eastern side of Utah and our idea was to come down through central Utah to visit some National Parks - Bryce and Zion to be the highlights...

No issues at all with traffic - the crowds were all hundreds of miles ahead of us evidently! We drove all day watching the pretty scenery from Central Wyoming to near central Utah. The highlight of the day was winding our way down past Flaming Gorge, with a visit to the dam and reservoir there. It is part of the huge complex of dams to control the Colorado River basin, and was interesting to see one close up. We stopped frequently, but never for very long, ending a long day of 450 miles (for us) at Green River, Utah... Interestingly, I didn't get the camera out all day!

Anaglyph of I-70 entering San Rafael Reef
Note that this post has an abundance of 3D anaglyph images - over a dozen!  Those photos captioned "anaglyphs" can be seen in 3D if you have a set of red/blue 3D glasses.  They consist of 2 photos taken from a few inches to many yards apart and when combined and tinted in Photoshop and viewed thru the glasses, a 3D image results.  Believe me, the results are worth it if you can find the glasses!

The next day we hit the road at the crack of 9am and made it a whole half mile till we hit a café for breakfast! We didn't have a goal for an overnight yet, which always makes me nervous... We had hopes of visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, but having not been to either, wasn't sure about the distance we had to go and the logistics of those visits. We stopped again at a rest stop looking up at the San Rafael Reef, where Interstate 70 traverses a swell of sandstone that blocked westward flow of pioneers in the old west. Showing the first of many stereo pairs in today's post (get out the red/blue stereo glasses!), you can see I-70 going thru the blasted-out canyon. The sign at the rest stop indicates in places, outstretched arms could touch both sides of the canyon before the widening!

We made it to Bryce by early afternoon. It is an amazing place! It is well hidden from the main road - a turn towards the east slowly transforms from red rock to the amazing amphitheaters of tinted hues and hoodoos that make Bryce like no place else!

Of course, as we hit highlights like this we restarted the tradition of the group photos in front of the park signs, then had to do the same in front of a multi-hued overlook.

We stopped at the visitor center and I was surprised by a very nice display on dark skies and light pollution. With my involvement with the Grand Canyon Star party over the last 27 years, we were among the early promoters of dark skies in the National Parks, but Bryce has taken the thought and run with it, hosting a similar star party to ours, though I've never been to their version. The display was nice to see and of very high quality and accuracy!

Anaglyph - close-up of hoodoos
Anaglyph - wide shot, overlook and trail in background
Similar to the San Rafael Reef above, I had to try to capture some 3D views of the amazing landscape at Bryce. It was almost impossible though as clouds moving through changed the lighting and strong shadows on a timescale of seconds... These two show a wide view and close up of the hoodoos from "Inspiration Point". It seems amazing that these structures were formed from water and frost weathering (erosion from freeze/thaw cycles). But it isn't only the shapes, but the delicate change in hues that make it amazing...

I would love to explore some of the hiking trails that were visible from our vantage points, but we were very limited in our time this trip. Perhaps in the future, a trip to the star party with some daytime hiking exploration would be in order!

Zion National Park is similarly a surprise - not revealing anything from the main road (only about 30 miles or so south of Bryce). It takes a turn off the road towards the west and a traverse of a dozen miles or so. We had an additional goal - our Wyoming hostess Karen, who used to be a ranger here told us we HAD to go to "Flying Monkey Pizza" in Springdale, just through the park. The scenery, like Bryce is AMAZING! The narrow main road winds down a canyon and includes a disconcerting narrow tunnel blasted through solid rock that is over a mile long! It is tough to drive because you want to be looking out at the view. Springdale is just past the west entrance to the park and looks to be very similar to Sedona, AZ, complete with high-end shops and restaurants, and of course, surrounded by red rock! We had a tough time finding the pizza place as the sign on the street had faded to nearly blank, but we eventually found it and truly enjoyed the wood-fired pizza there. We didn't get back on the road till about sunset, and drove the 45 minutes to Kanab where we overnighted very near the Utah and Arizona border...

I felt energized for the next day - back to Arizona! We were going to hit the north rim - for my second time, though it has been decades since I've visited! The first order of business was a rest stop at Jacob's Lake, where the road forked to the south to head to the park. It wasn't just a bathroom break, but a quest for some of the best cookies anywhere. On my first trip I was told I HAD to stop (advice might have been from our ranger Marker) at the Jacob's Lake Inn. I recall the cookie to order was the "cookie on a cloud", shown at left. It was as good as I remember from 20 years ago!

The Canyon is always impressive, the north rim significantly different that the south! The northern side is a good 1,000 feet higher, and the major vegetation is ponderosa pine, which limit the views off the north rim. The day we were visiting we had high clouds which also added haze and diffuse lighting that cut into the color saturation, but still - its the Canyon! We took some rim trails near the North Rim Lodge, taking some group photos and of course, Polina taking more of her selfies! We let the kids run around and explore some - not much chance of getting lost at the north rim, where the development area is pretty localized. I went in search of some lunch, and found a sandwich at the Deli adjacent to the Lodge. I think the kids went for pizza again, after gorging on it the night before!

Anaglyph - 3D at the Grand Canyon!
In part of our explorations as a group, I looked for 3D images to take, but the scale of the Canyon is so huge that you can't get much of a 3D effect. It wasn't till I looked at the downloaded images that I found that taking an image from 2 different pair sets taken worked - kind of! The image at left shows good 3D effect in the peninsula of land crossing the front of the frame, but the image separation is too large to easily follow around the rear of the Canyon to the treeline on the horizon, though it can be done. I like it - and since it is my blog, it stays!

We took the obligatory group shot with the entrance sign on our way out, after spotting it on our way into the park a few hours earlier...

From the north rim, it was a few hour run to Flagstaff where we stayed for the second time.  It was at this point that Donna got dropped off where she had parked our car and left our merry group to return to reality!  After another uneventful night at Motel 6, we toured the U.S. Geological Society in Flagstaff that works with a lot of the data from interplanetary space missions and had displays from early moon missions, to the latest Mars rover data.  They were very nice to us, since we showed up unannounced, and got poster packages for everyone along with some scientific research papers...  From Flagstaff, we hoofed it down to my place in Tucson where all found spaces to crawl into their sleeping bags among the couches, futons, carpet and cats.  Some even slept outside on the chaise lounge and my home-made wooden bench - for me, it was nice to see the kingsize bed again, even if Melinda's cat Annie was too upset with our visitors to share it with me!

Anaglyph - SR-71 w/Lockheed D-21B drone
Anaglyph - SR-71 engine
Saturday, 26 August dawned bright and clear - another hot day in Tucson! Hoping to get an early start, I dropped the kids and Margie off at a local breakfast spot while I returned to feed the cats in peace! The plan was to go to Pima Air and Space Museum - a great place for aviation in general. I had given up on matching the energy of the kids, and after negotiating them waiving our admission fee (they will do that for special groups, and have done it for us the last time we brought a Russian group), I wandered about, taking stereo pairs of my favorite craft.

My clear favorite is the SR-71 spy plane, shown at left. Nestled under its wing is a Lockheed D-21B drone, designed to be launched from an early version of the SR-71. I just love this, the fastest and highest flying plane ever designed, and the technology that went into it. Even one of its engines, exposed for display, makes a worthy 3D image!

Anaglyph - B-52 Looking north
Anaglyph - B-52 Landing gear
Perhaps it is the size of the plane that appeals to me - the venerable, long-serving B-52 also appeals to me and is a true behemoth! Although the older, and even larger B-36, the largest bomber ever produced appeals to me to (not shown). But the B-52 is shown at left. Note there is a little bit of "ghosting" from the red engine covers and the red/blue glasses - can't be helped with the anaglyph glasses! There are lots of things to find photogenic, but have chosen the wide view at left and the close up of the landing gear at right. In the wide shot, a little drone designed for use is also shown adjacent to the bomber...

Anaglyph - B-52 looking south
Anaglyph - F-14 Tomcat
A look down the sweep of the wing makes for a good 3D shot too. At one time they had a few B-52s on display, and a B-36 too, some of which appeared to be off the field this trip anyhow...

And of course, how can you not love the F-14 Tomcat, made famous by Tom Cruise in the "Top Gun" movie?! Especially in 3D, with the toothy grin, it looks pretty formidable!

After leaving the Pima Air and Space Museum late in the afternoon, we stopped by for a tour of the Mirror Lab where I still work part time. Our major project is the Giant Magellan Telescope, where they saw the front surface of GMT-2 that is being worked, and also the rear surface of GMT-4.  At left they are standing in the polishing lab in front of GMT2.  8.4 meters in diameter, it is one of 7 similar mirrors that will be mounted and work together as a single optical surface in the telescope! It is in fine-grinding stage and is a few microns (thousandths of a millimeter) rms. At right they inspect the finished mold for GMT5 that will be cast early in November. They seemed quite impressed with the largest telescope mirrors in the world!

After another dinner of pizza (at least their 4th or 5th meal of pizza by my count), we headed back to "Ketelsen West" for their last night in Tucson!

Anaglyph - Always loved this sundial - accurate too!
Anaglyph - McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope
While at Pima Air and Space Museum,
I had called up to Kitt Peak. They had been shut down even for daytime tours for some infrastructure upgrades made to the mountain observatory. It happened that it was their first day open for public tours, and so Sunday we headed up to Kitt Peak National Observatory, sort of on the way to Los Angeles! Kitt Peak, while less and less considered a national observatory as the NSF pulls back from funding the institution and they move into private hands, it is still an impressive place to visit and I really had wanted them to see it. We arrived just as the orientation talk started with Joe, our docent, who gave a great intro to the place! The afternoon tour normally went to the 4-meter telescope, but it was still closed, so instead went to the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, also defunded and closed, at least this day, even though it is tied with being the largest solar telescope in operation. It has been defunded in favor of the new 4 meter DKIST telescope on Maui, set to open in less than 2 years. That is the odd-looking solar scope at right as you approach it on the road.

Anaglyph - 2.1 meter from solar telescope
Anaglyph - 2.1 meter from near admin building
After walking up to the structure, we peered in at ground level to see the layout of the optics mounted in the inclined shaft, then walked down to go to the observing room where the action was normally taking place. Along the way we looked into a glassed-in case where an old logbook was displayed - Gemini and Apollo astronauts had signed in to observe the moon through this telescope back in April and May of 1964! Way cool! Joe gave a good talk about the sun, impressed that in his group were some Russian kids that just got back from the solar eclipse! I also won Joe's cookie contest for answering a question... He was talking about the sun being a plasma, a 4th state of matter.  He asked what the other 3 states were. While most appeared to be dozing and no one volunteered an answer, I correctly stated "solid, liquid, gas" and won a chocolate chip cookie! Woohoo!

After ambling back to the visitor center for some last-minute shopping of souvenirs, we descended down the mountain, but instead of turning east towards Tucson, turned left towards Sells and points west for the trip to LA. We got stopped by a border patrol checkpoint north of Ajo - that route a direct road north out of Mexico. While they were looking for undocumented aliens, they likely had rarely seen Russians pulled over at their stop! All the kids had to show their passports and visas, and we were on our way again. We spent one more night in Blythe and at 1pm met our contacts near Redding, CA that would transport them around for the next 10 days through the astronomical sights of Los Angeles and San Francisco!

And suddenly they were gone! Margie sped off in a cloud of dust and I was suddenly in isolation for the first time in 2 weeks! It was kind of odd... Anyway, drove through 2 haboobs in quick succession west of Casa Grande, and a little rain fell as I drove into Tucson, arriving after dark. It was a great 14 days of travel, formed some unforgettable memories with friends both close and far and witnessed one of nature's true spectacles in the total solar eclipse. It won't soon be forgotten, and almost everyone who witnessed it is looking forward 7 years to the next one in April of 2024.  Will we see you there?!