Wednesday, September 12, 2007

 

Off the Beaten Path: The 2007 ISP...

Sometimes it pays to get off that beaten path—at least when you’re in search of a great star party experience. Sure, we all know about the TSPs, the WSPs, and the Stellafanes, great star parties all and justly famous. But there’s plenty more out there, including some far less well-known venues with great skies that attract smaller crowds and feature more relaxed and informal atmospheres than the big dos can. The Idaho Star Party, for instance.

Idaho Star Party? What does this ol’ boy know from Idaho? Not much at the time I was invited to be the keynote speaker at this year's 23rd edition. Oh, I knew where Idaho was—sorta, anyway—and that they grew potatoes up there (right?). That was about it, though. I pictured something along the lines of a far west Iowa. Lush farmland, but with ‘taters instead of corn.

I didn’t see much of Boise on my first night there. I was delivered into the friendly hands of the BAS (Boise Astronomical Society, natch) after dark after a somewhat punishing and long series of flights from Possum Swamp, and didn’t see one hail of a lot except the insides of my eyelids till the next a.m.

When I was conscious again, more or less, man was I surprised. I was way-out-west. The sparkling clean little city was ringed with impressive mountains, and a slight throb in my noggin signaled “high altitude” (either that or that I needed a drink). That and the clear air (occasionally tinged with the scent of burning from area forest fires) spelled g-o-o-d s-e-e-i-n-g to me. I was beginning to get excited.

Arriving at the ISP’s current site, Bruneau Dunes State Park, about an hour from Boise, kicked the excitement factor up another notch. Sure, dark skies are great, but without good facilities to go along with them what do you have? Not much. Thankfully, ISP’s site is way above average. In addition to plenty of RV hookups (RVs and travel trailers seem to be the favored accommodations for western star partiers), there were a couple of pin-neat little cabins (one of which would be my home for the next couple of days), an observatory containing a 25-inch Obsession, and a modern classroom building perfect for presentations.

The skies? As above, there was some intermittent haze due to area fires (thankfully distant), but mostly very, very good mag 7 (zenith) conditions prevailed much of the time. On that first night, after delivering my first presentation to an excellent, responsive audience, I wandered the field until the wee hours, observing with my trusty Celestron 10x50s or with any telescope I could beg, borrow or—well, never mind. Deep sky heaven? You betcha. I observed until I couldn't observe no more, turning in right after snapping the above shot of the Moon and Venus and a spectacular western Sunrise.

Next morning, I got the stars out of my eyes (temporarily) and took a more-better-gooder look at my surroundings. The site is called “Bruneau Dunes” for good reason. Just to the southwest of the observing fields are mountainous sand dunes. These ring a pair of semi-man made lakes, and are the result of the odd and interesting geology of the site. Basically, the region is the ancient bed of a long-gone inland sea or huge lake.

The most outstanding feature of the ISP, though? The friendliness of the organizers and the rank and file. Your Old Uncle was far from home and feeling a little tentative in his new surroundings. That didn’t last. Barb, Eric, Ray, Fred, and all the rest of the good folks (you know who you are) soon had Rod feeling like one of the gang. I’ve long said the best part of a star party ain’t the observing; it’s spending time with the amateurs you meet there. That was certainly true for ISP—in spades.

Yeah, making new friends and rediscovering old ones is the best part of a star party. What’s the second best thing, though? BUYING ASTRO STUFF, of course. ISP was blessed with several good dealers this year including Teton Telescope and Buyastrostuff.com. You know dang good and well I—and a lot of other happy amateurs—couldn’t resist partin’ with at least a few hard-earned greenbacks.

All too soon, though, I found I’d finished my second presentation of the star party, the kick-butt star-b-que was over, and another night of excellent deep sky observing was begnning to wane. I’m always anxious to get home to Chaos Manor South, but this was one star party I was real sorry to leave behind. Great skies, great folks, great surroundings, no bad surprises (well except for the black widow spider who decided to pay a courtesy visit to Unk in his cabin!). How could I not be sorry? ISPers: thanks for a great experience; hope to see y’all again soon!

Wanna see more ISP pix? Just click!

Comments:
Uncle Rod,

Just want to take this opportunity to tell you how much we enjoyed your presence last weekend at ISP. Both of your presentations were informative and enjoyable, your assistance with the telescopes of numerous observers was much appreciated and your down-home friendliness was quite refreshing. I am so glad you enjoyed coming and hope to stay in touch in the future.

Irwin
 
Thanks!
 
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