Sunday, July 10, 2011

 

The Herschel Project Nights 24 and 25


You don’t have to be crazy to observe from the Chiefland Astronomy Village in July, muchachos, but it sure helps. Badda-bing. Yeah, it is awful hot down in Florida this time of year. Even if you are close to the Gulf, it is hot. On the Wednesday before Miss Dorothy and I set out on our latest Herschel quest, the stats for Chiefland were, “Current temperature is 97F; feels like 123F.”

On the other hand, much of the time it’s actually been hotter up here in Possum Swamp than it’s been at the CAV. It has been a weird spring, muchachos. Hot, sure, but dry with a constant danger of fires. Now that summer has come in, we’re finally getting a little rain, which is good for the fire situation (Orange Beach, Alabama derned near burned up), but otherwise makes unbearable heat more unbearable as the mugginess quotient rises.

Miss D. and I were ready for a break in the form of a 4th of July getaway, so, heat or no, we were determined to go. Keeping the Herschel Project on the strait and narrow was also a consideration. It was a pretty good winter/early spring with Unk finishing both the Herschel 400 and the Herschel II, but we still have nearly half the big list of almost two-thousand five-hundred objects, mostly galaxies, left to go, and we had been resting on our laurels. Which means Unk has been too consarned lazy to tote a serious telescope out to the Possum Swamp Astronomical Society’s dark site in the buggy heat.

As soon as we made up our minds to go southbound a few weeks back, I got on the pea-picking Internet and made reservations at the good, old Chiefland Day’s Inn. Normally I would have waited a little longer and kept a weather eye on the extended forecasts before committing, but not this time. We’d decided we’d go rain or shine; if the H-Project couldn’t be pursued, we’d spend our time at Cedar Key.

As has been my custom of late, I packed all the gear that goes in the trunk of the Toyota the night before, meaning I only had to stuff a few items in the back seat on departure morning, Thursday morning. I thought I was being real smart when I marshaled the gear in Chaos Manor South’s front parlor Wednesday evening. I got out my checklist and ticked off each item. I went strictly by that checklist, and felt good about myself for abandoning my head-scratching, “Well, what else do I need to bring?” ways. Alas, as you’ll hear shortly, that wound up biting Unk in the posterior in a painful if not fatal way.

What did I bring? The usual Chiefland rig: Big Bertha, my NexStar 11 GPS; the Stellacam II; and all the support gear. Which includes our Coleman tailgating canopy, a big camp table, netbook computer, DVD recorder, DVD player (for its display), chairs, cables, eyepiece box (just in case), bottles of Yell, you name it. How do I get all that in a cotton picking Toyota Camry? Experience my friends, sometimes slightly bitter experience. Unk is thinking about a larger vehicle, an SUV, when it’s trade-in time again.

We were up bright and early on Thursday, though we didn’t need to be. The trip to Chiefland takes just under six hours, motel check-in time is two, and it does not get completely dark at CAV at this time of year till about 9:30 p.m. I loaded up the few remaining items and we headed out. Not to CAV, but to the neighborhood (Downtown) Mickey D’s, where Unk gobbled his usual fried chicken biscuit. I don’t know if they sell them up in Yankee-land, but if not, you-all are deprived. As I have said before, who doesn’t want fried chicken for breakfast?

Next up was four hours plus of I-10. It was made bearable by the company of the lovely Miss D. It is so nice to have her on my deep sky pilgrimages, now. We amused ourselves by listening to my iPod, which was, fittingly, loaded up with Sir Willie’s Greatest Hits album. OK, OK, that’s not really the title; it’s Sir William Herschel: Music by the Father of Modern Astronomy, which I got off’n the iTunes. Miss D. had never heard any of The Master’s music before, and was suitably impressed. No, he wasn’t Mozart, but he was derned good, and if he’d been a little better astronomy might have lost him to music.

Are you surprised to hear Unk listens to classical music? Well, he does, but, so as not to wreck my image, the next record (I still call them that) I cued up on the iPod Touch was The Allman Brothers Band Live at the Fillmore East. Is that more like it, y’all?

Just after Tallahassee, I-10 runs into Highway 19, the Georgia-Florida Parkway, where you exit. There’s a good filling station there where I gas-up and pick-up some snacks for the final hundred-mile run to CAV (they have the weird but awesomely tasty Jack Links Sasquatch Big Sticks, including the ANGRY flavor). It’s at this point that I usually start getting excited, planning the night’s observing run in my head. This time? Not so much.

Just before we departed the Swamp, I checked wunderground.com and weather.com and was dismayed to see Thursday evening’s forecast had changed overnight from “partly cloudy” to “mostly cloudy.” Often, it’ll be cloudy all the way down I-10, begin to clear as you hit U.S. 19, and be beautiful by the time you arrive at CAV. Not this time. We ran into honest-to-god rain, and by the time we got to Chiefland it was obvious there’d be no observing on this night. Hell, it appeared we wouldn’t even be able to set up the rig.

Nevertheless, we stuck to The Plan: checked into the motel (our poolside room was not quite ready, which was fine), and headed to the Astronomy Village. If you don’t know what the CAV is, look here or here, or look at some of the earlier Project blog articles. What it is in short is a housing development for amateur astronomers that’s close to the conveniences of Chiefland, but far enough away from the light dome of that small town to allow superb deep sky observing—when the weather cooperates.

What did we find when we got there? A whole lot of soggy nothing. My buddies were either not yet on site or hole up somewhere cool and dry. Dorothy and I sat under the storied CAV picnic pavilion for a while, enjoying each-other’s company and chatting on about this and that and trying to decide whether we ought to start unloading or not.

Our decision was “not.” The sky wasn’t looking better; it was looking decidedly worse. For a while, I became concerned the weird cloud hovering over the Clarks’ house was a tornado aborning (it wasn’t, but the sky looked threatening enough to make me think that could happen). There was absolutely nobody on the field to keep an eye on my gear if the weather turned truly rancid in the middle of the night, either. It was still early, however, so we decided we’d make a run on Wally-World, get settled in the room, and motor back out around six-thirty. If things were substantially better, I’d have plenty of time to get Bertha unpacked and be ready to go by astronomical twilight.

What was at the Wal-Mart? Those deadly, deadly Big Macs at the store’s built-in Macdonald’s, and bottled water, Monster Energy Drinks, and Jack Links Flaming Buffalo Chicken Nuggets for the field. Don’t worry too much about Unk’s diet; we also snatched up some granola bars for healthy snacking (about dadgummed time) in the room. Lastly, I glommed onto a 50-foot extension cord. The cord I’d used to power Bertha last time, in April, was almost too short.

Thence to the room. Not much need be said about our regular Chiefland hostelry. The room was clean and convenient, if looking a little shop-worn. Above all, it was cool, there were plenty of cable channels, and the bed was inviting. Unk had considered bringing along some heavy duty astronomy reading material, but, in light of the hot and lazy summer environment, opted instead for Star Wars Republic Commando: HARD CONTACT. Not exactly literature, friends, but it entertained me till I dropped off into an hour or two’s nap.

At six I did indeed head back out to the site (I told Miss D. she might as well stay at the motel). The skies were even worse. The weather gods still hadn’t let go in a big way, but it looked like they had every intention of doing so. Out at CAV, I was still alone, so Unk wandered around the site for a while, reliving ten years of wonderful observing runs. What was that? Was it a drop of rain? Yep. I grabbed the Monsters, ran to the Clubhouse, stowed ‘em in the fridge, and made a dash for the car.

Back in Chiefland proper, it was an uneventful but restful evening that included that sainted potation, Rebel Yell, plenty of browsing of the Cloudy Nights discussion groups with the netbook, and the SyFy Channel’s silly but fun Hollywood Treasures marathon as the rain fell. Just before night-night time, we tuned in the Weather Channel, which was promising “partly cloudy” for Friday night, keeping our slightly dampened hopes alive.

Friday morning dawned to scudding clouds. Not perfect, no, but better than the full overcast of Thursday. Miss D. and I decided it was good enough and headed to the CAV immediately after our breakfast of miniature bagels at the Days Inn. It was a good thing we got out to the field not long after 9 a.m. The thermometer was beginning a steady climb that would top out in the mid 90s, which, with the humidity brought on by the previous day’s rain, meant a heat index over 100. I’ve felt hotter at the CAV, but it was bad enough, y’all.

My strategy was to go easy and not rush, taking plenty of breaks and drinking plenty of water. It wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t bad, and set up was going smoothly—too smoothly, it turned out. With our canopy up, I manhandled Bertha’s tripod from the trunk. I normally pack the tripod with its spreader removed in order to maximize space in the trunk, and I didn’t even have to look in the car to realize it: I’d left the dadgum thing at home.

The last time I’d used the NS11 had been on our last CAV expedition in April. Naturally, I’d removed the spreader when I’d packed for the drive home. When I unpacked, I’d forgotten to replace it on the tripod. I knew good and well where it was: right where it had been sitting for months, on the seat of a chair in the dining room. The only question was whether this was a fatal error.

A little cogitating and I decided the answer was “no.” The spreader may add stability to the tripod but it is not actually required. The scope mounts to the tripod head via three bolts that are in no way connected with the spreader or the threaded rod it rides on. The legs have stops and don’t need the spreader to prevent them from collapsing. If the lack of a spreader made the scope a touch shakier than normal, that would be offset by the fact that I wouldn’t have to touch Bertha over the course of the run. Her Moto-focus means it’s strictly hands off. Whew! I finished set-up feeling just a wee bit shaky after my scare.

I was a mite tired and hot, and there wasn’t much reason to hang around the field after set-up, since there still wasn’t a soul around. I had received an email from good buddy Carl Wright earlier that said he’d be on-site by afternoon, and I figured the rest of the gang would trickle in over the course of the day. Naturally, while driving back to town and enjoying the Camry’s air conditioner, I began playing the “what ELSE did I forget” game.

DOH! I didn’t remember seeing the DC power supply I use to run the DewBuster heaters. I didn’t need to turn around and head back to the CAV to check, either. As with the spreader, I immediately knew I’d forgot the fricking-fracking thing. I knew how to fix this, at least—I’d run the heaters off my battery.

At CAV, almost everything, including Bertha, runs on AC current. I do like to power the Stellacam with a battery, though, since the last time I operated it with a wall-wart was the time the dang thing blew up (not quite, but it did stop working and need repair). Today, the camera is “obsolete” and I’m not sure who I’d get to fix it if I let the smoke out again. What I could do, then, would be to share the single jump-start battery I’d brought for the Stellacam between the camera and the dew heater.

The uncooled black and white Stellacam draws very little current, and given the fact that it wouldn’t be dark enough to start the run till after 9:30, I figured that even with the ‘Buster cranked to “10-degrees,” my usual setting when it’s humid and I expect lotsa dew, the 17ah battery would probably go longer than I could. I would need a cigarette-lighter-style splitter so I could plug both devices into one outlet, but I knew Wal-Mart had those. They might even have something of some kind I could use as a tripod spreader. Some sort of round thing with a hole in the middle that would serve.

After Wally-World, where I did find a 12 volt splitter but didn’t find anything that could be pressed into service as a tripod spreader, it was back to the motel to wait out the hot day. After all the alarms and excursions, your Old Uncle was for sure hot and bothered, and proceeded to cool off in the pool. Where I ruminated on my forgetfulness.

Actually, I knew just what my problem had been. Checklists are good things, but you have to use an accurate checklist. I’d formulated mine before I began running off mains current at CAV. And I just expected the spreader to be on the tripod till just before it went in the trunk. I trusted that list, and with everything checked off and verified, I didn’t give the gear a second thought. Probably would have been a good idea to gather it all up in the parlor a couple of days ahead of time, not the night before. If I’d done that I might have started playing “what else” despite my checklist discipline and realized what was left out.

After chilling down in the swimming pool for quite a while and hitting the best little barbeque place on the planet, Bar-B-Q Bill’s, for lunch, I was feeling better. After all, I could have left way more critical stuff—like the camera or computer—behind. I figured I’d be OK. Even the sky looked OK. The clouds had not cleared off completely, but by late afternoon, it was obvious we’d get some hours in.

I was able to restrain myself till about 6:45 before jumping in the car and making haste for the field. That was still a little early, but I’d need some time to finish my preparations. I still had to hook up the computer, camera, DVD recorder and monitor, and retrieve various small items like the flashlight and MP3 recorder (for observing notes) from our multitudinous gear boxes.

What a change there’d been on the old Club field. Telescopes were not everywhere, but at least six were ready to go, including my friend Mike Harvey’s massive and beautiful 28-inch Dobsonian. Carl had arrived with his big gun too. And so had several other friends old and new. It looked like it would be a good night, if one without perfect skies. Clouds were still moving in and out, covering much of the sky at times.

I love my Big Bertha, but she is definitely a telescope with a personality. And not always a cooperative one. Maybe she resents not getting used more often, I dunno, but she always has a trick or two in store for me on the first night. Last time, her level switch stopped working temporarily; this time it was her choice of alignment stars.

I had just been telling Carl, a new NS GPS owner, that the NexStar 11 GPS firmware almost always chooses good alignment stars, and that the best idea is to just accept whatever the scope offers. Hah! I fired up NexRemote on the netbook, started the alignment, and Bertha made a good and obvious pick for the first of her two alignment stars, Vega. For the second one, though, she chose Antares. Antares? Seemed a bit low, and I couldn’t remember Big B. ever using Antares as an alignment star before. Oh, well, I’d do just what I’d advised Carl to do.

Via NexRemote, Bertha intoned, “Alignment success!” Y’all know me, though; it’s always “trust but verify.” I sent her to M57 as a test. When she stopped, no Ring Nebula appeared on the Stellacam monitor. I jogged Bertha this way and that with the wireless gamepad I use as my hand paddle before the Ring finally came onscreen. She’d missed the target by almost half a degree. Not good, and not normal for Bertha. I threw the big switch, started over, accepted the same two stars, and got the same result. What the h-e-double hockey sticks?

After the wheels turned in Unk’s head for a minute or three, he decided it just had to be Antares. That luminary wasn’t much higher than 30-degreess, if it was that high off’n the horizon. And “low” is a no-no for go-to alignment stars. Started over again, accepted Vega, rejected Antares, and accepted Bertha’s next choice, Spica. Punched up M57, and there it was sitting pretty in the middle of the monitor. Oh, you Bertha!

After our little disagreement, Bertha and I made up and quickly got into the blessed zone. The prime goal for this trip was to finish Canes Venatici. Do you have any idea how many H2500 galaxies there are in Cvn? There is a bunch of little sprites. Miss Bertha and I captured a lot of the remaining ones, recording each to DVD, though we didn’t quite finish before Canes got down into the mess on the western horizon. When the hunting dogs slinked off, we switched to Bootes, who is also, despite what you might think, chock-full of DSOs—almost all dim galaxies, natch.

How were the sky conditions? Not that good, but not that bad, either. At times thick haze moved through, and the seeing was nothing to write home about, but none of the clouds that periodically wandered across the sky blocked the area where Bertha and I were working. No, the galaxies on the monitor were not quite as detailed as they’d have been under better conditions, but it was amazing how well the Stellacam worked despite poor transparency.

As I have said before, I do not intend to bore y’all with long lists of H2500 objects, which tend to the “small, dim, slightly elongated galaxy,” but I would like to share a few of the gooduns with you, as well as a couple of the non-Herschels I happened to look at over the course of our stay at CAV. As always, I used NASA’s N.E.D, the NASA Extragalactic Database as my prime reference along with SkyTools. The pictures are simple screen-grabs of single Stellacam frames, and, while not pretty, give a pretty good idea of what I saw as I squinted at the red-filtered monitor in the middle of the night.

Night 24 Objects

NGC 4627 (H.II.659) is a magnitude 13.06 E4 peculiar elliptical. Except for its fairly large size, it shouldn’t stand out from the hordes of Herschel galaxies in Canes. Except… This isn’t just a near-anonymous elliptical, this is The Calf. Next to it, you see, a mere 2’29” to the southeast, is the magnificent Whale Galaxy.

Tonight, when the seeing cooperated, it was easy to see hints of The Calf’s distortion, brought on by its closeness to mama. The Whale, NGC 4631, was a thing of wonder, whose marvelous appearance is only hinted at by the frame grab. It’s a huge thing, striped with dark lanes, calmly swimming the inky seas of Canes Venatici with its child. If you haven’t looked at this pair, or haven’t looked at them in a while, visit them with your telescope tonight; it’s not too late in the season, but soon will be.

M51 (NGC 5194), the magnitude 8.4 Whirlpool Galaxy ain’t a Herschel, but is something I have looked at countless times since I was a kid. This night, with its haze and humidity, wasn’t a good time to view this showpiece's classic spiral arms, but it was still worth a quick look before I departed Canes Venatici. A supernova, a Type II supernova (the death of a massive star), had happened just a few weeks before.

SN2011dh was still shining brightly, having dimmed only to magnitude 13, so it was duck soup for the Stellacam. I had already gotten a look at the supernova the week before at the PSAS dark site with Charity Hope Valentine, my ETX125, when it was a little brighter, but I seem to have started an informal collection of supernova images and I wanted to add this one to it.

As is my custom, I took semi-frequent breaks over the course of the run, grabbing snacks and rehydrating myself as necessary. About eleven, just as I was beginning to feel slightly weary, I chugged a Monster and immediately felt raring to go again. By midnight, the temperature had finally dropped into the mid-70s, and while it was still muggy, the fan on the observing table kept me comfortable enough. Frankly, it seemed as if only an hour or two had passed when I hit the 100-object mark.

A glance at Skytools’ clock, though, informed me it was three. So what? There was still plenty to see and I didn’t feel a bit tired and the Hercules galaxies beckoned. Urania had other ideas. She suddenly covered her sky with something just this side of ground fog and sent us, her disciples, off to bed.

Pulled the big switch, secured the gear and headed for motel room comfort. It was past three-thirty getting on to four when I walked in (Miss Dorothy was a bit tuckered and had elected to relax the evening away in comfort in the room). Wasn’t a cotton-picking thing on the TV other than infomercials, so I contented myself with a quick browse of Cloudy Nights and a Colorado Kool-Aid or three until I finally began to spin down. What a great night it had been. I’d made my object goal, had a wonderful time, and that dagnabbed errant tripod spreader had not hurt a thing.

Even if I observe most of the night away, I can’t sleep very late. Because the old bod is too used to getting up at 4:30 every a.m. to head to the cotton picking shipyard, I reckon. Whatev. I was up by eight on Saturday morning, in time for more small bagels at the motel breakfast bar. Then on to the day’s expedition, our trip to Cedar Key.

This little island is less than an hour from Chiefland, and provides everything a touring hillbilly could want: cold beer and hot seafood. I’ve recounted our visits to the place Miss Dorothy and I have taken to calling “Duma Key” (after Stephen King’s island of big juju) a couple of times, so here I’ll just say that when you are down at the CAV hitting it real hard, the Key provides exactly the sort of break and daytime distraction you will appreciate, muchachos. Lunch and drinks at the Rusty Rim Café was super.

With still a few hours to go before sunset, I caught up on sleep back at the Day’s Inn and awoke refreshed and ready to face another night. Not a long night, unfortunately. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s murder for me to go till three or four and then face packing and the drive home the next morning. Yeah, we’d have the 4th of July holiday on Monday, which meant I would have an extra day to recuperate before going back to work, but I just didn’t feel like enduring that long stretch of I-10 back to the Swamp feeling like a wrung-out dishrag. I planned on 11:30 p.m.

Out on the field as Sol finally dipped past the horizon, it looked like it would, again, be an OK if not perfect night. Not many clouds, but still a lot of haze, haze I was told was in part composed of smoke from Georgia forest fires drifting across the border.

Fired up Miss Bertha, and when the minx again suggested Antares as an alignment choice, I again rejected it in favor of Spica. That done, all our go-tos all night long all across the sky placed whatever I requested in the field of the small Stellacam chip. One nice thing Saturday was that the air was substantially drier on this night. Usually Bertha’s tube is sopping wet in an hour or so, with only an inch of tube near the Kendrick heater strap being dry. Not tonight; I could almost have got by without the DewBuster.

Anyhoo, Bertha and I set to work, following same procedure as always: see what the next target is on the Herschel 2500 list on SkyTools 3, punch it into the Nexremote virtual hand control, record 30-seconds of video of the DSO, record my impressions on my Sony MP3 recorder, write the object number in my observing log notebook, set it to “observed” on the ST3 list, and on to the next prize. For as long as I can stand it.

Which, tonight, turned out to be a little longer than I had planned—if not as long as I could have stood it. Originally, I was firm that when the clock said “11:30,” I was shutting ‘er down. But when that time came I was almost done with Canes Venatici and near the “50 objects” mark. Just a little longer. By the time I closed out Cvn, and had hung out with the Herdsman’s multitudinous galaxies for a little while, my total was 50 and the clock said 12:30.

Night 25 Objects

NGC 5350 (H.II.713) is an interesting galaxy, but what makes it remarkable is its field. It is a member of Hickson 68, a collection of five bright and interesting galaxies. NGC 5350 itself is a lovely SB(r)b that showed off its arms without fuss when the seeing cooperated, which wasn’t often. This magnitude 12.15 3.2’x1.3’ object would look very good if it were the only thing in the frame, but it is accompanied by NGCs 5355, 5354, 5353, and 5358 in an area less than 10’ across which makes for an unforgettable view. Even better? Hickson 68 is located a mere 8-degrees from showpiece M51. Next time you’re looking at the Whirlpool stop in at H68; you’ll be glad you did.

M3 (NGC 5272). What was the last object I looked at on the last night of our Herschel Project expedition? M3, a class VI globular cluster in Canes Venatici. M3 has a PR problem: it’s a wee bit too close to the leading edge of the horde of summer globulars. If it weren’t, everybody would be singing the praises of this massive ball of stars. Instead, it’s usually, “Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to look at M3, I guess.” On this night, its suns covered the screen of my monitor, and I sat gaping in wonder as the DVD recorder cranked, grabbing 15-minutes of this treasure before I could tear myself away.

Back at the good old motel not long after 1 a.m., I was not even close to sleepy. Yeah, I turned on the TV, but mostly I let the episode of UFO Hunters run in the background unnoticed. It was time to boot up the netbook, take a look at ST3, and see what had been accomplished. Just shy of 150 new H2500s. Cvn done. Bootes almost done. Coma? Well… Looks to me like I will have to get out to the dark site this coming new Moon and see what I can get with my C8, Celeste. It’s just about too late for Coma, but I can still finish Bootes if I say, “Damn the mosquitos, full speed ahead!”

Postscripts? I’ve told y’all that as much as I like my little Stellacam I’ve been considering a Mallincam. That would buy me color and much longer exposures than the SC II’s 10-seconds max. And yet I was sitting on the fence. I am cheap, as y’all know, and just couldn’t make up my mind. My mind was made up for me, finally, by seeing what my friend Mike Harvey’s Mallincam could do.

Naturally, what should I read on the Chiefland Observers Yahoogroup when I got home, but “SUNDAY WAS SPECTACULAR! IF YOU LEFT SUNDAY MORNING, YOU MISSED A GREAT NIGHT!” Sigh. Never fails; I am used to it. The point is that Mike took full advantage of the conditions, capturing an image of M27, the Dumbbell Nebula, that is right up there with the best pictures of this wonder I have seen. Naturally, even when you have the skills Mike obviously does, every picture won’t turn out like this one. Astrophotography is a dicey thing and always will be. Anyhow… Yes, I am convinced. I intend to have a Mallincam in time for the fall observing season, muchachos.


Postscript II: If y’all would like to see my video “A Herschel Project Update: Night 24,” live from the CAV Clubhouse, you can watch it on video on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVr-p79M38Q

Next Time: “Yo, Chuck!”

Comments:
Great report Rod

You will love Rock's Xtreme

Get over to the Mallincam yahoo forum site .....lot of help there......also Rock has brought out a load of accessories that you'll be wanting....a Barlow, IR filter, heat dissipator and dedicated USB capture device

Mike Harvey's M27 is staggering

Howard
Spain
Planewave 12.5" , CGE PRO, Mallincam
 
That was a great run, Uncle Rod! I also had some great observing time this New Moon.

Your video frame of M51 with the supernova is remarkably like the visual view I had a month ago with a 16" - as far as the nebulosity.

I think Herschel is underrated as a composer... His music may in fact be more suited for today's ears than some of his famous contemporaries'. Yet the public's attachments somehow remain with those who hit it big at the time when musical standards and expectations were entirely different... the paradox of classical music.

Be that as it may, the said excellent recording of Herschel's music resides in my car. One of its best uses is to mask, or actually silence, the spooky sounds one tends to hear when alone at a dark site... "doing Herschels."
 
Rod, enjoyed the. Plan on doing more? Maybe with each podcast?
 
Ya never know...I just might... ;-)
 
Gread post! It sounds like quite the adventure! I would love to drive up to the mountains one of these nights with my tailgating tents and telescope to do some star gazing. I think it would be really fun for the kids!
 
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