Fear and Loathing in Sedona, AZ

by James Turley

Sick and tired of the crappy weather here in the Bay Area and getting skunked routinely every Dark Cycle, Denny W and myself decided to hit Vegas by car to prospect some business opportunities there and then proceed to Denny's new house in Sedona, where skies are routinely dark, the weather mild and clear, and all the young men above average. We weren't disappointed.

Cutting our Vegas stay short by one day (mostly due to the sleaze bag strip Casino our business contact set up for us), we blew off Vegas on Friday and headed Eastward across the Boulder Dam toward Flagstaff and Sedona. Driving down the mountain from Flagstaff to Sedona at dusk, through magnificent red rock country, crystal clear skies, we couldn't help but notice the ink black skies.

Sedona (4500 feet) is like Carmel plopped in the middle of Moab. High quality retail art galleries, up scale resorts, fine dining, Kokopele, and lighting ordinances to die for. (No car dealers, porch lights illegal, you get the picture). Other than the high quality space, what attracts astronomers to the region are the superbly dark skies, elevation, mild temperatures, and the high wide open spaces offering limitless horizons, and minimal lightdomes (except for the occasional Indian Casino and Phoenix 150 miles to the south).

Saturday, we headed up to the Mingus Mountains west of Sedona, past the old mining 70's hippy haunted ghost town of Jerome, to the summit (8400) to scout some high elevation options to Denny's usual more local in town observing locations.

That night we decided, for old times sake, to head out to Beaver Flat Road for the evening (10 minutes from Denny's). Myself, Albert and Isaac (on differing occasions) had tried this road side spot last Winter. Temps never dropped below 50, RH bone dry (sparks), twilight wind dying down by 7, we had a lovely evening mostly enjoying familiar late Winter objects, but the main attraction for me was my best M42 ever. Denny says it's been better. Says to ask Albert and Isaac.

Sunday day was filled with more scouting, including the Sedona airport, perched on a high mesa overlooking town. We selected a spot next to the Masonic Temple there, but when we arrived to observe there later that evening, we had failed to notice a 20 foot lighted cross punctuated by a rotating searchlight from the airfield.

Plan B found us in a deep dark valley 5 minutes from Denny's front door. We set up at sunset in a paved area off a dead end road, surrounded by towering red rock formations, grilling Atomic Hots and Dogs over charcoal classical style for a real SedonaQ. Acting as navigator for Denny's 10" SCT, with Denny driving the scope, we logged over 50 objects, mostly NGCs a few IC's. We found everything we tried. Temps in the 40's. Dead still. RH Zero. Milky Way horizon to horizon. Packed up after the wine and beer gave out, and were home in 5 minutes, amused by the Oakland riots on TV.

North Western Arizona is an outstanding place for Amateur Astronomy, and the only place you'll be likely to find a 40" dob by a 23 foot ladder offering views to the public in the Sedona's only Safeway parking lot.