IHOP Inaugural Outing

by Jane E. Smith

Saturday, May 31, 2003

IHOP (Ice House Observation Plateau)

Last night was the inaugural outing at the new TAC-SAC observing site, IHOP (Ice House Observation Plateau). This site, located around 30 miles east of Placerville on Highway 50, was found in early 2003 by Bill Chandler (I think) who came upon the area during a weekend drive. It is at 5024', very large, and flat. The last 5 miles from Highway 50 up Ice House Road is all paved road. It's an incredibly easy one-hour drive from Sacramento. TAC-SACers have waited patiently for the snows and sky to clear to give it try. Last night was it!

In attendance was a veritable "Who's Who" of Sacramento-based TAC-SAC observers. With a few exceptions, almost the entire core observing group came out to christen the new site. In attendance were: Shneor Sherman, Gregg Blandon, Jim Ster, Brian Zehring, Alvin and Julie Huey, Bruce Burke, Mike Conley, Randy Muller, Gary Manning, and Jane Smith. Also there were Dave, a life-long buddy of Jim Ster's, and Tim, a local enthusiast and his family. Sorely missed were locals Marsha Robinson, Dave White, Art Freeman, and Allan Keller.

The skies were the best I've seen in the Sacramento area, better by far than Fiddletown or BC. There is a fair lightdome to the southwest from Placerville, Shingle Springs, and El Dorado, a very slight Sacramento lightdome to the northwest, and a small lightdome to the northeast from Tahoe. The eastern and southern horizons are spectacular, especially the southwest. Other than headlights from occasional cars coming down the mountain in the early evening, there was no white light pollution.

Temperatures were a balmy mid 50's until a light breeze picked up around 1am and cooled it down. Skies were clear at Mag 6.8 or better, transparency 8-10, and seeing varied 6-8/10. Although observing conditions were prime, I don't think anyone was seriously into it... well maybe Bruce, who's LX200 could be heard "grinding away" all evening. :) In general, I think everyone was just happy to finally be out under a dark sky and seeing old familiar faces.

Spare equipment was switching hands at an amazing rate. Randy was so excited to get there he forgot to pack his table, his chair, and his ladder! Greg was looking around frantically for a spare Telrad, and Brian, the night before at BC, forgot his clothes!!! Yes indeed, we're a bit rusty from the winter's inactivity.

I spent the evening re-visiting a lot of old favorites and giving Dave a tour of some interesting DSO's in the southern sky: globulars in Ophiucus, Pluto (my only "Last Call" object of the night), planetaries in Cygnus, and some of the eye-candy in Sagitarrius. There were lots of other "Last Call" shouts, and by the end of the night people seemed to be getting back in the groove after a long cold Winter and cloudy Spring.