by Jane E. Smith
About a month ago someone on TAC mentioned the Oregon Star Party. Having been rained out at my last star party, I was primed for dark skies. So off I went to the OSP web site to sign up. I then dangled it in front of the rest of TAC-SAC to see is I could tempt any others into joining me. I found four takers... Marsha Robinson, Mark Wagner, Mags Temple, and Jim Ster. Mags and Marsha drove up on Friday. Mark, Jim, and I left late Wednesday afternoon.
The plan was simple... cram all our stuff into Jim's new pickup and a 4'x6' trailer, and head north. It seemed a reasonable plan, until I saw the mound of stuff sitting on my lawn when I got home on Wednesday. I was convinced it would take an act of God to fit it all in. Fortunately, God was on our side, at least as far as the packing was concerned.
Our first stop was Shingletown Airport to get a good look at Mars. The sky was very mediocre, but we had the pleasure of Brad Franzella's company who had driven from Chico to join us, so it turned out to be a fun night. Of course, had we the forethought to pack our warm clothes within reach it would have been a much warmer evening! Next time I must keep that in mind.
The following morning we grabbed a quick breakfast at the Shingle Shack and hit the highway. I spent most of the day at the wheel with Jim in the back seat relaxing and Mark in the front munching on "pig chips", also known as Pork Rinds, his favorite Atkin's snack. We made it to Prineville, Oregon in about 7.5 hours. Jim took us the last 40 miles down narrow 2-lane mountain roads. The last 3 miles were on gravel. We finally arrived at the OSP about 5:30pm. A large banner welcomed us as we drove out of the trees. I don't think any of us were prepared for what we found.
The site is a gigantic open field atop a 4700' mountain bluff. The ground is covered with small lava rock and clumpy patches of sage brush. The sky is huge with clear horizons in every direction. The road into the site was lined on both side with trucks, cars, SUVs, and RVs of every type. Eventually the road split into a "Y", and both of these roads were also lined with vehicles. The mass of people and telescopes was astounding. We heard over 900 people attended.
One of the first people we saw was Michelle Stone who had arrived Tuesday and secured a prime location in the vendor area. Gene Kahn had also arrived early and was parked nearby. Both Michelle and Gene had tried to save us space, but their efforts were thwarted by the some 937 attendees who arrived shortly thereafter. Much to our dismay there wasn't a single parking spot left. We were given two options, either setup down at the tree line or setup in the middle of the field and park our truck elsewhere. We opted for the field.
We found a spot, dumped our stuff, and started setting up. Eventually "Camp TAC-SAC" came together. We raked away the lava rock, but the sage brush was a major pain. It made it impossible to get level ground on which to pitch our tents and setup scopes. Fortunately, we'd brought a bunch of indoor/outdoor carpeting which helped level it somewhat. I'd have given anything for a pair of bush loppers. However, I heard the Forest Service frowns on people whacking off the sage brush, so it's probably a good thing I didn't think to bring them. It certainly developed an appreciation for the nice flat tarmac at SSP.
We didn't observe the first night, partly because the sky was cloudy and partly because we were pooped. After a quick dinner and a bit of socializing, we hit the sack.
Friday was a promising day. There were a few clouds, but it looked like it would clear by evening. During the day Mark joined Michelle at her vendor canopy to show his 10" CPT while Jim and I checked out the site. As we were wandering around I spied a huge binocular scope that look suspiciously like Shneor's new 22". It HAD to be Bruce Sayer! Sure enough, we found him in his RV along with his wife, and we all had a nice chat. Dennis Beckley was also in attendance and stopped by our camp on Saturday. Alvin and Julie Huey arrived late Friday afternoon and joined "Camp TAC-SAC". Eventually evening arrived.
The sky was still cloudy and smoke from a forest fire to the west was drifting in. We thought it was going to be a bust, but it cleared by midnight and Mark and Jim had 4 hours of beautiful sky. I ended up going to bed early with an upset stomach, no doubt from the OSP cuisine which I had eaten earlier that evening. Little did I know at the time my upset stomach would cost me the only decent sky of the entire OSP.
The following morning I was back in the "pink" and ready for a good long observing night. Marsha and Mags arrived mid-afternoon and by twilight the sky was looking good. There was still some smoke, but very minimal. The afternoon was spent at the photo shoot for the 2003 OSP GROUP PICTURE. It can be at the following link.
From there we went to the drawing for the door prizes. Many of us had to stand in the sun for lack of seating in the tent. After over an hour of this, I was hot, tired and sunburned so I handed Mark my ticket and told him to give anything it won to Mimi. Much to my surprise my ticket won the Grand Prize, a Hardin Optical 10" Dob. I think Mark felt a little weird keeping it so he offered it back to me saying, "Your ticket, your prize." Of course, that made ME feel weird, so we agreed to split it.
That night the skies started out fabulous. Jim helped me adjust the secondary on my scope which fixed the collimation problem I'd been having. At long last I could finally get the cheshire to agree with the laser. THANK YOU Jim! Once collimated, I started in and in no time had the central star in M57, long before it was fully dark. I then spent some time with Ed Smith, a great guy we met from the Bay Area, showing him my scope and Sky Map Pro, the charting program I use on my laptop. By 10pm the sky had turned to smoke. Needless to say, I was bummed. We hung out for several hours waiting to see if it would clear, but it never did. We decided rather than chance our last night at OSP we'd head south the following day and take James Edwards up on his generous offer to observe at his family's place in southern Oregon.
Sunday morning we packed up "Camp TAC-SAC" and headed south to the Poe Valley, about 40 miles SW of Klammath Falls. The mailbox at his cousin's place read, "James Edwards Star Party". We pulled in to find James and his family and several good friends preparing for dinner. We were invited to join them and, after quickly setting up the scopes, sat down to a delicious tri-tip dinner with all the trimmings. You can't know what a treat that was after living on canned chili and string cheese for 3 days. THANK YOU JAMES!!! Following dinner, Lannie, a friend of James, launched into several a well know arias. Turns out he sings with the Sacramento Opera! What a surprise and what fun! We then went to the scopes. We had a fairly nice sky until midnight when it softened considerably. However, there was lots time to show James' family some of our favorite DSOs. We turned in around 1am, ready to head for home the next day.
The following morning I was awakened with a wet sloppy kiss from Guida, a well-natured female Rottweiler with whom I'd made friends the night before. I later learned she'd visited Mark too, but he got 3 kisses! :)
We arrived back in Davis around 4pm Monday. After quickly unpacking and grabbing their stuff, Jim and Mark headed for home. I was ready for a cold beer and a long, long shower.
Again, my thanks to James Edwards and his family for their incredible hospitality. It added many wonderful memories to the trip, not the least of which was Guida's good morning kiss. ;)