by Rob Hawley
In the MIRA presentations they describe how wonderful the site is. Now that I have been there in the evening I agree.
The main goal of the evening was to look through the 36" scope at Mars. This research scope is normally used for their spectrographic work and not visually. Thus it was a real treat to actually look through it.
It was unclear from the invitation whether private scopes were encouraged so I decided to bring my 120 mm refractor. When we got there a number of large scopes were set up outside of the observatory. At sunset the sky was still smoggy from all of the grass fires and was not very impressive. The big scope started with some standard favorites, Albireo, M92, and M57.
There were plenty of folks without scopes so the 120 had a lot of visitors. We hit M20/M8, M11, the Veil, and M16 after the sky got dark. Later I went for Uranus (to break the Mars boredom).
About 10:30 the wind shifted to the west (from the ocean). At that point magic happened. The transparency noticeably increased and the sky steadied. The small scope continued with M31/110, M33, and the double cluster. I was able to get more of the disk of M31 than I ever have in the past. M33 was faint, but you could see the arms of the spiral.
The main scope looked at the cat's eye (Caldwell 6). That view contrasted with the earlier views of the evening. The cat's eye was so steady it looked like it was painted on the inside of the eyepiece.
About 11PM they pointed the 36" toward Mars. The view was simply beyond words. At Glacier Point I had the opportunity to look through MoJo's big refractor. You could infer the presence of detail on the Martian surface. In this case the detail was burned into your eyes (literally because they did not choose to use any filters). Looking at maps once we got home it looks like we were seeing Syrtus Major and Hellas Panitia. The south polar ice cap was a bright white.
I highly recommend the Chew's Ridge area at an observing site. The observatory area is not normally open. There is a commercial campground lower down the road that I have to check out for a future trip.