This last weekend, my observing buddy Gregg and I traveled on Friday as planned, to an observing site about 2 miles northwest of the abandoned town of Bodie, California, at an altitude of about 8700 feet, south of Bridgeport on 395. The dirt road going there is in good shape, and we had visited in June to pick a good spot.
We drove in Gregg's long Caravan, which held his 25", my 18" plus camping gear. It's about a 5 hour drive from Davis (12 miles west of Sacramento).
After setting up a tent, we proceeded to do a bit of exploration, in the course of which we met a couple camping around a nearby hill. Naturally, we invited them to visit in the evening; one actually had a C-8 but only used it in the Bay Area, and had not been able to see much with it. We set up our scopes in the evening; the sky looked magnificent: transparent, steady air, no moisture, and only a bit of sky glow from South Lake Tahoe to the north. The folks we met showed up with a plate of delicious maple-nut fudge, and we proceeded to elicit exclamations of WoW! Cool! and so forth for the next two-and a-half hours. The sky was at least magnitude 6.5, and I could see with direct vision, the three faint stars lined up above eta Ursa Minor.
After our visitors left, we abandoned the showpiece objects, and looked for fainter fuzzies. After observing Saturn and Jupiter, we quit at four a.m. and packed up. The sky was losing transparency at that point, and the moon was about to rise. It took us an hour or so to pack up the scopes.
At about 8:30 the next morning, we were awakened by our friendly visitors from the night before, telling us that they would look for us again that evening. We were polite, buy also unhappy that they woke us up... We found the day to be very hazy.
We packed everything into the van, drove into Bridgeport, and at the Ranger station discovered that a couple of forest fires had broken out, and that the wind was blowing the smoke our way. So we retraced our route, and after considerable off-road exploring, found a promising site at Monitor Pass at about 8600 feet altitude. We set up, and were again treated to a magnificent sky; Clouds that had appeared threatening during the day moved off to the west for the evening. Again we had at least a mag 6.5 sky. Tired as we were, we managed to see a few interesting objects. For example, we clearly saw spiral structure in M109, the best view of M109 that either of us had ever seen. I remember checking out 5 globularís in Ophiucus.,. but when we saw dark clouds coming up in the south at 11:50 we decided to call it a night, packed the scopes and collapsed in the tent.
We did a bit more exploring in the morning before returning to the valley, and found a flat area capable of accommodating 50 telescopes, with a good horizon.
Thanks to the forest fire we proved two great observing sites. The Bodie site can also accommodate at least a dozen scopes. We will be returning to both sites.
BTW, a Nevada observer would like to join us next time (probably September 30).
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