Viewing posts on February 19, 2011

Marfa TX to White Sands & Las Cruces NM – Jan 18-25

19 Feb

After a surprisingly excellent lunch at the roach-coach looking “Food Shark” in Marfa, we took off for Fort Davis TX and the McDonald Observatory (not associated with the golden arches organization).

It’s been very cold.  Another Arctic cold front.  One night, while we were camping in the VW, the temperature dropped to 13 degrees.  Not a problem, inside the VW the temperature held to a chilly 24 degrees.  I think my nose froze, but I couldn’t tell because my fingers were numb.  All in all, it was fun.  The only real problem was our water tank/water pump froze – no running water in the morning.

We found an outstanding state campground a few miles outside of Fort Davis.  Good hiking, good food at the lodge, very few people around.  One evening we sat on the deck and watched the full moon rise from a valley between two mountains.

The McDonald Observatory is located high up in the Davis Mountains.  It’s the darkest environment of any observatory in the US.  We went there twice, once at night to observe the night sky, and once during the day to tour the facilities.  At night, we were part of a small group that sat outdoors.  An astronomer, armed with a laser flashlight, pointed out stars, constellations and planets.  Then we viewed the night sky through four 22-inch telescopes that were aimed at an Orion nebula, Jupiter, two star clusters, and our moon.  During the day we went into two observatories for a tour of their 107-inch and 362-inch telescopes.  The 362-inch telescope is a new design using an array of hex-shaped mirrors that are individually aimed at a focal point.  The telescope is entirely open, no tube, no eyepiece.  Fascinating.

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