Sunday, August 23, 2009

Garner State Park Report

My wife and I left Helotes at 2:30pm following Rick and his wife through Bandera, Tarply, Utpoia then Lakey. We went straight to the restaurant. When driving to the restaurant we noticed high siris clouds... not a welcome sign.

Tina, Diane, Rick and I were the first to arrive at the restaurant so we waited and soon the rest of the group came from their camp at GSP. We enjoyed some good food and then went to the park. Rick and I set up our 16" Meade Lightbridges up while a few others started to set up... still others waited until later to get their telescopes out. The clouds kept coming and Don was keeping tabs on the weather using is laptop and the park's wifi connection. He noted rain that was heading toward us but predicted it would break up before it got to us. Later another group of SAAA members came in from San Antonio.

We all nervously watched the sky as the sun plunged below the western hills. To the east we could see some lightning off in the distance. But overhead is was clearing. I helped Danielle collimate her 12" Porta-ball.

Don started the program after sunset with a sizable group of park goers. The sky continued to improve. When the first group hit the telescope field we had some fairly good views despite some clouds. As the night went on it cleared up more. We saw many meteors last night. One was extremely impressive starting in the Northeast crossing the sky all the way to the Southwest, it was about magnitude -1.5 with a nice greenish train (smoke trail). After that great meteor both Keith and Don yelled "that free folks" to the crowd.

I showed and observed many objects with my 16" telescope: M51 "Whirlpool Galaxy", M31 "Andromeda Galaxy", M6 "Butterfly Cluser", M8 "Lagoon Nebula", M70, Jupiter, M57 "Ring Nebula" and some other objects. About 11:20 PM the last of the public left. (Earlier one of the visitors lost their keys and searched for a while and eventually found them, we allowed them to use the dreaded white light to search.)

Also, by this time a few SAAA members left and headed back to San Antonio.

Rick began working on his Astronomy League stuff. Soon I joined him as he hunted down Hershel Objects. We were have a great time star hopping to 11th Magnitude faint and fuzzies... then...

Around midnight we heard a horrific sound. On the hill up above the observing site (HWY83 at the Old GSP entrance) we heard a loud crashing sound then screeching tires and eventually we could see and hear the vehicle rolling... we watched the headlights as they signed erratically and we hear thud after thud until eventually it stopped It must have flipped about 5 times. We knew it was a major accident. We called 9-1-1 and reported it. We watched not knowing if we should go or what the dispatchers told us to just stay in the park since we reported other cars stopping. About 20 minutes later EMS arrived. Thought the whole thing we could hear yelling but couldn't quite make out the what was being said. We were worried it was an SAAA member from the group that left earlier, but the car was northbound so we felt that was unlikely.

We sat watched through binoculars about an hour later we saw the tow truck with what looked like a sports car on it (we later found out is was a full size dodge truck just so smashed it looked like a small sports car)

In the morning we drove out their to see what happened. We say the vehicle hit the guard rail at high speed (no skid marks before the impact on rail). It took out about 8 poles and the car went sideways across the highway and hit the hill wall and we could see things thrown about from the care for about the length of a football field. Sadly we know of at least one fatality a white dog that was laying on the road must have been ejected from the vehicle during the ordeal. Chuck noted seeing a front bumper off a dodge truck at the initial impact of the rail. We were shocked to see kids toys all over the highway.

We hope and pray that the dog was the only fatality.

The wreck really put a damper on the GSP event, but prior to that we had a blast with good viewing.

ALSO: On a dark sky front good news! Don baker expressed concern earlier this week about the light over the old gate and they changed out the entire fixture to a full cut off IDA approved fixture. It really made a difference.

- Matthew