Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Frio Cielo Ranch Star Party

Star Party
Originally uploaded by MPR Photography-PhotoMPR.com

A few members from the SAAA drove out past Regan Wells, Texas at the invitation of Rick and Diane to be guests at their private ranch for the first star party at this dark sky sight. Rick headed out to do some Hershel List observing Friday night, so I lead a caravan of people from San Antonio out to the ranch. In the caravan was Diane, Ed, Blake, Ernest and myself. We left San Antonio around 11 am Saturday and drove to Bill and Rose’s Steak House in D’Hanis, Texas and ate lunch.

We left D’Hanis and arrived at the observing field around 2 pm. We arrived after Christine and Danielle had already arrived. Danielle had her Port-A-Ball set up on the Field near Rick’s 16” homebuilt dobsonian, Christine had her 10” Orion dobsonian set up and ready to go as well as her Pop-Up Camper over at the RV camp site. She was determined not to freeze later in the night.

After setting up our scopes, we crossed the river using large rocks as our way across and hiked around a mile to Rick’s “Sky Shed”. We arrived back at the covered pavilion in time to start cooking dinner. We had a wide variety of food and nobody went hungry that was for sure. Throughout the afternoon, other ranch owners and guests stopped by to chat and promised to come back later after dark.

With the exception of Christine (who had her pop-up) and Blake (who drove back to San Antonio that night) we all slept out by our telescopes.

The Ranch had a nice covered pavilion that we used as our kitchen and dining area. Next to the pavilion was the bath house with sinks, toilets, and showers. Free wi-fi internet was also available at the pavilion and some of us made use of that.

The weather was clear and warm during the afternoon. After sunset the temperature dropped drastically and the low as recorded by a thermometer out by the scopes recorded the low as 14 F that night. Despite the cold, viewing was excellent! We could easily see many Messier objects naked eye even “ET”. The Milky Way was clearly visible. I also got some of the best views of the Orion Nebula I’ve seen in a long time in my 10” Coulter dobsonian. Dew was not an issue, but by 11 pm some frost was dusting my eyepiece case. During the night we took multiple trips out to the pavilion for hot coco and to warm up using Rick’s Kerosene heater. I turned in around midnight and woke up around 4 am to view Omega Centauri and did an hour or so of meteor and satellite watching before going to the pavilion to make hot cocoa. Water in the pot had frozen so it took a while. Rick and I sat at the heater talking for a while and soon Danielle and Earnest joined us. Christine invited us into her popup around 5:50 am and turned on the heater and we got warmed up and sat talking until after sunrise.

Eventually we started on breakfast and the air was noticeably warmer even though the thermometers read 19F. We had a great spread for breakfast: Pancakes, Scrambled eggs, hash browns, veggie “sausage”, Spam and much more! We ended up leaving the Ranch in time to eat some BBQ in Sabinal, Texas. It was a great night. A member of the ranch retrofitted a light by spray painting the glass on it black… but it could use some 10-30 more coats because it didn’t block much of the light.

We saw deer, turkeys and even an armadillo in the afternoon but none of them came by to look in the telescopes….maybe next time! - MatthewCamping Trip Feb. 5, 2011