Print
Category: RoGarOn Observatory
Hits: 1976

Dark skies and transparency make all the difference.  That is why I am thinking that camping in Nevada might be better.  I know it will be darker there, and from what I remember of my trip through there three years ago it was spectacular, so it must have been transparent too.  The local astronomers at Tonopah claim it is a good location for observing.  I think it would be good camping and possibly okay Internet north of Tonopah.  It is probably darker east on Highway 6, but the cell phone coverage gets pretty iffy out there.

I would actually prefer finding the best spot for visual observing.  The Quartzsite location is moderately dark, but there are light domes from nearby towns all around on the horizon.  It might be possible to get further back in the hills to get away from the town lights, but there is nothing that can be done about the others.  Also, the seeing is pretty terrible here, with stars visibly twinkling from naked eye viewing.  One nice thing about the campsite is that there is little dust.  Most of it has been blown away by the wind, leaving only the rocks behind.  The ground looks like a parking lot, pretty much everywhere except the washes, where trees and shrubbery still have a foothold.

Last night was the pits for me.  I got started setting up my telescope late, since I had been visiting with the neighbor for perhaps an hour around supper time, and it seems like everything I did was wrong. 

I started out by aligning the finder scope with the optical tube, and then discovered I had the OTA mounted upside down (since it has rails on both sides) when I put the scope into the zenith position to start the indexing process.  The finder scope was close to hitting the tripod.  I had to remove the OTA and flip it. 

Then after indexing and balancing the system, which by the way involves comparing the current load to drive the mount each direction in RA and DEC (pretty neat), I took the first test shot of the zenith with the camera.  It was horribly out of focus, and I realized I needed the two inch spacer rather than the one inch, so I had to disassemble the camera / focuser part and put the proper spacer in place, which of course affected my balance on both axes.

Windows kept dropping my USB connections, so I had a struggle with getting the camera online in the first place, and then I had to keep plugging in my GPS receiver to satisfy the mount software, which wanted the GPS time.  (My USB hub had been acting flakey, so I was juggling USB devices on the three ports on my laptop.) 

When I finally got the mount to track so I could start the calibration process, all my directions on my gamepad joystick were weird.  I finally realized that I must have mounted the camera upside down.  Everything was backwards, since I had pitched the tent with its orientation determined by the smooth spot, not the north - south axis.  I kept bonking into the counterweights because everything was in a different place:  my computer, the tripod, my power connections, etc.

Finally, it was getting on toward midnight and I was still struggling with getting the first star indexed in the calibration process, when the drive kept reporting positioning errors and dropping the RA tracking.  That made it impossible to move the telescope and keep the star centered.  The mount had been acting bizarre all night, with sudden unexplained 180 degree flips in RA, and this was just the icing on the cake.

I realized that by luck I had done everything right in the Ajo / Why setup, and by bad luck had done everything wrong on this setup.  It was a great learning experience, but frustrating.  Plus I was so tired that I was actually stumbling around in my observatory, having to concentrate to keep my balance. 

I had been up since 4 AM that morning, since I had a headache the night before and wanted to get up to do some early morning naked-eye observing anyway.  Plus, you know how it is with late night thoughts, I was telling myself how timid I had been by backing out of the motor home deal, and that this was a payback, maybe from Dad's ghost, telling me that I had made a big mistake.

I am not sure how much longer I will stick around Quartzsite.  I have several days of grading to do, but after that I might head on to California.  There are some people there that I would like to visit, like Errol and Mitzi, Joel, Kirk the contractor in Ojai, and Michaele.  Then I thought it would be easy to head into Nevada.  It might still be a little chilly at night there, but maybe with long underwear and socks I will be able to keep warm at night in my sleeping bag.

I am just kind of feeling my way along now, and much of my previous plans has changed due to talking with people that have tried camping in some of the places I have mentioned.  Much of what I had planned isn't coming to pass, largely due to a lack of time.  Traveling and maintaining a camp eats into my daytime hours, and the incessant clear weather keeps me up late more evenings than my system can easily handle. 

My adventures have been a mix of pleasant and unpleasant, with periods of calm and peaceful surroundings.  Many of my old habits are falling away, and I feel that this experience is changing me.