It has been good here in Arizona.  The desert is a quiet and serene place, punctuated occasionally by coyote howls and gusts of wind.  There are other campers around me, but they are mostly a solitary lot and don't make a lot of noise or leave their porch lights on.

I have made a few acquaintances out here that have been enjoyable, and one in particular that I would like to stay in contact with.  His name is Bruce and we found we have many similar interests, right down to alternative building practices and Linux.  His wife Sarah was very nice to me and fed me a salad for lunch, and gave me some hand lotion and cooking oil.

I am adapting to the desert more, and make sure to keep my hands well coated with lotion or body oil.  The super glue was okay for spot repairs, but when my hands started to resemble alligator skin it was time to take more preventative action.  I also drink more tea to stay hydrated, even though I don't really sweat down here.  Just breathing exhausts lots of moisture when the humidity is around 8%.

I am in Quartzsite, just east of the California border, and north of town about 9 miles in a BLM 14 day camping area.  I contacted some people I met three years ago at Alisa's wedding in Ventura who live in Quartzsite, and they have been very nice.  They took me out to a fish dinner at the local VFW last Friday night, and today Earl will take me on a tour of the desert in his ATV.  Then this coming Friday afternoon we will have a barbecue at their place, which is in a subdivision about 6 miles southwest of Quartzsite.

I might be in California next week, as it will be full Moon and I am only about 4 hours away from Los Angeles.  I could visit Errol and Mitzi in Long Beach and Joel in Hollywood.  Then I could go up to Ventura and see Aunt Vida and Linda.  It might also be fun to drive up to Ojai and check on Sylvia's place, and maybe try to contact Kirk and see Jan Smithers, the lady whose house I rewired and replumbed when I was there three years ago.

In March Jerry and I will be getting together somewhere for a week of observing.  He will drive down and we will camp with our telescopes in the desert, probably in Arizona or New Mexico, but possibly in Nevada.  It is still somewhat chilly in Nevada, but it would be a lot closer for Jerry, and probably darker. 

I don't mind temperatures around 40 at night, or even a little lower.  Right now in Quartzsite it has been getting into the low 80's during the day and the high 40's at night.  That is almost a little too warm for me, as my sleeping bag is too well insulated for that, and I have to go around without a shirt when I am in my tent during the day working.

My astronomy skills are progressing slowly, and each night I learn something new about my system.  I have gathered a few science images, but haven't reduced the data yet.  I am trying to work out a schedule where I can teach my online class during the day and observe in the early morning.  I go to bed at around 8 PM and get up at 2 AM.  That gives me about 4 solid hours of observing before it gets too light, and then I can fix my breakfast and take a walk in the desert while eating.  I wouldn't say the system is fully operational yet, but it is getting closer.  I hope to have everything working smoothly by the time Jerry and I observe together.

You can read about some of my other experiences on my website,  I put edited copies of email correspondence up there in several blogs, depending on if they are camping related or astronomy related.  Mostly I am too busy with my classes to do much extra besides eating and sleeping and observing. 

I have gotten my video gear out to see how my new slider works, but I need an adapter to get the camera connected to the slider plate.  I have been taking pictures with my camera phone when I walk in the morning, and sometimes when there is a particularly nice sunset.  I will post some of those on my blog when I can get free wifi somewhere.  I have to be pretty careful with my data allotment, especially since my connection was lousy in the last place I camped and it ate enormous amounts of data in retries.

I've been wanting to set up a blog with my experiences, but so far I have been busy with other things and have just gotten the basic website set up, with no content yet.  So here is a personal rundown of what has been happening:

  1. I stayed for about a week with my friend Dave in Tucson.  I got my solar panels and batteries, plus some camping gear.  While there we did some neat projects with his telescope:
    1. We looked at some double stars to test his resolution..
    2. We monitored some asteroids for several hours and got their rough light curves.
    3. We took some low-resolution spectra of some stars of various spectral types and looked for the hydrogen alpha and beta lines.
  2. I headed north to Phoenix to look at a motor home.  While there I bought a new solar charge controller.
    1. I camped in the desert in the Tonto National Forest.  There were some great cacti there.
    2. I visited Marshall and his wife Dawn for an afternoon.
  3. I headed southeast to a small town called Bowie and camped two nights in the desert there.  It was too cold for me (below freezing both nights) so I headed east to lower elevations.
  4. On the way I decided to make an offer on the motor home ($5500 for a 1993 diesel pusher).  They took it, so I headed up to Phoenix (actually Mesa).  Several things happened to make me reconsider
    1. A towing system for my car would cost almost $3000 and take almost two weeks to install.
    2. The sellers had to get the DMV to inspect the vehicle since it had an out of state title and it would take almost a week.
  5. I decided to withdraw my offer and think about it.  The motor home is mechanically sound, but the walls are trashed from water damage.  It would be a restoration project, and something I am not sure I want to be doing right now.
  6. I headed for Ajo, south of Interstate 8, and about 70 miles from the Mexico border.
  7. I ended up in a campground on BLM land 2 miles south of Why.  Camping has been quite an experience:
    1. The first day or so was nice, about 70 during the day and in the low 40's at night.
    2. I set up my observatory tent and mounted the telescope and camera, and did a preliminary check of the mount and camera for a few hours that night.
    3. A storm moved in with lots of wind, with gusts up to 45 mph.
    4. It was a trial keeping my observatory tent from uprooting, as my tent pegs were too small.  I wound up parking my car upwind and tying some guy lines to its wheels and putting my equipment boxes in the corners inside.
    5. Everything got coated with a fine layer of dust.  Not a huge deal, but annoying.
  8. I got my power panel put together for the telescope and computer, and opened up the observatory slot last night, since it was clear.
    1. It took several hours to get all the cables routed and tied down, plus all the voltages checked and power feeds connected.
    2. I fiddled with the eyepieces (a 40 mm and a 12 mm reticle) for almost an hour to get a good alignment with the optical tube and the finder scope.
    3. I messed with the mount control interface trying to get the drive motors calibrated and fix the pointing position.  I ran into numerous snags.
      1. It kept telling me the declination axis wasn't calibrated.
      2. It couldn't correctly compute the offset from the parking position to its internal home index marks.
      3. I could not get it to synchronize on a star, so its pointing was way off.
    4. I did get the game pad controller working, which is nice since I can control the telescope drive while standing next to it, without having to be near the computer.
    5. I finally manually found the Orion Nebula and took a few throwaway shots of it with my camera, but the mount kept dropping its tracking during the exposures.
  9. By the time I was ready to quit, it was 11:30 and already dipping toward freezing.  My feet were like blocks of ice.
  10. I went to bed and by the time I started to warm up (maybe 2:30 or so) I had to pee.  I toughed it out until 6:30 until I couldn't stand it anymore.

So, this is reality.  Actually, I am enjoying the heck out of it.  Every morning I cook up a good breakfast porridge, and take it with me on a two to three mile walk in the desert, each time in a different direction.  Every time I discover something different.  There are many different kinds of plants and landforms out here, and you can get an idea of what it is like to survive during the summer.  I actually love it out here.  The storm was a hassle, but the weather map showed everything was bad all around me, and my spot was actually the best place I could have been as far as cold weather and wind.  The dust wasn't as bad here as it is in other parts of the state, since the ground is pretty hard here.  There usually isn't a lot of wind, and the nights can be totally calm, without a sound anywhere, that is, until the coyotes start to howl in the early morning.

I am actually getting used to camping, although there are a few things I miss, like bathing and a real kitchen.  I currently have my stove set up on a camera case, and have to kneel in the dirt to do my cooking.  I might buy a portable kitchen countertop / shelving system from Sportsman's Warehouse, but frankly I am running out of room in my car.  It is so loaded down that I am afraid it will bottom out.  But sleeping is getting better.  My pad and air mattress make my bed comfy, and I don't have any of the usual aches and pains from camping when I wake up in the morning.