Porcupyn's Blog

June 21, 2010

Visit to Four of Southwest USA’s National Parks (Part Eight of Many!)

Filed under: Travel — Porcupyn @ 8:37 pm

[On June 21, 2008]: At the North Rim, we had learned from the folks at the Visitors’ Center that the South Rim was scheduled to have an astronomers meet. Specifically what it was I forget, but it is effectively an annual stargazing party [Update: Here is a YT Q&A for this year’s – sorry, it is already over – event]. I thought what the heck, we could spend some time and see if we can get to see a few stars.

We were not supposed to drive our vehicles to the location where the telescopes were set up; instead, we were supposed to use those buses provided for the purpose. So, we parked at a shopping center close to the Visitors’ Center (which had closed before we got there), and had dinner because the shuttle was not expected for some time – it was once in half an hour or so. At that point, it was starting to get late and we decided that I would be taking Baab to go for the stargazing. Katya was sleepy anyway, and also my parents and Mrs. Porcupyn decided to stay put.

Baab and I left on the shuttle as scheduled, telling the rest of the party that we would be returning in about an hour. Big mistake! Once we got on the shuttle bus, I realized that the place we were going to – Yavapai point – would be pitch dark. Somehow I had forgotten that real astronomers absolutely abhor light and prefer to observe the heavens in utter darkness – and though it was not new moon or anywhere close to it (I believe it was full moon a couple of days ago), the moon was yet to rise in the night sky.

Anyway, we get off the bus when it stopped and realized immediately that we were in a sea of humanity, all of whom were as lost as we were. After bumping into random people of all sizes, we realized that a number of telescopes – also of all sizes – had been set up along an observation path in the location, and these were manned by amateur astronomers and their amateur kids! Each telescope had a line in front of it. We got in line at a couple of those telescopes, but unfortunately, even a slight bump of the instrument would throw the painstakingly set up view of the star/galaxy/planet completely out of whack. We ended up seeing not much of the astronomy spectacle, but we did see the human spectacle on our way back.

Because we were expected back in about an hour, we did not have much time to lose. We got in line for the next bus which came after a few minutes, though not quickly enough for us. The queueing system was all messed up, but we managed to make it to the first bus that came after we had queued up. Once the bus filled up, it started to move – these buses were the most crammed buses I have ever been on in over two decades in the USA. Believe it or not, scarcely had the bus gone ahead 20 feet or so, we see this lady stand in front of the bus with her stand outstretched – it felt as though the lady had been transported from India (though she did not really look Indian) and was used to stopping buses by waving in front of them. Needless to say, the crammed bus did not stop for her and she was left there, looking forlorn and tearful.

It would have been very nice one the part of the organizers if they had increased the frequency of the buses and provided a good outline of what folks could expect (not much if you wanted to see ‘easy to see’ heavenly bodies such as planets because most of the astronomers had set up their instruments aimed at really far off stars and a slight shake of the instrument would require much adjustment), how crowded it would be (even I did not bet that it would be as crowded as it turned out to be), how long it would take (too long if you were not planning to spend a good two-three hours), and what facilities were available at the observation point (not much).

When the shuttle bus dropped us off, it was not at our starting point. It being dark and there being not much light, we were hopelessly disoriented. Fortunately for us, there were a few other people headed towards the general area where the rest of our party was waiting. Because they were staying in the lodge right there in the South Rim, they had a better sense of direction than us. Thanks to them, within the allotted time plus some added on, we got back to the restaurant where everyone was waiting for us.

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