The following is an observing and site report submitted by SJAA members Jose Marte and Gary Chock
Here’s a report on our visit to Grandview Campground on Tue & Wed July 22-23, 2014.
Grandview Campground is in Inyo National Forest on the way up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It is about 8 to 9 hours from the Bay Area depending on your driving pace. It is at 8560′ elevation. There are 26 campsites nicely spaced with trees between offering privacy and shielding from other camper’s lights and campfires. No water, pack your trash. At least 3 vault toilets. At this altitude, the only wildlife problems seem to be squirrels (no bears).
Weather-wise, we were lucky. A monsoonal weather pattern was in place over the Sierras for ~2 weeks and dissipated just before we left the Bay Area. It reformed Sat July 26 after we left.
While Bishop was baking in 105 degrees in the daytime, Grandview was in the 80’s in the daytime and in the 50’s overnight.
To the left is a photo of the north horizon at campsite 4.
Seeing and transparency was excellent for the nights we observed. Great horizon-to-horizon views of the Milky Way. We easily viewed dark nebula. Barnard’s E near Altair. Also the cloudiness around the Sagittarius Star Cloud was well defined. M31 Andromeda Galaxy was wide and ethereal with M32 and M110 in view.
We met up with some astronomers from Southern California – visual and imagers. They visit regularly, traveling from Orange County and Tehachapi. While we experienced great weather, seeing, and transparency, they mentioned times it got down to 16 degrees. Other times windy.
I will keep in mind Grandview for a revisit, planning on keeping things flexible and check the weather a lot. Hopefully synchronizing excellent weather, seeing, and transparency. Here are convenient links for checking.
There are two observations I enjoyed that exemplified to me the excellent dark skies we had at Grandview Campground.
Viewing M7 Ptolemy’s Cluster with my 20×80 binoculars, the stars of this splendid open cluster were brilliant points in a dark field that seemed to be suspended in three dimensions. The binocular-mind integration effect seemed to connect the star-vertices with faint blue filaments. Stunning.
Viewing M13 The Great Hercules Cluster with my 10″ Dob, the stars of this spectacular globular cluster were fine pinpoints in a velvety dark field. My mind connected these points, arranging them in three dimensions as facets of a diamond. Wondrous.
I joined Gary Chock for a visit to The Grandview Campground (GV) in the Inyo-White Mountains, nearby Big Pines in California. Gary’s comments regarding the seeing/transparency darkness accurately describes just how terrific conditions were for observing. I’ve only been involved in the hobby for just over a year, but the couple of nights we camped were easily the best sessions I have experienced.
I’m an observational astronomer using a 14″ Orion Dobsonain telescope. I don’t use computer guided tools just a Telrad, 9×50 finder, and usually paper finder charts. Basically, I was able to find everything that I intended to see. The only limiting factor was the fact that I needed to sleep and plus my inexperience at being in a premium dark site. It is hard deciding what to look for when everything seems possible to find. My enthusiasm probably caused me to waste some time and energy because I found myself swooping from one side of the sky to the other, feasting on eye-candy, rather than honing in on a particular location.
To describe the conditions I will elaborate on one object. Just about every astronomy book points out the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, as being “bright” and “spectacular”. To me this has been a source of frustration, and even a minor disappointment, since it is invisible from my driveway in San Jose. At our local, semi-dark sites (Mendoza Ranch or RCDO) M51 is readily available and appears to be a low-contrast, lop-sided figure-eight. It is brighter and larger but still a “faint fuzzy” without detail. At the Grandview, however, (~165x) I could see its spiraling arms and I didn’t really need to use averted vision! Very cool and yes, spectacular. In fact, and this could be from the delirium of lack of sleep, I thought I saw M51, naked-eye, as a fuzzy, dim star.
This trip was actually my second time to the White Mountains. Last August, during the Perseids, I spent a night at the Patriach Grove, one of the areas where the amazing Bristle Cone Pines grow. (FYI camping is not allowed at the Patriarch Grove.) It is just a few miles away from the Grandview Campground but at 11,000 feet. Again, observing conditions were fantastic, but I didn’t bring enough warm clothing and spent most of the night, uncomfortably cold in my car.
If you intend to go the Inyo-White Mountains be prepared for extreme cold and heat. But also be prepared for extreme natural beauty. Even if you encounter the misfortune of a cloudy night, you will still be in one of the most spectacular landscapes on earth. The view of the Eastern Sierra peaks, rising upwards of 10,000 feet from Owens Valley is absolutely magnificent. Aside from the great astronomy, there is fantastic hiking, birding, fishing, geology, and even archeology to experience in the Eastern Sierras. It is only about eight hours away from San Jose and plus you’ll have the pleasure of driving through the backcounty of Yosemite National Park and seeing Mono Lake. Furthermore, this area is vast. Finding a campsite or lodging is very easy compared to Yosemite.
Editor’s Note: Documenting your visits to dark sky sites or any other astronomy related place is a good way to help you remember your visit, as well as help you develop your observing skills. Just as writing and rewriting your class notes in college in itself helped you study and master the material, writing and keeping notes of trips helps you become a better visual observer. Please consider submitting any site notes or observing reports to the SJAA for posting on the blog or for publishing in the newsletter, The Ephemeris. You’ll be glad you did!