Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fort Davis TX

Saturday November 7, 2009

Sunrise at Indian Lodge

We started the day with breakfast at the Black Bear Restaurant…Ben had biscuits and gravy and Jane had a breakfast burrito…both were good and the coffee was great! Then we were off for an exciting morning at the Fort Davis Laundromat! Along the way we stopped to view and photograph the cottonwood trees along the river. They were a brilliant yellow.

The ranger at hotel check-in had told me the water pressure was poor in Ft. Davis so we were expecting it to take a little while to do the laundry. One of the washers seemed to fill and wash in fairly good time; but the other one took least an hour for the rinse cycle to slowly fill. There were 3 guys doing their laundry – no one else for the 2 ½ hours we were there. Maybe laundry is a guy thing in TX. Then the dryers took quite a while too so we decided to hang most of the clothes in the Sprinter since we would not be sleeping in it tonight and the humidity should dry things in quick order. I just had to take a photo since it did look strange with more than a weeks’ worth of clothes hung in the back.

Laundry in Van

After the laundry was done we stopped at the Fort Davis National Historic Site to view the parade grounds, commanders home, enlisted barracks, and were on our way to the hospital when we realized it was 1:15 and we had to be at MacDonald Observatory at 2:00 for the Solar Program. This was one of the forts staffed post civil war with the Buffalo Soldiers. The role was to protect the road from Santa Fe to El Paso and on to California. We hurried back to the Sprinter, ate cheese and crackers and some other snacks on the drive to the Observatory – 17 miles up a mountain.

Fort Davis National Military Park - Officers Quarters (note flags at half staff due to killings at Fort Hood)

We made it in time and enjoyed a video and actual solar viewing through a telescope. I heard so much that I never knew about the sun. Then we toured two different telescopes – the first a 107 inch was of the traditional type with the rotating dome roof that opens.

107 Inch Traditional Telescope

The second was a much more recent invention (1999). It has multiple small triangular mirrors that function together as one large mirror (as in the other scope) – a parabolic reflector – the angles of each mirror are controlled by a computer. They used many non-traditional construction techniques which have since been copied worldwide. The cost was $20 million as opposed to over $100 million for the more traditional type telescope. The University of Texas (known here as UT) partnered with several other universities in the US and Germany to build this telescope.

Second large telescope

View from Observatory looking back towards Fort Davis

They have 3 large and multiple smaller telescopes here and it is one of the top observatories in the country due to its location as well as equipment. All in all this was a great experience.

We left the observatory; drove back to Indian Lodge (13 miles) enjoying the beautiful views. We had a rest, some dinner, and headed back at 7:30 for the Star Party. This was a very different presentation and event. The observatory has an outside amphitheater that seats hundreds. We were about 200+ tonight but they have 1000+ in the tourist season. We saw all the constellations that were visible tonight, Jupiter, and a pass of the space station. The presenter had a laser pointer that was strong enough to point out the constellations! After this program we had the opportunity to look through 5 different telescopes to see various stars. We saw Jupiter and its’ 4 moons, the Andromeda Galaxy, M-11 which was an old star breaking up and M-25 a star that was just forming(or maybe it was the other way around) anyway they were fascinating. The number of stars in the sky was awesome (I am trying to think of a descriptor and can't come up with one). The temperature was 58 when we left. We did not get cold but wearing fleece, a wind jacket and ski hat made the difference because there was quite a wind. We were up near 5800 feet so found it strange that it was more than 10 degrees colder back at Indian Lodge!

All in all it was a great day. We need to include a wildlife report – so far we have seen 4 deer and 2 javelina. We saw the deer this morning as we were photographing the beautiful yellow cottonwood trees and the javelina yesterday right here by the Indian Lodge. We are still waiting for the mountain lions and bears!

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