Archive for the ‘Road Trip Journal 2011’ Category

It’s NOT The-End-Of-The-World as we know it!

October 21, 2011

    So 6 months ago, on May 21st 2011 a guy called Harold Camping kindly predicted the end of the world, universe and Draw Mohammad Day based on his decades of scholarly studying of the Bible. Oddly enough the world did not appear to end as Camping had predicted, and so he was forced to conclude that the world had ‘sort of ended’ and ‘God’, being a sporting fellow had elected to end the world in a way that no-one would notice for 6 months, then it would REALLY end on 21st Oct 2011. Now the great thing is, Camping engaged in some massive billboard campaign about the end of the world, and while touring the US in the summer of 2011 I actually came across one of his billboards boldly proclaiming that the Judgement day actually happened MONTHS ago!  Guaranteed by the Bible no less!

Harold Campings 'End of the World MAY 21st 2011' photographed outside Rock Springs WY on Sept 26th 2011.

   Sadly when I went through California, ‘Family Radio’ was still going strong, seemly un-phased and un-bothered by the world hadn’t ended their ministry had claimed ‘the Bible ‘Guaranteed’.


Full Circle

October 3, 2011

     Well the year waxes old and cold.  With some 13 000 miles on the clock, and it now being frequently below freezing in the mountains, it’s time to head home!  One last stop on the way though, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a half mile deep canyon cut through hard black granite!  Indeed there are places where you can just walk up to the edge and look down 2000 feet to the Green river below.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, left 2000ft cliffs, right me perched atop a 1000ft cliff with a closing thunderstorm

      However, as if by fate, one of the first blogs I did in the travel section was Mount Sneffles ‘an Old Friend’.

Mount Sneffles as seen on road to Telluride in 'an old friend'

     Mnt Sneffles is a dramatic 14000 ft mountain in the San Juans which I climbed several years ago.  And what can be seen in the distance from the high point in Black Canyon NP? but Sneffles! 🙂

Distant Mnt Sneffles, as seen from high point in Black Canyon NP. Big isn't he! You can see why I thought about going up him again!

I thought briefly about climbing it again.  I’m fit enough, but it’s just too late in the year.  I figured that was a suitable moment, while perched on the 1.5 bn year old granite bedrock of America, over a 1000 ft cliff to call it quits on this road trip.  Time to head home!  – Full Ciricle

The Cirque of the Towers

September 27, 2011

What a hell of a few days!

When I staggered out of the wilderness last night, in the dark, exhausted, without any food, or drinkable water and with a broken plane, I had only one thought. What a fantastic couple of days!

Panorama looking down on Jack Ass Pass near the Cirque of the Towers

Panorama looking down on Jack Ass Pass near the Cirque of the Towers

     The story starts with wanting to go see the ‘Cirque of the Towers’, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. However I wanted to get some video of it from the air! Now the story of my failure is long, and surprising short of predators, although, for some unexplained reason it has a llama in it!

     Now getting into the Cirque is a bit of a chore in that you have to drive some 30 or so miles down dirt roads (which can require a LOT of attention if you are in a low clearance 2 wheel drive car). However once you get to the Big Sandy trailhead, it gets interesting! Getting to the Cirque is a hard days hike, but easier as a 2 day trip. Its about 8 miles in, and about 2-3000 feet of ascent. However I was packing in a plane and all the kit to go with it too! Not to mention a tent, enough to stop me freezing in the expected well below freezing temperatures, and enough emergency kit that I could make it back to the car in a tight pinch.


     The first thing I noticed was:- no mosquitoes! That was such a blessing. Previously when I’ve been here they make your life a torment in that whenever you stop, great clouds of them descend on you, and bug spray and nets or not you get peppered with bites. Same goes for when you pitch the tent, you basically have to throw up the tent and get in it asap just to escape from the bugs. This time, NOTHING, nada, not even a hint of a mosquito. That made the walk through the dry piney forests of Big Sandy incredible pleasant, but in the back of my mind I was fully aware that the reason there were no mosquitoes was that a hard frost had killed them all. It was likely to be cold that night.

     I left the car at 2pm, not out of any great plan, I just knew that was plenty of time to set a ‘base camp’ of sorts. There are also significant wildcards about heading out this time of year. Thankfully it’s too late for nasty thunderstorms, but snow is more likely to be the real hazard. First sign of bad weather and I would have to abort. No way was I prepared for harsh weather, and even getting back to the car would only be half the battle. However the cirrus cloud which I wasn’t quite sure if it was a front coming in (in which case I would be screwed) or was just some weather created by the mountains, burned off, and the rest of the day was as beautiful, pleasantly ambiently warm as a man under a deep blue sky could hope for.
The place was near deserted (the crowds of summer gone!), and I only passed maybe 5 people heading up to Big Sandy lake. Then came the first choice, to head up to Temple or into the Cirque? (right or left at Big Sandy lake?) I opted for the Temple, a giant triangular looking granite monolith. Merely to sand under Temple is an intimidating experience. I pitched camp in the last trees under Haystack. In this case it primarily wasn’t for fear of lightning, but in the full knowledge that it would be several degrees warmer in the trees, and given that I really wasn’t sure how my sleeping bag (‘rated’ to below freezing) would actually perform. As it turns out it did just fine, however my pillow was a pair of boots with a pair of pant (trousers) and fleece thrown over the top, prove more troublesome in getting a good nights sleep. Also there is the latent fear of the night predators. I’d hoisted the food into a tree, but you know that you are ALONE. There is no help. That sort of exposure sharpens the mind, and gives on a very light sleep. Was up about sunrise, although no direct light filtered down into the valley.

The view of 'Haystack' from the tent in the morning

     After a breakfast of ‘instant noodles’ I headed up towards the cirque of Temple, taking only the plane and some food. It was a pathless bushwhack, but not difficult. The sharp spike of Steeple rising steeply over the lake making for some excellent views before coming into the presence of Temple. And YES, I went to Temple on a Sunday!

View of Steeple over Clear lake

I was completely alone in this cirque.

     The condition for flying were as good as one could hope for up in the mountains. Scarcely a breath of wind, with giant mountain shadows littering the landscape. Bummer was the voltage regulator had fallen off the transmitter side of things on the plane, and I assumed my wiring was regularly color coded. Well anyway, I plugged in the battery, and theres this futt sound and a smell of burning electronics. I’ll wager that’s smells not graced the presence of Temple before! So that was the end of the possibility of remote video, however, I could still just record with the camera on the plane. It’s SOOO much easier to fly without the Helmet of Magnetar! Sure you can’t fly out of line of sight, but you only have to worry about flying the plane. Flight was fantastic!.

Best flight EVER! 🙂

     I then decided to head up onto the unnamed mountain in the middle of the cirque (the mountain of broken planes?). By the time I had gotten up there, there was a random wind blowing up to 15 mph, but the view was phenomenal!

Random un-named mountain (Plane Destroyer Mountain?) near the Cirque of the Towers

-The location of ‘Plane Destroyer’ mountain

     But a 15mph wind that’s tricky. The plane is already heavy (almost 1kg) which means it has to fly faster to maintain its lift. Further I was already at almost 11000 feet which means that in order to get stable flight you need to fly faster due to the thin air. Getting into the air proved trivial. Getting it to land, that was difficult. You see I probably only had 10ft or so of uneven granite to land on. I was ontop of the mountain, to overshoot means the plane falls off the cliff on the other side. To undershoot means flying into a granite block! In the end, after several aborted attempts where the plane, due to its slower speed and the irratic wind had almost been tipped over, pretty much out of desperation, I bought the plane in ‘hot’. Sure it was fairly stable, but on ‘landing’ the camera and motor broke off. In many ways it was a relief, in that there was now no way I could do aerial video of the Cirque of the Towers (meant I didn’t have to take all this kit up to the pass). I packed up and took the short way down. Risky to be sure as I had no surety that the path wouldn’t end in an impassible cliff. Thankfully it didn’t and I saved myself about a mile of  bush-whackin’ down to Temple lake and back again. On the way down, of all the bizarre and unexpected things, I found a llama with no apparent owner. WTF?

Random Llama!

     It took to its heels as I approached. Dropped down to base camp by about midday, packed up and cooked what food I had left (more raman noodles!). Then the trek down to Big Sandy lake. Got to the path up the Cirque of the Towers by about 2ish. Took basically all the water, wine and food I had left, and headed up towards the cirque. I was very tired by this point, and to make matters worse, lost the trail just before the first lake and ended up in a giant boulder field. There was many a hole you could have fallen into and never been seen or heard from again! I reached an overview of Jackass Pass (my target) by 4pm, but I was a spent force. I could go no further. It was a double blessing that the plane had crashed, for there was a steady 30 mph wind gusting higher near the cirque, all but impossible to fly in. I hung around on the pass till 4:30, full in the knowledge that I would be walking out in the full dark. Going down was fast, aided by the fact that I kept the path the whole way.

Defeat at the Cirque

     Got back to my pack at 5:45pm and began the weary trudge out. I was all but out of food, all but out of drinkable water. Now its true that I had both water treatment and a water pump, but was reluctant to risk using them if I could avoid it. (theres a really nasty bug in the water around here called giardiasis). By 8pm it was near full dark and I was walking on a head lamp, so tired that I could only walk for 10 or so minutes at the time. Turns out the headlamp was fantastic, as not only did it free up both hands, but periodically you could sweep the local area looking for glowing eyes! However it could only penetrate the murk for 20 or so feet, and I was ever fearful of losing the path. I eventually managed to get onto the flats near the trail head, but was lost in what turned out to be the campground. It was both a delight and a nightmare to find those park benched. I knew I was REALLY close to ‘home’ but had no clear idea which way to go. I then found a road. Again, great, but which way to go when you can only see 20 feet? Turns out it was the one way loop around the campsite, and if I had known I was probably only a couple of hundred feet from my car. I guessed good and as I came over the gentle rise, what do I find on the other side, but my ‘little blue New Yorker’! Dumped everything asap, tanked up on water and chocolate before crashing for the night, having to run the engine periodically to stave off the cold of the night freeze.

A bright Supernova for NOT the Oregon Star Party!

September 4, 2011

Well the supernova sure has brightened a lot over the last week!

Supernova in M101, August 25th 2011, about a 3 hr exposure with an 11in scope and 2500 iso on a canon D60.

From the night of the 3rd sept. 1.5hr exposure comprised of 20s unguided exposures (chosen frames) of a cpc1100 with a canon 60d at prime focus (f6.3 reducer).

It now easily outshines the galaxy core and is the brightest thing in the field.

So it turns out one of the reasons I had the Pine Mountain Observatory to myself to do ‘supernova LIVE’  (Sept 1st) was because some of the folks had drifted off to the Oregon Star Party.  I too was advised to go, in part for the great skies of the ochico, and part for the company.

Getting there was a bit of a nightmare in that I set the wrong GPS coordinates (a combination of relatively little sleep the night before, and just drifting along with the scenery).  Either way, by the time I worked it out I was 50 miles down the road, and the GPS kept on trying to send me down dirt roads to nowhere to get back.  The tricky thing about dirt roads, is if they are good, you can get up to 45 mph-ish.  If they are not good, not only will you be doing well to make walking speed, but 10 feet can make the whole thing utterly impassable to a polite little underpowered low clearance suburban car like mine! (or the even more devastating, can get the car stuck!) Thus it was after an hour or so detour down a road that started like a ‘freeway’, then it  narrowed and narrowed and eventually turned into a road where I might as well have been trying to drive down a rough rutted river bed.  I think I did well to survive the turn around! Especially seeing as I was miles in the middle of nowhere by this point, with no apparent traffic on the road!  Eventually I decided to retrace my steps down the black top and do it right!

Thus is was that it was about 5pm by the time I arrived at the Oregon Star Party.  I had a brief exchange with the staff, who insisted on a 75 dollar registration fee.  I told them I was there just to take a look around- ’75 dollars’, that I probably wouldn’t even be there a full day ’75 dollars’, and so it went on.  Just for the record, that would make visiting the Oregon Star Party significantly more expensive than Disneyland, which is some 85 dollars for a day pass.  Apart from the OSP is just a bunch of guys sitting out under the stars ontop of a hill.  Now I was actually interested in talking to some of the vendors they had there, particularly Celestron and Orion (the latter about their crappy capture device on their deep sky video camera), but I was knackered.  So I put up my feet in the car and dozed a bit, trying to recover some strength and in part to work out what to do.  Eventually the organizer came out and said they were ‘locking the gate’ at 7pm.  This was bullshit, there was no gate.  Shit what were they going to do imprison everyone ontop of the hill for the night?.  I got his message thoguh, so at that I rolled back a mile or so down the road and found a place with a good northern horizon and set up the scope.  The ochico is notorious for having a fine dust that gets onto and into everything, including optics, and so I was quite happy to not have folk around disturbing the dust.  Set the scope up on M101 and cooked myself some ‘ramen noodle’ soup type stuff.  Hunger and a bad day are by far the best cooks, and it was the best meal I’ve thus far had on the road, snarfed down with butter and bread! Ahhhh!  Then I basically went to sleep for a few hours till M101 effectively set before packing up the scope.  Skies were, I have to say good!

Next day, I meandered over to the John Day fossil beds.  They were on the map and I had no real idea what the hell it was all about.  Turns out there are some fairly reasonable badlands here, full of fossils.  Regrettably however the fossil museum was an hour down the road in the wrong direction, and a tired thunderf00t wasn’t really up for it.  The sedimentary stuff here coincidentally is from the primitive cascades, and goes back 20 million years!  Yeah, exactly to when the supernova overhead capped off…..ooooooh!

Some of the 'Badlands' near the John Day Fossil Beds Oregon.

Picked up wifi and power at Prineville and processed the acquisitions of the night before, as well as a video of supernova so far.  By that time I had really only enough light in the day to make it back to Pine Mountain, where fortuitously, the deep sky forecast was near perfect!  Plus this really the last chance before the moon becomes a serious issue for a couple of weeks to get a good piccie of the supernova.

On Saturday night on Pine Mountain they do outreach, so I agreed to give them a hand: that night many a person was put into perspective with the Cosmos! 🙂  The odd thing was, all of this was apologetically put into perspective with distance and years in the millions, and of the hundred or so people I talked to, there wasn’t so much of a sign or a peep from anyone expressing the young earth creationist view!


August 31, 2011

A fun couple of days all in! (28-29th July 2011)

So for night time I decided to indulge in a guilty pleasure, and just drive off into the quiet forests of Oregon, and just, well, sleep!  Well mostly sleep.  I did leave a timelapse going of the milky way from the forests of Oregon…. Pretty!

The next morning I was up early, and spent it bumming around crater lake.  When I first got the lake, it was mirror still!  It’s rarely that still at crater lake (normally wind disturbs the surface, as it had does by the end of this timelapse), so I set up the camera… more pretty!

While that was going down, I got accosted by one of the GIANT VOLCANIC CHIPMUNKS that roam the area!

And boy did that 4.5mm sigma 180 degree fisheye lens earn its keep at crater lake.  Y’see Crater Lake is just so big by the time you can see it, basically only a 180 degree lens will get it all in!

A keep back sign? Now that's just being a 'cliff tease'. Seriously though, these signs litter Crater Lake, which to be fair has a lot of cliffs, but does it really need all the idiot warning for people too stupid to spot poor footing and a terminal drop off?

and these ‘keep back signs’ litter the area in a way that smells of ‘frivolous lawsuit evasion’, or maybe it’s just to keep the number of Darwin Award winners from Crater Lake down.

Spent that evening on top of Mount Scott, well actually a rocky outcrop you have to climb up on near the top of Mnt Scott.  But the views were amazing. Just sat there and watched the sun go down over the lake!

Thunderf00t on mnt Scott looking down on crater lake. And yes, its about a 50ft drop off that rock! Mnt Scott is the highest point in Crater Lake NP. The actual summit has a fire lookout built on it and smells of urine. However for those willing to do a little hand n foot scrambling, there are a couple of satellite summits that have amazing views.

Spent the early evening helping doing some astronomy outreach (of a sort).  Skies were dark, but a little murky.  Had the scope catching photons from the M101 supernova till about 2am before packing up.  However Jupiter rising over the lake gave some captivating specular reflections!  Left the timelpase running till about 4am, would have been longer, but I feel asleep before changing the battery.  Damn my intolerance to sleep deprivation!

Next morning, a very tired Thunderf00t decided the air was still enough to take to the skies, using the helmet of doom!  Here I was alternating between first person flying, and flying by direct sight.  It’s really ballsy stuff in that by the plane has to be quite close (relativley) to fly by direct sight, and if you go further, you are 100% reliant on the video and RC gear working.  There is also the problem that by the time the plane is so far away, that you cannot see it, the plane also cannot see you!  So bascially you have to navigate by big cliffs and the sun to find your way home.  The bottom line is, while the plane was almost beyond the point where you could see it to fly it, it still didn’t make it over the lake.

After that little adrenaline rush I was ready for some excitement, which came in the form of swimming in an ice-cold lake formed by a collapsed volcano!

and yeah that water looks perty and blue, its just as amazingly blue when you get your head under it!  Regrettably, by the time I’d worked that out, I’d left the contraption for getting the camera underwater (a sort of ziplock bag) back in the car, 1000 ft above me on the crater rim 😦

First look at Supernova in M101 (Aug 2011)

August 26, 2011

First look at Supernova in M101 (Aug 2011)

So after much driving around looking for a good observing sight I eventually found one north of Klamath Falls Oregon (good clear view north).

(‘Klamath Falls’ astronomy site, 25th August 2011)

I then brave the moquitoes, and yeah, there were a LOT of them, to get the scope set up.

The scope acquired data for several hours, this is thus far only processed from 6 minutes worth.  I’ve also not got round to sorting the colors out which is why the new exposure appear blue compared to the old one.

Supernova Watch Live begins tonight!

August 25, 2011

The great thing about time lapse and high speed photography, is they give you a sense of the orders of magnitude of time, from the beat of a humming birds wings (below), to the movement of a distant planet.

However, there really is a limit to the motions you can see, and capture in the heavens on a human time-scale.  The further away things are, the more they have to change for you to be able to see them.  I figured that after sunset on the moon,

the rotation of Jupiter,

and the motion of Uranus and its moons, that was pretty much as far an object as you could look at!

Then this happens:

Yup there is a supernova popping off in a nearby galaxy, M101, which by pure chance I took a picture of last month! and yes, I intend to do the time lapse of a star exploding in another galaxy!

M101, taken on 29th July 2011, with cpc1100 and canon60D (~10min exposure)

Now it should be said that this is a MONSTROUS undertaking.  SNs typically brighten and fade over a period of weeks!  This is all but perfect, arguably a once in lifetime experience.  A potentially bright SN, in a nearby galaxy, near the new moon, when I have the time to spend on it!  We are a few days before the new moon, which means I can get good observations for maybe two weeks, before the moons glare washes the galaxy out.

Supernova Watch Live begins tonight!

My baby flies at 5000 ft!

August 25, 2011

No that’s not the level of ascent, but the absolute altitude.  You will recall that as you get higher, the air pressure drops.   That makes it a real pain in the ass to fly planes.  So by the time you are up to about 14000 ft, you have only ~70 % of atmospheric pressure.  That’s 30% reduction in thrust, and lift.  It also changes the stability and handling characteristics of the plane.

So it was with an element of trepidation that I decided to fly the plane at 5000 feet (previously only flown at sea level), on the shoulder of mount Shasta, a 14000 ft extinct volcano in northern California.  The conditions were perfect (dead calm, good lighting), however the terrain was not.  Trees everywhere.  Trees have a habit of reaching out and ‘grabbing’ rc planes.  What it really is of course is the plane is quite small, and so distance is really quite hard to judge, y’know ‘will the plane fly in front of that tree, or into it?’  Keep ‘sky’ behind the plane is usually a good, if hard rule from keeping your plane from the clutching branches of the trees.  However the flight went pretty much perfectly.  I really used the headset for the first time, although as with everything there are always unforseen teething troubles.   In this case it was, as my head looked upwards to see the plane, it moved the headset so I could no longer easily see what was happening on the plane.  And yeah, when in flight, you really don’t have the luxury of ‘ooh, I really think I need to adjust these straps a little!  The plane flies at ~20 mph, and at that speed it can be real easy to lose ‘orientation’ on the plane.

Flight was pretty!

Upper frame, Mount Shasta, from the air! It's still over 2 miles above you at this point. Lower panel, that's MEEE, from the air. 🙂

Anyways, it was a very ‘buzzzzzzzzed’ Tfoot (shaking hands etc), who once again managed to get his plane back to the road clearing where he had taken off from!

Watching Sunset on the Moon, and things that go bump in the night!

August 20, 2011

Well it’s a start.  Sunset on the Moon!

This is the time lapse of sunset on the moon, taken at prime focus with a cpc11 with a focal reducer and a canon 60D.  The conditions were less than perfect.  This was about 9 hrs all in, and really quite an infuriating 9 hrs.

Firstly, since my ‘run in’ with the mountain lion, I’ve become VERY twitchy about things that go bump in the night, and would periodically scan the torch around, looking for ‘eyes’.  There was also an amusing part when a piece of paper blew out of the car.  The ‘sudden noise’ in the dark elicited an immediate reaction from me, which to the impartial observer must have appeared quite funny and disproportionate! (twirling around ready to attack the piece of paper…… hmmmm….  time to switch to decaf!)

Not all bad though, amazing what the heightened senses can find!

For some reason the telescope is lousy at tracking the moon.  I think this is to do with the fact that the Earth axis, and the normal of the orbit of the moon are out by about 6 degrees.  Practically what this means is the moon not only moves at a different rate to the stars (that is it goes around the sky in about 25 hours, not 24 like pretty much everything else).  But even with lunar rate, the tracking is poor.  I think the moon is also moving up/ down due to the difference in the normal of the Earth rotation and the moons orbit, and the mount is not smart enough to work this out.  The practical upshot of which is the moon will drift out of the field of view over a period of about an hour, so I had to set the alarm to go off every 20 minutes throughout the night in order to recenter the moon.

Further recentering the frames, taken every 2 minutes in editing is also a pain in the ass.  Thankfully Sony Vegas now has a ‘motion stabilizer’ feature that takes a lot of the donkey work out of this.

This is the finished product!  Well actually, only part of it.  At prime focus the telescope can get the best part of the moon in the frame.  I just selected one crater, as it shows the shadows nicely.

Tracking on everything else is perfect, in that at the end of the evening I dialed up Jupiter, and it went straight to it.  Cute! Never seen Jupiter by the full light of day before!

Thunderf00t vs The Mountain Lion

August 13, 2011

The sun was fully down and the full moon just risen (12 Aug 2011) when I was up by the tripod some 10 meters from the car.  The camera was running a timelapse near dusk, but the battery was low so I was just changing it.   It was there that I heard a  twig break nearby on the far side of the clearing. Instantly that was out of the ordinary, and got my attention REAL fast. I can hear nothing else, and that makes me even more nervous:- no creature ambling through the brush, the night hunters are at work. I have no torch on me, and no weapon (normally I carry both a torch and a big ass knife, which in the event of you not being killed outright is enough to put some pretty respectable sized holes in a cat). But I have neither. I have the camera, and now that I think about it, I should have grabbed the tripod too, but I didn’t. Keeping myself fixed towards where the sound was I made my way cautiously back to the car, brandishing the 2000 dollar camera n lens as just a big metal lump (strange how the value of objects can be changed by merely the snapping of a twig in a clearing on a  quiet night up). On getting back to the car, I quickly rummaged around and got a knife, and flashlight. I panned it around the clearing to see two bright green sapphire eyes looking back at me from behind a log. It had come up on me from where I first heard it on the far side of the clearing. It could only have been about 10 meters. Then behind it I saw a second pair of eyes, as green as the first, but smaller, and further off. Green eyes are cats eyes, and from the separation and the distance I could tell this was a big cat. After watching me for a few seconds I saw it turn off into the trees. I didn’t like that at all: all the time I could see it, I knew what the score was. A big cat out of sight, thats more of a worry.
I fumbled around for a video camera, but by that time they eyes had gone and again I was ‘alone in the quiet’. After that I was reluctant to leave the car. Mountain lions are ambush hunters, and the car was awkwardly positioned such that getting out was ‘vunerable’. I slept the night away, and in the morning went looking for tracks. Turns out there was a deer path that went along side the opening, and sure enough, there were mountain lion tracks there, further they tracked up towards the tripod.