Goodnight moon, goodnight stars

by Jennifer on November 17, 2008

As you know, my sister has been with us this last week, and we’ve been doing some fun and interesting things. The best of them, in my opinion (and I don’t think I’m alone in this), was our trip out of town on Saturday to the Kitt Peak National Observatory southwest of Tucson. We went for the Nightly Observing Program, and it was spectacular, amazing, and every other superlative you can imagine. If you live in the area or visit, you should definitely add this to your list.

By the time we left, I think we had all reached a state of awe at least a few times.

But let’s backtrack…

A bit of advice. My sister handles many tasks very well. She’s organized and smart and thorough. But if you want to get where you’re going on time, don’t put her in charge of the directions.

We were on schedule. Checked into the hotel, then got back on the road to drive the 50 or so miles to the observatory which is sited on top of a mountain.

As the passenger and holder of the printed-out Yahoo directions, Ducky was responsible for helping me find the way. Oh, she did. She even helped us take a detour through the airport before we ever got out of Tucson (actually had us do a U-turn to go back to the road that would end up taking us through the airport).

Still, I had faith in her. We were looking for the turnoff to Kitt Peak, and it seemed like we should have turned already since Kitt Peak was behind us (we wondered if, perhaps, there was a way around the mountain or something). Then, she called out, “Look! KITT PEAK JCT, 10 miles!” Except she was looking behind us at a sign going the other direction.

When we got back to the turnoff, after breaking a few speed laws, we saw that we had somehow missed this bigass sign:

And we were on a deadline. The nice man on the phone had reminded me that we had to be there by 4:15. No pressure. Ten extra miles to cover (plus the 10 extra we’d just driven), and we still had the 12-mile drive up the mountain.

You know I love a good drive, and a winding mountain road can make my heart race faster than just about anything (in a good way). This road was incredible, the kind you might see in a car commercial. Winding and steep, with views that could steal your breath right out of your chest. I could go back just to drive that road again. Unfortunately, there was no time to stop to take any pictures, but if you go to flickr and search for “Kitt Peak road” or “Kitt Peak,” you can find great photos of the views. The observatory sits at a 7000 ft elevation, so you can imagine.

We made it exactly on time, and we weren’t even the last ones to arrive.

The evening was magic. After a meal, we watched the sunset.

Then we went back inside for about an hour for an introductory program, and learned a few tricks for locating constellations. With binoculars in hand, and two guides with us, we walked back outside.

A collective gasp rose up from the group.

Stars, so many stars. The sky was crowded with them.

Maybe we’re a bunch of cityfolk – I know most of the group were from inside the state (they asked for a show of hands) – because it was obvious that most of us hadn’t seen so many stars in a very long time, maybe never, for some.

The telescope time was the best part of the night, and the chance to look at the moon in detail was my favorite part. The four of us all took a second look – I don’t think Boy and Girl could believe their eyes.

Believe me, I could understand.

What they don’t announce on their website or tell you on the phone is that when you leave the observatory to go back down the mountain, you have to drive the first few miles with no headlights. Any light can interrupt the work of the researchers, so all the visitors follow a lead car, and parking lights provide the only light. (I did mention how winding and steep the road was, right?)

I could go on about the night, and I can’t promise I won’t revisit it later if I can find the right words. It’s possible that they will escape me. As I said before, if you ever get a chance to visit this observatory, you absolutely should.

And if winding mountain roads make you nervous, just give me a call.

I’ll drive.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Gwen November 17, 2008 at 11:00 am

I was thinking, before I got to the end of this, how lucky you are to have someplace to go where light pollution doesn’t ruin everything. I grew up in a rain forest, where every night the Milky Way spilled snakily across the sky. Now I live near a big old city; I miss my stars.

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Lisa Milton November 17, 2008 at 11:06 am

It’s hard to see the stars here, when winter comes.

It’s all clouds and mist.

I love these shots.

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melissa November 17, 2008 at 11:53 am

What an awesome experience! How cool that you all got to go.

melissas last blog post..In defense of plastic trees

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flutter November 17, 2008 at 1:38 pm

absolutely gorgeous. Absolutely

flutters last blog post..Stolen

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Ducky November 17, 2008 at 2:10 pm

I hasten to add a couple of key points:

  • A root cause analysis would reveal that had we only printed out the directions from the Kitt Peak site, we would have gotten there without incident. Yahoo Maps had us looking for BIA-39, not 386. As we passed 386, I was getting something off the floor of the car, then turned around and saw 386. Since it wasn’t BIA-39, I said nothing.
  • Ahem. The big-ass sign was on the driver’s side of the road.

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Jennifer Harvey November 17, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Ahem. The passenger was reading to the driver from a book, thereby distracting the driver.

Driver may have been distracted by children arguing with each other over Pokemon.

Driver may have been distracted by son asking, “You know what I would wish, if Pokemon were real?”

Passenger has, in the recent past, confessed to getting off-task, with the excuse of “I got distracted.”

Driver rests her case.

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Ann November 17, 2008 at 3:05 pm
Kimberly November 17, 2008 at 6:26 pm

You had me right up until the part about winding mountain road with no lights. But I might have to suck it up anyway if I ever get the chance. Sounds spectacular.

Kimberlys last blog post..A new day dawns (at dawn)

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Milena November 17, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Ducky: Are you sure you’re not MY sister because, if I’m to believe Jennifer, you and I sound like we come from the Broken Compass family. But you know what? I won’t. I’m sure your inner GPS is fine and dandy. I’ll just have to keep on longing for a road sister that gets lost as much as I do.

Jennifer: Once when I was about 13 I went to an observatory in Washington DC. It was sensational. We oohd and aahd over the gorgeous, beautiful, inspiring stars. I still remember that. I think it has nothing to do with being city people and just a lot to do with having eyes and possessing a heart that beats.

You got plenty of that. Trust me.

Milenas last blog post..Période Bleue by Jane Birkin

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Ducky November 17, 2008 at 9:30 pm

Jennifer got most of the GPS genes.

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tysdaddy November 18, 2008 at 5:23 am

“Except she was looking behind us at a sign going the other direction.” Does your sister have a sense of humor? Was this an innocent, Borat moment? Gosh, I hope so.

That place looks lovely. The scenery? I could write a lot looking at that scene . . .

Peace to you this day, my friend . . .

tysdaddys last blog post..Smoochin’

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Stacie November 18, 2008 at 7:19 am

I wanna go! Pick me! Pick me!!!!

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Dharmamama November 18, 2008 at 7:38 am

Oh, stars! I grew up in the country, and I remember the infinite stars – now in that same area, you’re lucky to see one or two! Now I live in the city… how I miss the stars. I’m sad that my kids haven’t had a childhood of lying in the grass, looking at the stars. It was an important part of mine.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve caught sight of the sign behind me, going in the other direction. But I always get where I’m going, eventually.

Dharmamamas last blog post..A Star Fall, A Phone Call, It Joins All….

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david mcmahon November 18, 2008 at 2:23 pm

My kinda place, definitely.

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Suzanne November 18, 2008 at 2:24 pm

I think that you have a special relationship with the night sky, it seems to figure importantly in some of your most moving posts.

And what a cool ‘field trip’ wish I could’ve gone too!

Suzannes last blog post..The Pursuit of Happiness

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the mama bird diaries November 18, 2008 at 10:31 pm

It sounds so unbelievably beautiful…. What a magical night. Although that no headlight thing sounds SCARY.

the mama bird diariess last blog post..it all happens at the disco

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Jenn @ Juggling Life November 18, 2008 at 11:20 pm

It sounded amazing right up until the end. There’s not enough Xanax in the world to get me to drive down a mountain road without headlights. Maybe my family can go without me!

Jenn @ Juggling Lifes last blog post..Straight Teeth and Strong Arms

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JCK November 19, 2008 at 1:33 am

It’s the someone else driving on windy roads that make me nervous…but, I will deal with it to go there! Oh, this sounds amazing. And so fun with your children, too.

JCKs last blog post..If JCK has to cook one more meal with chicken, she swears she will start sprouting feathers.

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Sandi McBride November 19, 2008 at 4:57 am

The view you show is spectacular, this is a memory maker, for sure. Congrats on Post of the Day from David…
Sandi

Sandi McBrides last blog post..The Lady of the Lake

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moannie November 19, 2008 at 5:13 am

That was a breathtaking post. What an incredible part of the country. Thanks for sharing and congrats on your POTD

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Hilary November 19, 2008 at 5:24 am

Sounds like an incredible experience.. including the drive down the mountain. Congrats on the POTD

Hilarys last blog post..Mental Snapshots

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texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana November 19, 2008 at 6:20 am

That sounds amazing. I would love to see it. Road Trip!

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvanas last blog post..Room for Holly’s teenage angst

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Crazycath November 19, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Oh wow!

Wow wow wow wow wow wow.

Crazycaths last blog post..Wordless Wednesday

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Louise November 19, 2008 at 9:45 pm

Oh my. Maybe you really are genuinely related to us. Or maybe its osmosis. There’s me with a fabulous sense of direction, and my brother, who is much like Ducky. (I have a great story of how he got lost using a GPS, FTLOG!)

But joking aside, this sounds like fantastic place. In all my life I have never been someplace like that, but have always wanted to. So cool that you did it.

Louises last blog post..Sixth of the Sixth (or Eighth of the Eighth)

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Troy Mullens November 26, 2008 at 8:27 am

I forgot to mention, the twilight photograph of dusk over the layers of canyons and receding colors is absolutely magnificent.

Great photograph.

Print it large, frame it, and hang it on the wall so that visitors can enjoy it and go ooooohhh…awwwwwwhh.

Troy and Martha

Troy Mullenss last blog post..My World Tuesday, Part 6

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