I had intended to showcase the George Observatory much earlier in the year, however each Saturday that they were open over the Spring and Summer months which I made an attempt to check my phone’s weather app, there was always a reasonable percentage of rain and an excuse to postpone. So, when the forecast only read 20% chance of showers after nearly four previous attempts, I convinced myself this was the time to head down. I called earlier in the day to estimate whether or not my intended trip was likely to be cancelled with clouds moving in overhead. The Observatory attendant confirmed that the clouds would pass, they had an eye on them and most signs pointed to a successful outing.
I packed my camera, a flip bin 33, and a few records I thought would work with the location. I was a little skeptical of the lighting situation, as light routinely appears to be the antithesis of clarity in the sky. As such, I attempted to Jerry-rig a small LED keychain flashlight (courtesy my local auto mechanic) to a tubular rolled up piece of white computer paper. My theory was that the light would reflect in the flipbin from under the record, providing just enough clarity to see the title, yet not so much to ruin a sky view.
I made a stop on the way down at an ATM to make sure that I would have cash on hand for the entry fees to the park. When arrived at the Brazos Bend State Park gates, I was stopped by a park ranger advising that the entry fee was non refundable and that the clouds which were not so threatening an hour and a half before had moved closer and that there was a looming lightning storm making it’s way over. The Ranger also preemptively yet definitively informed me that he didn’t have any change for which to exchange for the twenty dollar bill I had withdrawn from the ATM. I was fine without change. The lightning both excited and rightfully somewhat intimidated me. Heading through a State Park in the middle of lightning on the way with nearly entire handfuls of metallic objects just seemed to be a questionable decision.
I parked in a lot after a short drive from the park visitor center and front entrance. The wind had lightly picked up, notably to start watching families starting to return from the observatory’s telescope areas to their cars. I grabbed the supplies I prepped and walked briskly toward the large white domed area.
The keychain light was not really a match for the dark and narrowing trail up to the observation deck.
What became more and more clear to me about the storm ahead was not only that I could be struck by lightning, but that what might be a larger concern was the wind picking up. As I continued the trek up to the trail, debris from the surrounding trees started to come down. Pine needles, the crack of a smaller branch behind me from a lower hanging canopy. I pressed to maintain a pace which might afford the record covers I had lined up not to be drenched by even the lightest sprinkle of rain. More and more families were heading the opposite direction and as you approach the observation area, a sign is posted to turn off lights to preserve the views of the night sky. I didn’t sidestep any park officials, but did quickly set up a couple of shots around the observation area as aficionados began to secure the hatches of the domed hatches.
The keychain light I had tried to engineer significantly failed beyond belief. The sheet of paper I had rolled had become somewhat crumpled by the gusts of wind and the trip to the observation area. The final few older couples with telescopes of their own and lawn chairs set up on the observation deck were packing up their goods. The winds had picked up to the point that park officials started to exit the visitor area, rattling off the tasks involved in closing down, where the switch to the trail head lights were and when they would be back.
I took the cue to start making my way back, hoping that the few shots I secured on the deck were going to work. I was in such a rush that what I recognized on my way back was that I had not in fact balanced the light on my photos to as accurately capture the record, the observatory dome and the night sky. Not to mention that in my haste I had indeed actually left the boombox in the parked car. Yes, for the blog with the above title. Instead, I jest-fully moved around the site repositioning the records and snapped away thinking that “this might be the one”. As I returned closer to the trailhead, I remembered the lit posts that have different planetary information on them. I ran to the car, grabbed the boombox from the front seat floorboard and made my way over to a light and sign reading “Pluto”.
Pluto is one of the most interesting objects in space in my opinion. Pluto is the Rodney Dangerfield of celestial objects. In 1930, Pluto was given the title of Planet, yet had that status revoked in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union decided that there were enough big rocks not much unlike Pluto out past Neptune. It was tagged with the title of “dwarf planet”.
The successful news from the trip is that I did get a decent shot, even if it wasn’t maybe what I had originally intended.
The track this week is Van Morrison’s “Moonlight”. I found that the opening verse line addressing “the leaves on the trees are falling” connecting the experience I had on my way to the observatory to be fitting. Furthermore, I remember hearing not only Moondance, but other tracks from the album on the classic rock radio station that would play on my father’s garage radio system. There is something so iconic about Morrison’s voice that captures the moment you remember hearing it.
I recommend finding the Observatory on a much less cloudy and potentially ominous Saturday evening. Listen to Moondance LP all the way down. You’ll hear some familiar favorites and might even discover something stellar!
Be kind to one another, now more than ever.