May 18, 2014

Have a Bryce Day...or three

For those of you who don't know, I'm spending two months at Bryce Canyon National Park as an Astronomy Volunteer. Since my personal internet time here will likely remain fairly limited, I've been trying to keep a sort of daily "Journal" from which I'll share excerpts here and there. Here are the first three days. 

Thurs May 15, 2014

Arrived at Bryce this afternoon. Checked into the Astronomy House, and got situated in time to help out at the observing session tonight. Just past full moon, and a sky laced with hazy clouds. Warm temps. Still, views of M13 were decent, and the planets of course were gorgeous. The other guys were mostly focusing on planets, so I decided to go back to some old bright standards just to offer some diversity. Mizar & Alcor, the Stargate (Jaws and the Sombrero briefly), and, as I already said, M13. We had about 150 people show up. It was a madhouse! And all of us packed into a tiny parking space in the front of the visitor center—I guess we move around back later in the season.

My assignment for tomorrow: get out and enjoy (learn) the park. What torture! If I'm going to be manning the front desk at the visitor center, I'd better know my way around a little. I'll be doing all the hikes I can, obviously enjoying myself, but with an eye toward “what would be important for a visitor to know about this.” 

Friday May 16, 2014

Could REALLY feel the altitude today. Hiked the Navajo/Queen's Garden Loop and had to take it slow. That's ok though. This is a good place to go slowly. Never a shortage of things to see...

Once again a little disgusted that I was one of those typical tourists pulling out my camera every 5 minutes...but at least I wasn't carting around a tripod too. 

The air felt really dry, the sun felt really hot...and close...and my lungs couldn't quite keep up with things. Whereas I had originally hoped for some harder hiking later in the day, I resolved to listen to my body and take things easy. I'll be here for two months after all. Plenty of time to adapt to 8000 - 9000+ feet above sea level. Lunch sure tasted good after all that: lentil soup with vegetable stir fry. The house smelled fantastic. 

Went to Yovimpa Point on a cloudy afternoon. Didn't look as pristine as I remember it being. Could see roads, buildings in a couple places. Are these new? Or did I just miss them before? Bristlecone pines are beautiful...even the dead ones. 

Couldn't quite figure out if I was identifying them properly...bristlecone, limber pines, douglas fir, ponderosa'd think I'd have an easier time telling them apart. Keep thinking I should get a field guide. Walked the rim from Bryce Point to Sunset Point. Gorgeous. Vertigo inducing. 

It occurred to me that Bryce Canyon is a display of prolonged decay. Collapse. Entropy. I've wondered in the past how the beautiful places we love will appear in however many billion years, when the sun has swelled to a Red Giant and Earthlings have either fled or perished. We work so hard (some of us) to preserve these places (as we should), but they are not eternal. As godly a landscape as Bryce is—as iconic—as still—as unique and seemingly irreplaceable—the edge of the canyon is wearing away at between 1 and 4 feet per century. In no time at all “geologically speaking” it will all have eroded away to dust. Swept out to the Pacific within the periodic currents of desert streams. What will it be like to watch those last painted spires disintegrate? Will intelligent beings eons hence even know that such a canyon even existed?

On the docket tomorrow: 
Solar Observing
Visitor Center duty
Nighttime Observing
(hopefully...finally) getting my “uniform”

Saturday May 17, 2014

Yup...finally got my uniform today. It consists of a brown button-up pocketed shirt, name badge, warm jacket, and wide-brimmed mesh hat—each of which display a “National Park Service Volunteer” patch. It's hard not to feel the urge to stand a little taller while wearing it. 

Began the day with a short hike along the Fairyland Rim trail. Less busy than the main viewpoints between Bryce and Sunrise Points, and a little more up-and-down in elevation. Some enormous spires and hoodoos right up against the edge of the trail. Photographed a baby Limber Pine growing atop a rocky windowed wall. 

It's like the trees here have an actual dare-devil personality—perching atop the highest and most exposed ledges—hurling themselves over the edges of things—ready to take flight. Really it's often that they take root on firm ground only to find that in a few decades the earth has begun to erode away beneath them. All that anchors them is a strong branching root system clinging ever further into whatever foundation may still exist nearby. 

Solar observing began the day. I got a brief how-to on the Coronado. (I hope I can remember it for this coming Tuesday!) Then Radar and I sat out in front of the VC hoping to draw in a few curious spectators. Beautiful prominences, filaments, and granulation readily visible. Possibly some small sun spots. Also, finding the sun in a telescope is a lot harder than it looks. My most embarrassing moments of the day consisted of me fumbling to relocate the sun while Radar sat off to the side a little baffled at my struggles. Ugh! I'm sure I will get better next time. 

Worked for a few hours at the VC front desk. Lots of standing. Answering questions. “We just got here, so what do you think we should do?” “Well, do you like to hike? Mind taking the shuttle? Have a car? Want to see a Ranger program?” I'm still learning the ropes here, but hopefully I was helpful to at least a few of the many dozens of visitors who approached me. 

A “clear” evening forecast proved wholly inaccurate. Our sky was socked in with clouds until Mars, then Jupiter, a small smattering of bright stars, and then Saturn started poking through the haze. I guess a bunch of Bryce Canyon's 60 cloudy nights per year are taking their turn this week. Views were lukewarm. But the few visitors that showed up were enthusiastic and enjoyed telescopic views without the clamor of excessive lines. I operated "Thor." A huge Dobsonian requiring a ladder to reach the eyepiece. Man I love light buckets!

My next 2 days are off. More enjoying the park for me!


  1. Oh, to be with you during this adventure! Love the post!

    1. Thanks Mom! I hope you get a chance to come by at some point:) Astronomy stuff happens on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I love you!

  2. So enjoying your blog. We visited Bryce two summers ago and loved it..just didn't have time to stay longer, so we plan to return. I am friends and neighbors with Annalee. Have a great summer.

    1. Thank you! If you want to come this summer and include astronomy as part of your visit, our programs typically take place on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

  3. Somehow I feel more hopeful knowing you are out there sharing yourself and astronomy!! Things are looking up! :)