The Year So Far

Damn, I never update this thing…I really should make the time to do it!

What have I done in this year so far?

I presented a poster at the Winter AAS meeting in Long Beach, CA. We (my dept. at USNO) are among those trying to drum up public interest in the August 2017 solar eclipse and put together a new web page on the event. I also attended a workshop at the meeting on diversity in teaching Astronomy 101. Opened my eyes to a lot of things I had never thought about in dealing with my students. I hope I am a kinder, gentler professor!

Taking advantage of my being in California, my friend Laura and I went to Disneyland and then on a weekend excursion to the San Diego Safari Park and Zoo. We are zoo freaks and really wanted to see the new baby panda (he was adorable).

I stayed active with DC Area Flower Safari and saw the blue poppies at Longwood Gardens for the first time:

In May, Rob and I took a big road trip around Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Basically, we circled the Four Corners without actually going to it.

We flew to Phoenix and then headed up to Flagstaff the next day. The Naval Observatory’s Flagstaff Station is there, of course, and I was long overdue for a visit. We stopped off at Montezuma Castle National Monument on the way there. My friend Marc, formerly of my dept. in the DC USNO and now at NOFS, gave us a little tour of the Observatory. With an elevation of about 7500 feet, the walking between telescopes and buildings made us a little winded. Made our first visit to a Sonic that day and later on Marc and his wife Stacy took us out to dinner. Flagstaff is absolutely lovely, though I’m not sure I’d like to live that far away from everything.

Of course, one thing Flagstaff isn’t too far from is the Grand Canyon, and that’s where we headed the next morning. It was the first National Park of the trip. And, since it was the weekend before Memorial Day weekend, we weren’t the only ones there. But that’s ok. Nothing could take away from the amazing vistas. (I had always been jealous of my family members who had been to the Canyon, but now I’ve seen it too. Ha!)

The next day we drove through Monument Valley in Utah. After a brief stop at the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which has great views, we tried to find the spot where the filmed for the Doctor Who episode The Impossible Astronaut. I think we got pretty close.

Our next stop was Mesa Verde National Park in Cortez, Colorado. Second National Park of the trip and it just so happens the Governor was there for the grand opening of their new visitor center. Of course. But it actually wasn’t so bad in the park proper. We had a fun time climbing around the Cliff Palace ruins. (Ruins are awesome; after seeing the Mayan ruins at Coba during our cruise, I want to see more)

One of the big motivations for going on this trip was to visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park. There is a famous pictograph in the park believed by some to have been painted in response to Native Americans’ witnessing of the Supernova of 1054. I’ve always wanted to see it. It is a bit of a hike to get to it: 3 miles out and 3 miles back. Originally I had thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. I got heat exhaustion while hiking in Joshua Tree a couple of years back. But Rob convinced me that I could do it and we practice-hiked at home for a couple of months beforehand. It paid off. The hike was a cinch. It’s a very flat trail, with a few easy washes to climb in and out of. The only really difficult part is the fact that there’s no shade. We were prepared with hats and water and had no trouble.

Rob, of course, is extremely pleased with himself over the whole thing, talking me into doing the hike and all. Well, I’ll give him that. Now, shut up, please! One more thing to note: Chaco Culture NHP is the most remote national park area I’ve ever been to. It was more than 10 miles of rough, unpaved roads through county and Navajo (I think) land to reach the park. Once you’re on Federal land, it’s all paved but there are no paved roads into or out of the park. Thankfully, our rental car (a relatively new Ford Focus) was up to the challenge.

On our way back to Phoenix, we stopped at Petrified Forest National Park (third National Park of the trip). There’s no forest there, of course. Just lots of petrified wood and the Painted Desert. It’s considered by most to be a pretty boring park. We didn’t have a lot of time to see it, though, so I’ll reserve judgement.

Our final stop of the trip was Meteor Crater. Sure, it’s just a big hole in the ground, but I show pics and video of it in my Astronomy 101 class every semester, so I had to see it for myself! Windy, but an awesome sight.

In July I attended ASP’s Cosmos in the Classroom conference in San Jose, giving me the chance to hang out with lots of other people who teach Astronomy. I also got a chance to visit with some of my college friends who live in the area. Got me to thinking…I might be able to stand living in the Bay Area! The conference hotel was the Fairmont San Jose. Easily one of the poshest I’ve ever stayed in. One of my friends told me its where the President stays when he’s in town. Wow.

Of course, I also took advantage of getting to the area a couple of days early to take the train into San Francisco. I didn’t have time to see much, but I had a nice visit to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

I also went to Fisherman’s Wharf to try and get a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, but, as is typical for San Francisco, there was too much fog/haze to see it clearly. Alcatraz looked nice, though.

I came back to Maryland on a redeye flight and immediately left with my parents for Connecticut for a reunion of people my dad worked with in Madrid, Spain, when I was a kid. There was great Spanish food, it was nice to see some old family friends, and I was reminded that when I travel with my parents, I really need my own room. We had the chance to see a few lighthouses, visit a Revolutionary War-era fort, and see Mystic, though we didn’t visit the Seaport museum. Took a nice boat ride in the river, though.

My next big trip, after a mostly-home August, was to the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, TX. But that’s for another post…

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