A Small (Star) Shower

Written August 15, 2019

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,

This is a diary of 24 hours, like the name implies. On Monday, PG&E, the local power company, announced that Tuesday would be a "Smart Day". (Forecast high temperature of 104F). Based on our choice of electric payment plans, this means that we really can not afford to use electricity between 2 and 7 pm of such a Day. Instead, we think of how we can leave the house for somewhere cool. Often, this alternate plan costs way more than the higher electric bill would be and so it was this week.

We chose to look into an overnight up in one of our National Parks. Our first choice is always the Wawona in Yosemite, but it and every other hotel in Yosemite was booked until September. In Kings Canyon National Park, there are a couple of simple and reasonably-priced lodges or cabins, but these too were booked for the summer. The only option was Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia NP, and the only accommodation was their most expensive suite. So be it.

After chores, but before Tuesday breakfast, we headed east on Highway 180, counting on a meal stop somewhere along the way. When we head north to Yosemite, we have several known options, but we found no meal stops on the way to Sequoia. We did find a fruit stand and decided that would be enough until dinner, and probably healthier too. Besides, the young man selling the local peaches, plums, nectarines, and dried fruit was most helpful in identifying just the right pieces to buy. We were happy.

sign stand happy peah fan

Out of the valley, we headed for the entrance shared by a pair of national parks: Kings Canyon and Sequoia. Outside the parks, the road was a nice, even climb over 7,000 feet , with views of the San Joaquin Valley, or at least of the dust and dirt in the air above the Valley.

flaggertruckInside the park, on the General's Highway, we hit a few construction zones, slowing us down, but we were in no hurry. Unlike the Sequoia road to Silver City, we'd been on a couple of weeks ago, this road had plenty of space for passing vehicles.

The General's Highway was so-named because it connects the groves of giant Sequoias named in honor of several Union generals of the US Civil War. (Southern generals got monuments in their territory, rebels though they were.) We stopped at the Kings Canyon overlook on the highway and were treated to a nice view, nice flowers and bugs, and a display of rock pillars we'd not seen before.

KC vista rock piles purple
red berries bee

Two-and-a-half hours from home, we arrived at Wuksachi Lodge. We'd been here before (add links?) and still found the location spectacular and the facilities excellent. A peculiarity of Wuksachi is that the rooms are in buildings a ten minute uphill walk from this lodge. Not a problem, just different.

lodge setting lodge front lobby dining room

We settled into our rooms and I got down to business. One purpose for our trip up into the Sequoias had been to do some evening and night photography. The moon would be almost full. Despite the bright moon, the Perseid meteor shower should also put on a show. All we needed was patience and a clear sky. Sequoia NP is one of the least light-polluted places in the lower 48, so we had hopes.

First, I had to scout out a location for night shooting. I wanted places for both a shot of the moon rising, about 7pm, and for a star-filled sky after the moon had set about 5am. The road above the lodge seemed about right for the moon-rise shot, since it offered a forest-covered hill as a frame of reference. I started with wild animal shots to get my camera muscle memory warmed up. OK, picas and lizards are not among the "North American Big Five", but we shoot what we see and the local bears, mountain lions, and deer were busy elsewhere.

mepica lizzard

Serendipitously, my moon-rise spot also offered a nice view of Mount Silliman and Silliman Ridge. When we arrived after dinner, at about 6:30, the mountains were colored daytime gray granite, but by the time of moon-rise, they had shifted to a wonderful sunset red. Worth the wait.

high field mt sulliman ridge
siloette red mountain red ridge

Finally, the moon started to rise above the forested hill. When this happens, it is surprising how quickly it goes from a sliver to a full disk. On this evening, we had a layer of clouds above the moon, and that added color and a bit of mystery. (By the way, all these shots were done with my "real" camera, in complete manual. This is a skill I have worked on and now it is fun to practice.)

rise above trees camera
between into clouds above

set upWith the moon risen, we could go back to the room and try to catch some sleep. The idea is to wait for the bright moon to go away (5am, more or less), before the sun's light starts chasing the dim stars and meteors away (about 5:30). The alarm rang at 4 am, and we headed down to my pre-identifed star-gazing spot - and auxiliary parking lot that is away from the lodge and which gets no night traffic.star sky

So, from about 4:30 to 5:40, we looked up and waited while I pointed the camera up clicked. Marianne had the advantage of not fiddling with a camera, so she looked up most of our viewing time and counted seven or eight meteors. I think I only saw two or three, because I was distracted. (That's actually a well-known photography lesson - don't forget to look around.)

Actually catching a meteor would depend on luck. By the time a meteor is seen, it is gone before the camera can be triggered. Besides, each night shot took about 20 seconds and I was not set up to keep clicking every twenty seconds for a hour. (For example, it would have required more battery power than I had connected.)dawn

Also, our sky kept getting less and less interesting. Light from the sun was starting to creep in from the east and an early-morning fog or haze was forming over us, starting in the west.

By the time the stars were all gone, we were ready for coffee and breakfast, but glad we had taken the effort (and expense) to see what we could. Ideally, the dark part of the night would have been longer and the morning less foggy. 2020?

Maybe next time I will also consider clicking away for an hour or two. Why not? All extra digital film can be reused. But, how do we control the weather?

After breakfast, we headed back home. It was 48F when we drove out of the Wuksachi parking lot and would be above 100F by the time we got to Fresno. I think the next time we should also count on staying until the valley cools off.

Post-script:faint meteormeteor

The next day, I looked through all the pictures I had taken and was very surprised to see one night sky picture that did indeed show a meter. (Can you see it in the photo to the left? Closeup on right.)

So, we declared the trip a meteor-success after all!

Now we need to prepare for a few days down with Gabby and the family as Marianne and I submit to our annual medical research exams next Monday.

Hard to tell if anything will be worth a diary, but at least some family memories. Memories are the whole purpose.

John and Marianne