Monday, May 13, 2019

Weekend Wanderings ... The Marie Raupp Star Party

Our friend Marie celebrated a milestone birthday last year. And as part of her year long celebration, she made a list of N items to do in her Nth year.

One of those items was to go star gazing. And we had decided to go to Assateague Island National Seashore last fall. Me being the astronomy geek in the group, I would provide the telescopes and observing plan.

Alas, it was not to be for reasons (spoiler: I got better).

So we rescheduled for the first weekend this year in May. We reserved three campsites and in the end five of us  headed down Friday night for a weekend of camping, star gazing, hiking, kayaking and food. Lots of food (at least this part of the weekend went as planned).

The weather forecast called for cloudy skies and a bit of rain. So I only packed my 80mm refractor. That turned out to be the right decision. And in what should have been an omen, when we went to load the kayaks on the car we heard soft "cheep, cheep" calls from inside one. Carolina Wrens had nested in it. So back on the rack they went (ever optimistic, we did take our personal flotation devices; we did not have cause to use them).

We left when Patty got home from work and hit the rush hour traffic on I-295 south. Made worse by an accident where it intersected with NJ Route 42 and I-76. And after taking 45 minutes to go ten miles, I realized I had forgotten to back sleeping bags. And pillows. And tooth paste. ($30 at Walmart remedied this.)

We were borrowing a tent from friends who arrived before us. They have a van converted to a small camper (more on this later). As the sun was setting they called to ask where we were and to let us know that they did not know how to set the tent up and that it was "complicated". Oh joy.

We arrived after dark and set about setting up the tent. It was not difficult. Marie arrived not long after and we set up her tent (she would have arrived before us but went to the wrong campsite in the wrong park). After saying our hellos we looked up. The sky was clear and full of stars. So I set about setting up the scope. It was not difficult.

But it was also too little too late as the clouds came rolling in. We looked at the Beehive Cluster, Mizar and Alcor, and Arcturus. And that was it. They were all very impressed with my green laser however. And away went the scope for the duration.

After sitting around, chatting and eating, we headed off to sleepy time. And around 4:30 AM the clouds opened. And it poured. Patty and I stayed dry and slept through the night. Marie remained dry as well, but she was kept up by the first the wind and later the rain. Pat and Elani, the two in the fancy van, had issues. It seems there was a leak where the cable from the solar panel went into the van. Not fun.

The rain did stop early Saturday morning, but the sky remained ominous.

View from the Campsite

After a yummy breakfast and delicious coffee (thanks Elani!), we headed out for a bit of hiking. And wildlife viewing. Assateague is known for its wild horses.

It is not known for its big cats. Yet here we are.

There were three short trails. This shot, along with the 'big cat', is from the "Life of the Forest" trail.

The were trees along the trail.

We then walked half a mile down the road to the "Life of the Dunes" trail. This was mostly sand. And the sun came out, making it a bit warm, while also raising our hopes for a clear night.

Lots of blue sky.

And a surprising number of Fowler's Toads.

Patty posited that the rain had brought them out.

Happy campers.

This trail also took us along part of "Baltimore Boulevard" a road built by real estate speculators in the 1950s and destroyed by a storm in 1962.

It was easier to walk on than the sand.

We did see a variety of birds along this trail, but not the desired Brown Headed Nuthatch.

We searched, but there were no nuthatches in this tree.

We did find Earthstars.

Albeit not in the tree.

I don't think the trail goes that way ...

Fellow hiker.

The last trail was adjacent to the campsite, the "Life of the Marsh" trail. It wasn't all that picturesque.

After a very yummy lunch (thanks Elani!) we headed over to the Visitor Center. Marie wanted to watch the movie about the island. And it was her star party weekend after all. But the movie was not showing due to technical difficulties. So some of us got passports stamped. And some took silly ranger pictures. And some of us sat in the rocking chairs and fell asleep. And some did it all.

But we did have our worst fears confirmed. The forecast was for rain in the evening, heavy rain overnight, and then after that more rain all day Sunday. Very disappointing and non-optimal for star gazing.

So we headed back to the camp site and broke it all down and packed up the cars. Then we sat around and ate some more (thanks Elani!). Still, we all went home with plenty of food (Patty and I had made Pad Thai. We enjoyed it for lunch most of the following week).

But before we got back to camp we stopped to see the horses. Like this one, which has too many legs.

And these two that were hanging around the Ranger Station (the bird on the sidewalk is a female Brown-headed Cowbird. I knew you'd want to know).

These two also visited the campsite as we were having our pre-departure meal.

After this we said our goodbyes and agreed that we enjoyed this so much we'd all be back. And that this was the First Annual Marie Raupp Star Party (future iterations to include more star gazing we hopes).

As we were leaving we spotted a few more horses. As you can see it was already clouding up. It did rain overnight and throughout the day Sunday. But we were all dry in our respective homes.

And Patty and I can't wait to again use our $6 Walmart sleeping bags.

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