I've been up to the Peak fairly regularly lately, and would like to take a moment to give a little advice to SJAA members (and anyone else who reads this) about how to get the most out of a trip there on a dark sky night.
There are three major use areas for astronomers at Fremont Peak: the Observatory, Coulter Row, and the Southwest Lot.
In previous years, Coulter was the heart and soul of "show up" astronomy in the SF Bay Area, but that situation has been deteriorating. I would not recommend setting up there any more - the last dark sky night I saw there was truly awful, with loud music, cars cruising, bonfires and artificial lighting throughout the area.
It was actually nicer (and darker) in my yard in downtown San Jose after we got back that night. El Camino Real is usually more peaceful.
For a few years, only FPOA members have been allowed to set up in the near the 30-inch. If you are an FPOA member, you're probably already familiar with the procedure to go there (call ahead, notify the Ranger, etc).
That leaves only the Southwest Lot for the "casual" astronomer.
The surface is good, and the western horizon excellent. A new real flush toilet is in the works.
But south, north and east are all extremely limited, up to 30-degrees and more. This has always been a problem there, and the surrounding trees are growing notably higher each year.
Conditions at the Southwest Lot in early July were very good, given those constraints.
For now, I would suggest anyone going up there stay away from the other sites.
I hate to give up on Coulter, as it is practically world-famous. And the Southwest Lot is not easy for visitors to find, so there are very few "publics" who get a chance to look through the scopes.
We'll try to keep you updated, and hope for a renaissance of Coulter Row sometime in the near future.
For now, though, a word to the wise: use Coulter at the risk of eye and ear!
Previous | Contents | Next