Summer Tour 1976
Oraibi, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite
Two years ago, on our way back from the Grand Canyon, we stooped in New Oraibi
to let the Hopi People use the telescopes. That was during their rain dances in July and our efforts were foiled by pouring
rain. This year in mid-June, we stopped again in New Oraibi before going to the Grand Canyon, and this time we succeeded.
We took the
permission of the Governor to set 1.11) at the Community Canter, and just possibly, every kid in town, above the age of four,
looked through the telescopes. The kids would wait in line over and over for another look. They didn't quit till curfew. We
had stopped at Meteor Crater and the Little Painted Desert on our way, and approached New Oraibi fro the south, through the
"picture book" mountains, rising from the plain. We had come more than a thousand miles before we reached New Oraibi,
and between there and the Irand Canyon there is a great deal of terrain. The universe is, after all, extravagantly large.
( It is rather an odd thing that according to the equations of relativit - theory space separations are not objective nor
are separations in time. The only separations which the ecuations recognize as objectivily measurable are the four dimensional
separations (thelspace-tiae separations) between events, and
is no separation between the event or emission and the event of absorption of a single photon; so that, following Einstein's
suggestions, if we confine ourselves to observables, the separation between the perceiver and the perceived stands at zero.
It is, it would seer, through some form of hanky pantry that we see a universe spread out before us. The equations simply
say that if we see an event at a distance we see it also in the past, and the distance and the time are always such that the
sepatation between the perceiver and the perceived stands at zero.)
Nevertheless, to get there, we had to drive and foot the bill, and we arrived at
Yavapai Point, on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, with the trailer of the 2- inch telescope badly broken down. We had broken
a weld on the rear beam and were faced with the alternatives of getting some help to repair the trailer or remains permanent
guests of the Park. We reported our plight to the rangers whose helpfulness was above and beyond the call of duty. The blacksmith
welded the beam and we rebuilt the rest with two by fours and steel. Many thanks to those involved!
There at Yavapai Point, at the
west end of the parking lot, we set up the telescopes and stayed for ten nights. The programs were very well recieved. The
evening slide shows in the museum were usually packed and about 200 people loOked through the telescoaefkeach night. Most
niahts were breezy. Two ni7hts were very still. By day the sun teledcope'vas nearly useless, since the sun was so natlarly
spotless, and one afternoon it rained.
Early in the evenings the crowds sell Saturn, but always it was by then too close
to the horizon for 2ood viewing. But what can you do? The public is so deprived that they have no idea how Saturn should look
through a 24 inch telescope, and that . too, at seven thousand feet. It is eabarassing for us to let them go, after so poor
a show, but what can you do?
Those who stayed saw many finer things. From the top of the twelve foot ladder they saw the great
globular star cluster in Hercules, filling half the eyepiece feild at only 150x. They saw the beautiful edge-on galaxy NGC
4565, the one we call Bernice's hair clip, reaching most of the way across the eyepiece field with its very dusty disk. They
saw gaseous envelopes around old stars, the ling and the Dunbell Nebulas. They saw clouds of dust and gas in Sagittarius where
new stars haverecently been formed and 'where stars may still be forming. They saw Barnard 36, the one we call the "ink
spot", above the spout of the"teapot" where it looks as though a squid shot ink in the milky usy
but left a few stars sparkling on our side for contrast. A few sawmany other things,
galaxies, star clusters, a colored double star etc., and a few, in the early morning, saw the moon.
We left, when the noon was new,
for Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. Little did we suspect the troubles that would beset us, delaying our arrival
till the moon was nearly quarter. Coming into Needles in a heat wave we burned out the generator of our bus, Centaurus A.
Two days we spent in Needles and two nights, with the drinking water almost as hot as tea. Then one more nimt on the desert
because we couldn't use out headlights. Then one last night on the grade above Fresno with the engine spitting oil. Finally,
late the next day, we reached Glacier Point at last, three days overdue, and set up for a one week stand.
as last sureer, the ran -ers of Yosemite National Park made every effort to further the success of our public astronomy program
at Glacier Point. They made arrangements for us to give astronomical slide shows at the point just before the evening sessions
at the telescopes. That makes it possible to talk to the peole in a bunch about the things that they will see and the nature
of the universe at large.
Because Glacier Point is still designated a day use area, and because it is 64 miles round trip from
the valley floor,(l2 miles by foot) and because there is no public transportation to and fro, the crowds here were much smaller
than at Yavapai Point. At the Grand Canyon we set up the telescopes near the Yavapai Museum which is within two miles level
walking distance of the Visitor Center, the store, the gas station, the laundry and whatever else you need, and easily handles
crowds running into the hundreds. Also the Grand Canyon newspaper devoted almost the entire front rage to the Sidewalk Astronomers
and the program at Yavapai Point. We would have been unable to handle then if such crowds
had showed up at Glacier Point. Here we handled less than a hundred each night.
We stayed an extra night .at Glacier
Point to help make up for our late arrival, but by then the moon had stolen all the show.
TWO FEET ON THE SOUTH RIM
Centaurus A, armed with five telescopes and a small band of Sidewalk Astronomers, left San Francisco on the morning of June
14 bound for a ten day invited stay at the Grand Canyon and following that, another 10 days in Yosemite. We hoped to run the
telescopes as many nights as possible in those places while the moon rose late and the evening skies were dark. We had a newly
completed sun telescope on board too which we hoped would give
a good show in the daytime.
On the way to Grand Canyon we decided to make a stop at Arizona's 3/4 mile wide meteor crater to get
a close look at the effect of the impact upon the earth's surface of a 50,000 ton piece of nickel iron coming in at high speed.
The buckles in the plains surrounding the crater resulting from the meteor's explosion on impact are still dramatically apparent
even after several thousand years!
The stop at Meteor Crater put us very close to New Oraibi, the Hopi Indian Reservation which the Sidewalk
Astronomers had visited two years ago. At that time we had been almost rained out, so we decided to try again this year. We
stayed in New Oraibi a day and a night and had all telescopes in operation except the 24". We suspect that every one
of school age in the entire village of 500 got a good look at Saturn and the Hercules Cluster that night. But the show wasn't
all one-sided -- while we ran the telescopes for the Indians and explained what to look for, the children explained to us
the motions of a night hawk circling the parking lot where we were set up, swooping in front of us on occasion to catch insects
on the wing. New Oraibi is situated on a high mesa overlooking a great expanse of Arizona's northern desert and the surface
of the ground there is as dry as powder. The sun strikes with almost physical force.and there was not the faintest suspicion
of a cloud in the sky. The people on the reservation are able to eek out only the most meager gardens by dry farming methods.
Yet the desert is sprinkled with hundreds of evenly placed shrubs, many of which
were in bloom-- and the dominant color is green against various shades of red and pink soil. Here and there a mesquite
stands out, heavy with the long, rich pods that the Indians once ate. Right away one realizes that the grand fact here is
dryness -- it accounts for nearly every striking feature of this special place. Everything which survives here has its own
secret for getting water. The mesquite and creosote bush, for instance, send their roots so deep into the soil that they are
not compelled to care what happens on the surface of the desert. But the men and women who live here are compelled to care,
and they hold ritual tribal dances once a week in hopes of bringing on the rain.
Leaving New Oraibi, we stopped
to see the dinosaur tracks exposed in the rock on the surface of the desert. The great three-toed tracks, nearly 10 inches
across, looked like tracks of monstrous chickens and made the point dramatically that chickens really do have their ancestry
in those old warm blooded dinosaurs.
Through a pygmy forest of scattered Pinyon Pine and Juniper trees with desert shrubs and herbs still
persisting on the forest floor between them, we now began our climb to the Grand Canyon. Because of our approach to the Canyon
from the east, we were able to observe gradually the effect of the Colorado River on the land as it cuts more and more deeply
into the rock on its westward course. But of course nothing, not even a gradual approach, can prepare one
for the first real look at the Canyon. Because all of the explanations which one
has been given for why the Canyon looks the way it does, all of the reasons for the depth of it, for the shapes of its rocks
and their colors, are not sufficient -- the Grand Canyon appears lawless. It is just a little too vast, too seemingly fanciful
for the mind to take in and assimilate properly. We turn away from its rim to go about our business and immediately turn back
again to check -- just once more -- and assure ourselves that there is something on this planet that really does look
like that. We become more at ease with the sight of it by , walking down into it to the Colorado River at the bottom and then
back up again. In that way it is presented to us more gently, layer by layer of rock and time. We see that there are plants
that are quite at home here -- tamarisk and cottonwood trees, and jimson weed for instance -- and there is even the Canyon
Wren who makes her home here and no place else. White throated swifts and ravens delight in sweeping through its great depths.
All of these regular occurrences help us to order the Canyon while we are within it. But there is always the next casual stroll
over to the rim after we've come back out, and always that last quick backward glance, just to make sure.
was very warm. The Grand Canyon Sama (the weekly newspaper) gave over their whole front page to the Sidewalk Astronomers'
stay. We had standing room only crowds at the nightly slide shows and literally hundreds of people at the telescopes. The
lines of people waiting to see Saturn, even though it was low on the horizon, grew longer and longer and longer. Many people
had the patience and enthusiasm after waiting in those long lines, to stay around and see what else there was to be seen and
they were not disappointed. The Hercules Cluster, the side-on galaxy NGC 4565, and Barnard 86 (the Inkspot) all provided really
impressive viewing. And almost as many people got a good look at the Ring Nebula and the double star, Albireo, as saw Saturn.
(There is something about Albireo which makes one want to look at it for a long, long time.)
NGC 4565 is some 50 million light
years away. It is so far away that the light that reaches our eyes from that galaxy took some 50 million years to get to us,
travelling as a speed of 186,000 miles per second. The Vishnu schist at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is between one and
two billion years old. And we can reach down and touch it with our fingers.
The moon was waxing crescent by the time we arrived
at Glacier Point in Yosemite, and so the viewing was not quite so various or clear. But many people who have never looked
through a telescope before (and many of us who have) are astounded at the detail we can see on the moon's surface. And so
even though its light blocks out many other celestial objects, the moon is very interesting viewing by itself. We saw, on
the last night we were at Glacier Point, a double star occulted by the moon -- one moment we could see two stars, the next
moment one, and then suddenly nothing. The moon definitely has her own show.