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Grand Canyon Star Party 2000

Grand Canyon Star Party

Grand Canyon Star Party 2000
June 3 - 10
South and North Rims

Sponsored by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association

Well boys and girls, it is time once again to make plans for that perfect summer getaway - the Grand Canyon Star Party! Where else can you go to keep the family happy and occupied all day, and the dark nights will keep even the most jaded of astronomers smiling all night long? We have plans to continue last year's successfull North Rim version as well, so you have your choice of rims, though as it is closed over the winter, its organization is somewhat less complete.

What is the Grand Canyon Star Party?

Its current revision started in 1991 as the first anniversary of Dean and Vicki Ketelsen's honeymoon there. It was noticed that a telescope set up looking at the Canyon or sky soon gathered a crowd, so a public oriented event was planned. Though tens of thousands visit every day, a small fraction stay overnight to be treated to the spectacular views of the night sky there. The appreciative tourists tend to leave early, leaving the astronomers in solitude for observing far into the night.

The Grand Canyon Star Party originally started much earlier as a function of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers who made annual pilgrimages to several western National Parks in the late '70s and '80s, spending several weeks at each stop. The latest version of the star party has been readily endorsed by several of their members who have become regular attendees.

What is there to do there?

Well, the Grand Canyon offers world class hiking through Earth's largest canyon system. Even with summer crowds, the nearly 10 mile long west rim trail is blocked off to all but buses, and offers spectacular bicycling without worrying about traffic. Even those less physically inclined can spend days exploring the scenic vistas offered from every bend of the rim trails on foot, or from the roads from their cars or park shuttle buses. The place offers lots to explore for the history buff with many original structures preserved and a nearly century old train making daily runs to the rim. The area offers astronomical day trips to Lowell Observatory or Meteor Crater, as well as scenic drives through Monument Valley, the Painted Desert, Flagstaff and Oak Creek Canyon. One could easily spend a couple action packed days or the entire week without repeating yourself.

How is the observing at the Canyon?

Conditions are excellent. The nearest town, Flagstaff - population 45,000, is 80 miles away, while Las Vegas and Phoenix are both about 170 air miles away making for very dark skies. Elevation at the South Rim is about 7,000 feet with the North about 8,000 feet. Seeing conditions are usually very good with the exception of very still nights when pockets of cold air move through slowly disrupting the seeing. Early June is Arizona's clearest time of year. We have lost only four nights to clouds in five years (40 nights) of observing!

Where would we set up our scopes?

We set up and observe from the parking lot at Yavapai Point. The big advantage is that is where the people are and you are sure to attract a crowd, and after all, this is supposed to be a public event. The problem is that, especially early in the evening, there are lots of headlights, and parking around sunset is impossible to find. The second option is that there is an observing field behind a locked gate just off the parking lot. You avoid the headlight problem as it is perhaps 5 meters below the level of the parking lot. The locked gate also serves as a security device and, particularly if your scope is large or setup is involved, you can leave it set up for the duration of your stay. The disadvantages are that not as many public make it down to the observing field, and you lose about 10-15 degrees of southern horizon, though you can still get down to Scorpio and Sagittarius. Over the years we had slowly been migrating to the observing field, but in recent years the trend has reversed and especially with the mudhole the observing field became last year, most everyone now sets up in the parking lot. It is a pain to set up/tear down every night, but the rewards of more public interaction really makes the choice clear. This is designed to be a public event, and if you want to do photography or CCD imaging, this may not be the event for you. I have a couple secret sites that would be excellent if you want to be by yourself with ultimate skies - email me and I'll let you check them out. For the star party, power is available in the nearby restrooms, but long extension cords are a pain and trip hazard in the dark, and I would prefer you run off batteries and inverters if you need electricity.

Unfortunately, in the National Park, camping is not allowed anwhere but the campgrounds, so the options are to pack up your scope every night or leave it up in the observing field. Yavapai Point is close to everything, about 3/4 mile from the campground (Mather) and about 1/2 mile from Yavapai Lodge (Fred Harvey, Inc).

How do we get there?

With the distances involved from civilization and the need to haul your telescope (I hope!), cars are still the best way to get around. While the Canyon administration is making noise that they want to prohibit cars from the park, they will always be allowing cars of those with lodging reservations or telescopes so don't worry about it. We might have to worry about how the tourists will get there though! If you are traveling cross country, while you can fly into the Grand Canyon airport or Flagstaff, it is certainly less expensive to fly into Vegas or Phoenix- probably enough to pay for a rental car. Driving time from the above destinations is about 4 hours.

Where would we stay?

That is the big question for every Canyon visitor during the summer. By anyone's opinion, the Canyon is overcrowded in June and most housing has been booked up months in advance. If you need a room to stay in, you had best start NOW (I'm writing this mid-January). Even by March you will likely have to search around for a room. If you can tolerate a 7 mile drive to Tusayan, there are also a number of motels there. Check out the list below. The campground is very nice if you enjoy roughing it a little. It is amazing how well you sleep on the ground when you are up all day and most of the night! Campsites are generally available a day or two ahead of time ($12/nite). The Park Service also gives us a few complimentary campsites which we make available first come, first served. Call me after March 1st if you would like to be considered for one of these sites. Those staying the full week get priority until April 15th! RV parking with a full hookup is available in Trailer Village ($18/nite). Again, early reservations are advised.

Any special activities planned?

I'm glad you asked that. As part of our program, we offer a twilight talk every evening to entertain the folks while it gets dark. We always need volunteers to give these talks, so step up especially if you have an astronomical story to tell and have worked with crowds before. Two years ago, we ground and polished a mirror and made a telescope, donating it to the local grade school at the end of the week. We don't have plans for that this year, though we are open to suggestions. One of my great joys every year is to set up a scope or big binoculars on the rim to show visitors canyon views or sunspots, while telling them about the viewing later in the evening. It is great fun to be one of these "static displays" during our week there. We generally have a couple of social cookouts to get to know the astronomical folk who come volunteer. These are great fun and you get to actually see the faces of the guy you have set up next to the last 4 nights! The last couple years, we've planned informal carpool trips to visit nearby Lowell Observatory and Meteor Crater around midweek, and will likely do it again, with the cookouts scheduled for the weekends. Otherwise, there is plenty to do.

Sounds great! How do I let you know I'm coming?

If you need further information, or to let us know you would like to volunteer by bringing a telescope, PLEASE let us know at the address below. The space in the observing field is limited and we need to know how many folks we have coming that are bringing scopes. Be sure to have some housing plans before you let us know you are coming! Of course, there has never been a registration fee for this event.

For South Rim information, write:

Dean Ketelsen
1122 East Greenlee Pl.
Tucson, AZ 85719



For North Rim information, write:

Deloy Pierce
P.O. Box 674
Farmington, UT 84025-0647




All Rim Lodging or Trailer Village (AMFAC, Inc.) 303-297-2757
This number is often very busy, FAX them at 303-297-3175

South Rim Lodging includes:

Yavapai Lodge (modern facility, closest to Yavapai Point)
El Tovar (victorian era lodge right on the rim, but high prices)
Bright Angel Lodge (newer facilities - also operate Thunderbird
Lodge and Katchina Lodge on the rim)
Maswik Lodge (Newest facility, about a quarter mile from rim)

Trailer Village (RV park with full hookups)


Campsites (Destinet - no more than 8 weeks in advance) 800-365-2267

Housing in Tusayan (7 miles south of Grand Canyon):
Squire Inn (520) 638-2681
Moqui Lodge (520) 638-2424
Quality Inn (520) 638-2673
Red Feather Lodge (520) 638-2414
Seven Mile Lodge (520) 638-2291

There has been a boom in motel construction in Tusayan and the above may not be your only choices. Rooms are generally a little less expensive than those at the South Rim, and it certainly is easier to make reservations than waiting for Fred Harvey, but then you are not walking distance to one of the seven wonders of the world!


North Rim Lodging:
Grand Canyon Lodge and Cabins (AMFAC) 303-297-2757
This number is often very busy, FAX them at 303-297-3175

Campsites (Destinet - no more than 8 weeks in advance) 800-365-2267

Kaibab Lodge - Motel just outside park boundaries - 800-525-0924

The following is my account of last year's event that appeared in the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association's Desert Skies newsletter.


Dean Ketelsen - TAAA
(reprinted from the July 1997 TAAA newsletter)

Well, as usual, the Grand Canyon was a great time, but we sure paid our taxes on 4 straight years of clear observing. We fought clouds nearly all week, but miraculously it cleared on many nights we swore were going to be cloudy shortly before sunset. In all we salvaged 6 of the 8 nights with some great observing.

As tradition dictates, Derald Nye and I caravanned up on Saturday the 7th. The big difference this time was that we were picking up one of our mainstays of the star party at the Phoenix airport. Barry Hirrell of San Francisco got tired of the 2 day drive after 5 years and got a bargain on Southwest Airlines. It was great catching up on all our club activities as we headed north.

We got our first hint of the way things were headed as we hit the first rain south of Flagstaff. It continued on and off all the way to the Canyon and we got to set up camp in some pretty heavy rain. Of course Derald avoids that by sleeping in his van! As we were setting up the tents in the rain, Chuck Wahler, our park organizer came by to drop off the AV stuff for twilight slide shows, as well as paperwork to fill out.

As we were pondering where to locate our twilight speaker, our guest astronomer for the evening, David Levy arrived. He wondered out loud if we were going to hold a program. I honestly told him I couldn't remember what we had done the last cloudy night! It turns out we did set up and though there were very few public, we had a good turnout of volunteer astronomers to listen to David's great talk. However, when it ended, there was no chance for observing and we mercifully got to turn into our tents early.

Sunday the 8th started out pretty good (most mornings were beautiful) but building clouds worried us through the day. Our scheduled picnic lunch came during a rain storm, so we adjourned to a pizza joint in Tusayan for a good time. I gave my slide show on comets, constellations, and sky objects (given at the June beginner's lecture) to a little bigger crowd than David had enjoyed, and we got a couple hours observing in before scattered clouds came in later. But the important thing was that we had a star party!

Monday we finally were able to hold our picnic and stuffed ourselves with grilled items. For the first time in 2 years, fire restrictions had been lifted, allowing us to use our grills. Unfortunately the weather turned sour later in the day and sprinkles even canceled the slide show. Another early night to turn in...

The next day marked a departure for me. For the first time in 5 years I left the star party to attend the star party on the North Rim!

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a really fantastic place. First, realize it is only open for 6 months of the year and it only gets 10% of the visitors that the South Rim gets. The facilities are accordingly smaller. There is only 1 lodge and campground and everything is very close together. With all the activity in one place it is a great place to hold a star party. The lodge has a wonderful auditorium for ranger talks to which we had full access. There is also a sun deck off the auditorium that overlooks a great view of the canyon where we set up telescopes. With all the action in one place literally everyone there knew that there was an astronomy program going on and there were lines for every telescope for hours. The Kumms had about 8 scopes on hand during the week, which was about right for the crowds they enjoyed.

Early the next morning (Wednesday) I took what I thought would be an enjoyable bike ride to one of the viewpoints that the map said was 12 miles away. What wasn't shown was the nearly 2,000 feet of climbing and the 9,000 feet elevation at the end. It really was a great ride, but was a lot more work than I thought. Upon my return, the Gregorys and I were given the quick tour of the high spots by Chuck Schroll and Margie Williams, two of the mainstays of the South Rim star party in recent years. They were making themselves at home on the north side this year and really enjoying themselves. They took us on a great hike near Cape Royal where there was water coming out of a cliff where wildlife and Indians (some time ago) would collect to drink. Cape Royal, by the way, would be a fantastic place for a private star party as it is nearly 9,000 feet elevation with great horizons in a large parking lot, which doesn't happen much with all the trees at the North Rim. We returned to the Lodge in time to set up for some daytime observing of the moon and hikers taking some of the South Rim trails. Margie cooked pasta for about 10 people in her amazing camp kitchen before we headed down to the evening talk (me again) and more observing. Wednesday for me was the highlight of my trip - perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky, the bike ride, hiking and evening observing - a great time.

The rest of the week passed in a blur. We returned to the South Rim on Thursday, and we were able to observe thru the rest of the week. Derald and Bernie Sanden of Phoenix had given twilight talks in my absence. Also while I was away, John Dobson had arrived and gave his great talk Thursday night. Rounding out the talks for the week were Fred Schumacher of Manteca, CA on Friday, and Barry Hirrell gave another closeout talk that brought the house down on Saturday night. Also on Saturday, Chuck Wahler hosted a get-together picnic in his back yard that was a great time. It was great to visit with old friends and meet new ones, and to welcome Chuck and Margie, who came down from the North Rim to join us the last night. After what might have been our biggest crowd that last night that Barry had packed in, we closed up shop as the clouds moved in again, but late enough to get everyone some great views.

Appropriately enough, we took down our tents Sunday morning in the rain again, and drove through it most of the way to Phoenix where Barry flew off once again to San Francisco. We talked extensively about the event and many ways to try to improve it. For years I had been trying to appeal to astronomers to bring their telescopes because of the dark skies, and waived the apple of a long night of observing after the crowds left to convince them to come. Barry finally talked me into advertising it as a purely public event. Large scopes are nice, but we can't hide them down in the observing field where our intended customers are unlikely to go. The trail construction was perhaps a blessing in disguise and got everyone up in the parking lot. I believe that is the blueprint of the future of the event. At the same time, we can't have the slide show in a cramped area showing slides against the building like we did this year. Chuck Wahler implied it might be possible to do it inside the Yavapai Observation Station next year, where attendees could sit on carpeted floors and we wouldn't have to wrestle the projection screen in the wind. Our traditional slide area is likely to be fenced off next year when trails are completed, so the inside space is something to shoot for. The long term park plans are to restrict private vehicles in the park, letting only those with lodging reservations in. Parking will be easy to find (it was this year too), but we may have fewer public too without transportation. We will see if the star party survives past 2000 when these new changes are scheduled to take effect. Our crowds were down about a factor of 2 from last year, which I think was down from the year before. Weather as well as the construction issues addressed earlier were mostly to blame, but many memorable memories remain. The observing was highlighted by views of the moon and Mars through Mike Spooner's 9" folded refractor (from Page) at magnifications approaching 700 power. Even though Mars was only 8 arcseconds across, it showed a wealth of detail and one could have spent hours watching the moon's terminator slowly move across crater floors. We all made some great new astronomical friends - over 60 people registered with me that they were bringing scopes, and though I didn't get to see all of them, it was certainly the best scope turnout, due mostly to coverage in Astronomy and Sky and Telescope. For next year I am planning on 13-20 June, which will feature a moon about 4 days past full early in the week, but I want to stay away from that dreaded last week of June when cloud buildups signal the start of the monsoon season. Perhaps I'll see you there?!

Absolutely the Last Grand Canyon Report

by Dean Ketelsen
(reprinted from the August 1997 TAAA newsletter)

In last month's report of the Grand Canyon Star Party '97, I neglected to mention a few of the astronomers' physical exploits. Of course I encourage all of those participating to do a little canyon hiking, and many took my advice taking short day hikes. Even John Dobson took an 8 mile round trip to Indian Gardens and back. But a few showed the macho side of the attendees.

Bernie Sanden from the Phoenix area has made an annual pilgrimage down to the Colorado River and back the last few years, no mean feat which includes a minimum of 15 miles of hiking with a full mile of elevation gain. And of course he sets up to observe when he finishes!

Similarly Erich Karkoschka took what he thought would be a leisurely hike on a cloudy afternoon (great hiking conditions as it doesn't get so hot) when he saw clearing to the southwest. He hiked out in a shorter period that it took him to go down so that he would be back in time to set up his scope. Later in the week he also made a solo hike down the Hermit trail and took a night off to camp near the Colorado.

But, the studly astronomer of the year award goes to Dennis Young who hiked from the South Rim to the North, packing a telescope so that he could observe when he got there. The total hike was something like 20 miles, with some extra elevation gain as the North Rim is about 1000 feet higher than the South. He was the only one of the attendees to qualify for all three of the star party buttons that Margie Williams made - South Rim, North Rim, and Phantom Ranch. True, he did ride back in my van as I moved back to the SR, but it is a laudable feat nonetheless. Congratulations Dennis!

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Copyright © Bob Ribokas, 1994-2001, all rights reserved. This publication and its text and photos may not be copied for commercial use without the express written permission of Bob Ribokas.