Friday, July 31, 2009

Arrival at Steens Mountains

By the time we got up to 8,000 feet elevation it was after sunset and getting toward dusk. We quickly set up our tents. I had never been in the Steens Mountains before, and really didn't have much idea where I was, so will show a few photos that I took over the next couple of days to help with orientation.

There are three large gorges, carved by glaciers, dividing the Steens. Kiger Gorge runs north-south, and a pair of east-west gorges run side-by-side. The pair are the Donner and Blitzen, and Big Indian. This first photo is looking east, looking up Big Indian from the downstream side. During the summer months, the native inhabitants of this area would work their way up the canyon.

This second photo shows the view as seen from the top, where we were. There were still snowfields and the wildflowers were blooming profusely.

There was a bit of a breeze at the ridge line where we set up camp, which was nice, because it made it cooler and continually hazed the mosquitoes away. I pulled on my hooded sweatshirt and sprayed DEET on my hat to try to deter the biting insects, and for the most part it worked.

After setting up the tents we ate dinner and watched the stars come out. They really came out. Jupiter rose over the eastern horizon with three of the large moons visible as the last color faded from the western sky. I had my Cambridge Star Atlas and was determined to locate the Andromeda Galaxy. The Andromeda Galaxy is visible to the naked eye, once one is away from light pollution ... and we were very far away from light pollution.

I began to orient myself. "Arc to Arcturus" ... there was the bright star I had recently learned about, lying on a curving arc traced through the Big Dipper's handle. And Vega ... that's the first time I ever saw that star and knew about it. Then the Corona Borealis (Northern Crown) and next to it Hercules ... first time I ever located that constellation. Wow, having a star atlas and a dark sky really helps. Meteors and satellites crossed the sky. I set up my 20 to 60 power spotting scope, which is really intended for birds, and was soon enjoying locating open clusters of stars. The small sliver of the new moon dropped below the horizon and it was now dark enough to see faint, dim objects in the sky.

With the help of the star map I learned that the formation of stars I always thought of as "the crook" was a portion of the constellation of Scorpio. And I became reacquainted with Cygnus, the swan, a large constellation that lies smack against the Milky Way.

I find it a bit difficult to express what the Milky Way looks like. It is not something I see very often because city lights and pollution tend to obscure it most of the time. It is a broad band of glowing mist extending from one horizon to the other, composed of millions or maybe even billions of stars. It is what we see when we look through the dense flat region of our spiral galaxy on a clear, dark night.

And, the Andromeda Galaxy is another whole galaxy of stars. It is in the sky sort of near Casseopia (which I call "the big W" ... because that's what it looks like to me). I still couldn't see it with my eyes, or with my scope. I finally grabbed my binoculars and scanned the area where it should be ... and, there it was! Now that I knew where to look, I could put the scope on it. Just think, another galaxy, just like ours ... headed right for us ... bound to collide in a few billion years. No worries, though. Galaxies are mostly empty space. Rarely do any stars crash into each other due to galactic mergers. The upheaval does cause a lot of new stars to be formed, though.

I spent so much time staring into space that it got very late, and I was shivering in the cool night air, which was unexpected because it was almost 100 degrees back home during the day. I crawled into the sleeping bag to get warm, too tired to battle any mosquitoes, which allowed them a bit of a field day (or field night, as the case may be) during the following hours.

In the morning I saw Venus in the eastern sky, and could also see the half dozen mosquitoes that shared my tent for the night. After squashing them, I went back to sleep.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What lovely wildflowers. And that sunset is gorgeous. Looks like a very scenic trip!