Alas when morning broke – after such a windy night that we had retracted the bedroom slide in order to minimise wind noise and retain heat – it was very cloudy, not a good omen for the day ahead. Thankfully by lunchtime someone had grasped the low cotton wool ceiling and lifted it out of the way. We followed the winding route up into the mountains in sunshine, catching tantalising glimpses of the space like domes on the way, arriving at the observatory just in time for the afternoon tour. www.mcdonaldobservatory.org The views were spectacular from this 6500+’ vantage point. Mark our very enthusiastic tour guide made the intricacies of astronomy seem simple. His practical approach, peppered with the necessary amount of fact made it all seem easy. We learnt about the work that goes on there, we viewed the two telescopes on site and for my part I learned loads about what those twinkling diamonds in the sky can tell us. His enthusiasm was infectious; we waited eagerly for the next part of the programme, the twilight experience. This too was very informative, though when we trooped outside to model the solar system were very dismayed to find that someone had dropped that cotton wool, but not before they had mixed it with a liberal portion of pea soup! Very cold soup at that! However not deterred we kept our fingers crossed in the hope that we would indeed be able to stargaze at the “Star Party” which was to be the culmination of our visit. Assured that there would be an alternative programme, should the skies not clear we waited hopefully. Alas, it was not to be. The alternative activities, though fascinating, were no real substitute for being able to gaze at the heavens in uninterrupted darkness with an expert on hand to guide us. As we left, a little after 9pm it was soooo dark we could hardly find the car. One of the reasons this location was chosen was because it is literally in the middle of nowhere, no light pollution even from the small settlements close by, which have installed special lighting so they don’t interfere with the viewing. Luckily we weren’t first out, so we were able to follow another car down the tortuous, inky black path. Would you believe there was a light dusting of snow on the car?
When we got back to our solitary campsite we said goodnight to a couple of jack rabbits that perked up in our headlights and then retired for the night. Moving on to El Paso tomorrow.