Christmas 2003 in the Christmas Mountains
Christmas 2003 saw us traveling earlier than usual in December to Terlingua Ranch.  The actions of astronomers are governed by the phases of the moon - like werewolves - and as the moon would be rapidly growing in size right after Christmas, we decided to pack in as much astro-time as possible before that happened.  And the Gods of weather were amazingly kind to us this trip.  We had 14 clear, fine nights, it wasn't too cold or windy, and we were able to image 53 Arp galaxies and a selection of other things as well.  We were also invited to share Christmas dinner with Dennis and Debbie Nance and their family, which turned out to be a very nice occasion, and walked and walked and walked in the desert and up mountains.  We had a wonderful time.  Here is a selection of some of the many photographs we took with the new Canon EOS camera.  Enjoy.
The Astronomy
Tripod-in-Desert2_web.jpg (104899 bytes) The first thing we do when we arrive at the ranch is set up the NJP tripod at the spot where we plan to construct the SkyTent Skytent-Walls-1_web.jpg (108931 bytes) Next we put together the walls.  We are fortunate that the ranch usually give us a cabin right at the end, away from everyone
Skytent-Shell-1_web.jpg (110102 bytes) Then the roof goes on and we check to make sure that it turns smoothly on it's runners Skytent-Complete_web.jpg (88248 bytes) Finally we put on the covers and the tent is ready for action
C14_at_Dark_web.jpg (108102 bytes) Next we assemble the NJP mount and the 14 inch Celestron scope inside the tent.  Once put together it will stay in this spot the whole time we are at the ranch, and apart from daily tweaking of the polar alignment we just cover it all up at night when we've finished Ready-for-Dark-1_web.jpg (100180 bytes)

Sunset1_web.jpg (50412 bytes)

Here is the Sky tent and our 16 inch reflector (which we also managed to squeeze into the car) ready for use as the sky begins to go dark.  The majestic mountain makes a super backdrop at this location
Sunset4_web.jpg (26305 bytes) Venus becomes visible in the western twilight, and the lights go on up at the ranch Cooking-Dinner_web.jpg (89838 bytes) Liz finds time to cook us some dinner on the trusty camping stove
Lizzie-Observing_web.jpg (59317 bytes) And then uses the 16 inch to cruise the beautiful night sky

Observing-the-Moon_web.jpg (78866 bytes)

And later in the night it was binoculars for her lunar objects - she didn't thank me for the flash though
Christmas in The Desert
Table_sitting.jpg (106811 bytes) This is Christmas Day and the feast which Debbie had cooked for us Debbie.jpg (78509 bytes) She's a great cook and the food was much appreciated by all
Mom_Dad_and_babe.jpg (108441 bytes) Including grand-daughter Amber, the youngest member of the family, shown here with Mom and Dad Dennis_in_Balloons.jpg (104715 bytes) Dennis enjoyed himself immensely as usual, and we provided the balloons
Lizzie_with_Present.jpg (100379 bytes) Even the Earthlings got presents, and we also brought beer and wine - just in case Parking_Lot.jpg (77005 bytes) Outside everything was warm and lovely - and our car looked quite lonely in the desert
Trailer.jpg (85714 bytes)

Debbie_and_Liz.jpg (65200 bytes)

Dennis and Debbie run a little restaurant called Debbie's Iron Skillet, and meals are prepared in this trailer.  Liz and Debbie have clearly succumbed to the stress and decided to chill....... Debbie's-Tipi.jpg (79759 bytes) Restaurant guests can enjoy their meals on cool or windy days by eating inside this original indian tipi, complete with fire and games to play
Dennis_Golfing.jpg (74025 bytes) Talking of games, Dennis has created a 9 hole pitch and putt course Liz_Golfing.jpg (76210 bytes) It's open to all visitors and here Liz is playing a sand shot
Ball_in_Cactus.jpg (99271 bytes) Come to think of it, they're all sand shots, and there are other hazards Draw.jpg (45590 bytes) Another excitement is the 40 acres behind the mountain owned by our hosts
Hip_Bone.jpg (98135 bytes) Here can be found dinosaur bones protruding from the eroding soil Vertebra_1.jpg (93900 bytes) And this is me extracting a vertebra from the ground using a special instrument
The Walking
Lizzie-on-Top-2.jpg (54356 bytes) Once the Sky Tent is put together the next  thing we usually do is climb to the top of the "bump" alongside the cabin

Cabin_from_top.jpg (66787 bytes)

Where we can look down on the cabin and the Sky Tent.  Note the 16 inch to the left of the tent
Lizzie_with_Tongue.jpg (64893 bytes) Or poke our tongues out at the cameraman. Then we normally climb Christmas mountain across the valley Looking_back_to_Ranch.jpg (56962 bytes) In this picture the ranch is in the distance, and the white dot which you may be able to see beyond the airfield is the Sky Tent
Xmas_Mountain13.jpg (60743 bytes) After much climbing the view is breathtaking, looking towards Mexico Mine-Trail-5.jpg (101267 bytes) Other walks are in Big Bend National Park.  Here we are climbing on the Lost Mine Trail
Me_and_her.jpg (71294 bytes) Where we found someone to take our picture.  Unusual to see us both together Walking_at_Chimneys.jpg (73307 bytes) And this is Chimneys, a beautiful 7 mile walk in open desert
Chimneys.jpg (81053 bytes) Where the scenery is grand and fascinating Me_at_Chimneys.jpg (66333 bytes) Where you are forced to sit and ponder the size of it all
Lizzie_at_Chimneys.jpg (67872 bytes) Or look for ships in the desert................ Walking-in-Desert.jpg (118445 bytes) All we can say is "What a way to spend Christmas"
The_Window.jpg (87595 bytes) Hope the weather in England isn't too shabby!

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