This post marks the end of another excellent and fairly short work week, one spent mostly behind a very cool telescope. The solar forecast has been fairly calm over the last four days, so there were very few prominences or sunspots to be observed through the solar telescope’s H-alpha (hydrogen-alpha) filter. With the larger telescopes that we set up for astronomy programs, we’ve been observing the moon’s transition from waxing crescent to waxing gibbous, Jupiter and its Galilean moons, the ancient globular star clusters M13 and M92 in the Hercules constellation, the Whirlpool Galaxy, and the double star Albireo. Next week, light from the full moon will most likely drown out some of these objects in the night sky.
This week, I was fortunate enough to have a three-day weekend, so I had more time than usual to explore the area in and around the park. I was invited to ride the Success Loop, a 38-mile scenic drive through public lands north of Ely (pronounced E-lee, not E-lie), the closest town with a grocery store.
There were quite a few aspen trees along the drive, some with arborglyphs carved into their trunks. Quaking aspens are one of the oldest known living organisms on earth, with the oldest aspen colony estimated to be 80,000 years old. There are many aspen colonies within Great Basin National Park that also bear reminders of the area’s human history, namely in the form of arborglyphs carved by Basque sheepherders from the late 1800’s onward.
Farther along the drive, at a mountain pass called the Success Summit, my co-workers and I found a trilobite ichnofossil, brachiopods, and some other marine fossils that I have yet to identify.
Before returning the the park, we made a stop at the Ward Charcoal Ovens. These were used from 1876 through 1879 to turn timber into charcoal for the greater purpose of refining silver ore. After mining in the area ended, they became makeshift shelters for travelers, and according to local legends, even a hideout for bandits. Now completely empty (save for the occasional rattlesnake), you can walk inside these haunting 30-foot-high stone ovens and experiment with their incredible acoustic qualities.
I’ve also gotten connected with the gardeners in the local community, and they have welcomed me into what is essentially a community garden on private property near the park boundary. In return for assisting in the garden, I’ve been allowed to take home a share of whatever vegetable or herb needs to be thinned or harvested!
Keep an eye out next week for some fossil and Full Moon Hike photos!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to enter a cave by sinking up to your chest in a pool of quicksand-like packrat poop?
If not, I’m here to tell you that it is a slightly alarming but mostly hilarious experience, and feels very much like your legs and torso are being gently squeezed by a blood pressure cuff. It is also a prime example of the amazing, unexpected opportunities I’m just starting to discover in my first two weeks as the Astronomy Intern at Great Basin National Park. My name is Brenna Rodriguez, and I love my job!
When I left my home in North Carolina and struck out alone on a 2,293 mile drive to Great Basin National Park, I was terrified of the uncertainties that reared up before me. Could I handle five days of forced solitude? Would I get harassed by a creepy stranger in the middle of nowhere? Would my car break down in the desert, miles from cell phone reception or services?
Fortunately, my fears proved to be unfounded, and the drive was fairly tame. Since arriving in Nevada, park staff and local residents have been incredibly welcoming, and I’ve been able to watch the town of Baker and the park itself come alive with wildflowers and tourists as the high-visitation season begins. Many of my first days in the park were spent shadowing interpretive cave and astronomy programs, hiking in slightly snowy weather, looking for fossils, and getting to know the folks who make a living in this slightly lonesome town.
Great Basin National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, and has a huge variety of natural points of interest, including a network of wild caves and a developed cavern. Since I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in geology, and am particularly interested in speleology and astrobiology, I am very excited to have access to the park’s natural resources. Through the summer, I hope to develop meaningful interpretive cave and astronomy programs, and look forward to cross-training with other divisions to gain a more in-depth understanding of the park.
I’m thrilled to be living and working in Great Basin National Park, and I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you!