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.

Quaking aspens along the Success Loop.

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.

Marine fossil found in a limestone fragment near the Success Summit.

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.

Charcoal ovens associated with the silver mining ghost town of Ward, Nevada.

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!

My share of the early summer harvest in exchange for assisting with planting in the community garden.

Keep an eye out next week for some fossil and Full Moon Hike photos!

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