February 4, 2008 - Monday - San Jose to La Ensenada "Star" Lodge - Our drive from San Jose to the Lodge was uneventful. The cabanas at the La Ensenada Lodge are basic but clean. Most of them are facing south, have nice verandas with a hammock, and are lined up along the edge of a big field which is used for observing. It is very convenient to be able to setup our telescopes and cameras right outside our door, especially for those of us who are astro-photographers. When we are running long imaging series, we can go back to our cabana and have a nap while we wait for things to finish. All the cabanas are equipped with red lights only, and the rest of the resort is also red lights only except for the bar area, which is setup for those who are not interested in astronomy. We have the whole Lodge to ourselves, so the staff really cater to our special needs...including having coffee and cookies available all night long!
As you will see by their website, La Ensenada Lodge has a lot going for it: reasonable prices, good facilities, and lots of activities (if you're so inclined). The staff are very friendly, and willing to do almost anything for their guests. The owners are very nice people, and occasionally have dinner with their guests. Overall, La Ensenada Lodge gives me a good feeling, and I'm comfortable staying here. What more could you ask for?
After dark, I saw the Zodiacal light for the first time since I've been observing. This proves that La Ensenada Lodge has magnitude 6 or better skies, unlike any other locations I have observed from in my lifetime. One possible exception to this might be while I was sailing from New Zealand to Fiji aboard SV Sequoia in 2004. I tried to take a series of photographs of the Zodiacal light to make into a movie, but the exposures were not right. I tried setting up my Astrotrac tracking mount and my astrophotography gear, but without being able to see Polaris I was getting frustrated by not being able to align the mount properly. I decided to put the photography gear away for the night and enjoy myself by observing visually. I hadn't brought a telescope with me, however I borrowed one of the little Orion StarBlast Dobsonians (4.5" or 113mm aperture) the Sky and Telescope folks had thoughtfully brought along. Despite the small aperture, I managed to view: M48 (a nice open cluster); Saturn (the gap between planetary disk and rings was visible, but little else); IC2994 (a beautiful open cluster); Eta Carina Nebula (a gorgeous emission nebula easily visible with the unaided eye); and NGC2457, NGC2451 and M41 (all nice open clusters). Not a bad observing log considering I was tired! I didn't stay up past midnight.
February 7, 2008 - Thursday - We go to Carara National Park today., which is a day-long bus trip. First stop is to see some 33 big crocodiles under a bridge over the Rio Grande de Taracoles. After we arrived at the start of our little hike, there was some rain from the tree canopy falling on us. Along the trail we saw some Leaf-cutting ants, a pair of Scarlet Macaws in a tree (a thrilling sight), and a Slaty-tailed Trogan. We had a very nice buffet lunch at the nearby Hotel Villa Lapas, which is located in a scenic tropical gully along a river. We stop for a swim at the beach at Caldera, just south of Puntarenas. Diego and Walter served us watermelon and bottled cold water - again, a nice touch. We return to the Lodge via Miramar.
I have been incredibly frustrated with my astrophotography efforts while staying
at La Ensenada "Star" Lodge. The skies are nice and dark (around magnitude
6.0), but Polaris is very low in the northern sky. This makes polar alignment
using Polaris practically impossible. John showed
me the basics of drift alignment this evening, and that allowed me to align my Astrotrac much
better than before, so I could take some images. As I write this on our third night, it has been quite cloudy - again
I signed up for a Horseback Ride this morning. We all had a good time; especially considering none of us appeared to have ridden a horse for many years. The last time I rode a horse was when I was a teenager. The horses were very well trained, and the ride was interesting. It took us about two hours to ride all around the property of La Ensenada. We went to the top of a hill overlooking the coastline, and basically rode around the other hill where we had previouslystopped for viewing on the tractor ride.
Our afternoon was free of activities, which was a nice change. After dinner this afternoon, we had some entertainment by a couple of Xylophone players.
After dinner, I had a nice sleep for a couple of hours. When I woke up around 7:30pm there were beautifully clear skies! This is the opportunity I have been waiting for all week. This evening I don't take any chances, relocating my Astrotrac tracking mount to a spot on the field where I can see Polaris, and get a proper polar alignment. I take time lapse images of the southern horizon over a three hour period until midnight. This sequence shows many of the southern objects in the sky as they rise. I then image the Eta Carina region - now I'm cooking! After Eta Carina I move to the Southern Cross and image the whole region: Crux, the Coalsack, and the large nebula to the east. While the camera is imaging the Southern Cross region, I go back to the cabana and process the Eta Carina images, since I can see they are quite good. Finally, I produce an image I'm happy with! Both John and I are up until 4am imaging, since this is our last chance to do astrophotography from La Ensenada "Star" Lodge.
For the best high definition video experience go
directly to the Vimeo website
February 9, 2008 - Saturday - La Ensenada "Star" Lodge to San Jose - We spend our last morning at the Lodge comparing observing notes from the night before. Several of the group pulled all-nighters, since the sky was so wonderful. I think last night was perhaps the all-time best observing evening I've ever experienced. It was warm, the magnitude 6 sky was steady and crystal clear, and of course the temperature was very comfortable at about 25°C. The bonus was having virtually no mosquitoes. I don't know where they went, but it was a welcome relief. I observed a dozen or more southern sky objects visible from this latitude of 10° North.
Observing from 10° North has driven home the point that I must travel to the southern
hemisphere (South Africa, New Zealand or Australia). Observing from those more
southerly locations will reveal a whole new sky to me.
After my trip to New Zealand and
Fiji in 2004, I'm convinced that the southern
hemisphere has more than its fair share of superb celestial objects. I must
add some of them to my
Observing Log within the next few years.
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