I get up around 7AM and make some coffee, and others soon join me. This is a day with nothing planned, so we can recover from our travel. After everyone is up and have breakfast, some of us walk around the ranch fence line. It is quite pleasant since the weather is cool, clear, and sunny. I fly my DJI Mavic Pro drone this morning, capturing some nice still photos, panoramas and video of my friend’s property.
Some of the group have afternoon naps, but I stay up familiarizing myself with my new Sony a7 III mirrorless camera, in order to get ready for imaging in the dark this evening. I also get my list of targets for the big imaging telescope ready, since the skies are clearing this evening. When it starts to get dark, we go out to the observatory to start an imaging run using a 20″ Newtonian astrograph telescope, and the visual observers setup with their own equipment and also use a 25″ Newtonian telescope.
The procedure for imaging in the observatory uses a script to conduct the imaging runs automatically. After troubleshooting this system for the next hour or so, we successfully get our imaging runs working, which run all night automatically until dawn while we sleep. My target for this evening is the Jellyfish Nebula – a galactic supernova remnant in the constellation Gemini. My observing report
I drive everyone to the Sonoran Desert Museum this morning, which is 15 miles west of Tucson. We stop to charge the Tesla for 20 minutes at the Tucson Supercharger, which is just east of the city. We then drive another half hour bypassing the city westward into the beautiful Sonoran desert.
It rains lightly while we are at the Sonoran Desert Museum, which keeps the daytime temperature down to the point we are wearing light coats for most of our time here. Since we arrive just after noon, first stop for most of us is to have a snack and drinks at the coffee shop before we walk the trails. We spot a beautiful Bobcat, nesting hummingbirds, a Peregrine falcon in flight, and lots of other birds, animals and of course all kinds of cactus. Our last stop before departing is the caves and a breathtaking mineral display.
After driving back into the city, we meet some friends for dinner at the well-rated El Charro Cafe restaurant in old town Tucson. Being Valentines Day the place is busy, however the Mexican food is terrific. The drive back to Dragoon Ranch starts out with pouring rain as we leave the city, but it thins out by the time we pull into Benson for a quick shopping stop at Safeway. I wash the ranch road mud off the Tesla outside before I park in the garage and plug it in to charge.
After spending a week with my astronomy buddies in the high desert of the Dragoon Mountain Ranch area east of Tucson, I take five more days to explore the Tucson area before returning home. I have some time to drive around Tucson to experience the city and the sights by taking day trips from where I’m staying in the Oro Valley (20 minutes drive north of the city). I go to see the Desert Museum, Sabino Canyon Park and Catalina State Park, Biosphere 2, as well as the aircraft bone yard. As I drive around Tucson, I can appreciate why this city is so popular with Snowbirds, since at this time of year the sky is clear and sunny, and yet the temperatures are moderate. It would be a wonderful place to spend some time to escape the winter for those of us who live in more northerly climates.
February 25, 2017 – Carrabba’s Italian Grill
I walk up the street from my hotel to have dinner at Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Since I am there early it is Happy Hour, so I order a $3 martini and have an Italian salad and Cioppino main course later. The Cioppino is a bit watery, but very tasty, so I use the bread to soak up the juice. Cost is only US$24 include tax and tip! I return on my last night in Tucson to enjoy another Happy Hour Martini and have their Proscuitto-wrapped shrimp with broccoli. JoeTourist recommended!
February 26, 2017 – Saffron Indian Bistro
I walk up the street from my hotel to the Saffron Indian Bistro for dinner, which is located in the same mall as the Italian restaurant I went to last night. I have vegetable Pakoras with Tamarind sauce to start, and Chicken Biryani for my main course. The rice with the chicken is very fragrant, and of course, I can always make a meal of Pakoras when there is Tamarind sauce to dip them into! I bring half of the Chicken Biryani back to my hotel, since it is too much for me. JoeTourist recommended!
The above two restaurants are located in the Oracle Crossing Shopping Center in the Oro Valley, a half hour drive north of Tucson. Urban art sculptures by David Voisard are featured in the mall’s outside spaces, which I find to be quite creative and fun!
February 26, 2017 – Houses in the desert hills
When I drive out to the Arizona-Sedona Desert Museum southwest of the city, the route takes me through some areas where houses are on larger lots than in the city, and their property has beautiful cactus and other desert foliage surrounding their houses. Since this is my first time in southern Arizona, these areas seem to fulfill my preconceived notions of what living in the desert should look like!
The Tucson train station is located in the older part of the city (as most train stations are), however this area is well worth a visit in any case. Many of the classic hotels in the area are upgraded, there are brew pubs, fine restaurants, entertainment venues, and the Presidio showcasing old Tucson’s culture and history. The train station also is the location for the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, Maynard’s Market restaurant, and other interesting shops. The station itself is classic architecture – worth a look even if you aren’t taking the Amtrak train.
After having breakfast at the hotel this morning, I drive to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum is in the western part of Suguero National Park. The desert landscape in this area is spectacular, and the museum presents very interesting displays of the various ecosystems found in the desert. The two captive Coyotes are quite active, and bark like dogs for awhile, getting everyone’s attention. Several docents are displaying birds of prey on their arms and describing their respective features and behaviour, so I take some wonderful closeups of the Peregrine Falcon, Spotted Owl and Barn Owl.
I have some lunch at the little cafe off the gift shop, although there are two other restaurants on the site. The museum has a surprising number of live birds and animals on display in enclosures, including Javalinas (wild pigs), snakes, prairie dogs and squirrels, lots of birds, and some cats. The caves are fun to explore, having stalagmites and stalactites and a gallery of nicely-displayed minerals that are found in the area. So it isn’t just cactus on display, although there are endless varieties of those as well!
Today is a “down day”, meaning we have no daytime activities planned, so the group can relax and do what they want. I catch up with my social media and email, and work on my journal entries. My blog is still behind – the last entry was for Victoria-Seattle – the first days of my travels, but at least I now have the material to write those blog posts.
It is my turn on the imaging telescope this evening, but when we try to take some flat frames before sunset, the sensor ices up. This means the desiccant inside the CCD camera is saturated with moisture, and needs to be baked so it dries out to make it effective again. Dealing with this issue delays my imaging session of M1 the Crab Nebula by an hour and a half, however I am imaging on the 20” Newtonian Astrograph by 9:20PM and wind up my run just after midnight. Without a doubt, this is my best image of the Crab Nebula. The detail within the object is fantastic, and this is the first time I’ve imaged the green fringe around the nebula! My observing report
We drive out of the desert camp and take the highway to Ibra, where we wander around the Wednesday Woman’s Souq. On the way back, we see the 400 year old town and fortifications of al-Mudayrib, where the buildings are made out of mud.
We travel across the dunes once again to a Bedouin camp, where we see some of their handicrafts (some people buy), and have a traditional lunch under the shade inside their reed houses. A couple of our group have a ride on a camel.
It’s very hot by this time, so we are all glad to climb back into our air-conditioned vehicles for the ride back to our air conditioned rooms and nice showers at our luxurious desert camp!
Our tour leader Michele organizes a group photo in front of the sand dunes late this afternoon. We manage to find a camel to stand behind, and it behaves itself very nicely while we pose in the afternoon heat. I opt out of this evening’s 4×4 drive to the sand dunes at sunset, since I need some down time.
February 17, 2015 – Tuesday – Muscat to Sharqiya Sands
We drive from Muscat along a new inland road to our first stop to see a large sink hole, where some people are swimming – Bimmah Sinkhole is in Muntazah Hawit Najam Park. This otherwise sun parched area obviously has water below ground, since there is vegetation here and I even spot some birds.
Our next stop is Wadi Tiwi, which is a lush river valley just a short distance from the coastline. The plantations and a string of emerald-coloured pools in the narrow valley are especially beautiful as we walk along the narrow road, which winds up the valley from village to village.
We stop for lunch in the sleepy little seaside town of Sur. There is a wonderful view across Sur’s corniche, beach and fisherman’s boats to the nearby village of Ayjah, with its whitewashed houses and dhow-building yard (see banner image above).
A couple of hours later we approach the small town of Bidiyah, where we turn off the main road to drive across a sand road for about 11km to Desert Nights Camp, where we stay for two nights.
It is pretty luxurious considering it is setup in the desert along with another more modest camp about a kilometre away. Sharqiya Sands (aka Wahiba Sands) is a large area of rosy-hued dunes, some of which are over 100 metres high. We quickly get settled and then go out on a dune ride to see the sun set over the sand dunes.
Today we go on an early morning sunrise sand dune 4×4 adventure, and then again for sunset. Several vehicles get stuck in the sand, but eventually the drivers get them out either by towing, pushing, or rocking them. The morning sunrise is the most rewarding, since the light was just right, and our guide finds a relatively pristine location with no vehicle tracks or footprints visible.
I enjoyed hanging out during the midday at the Liwa Hotel. Several of us take advantage of the very nice pool at the hotel, which we have to ourselves. I have a nap in the afternoon, and then catch up with my journaling while drinking a cappuccino made in the lobby bar.
We visit a nearby camel farm in the late afternoon. Camels are used for meat, milk, and racing, and every Emirati family seem to own a camel, even city dwellers. One of our tour group samples the camel milk – a brave man, since there is no refrigeration.
The evening sand dune 4×4 adventure is not as rewarding as this morning, and it actually ends up being pretty stressful. The light at sunset is totally flat, and the wind is up causing sandstorm conditions. Our driver misses taking the correct track along one of the dunes, so our 4×4 ends up stopped, right on the edge of a big hole. I get out and climb uphill in the soft sand to the top of a dune to watch, as do my two vehicle mates. The expert is called, and drives the 4×4 out with pushers behind. Our guide Kais rides a snowboard down a sand dune, which is fun to watch!
February 10, 2015 – Tuesday – Dubai to Abu Dhabi to Liwa Oasis
We leave our Dubai hotel this morning to drive along the coast to Abu Dhabi, largest of the emirates. First stop is along the beach to photograph the iconic sail-shaped Burj al-Arab hotel. Unlike yesterday, the sky is blue and the haze hasn’t had a chance to gather, so we all get some good photos.
Our next stop is the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque (Grand Mosque), and it is indeed grand! Some of the women on the tour are hassled about not covering up enough when we arrive, but that is soon sorted out, and we enter the mosque. This is my first time inside a mosque. The floors and walls are decorated with beautiful inlaid flower patterns, and the main prayer hall has the largest silk carpet in the world (handmade in Iran), as well as the third largest chandelier in the world.
The outside of the mosque is all white marble, and the inside is also marble. The whiteness of the exterior hurts my eyes in the noon sunshine, even while wearing sunglasses. The Men’s Ablution (washrooms) are palatial – I take a photo! Members of my tour group who have visited the Taj Mahal tell me this mosque is grander…but who really knows?
We leave the coast and drive 240 kms into the desert to Liwa Oasis. There are villages and farms in this remote area, which hugs the edges of Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter. We arrive a bit too late for our planned sunset 4×4 drive through the sand dunes, so that will be put off until tomorrow. I’m happy to have some down time at the Liwa Hotel this evening. It appears this hotel is the only accommodation of any consequence in this sleepy place.