Oregon Star Party

August 25, 2015

Red glowing lights emerged from the tents as people prepared their telescopes.

MJ, my friend who loves amateur astronomy, told me about an event in Oregon. Despite having very little idea about astronomy, the thought of camping outdoors and looking at the universe without light/sound pollution was intriguing.

Registering online was easy. Figuring out how to get to the remote location proved to be more difficult. Since there were no buses/trains or even an Uber heading up the mountain, our only option was to drive a car. Google maps told me it would take five hours to drive from the airport to Ochoco National Forest. Luckily, our friends MJ and Vern decided to join us! They drove from Utah all the way to Portland the day before we got there.

It was a scenic drive—an array of pine trees gathered on the sides of the road while a large mountain peeked behind them. Jeremie spotted a deer or two, but my eyes were too busy looking at the trees, so I never saw them.

Resting my head on the bags next to me, my mind drifted into an alternating state of consciousness and unconsciousness. I wanted to take in as much of the landscape as possible, but my lack of sleep the night before kept me from being awake.

I was jolted awake by an unknown force. I had no idea what it was, but I was having a hard time breathing. Everyone in the car didn't seem alarmed. Must have been a bad dream but I could smell smoke in the air. I looked out the window, saw clouds of smoke rising from the trees, and the ground looked brown and burnt.

Forest Fire

I've read that forests actually need fires to thrive. The fire burns twigs and leaves that fall from the trees, allowing forest floors to open up for seedlings to grow. It's amazing how something that seems destructive is actually necessary.

We arrived at the campsite late in the afternoon. The sun was still high in the sky and dust traveled in the air as we walked among the RVs that arrived before us. At the end of the road, we found a shaded spot near a tree and decided to set up our tent there.

The last time I went camping was in Anawangin a few years ago. I was with my dad, brothers, and my younger brother's girlfriend. It was an unforgettable experience and the first camping trip we'd ever done.

The next day, we joined a group of people on a hike. It was a short walk that took 30-45 minutes. The best thing about it was learning about the wilderness. It felt like being in a Nat Geo program learning about our surroundings.

I made a list of what I've learned:

  • Snakes usually hide in the shadows when it's too hot. Sometimes they hide under fallen trees so better watch where you step.
  • Trees produce a sticky substance as a defense mechanism (i.e. when it's attacked by bugs). Unfortunately, the sap they produce is highly flammable so the trees burn faster when a wildfire occurs.
  • There's a moss called the "old man's beard" that you can turn into tea to cure lung infections. It actually does look like an old man's beard.
  • The most common way to die in the wilderness is through dehydration.
  • There was a cougar spotted in the forest during the last star party. It seemed to be trailing a family who had a small child with them. To avoid being "hunted", stay in large groups.
  • Grizzly bears are more dangerous than black/brown bears because they usually attack people.
  • Avoid poking large holes unless you want a badger to attack you.

It was very hot during the day and freezing cold in the evenings. What kept waking me up though wasn't the cold. In fact, my sleeping bag kept me warm and comfortable. It was a rocky patch next to my head that I kept rolling onto that woke me up. Out of laziness, I went back to sleep only to wake up again to the feeling of a sharp rock on my cheek.

The next day, we moved next to MJ and Vern's soft, grassy spot. Our green tent looked too tiny compared to theirs!

So many friendly people made us feel welcome on our first Star Party. We met Michael when we first arrived at the site. He's passionate about telescopes, outer space, and his kids.

At night, I was transported to another world as red glowing lights emerged from the tents. There was no light pollution from the city, so it was complete darkness except for the red lights. We were told not to use white light because it ruins someone's night vision and may take them 30 minutes to recover.

It was incredibly surreal. Instead of joining the night sky tour, we stayed in our tent and removed the rain fly to get a clearer view of the stars.

"Falling star!" we'd exclaim every time we saw something move. It was exciting. I had never seen so many stars in the sky.

Our conversations started off shallow then got deeper as the night progressed. There's something about looking at those bright, glimmering things in the sky that bring out the best conversations.

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