Oregon Star Party

August 25, 2015

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

My friend MJ who enjoys amateur astronomy, told me about an annual event that took place in Oregon. Despite having very little idea about astronomy, the thought of camping in the great outdoors and looking up at the universe without light/sound pollution piqued my curiosity.

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 map told me it would take about 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 flew there.

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

Resting my head on the pile of bags that lay between me and Jeremie, my mind drifted into an alternating state of consciousness and unconsciousness. I wanted to take in as much of the landscape that enveloped us but my lack of sleep the night before convinced me to finally doze off.

I was bolted awake by something. I had no idea what woke me up but I was having a hard time breathing. Everyone in the car looked calm and relaxed. Must have been a bad dream but it smelled like there was smoke in the air. I shifted my glance towards the window and saw several clouds of smoke rising from the trees and the ground looked burnt.

Forest Fire

I've read somewhere that forests actually need fires to thrive. By burning the twigs and leaves that fall from the trees, it allows seedlings to grow. It's amazing how something that seems destructive is actually necessary.

We arrived in the camp site late in the afternoon. The sun was still high in the sky and dust traveled in the air as we made our way through the parked RVs and tents that had already arrived before us. At the end of the road, we found a shaded spot near a tree and decided to set our green, 2-person tent there.

The last time I went camping was a few years ago in Anawangin. I was with my dad, brothers, and my younger brother's girlfriend. That was one of the most unforgettable vacations I'd had with my family and the first camping trip we'd ever been to.

The next day, we joined a group of people on a hike. It was pretty much a short walk that probably took 30-45 minutes. The best thing about it though was learning about the wilderness. It felt like being in a Nat Geo show as our guide explained the things we saw.

  • Snakes usually hide in the shadows when it becomes too hot. They usually hide under fallen trees so better watch out where you're stepping.
  • Trees produce a sticky substance as a defence mechanism (i.e. when it is attacked by bugs). Unfortunately, the sap they produce is highly flammable so the trees get burnt easily when a wild fire 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 this forest during the previous star party. 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 to be attacked by a badger.

It was really hot during the day but freezing cold in the evenings. What constantly woke me up though wasn't the cold. In fact, my sleeping bag kept me warm and comfortable. It was this rocky patch next to my head that I kept rolling onto that woke me up. Out of laziness, I drifted back to sleep only to wake up 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 their 6-person tent!

We met Michael when we first arrived at the site. He's passionate about telescopes and outer space and his kids.

We met so many warm people who made us feel welcome during our first Star Party.

At night, everything was completely different. Red glowing lights emerged from the tents. There was no light pollution from the city so it was pitch black except for the red glowing lights. We were told not to use white light because it would ruin someone's night vision and may take 30 minutes to recover.

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

"Falling star!" we'd exclaim every time we saw a meteor. It was exhilarating. I'd never seen that many stars. Ever. I couldn't take my eyes off the sky.

Our conversations drifted from something so shallow then got deeper and deeper. I don't know, there's something about looking at the heavens that brings out the weirdest ideas.

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