My wife and I attend the Oklahoma Texas Star Party near Kenton Oklahoma this year. It was a very interesting experience. Amateur astronomers of course go to such events for dark sky observing. However the distance from Michigan and the duration of the event provides experiences beyond just observing the skies.
The journey is part of the adventure. Many who enjoy road trips drive the 1260 miles in two days. A big long drive of 800 miles or so the first day and a long drive of 400 miles or so the second enjoying the roadside scenery along the way. We pulled a pop up tent camper and chose to set up camp before dark each day.
The first stop was Springfield Illinois where we spent three nights. Springfield is a delightful tourist destination where we spent our time visiting the Lincoln Museum, Lincoln Home, New Salem Village, the Dana Thomas Frank Lloyd Wright home, and the Lincoln Memorial. Springfield is highly recommended if your itinerary can spare the time. Driving some 500 Miles the next day put us at I-70 exit 244 and the Sundowner RV Park. The last day we drove 355 miles on route KS 156 which is the most desolate highway I have ever driven. That desolation although not beautiful is very interesting and we never were bored but were continually amazed by the miles of unusual landscape. Lunch at the infamous Dodge City gave a new perspective to the old west.
We arrived at Okie-Tex about 5pm and were surprised to see that most of the fields were occupied! Many thanks go to those early arriving Lowbrows who had selected a section of the field on the north edge with lower horizons. They had saved room for us to set up our tent camper. The lesson learned is that if you have a group who you want to be together you must have early arrivals to stake your claim!
The camp is well organized with power distributed for telescopes, roads marked in chalk and porta johns distributed throughout the grounds. The fields were newly mowed which in our new section of the filed provided for chopped up cactus all over the ground.
The permanent facilities provided showers, restrooms, water and accommodations for the kitchens and vendor tables. A large tent provided space for eating meals and attending lectures.
Despite the remote and desolate location of the Okie-Tex party, there is plenty of sight seeing and activities in the area. My wife and I were busy every day. We visited Black Mesa State Park, Picture and Carrizzo Canyons, drove the Dry Cimmaron Valley looping back through Clayton New Mexico. We hiked part of the trail to the Back Mesa summit. We walked into Kenton, visited the Kenton Mercantile, the Kenton Museum and hiked up the ridges around the campground. Some of the best times were spent in camp with fellow Lowbrows sharing astronomy information, stories and beverages. It was indeed a time to relax away from the bustle of everyday life
I enjoyed observing galaxies, planetary nebulas, and dark nebula that I had never before seen. The observing evenings, after waiting all day for sunset, went by so fast! It seemed that after only a few objects were located and sketched it was midnight and a trip to the red lighted cosmic café was welcome. Star hopping was fun because I could see stars not normally visible to me. My wife, not an amateur astronomer, found the evenings difficult spending time in the camper reading with only a red headlamp which she considered, with a smile, cruel and unusual punishment.
Walking the grounds and visiting the owners of other telescopes was very rewarding. I wish I had spent more time visiting with other astronomers as all were very interested in sharing their ideas and experiences with me. It seemed being in such a remote location together made everyone eager to be friendly and all seemed to revel in the comradery of being at Okie-Tex. The lectures were interesting and I would like to have attended more of them. We had planned to leave Friday morning missing the Friday and Saturday lectures. Next time, with a limited amount of time, I will come late and stay for the last weekend and miss the first weekend.
The skies weren’t as good as I had hoped for. The combining of two low pressure systems in the Gulf produced a ccw rotating weather pattern which brought us winds from the East with clouds and moisture. I would like to experience the dark skies that Okie-Tex is famous for so I will attend again, just not sure when. Okie-Tex is a unique and interesting experience for those who can commit to the time and distance.
We continued our trip into Colorado which was only a short day’s drive. We stayed until cold and rainy weather forced us down out of the mountains and we returned home.
Al Nagler of Televue, John Joseph of Starlight Instruments and Rick Singmaster of Starmaster Telescopes with a 22” f/3.3.
Dave Kreige of Obsession Telescopes with a 22” UHC f/4.2. Some of the biggest names in Amateur Astronomy come to the Okie-Tex Star Party to test and show off their latest!
Okie-Tex Star Party 2009 taken by Jan Fohey. The Lowbrows in attendance at this one were Don & Jan Fohey, Nathan Murphy, Robert Wade, Doug Scobel, Chris Sarnecki and Mark Deprest. There are two articles in this issue and at the October Lowbrow meeting there will be a presentation of pictures and stories from some of the names listed above!