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Devil's Den Star Party 2004 Was A Huge Success!

General NewsBy Vance Bagwell. (Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas member)
July 22, 2004 3:32 p.m.

The Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society http://www.aoas.org is the primary sponsor of the Arkansas Star Party, held each July at Devil's Den State Park in Northwest Arkansas. The AOAS was formed in 1985 in Ft. Smith, Arkansas and the club’s Coleman Observatory is located 8 miles NW of Van Buren, AR. Located approximately 6 hours from Dallas/Ft. Worth, Devil's Den State Park is nestled in a picturesque valley in northwest Arkansas's Ozarks Mountains. It’s very rugged and covers about 2000 acres. Jackie and I have camped at this fantastic state park twice before during Sept. and Oct. The park has 12 excellent hiking and mountain bike trails. The Devil's Den Trail, one of the most popular trails within the park, features two fracture caves: the Devil's Den and the Devil's Icebox. The park also has fully-furnished cabins. When we learned of this 2-day star party in the events section of Sky and Telescope, we scheduled our week-long camping trip to coincide.

Bob Moody is the current club president of the AOAS and was the contact for this year’s event. Prior to the star party, Bob and I had been shooting emails back and forth. I arranged to donate a Hubble Skygard shield to the park from Outdoor Associates and it arrived a couple days before we arrived. The thing I hate more than a streetlight is a streetlight in dark-sky campground! I brought the Takahashi FSQ and picked up some Kodak slide film. I was going to hopefully have four nights of observing before the star party kicked off. From this state park, there are no noticeable signs of light domes or light pollution.

Sunday, July 11th thru Thursday, July 15th – We left Cedar Hill, Texas by mid-morning. I narrowly escaped a huge speed trap on I-75 in McKinney. An officer with his radar gun on the overpass and eight of his friends in waiting below chose the pickup passing us in the lane to our left. We had a flat tire on the pop-up trailer just south of Caddo, OK. Not a good start. We made it into Arkansas safely and negotiated the mountainous switch-back road down into the Den. We were exhausted from setup and called it an early night. I took a long glance upwards before bed and saw the Milky Way through an opening in the trees with frosty Vega shining brilliantly.

The days were very hot and humid. The local news reported an unexpected heat wave had arrived and would put the area into the mid-90’s. Campground E has a large baseball diamond at the end of the loop that gives a good view in every direction. The elevation of the park is 1037 feet; however it’s almost a 700 foot elevation drop down into the park. The ridges to the north and south extend to about 15 to 20 degrees elevation as seen from the ball field. Fortunately, Sagittarius and Scorpius skirt above this ridge during the summer evenings. Last September, we were sharing nice views of Mars with nearby campers in that same field.

The humidity at night was like a steam bath. I was sweating at the scope and my shoes were soaked from the wet field. Only one camper named Mike braved a humid night with me. We observed open clusters Messier 7 and nearby NGC 6416 in Scorpius with telescope and binoculars. We then moved up to globular cluster Messier 4. I could resolve the central bar structure. I explained to Mike that this cluster was thought to be a contender for the “closest globular to Earth” title at a whopping 6,500 L.Y. We moved over to M8 & M20 + M21 in Sagittarius and then soaked up some stars in Messier 24, the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud. Mike was a lot of fun and his occasional runs for a beer seemed to keep him going. We finally gave in to the heavy dew around midnight and said goodnight.

The visibility was 9 out of 10 even with the high humidity. Fantastic sky! A family with two children and “Sam” the golden retriever paid a visit. About that same time Jackie ventured out with baby monitor in hand. We spent some time on Messier 22. It was spectacular! I only recently learned this globular (10,000 l.y.) is twice as close to Earth as M13. One of the children moved the Tak into the M8/M20 region and we spent some time there. Jackie went back to the camper as the family said goodnight. I spent the rest of the evening star hopping in Sagittarius and used a reticle eyepiece on loan from Jeff Barton to use with PEC on the GM-8 mount. I took a couple photos in Sagittarius before calling it a night.

Friday, July 16th – On the first day of the star party, the skies were cloudy all day. I had resigned to turning in early and went off to take a shower. It was dark when I emerged and I did a quick pan of the field with my flashlight. Three red lights flashed back! COOL! I soon met Kyle and Jennifer O’Glee, Kenny Dickerson (Vice President of the AOAS), and Connie Schmidt. We sat around and talked shop for about an hour when the ladies noticed stars appearing to the North. Sure enough, within 30 minutes we had excellent sky and we were off for our scopes in the dark. Kyle and Jennifer brought out their fantastic 10” Harden Optical Dob. which gave us wonderful views of globular M13, M4, and M22. Kenny had his Schmidt-Cassegrain operational soon afterwards. The 4” Tak completed the roster. We had six teenagers that were playing soccer earlier in the day observe with us for almost an hour. The double-double in Lyra was heard behind me and soon afterwards was Messier 57, the Ring Nebula. Kyle and Kenny both had laser pointers so to help point out the areas where the scopes were aimed. M13 in Hercules was looking fantastic. The seeing was excellent. We packed up about 2 a.m. What an unexpected evening!

Saturday, July 17th – On the last day of the star party, Jackie and I noticed three scopes appear by the RV to our left. We soon met Michael, Cathy, and their son Jordan. At 3 p.m., I set up the Tak for some solar observing before softball began at 4 p.m. What a treat! Sunspot 652 had emerged on the eastern limb and it’s HUGE! I brought over Jackie, Michael, Cathy and Jordan for a look. Wow! As the softball teams began to show up, about a dozen folks came up to take a look.

At 5:30 p.m., we all attended a superb cookout hosted by the AOAS and Kenny and Trisha Dickerson at Cabin #6. In attendance were Kyle and Jennifer O’Glee, Kenny & Trisha Dickerson and family, Michael & Cathy and son Jordan, Charles McLane, Joe Roam, Bob Moody, Connie Schmidt, Lora Grosvold, and Jackie and Katelyn Bagwell. We munched on burgers and hot dogs; watermelon brought by Michael and Cathy, and steak and mushrooms prepared by Kyle and Jennifer. It was a blast! Bob Moody presented a fitting name for a new star party being discussed for Mt. Magazine, the Whole-Hog Star Party!

Set up commenced on the baseball field around 8 pm. The crowd was already forming and Bob Moody’s big Dob was attracting lots of attention. You could feel the excitement. The park shut off the new cutoff streetlight near the restrooms. Someone with the AOAS was very kind to cover up the other outside lights with aluminum foil. This was very effective and a great idea! Public attendance was about 50-60 people. There were about 20 to 25 astronomers with 15 scopes of all types peppering right field.

Jupiter and its moons were spotted during twilight and the early visitors soaked up this treat until it faded into the trees. As twilight deepened, I pointed the Tak up to M13 and M92 in Hercules. Two little girls kept me busy with astronomy questions. Laser pointers fired occasionally to the delight of the kiddos. The Milky Way was starting to appear overhead. I moved down to Ophiuchus and to globular Messier 10. There was an interesting object I suspected to be a galaxy in a Dob behind me that I joined in on. Wonderful evening!

It was after 1:30 am and Charles McLane helped me pack up my gear. We were all very pleased with the beautiful evening that unfolded and somewhat cooler temperatures. Jackie and I made many new friends on this trip. Several of us sat near the field afterwards to talk, relax and say our goodbyes. Soon I was off for bed. The Milky Way was glistening overhead through the trees. Devil’s Den 2004 was a great success and I hope we can make next year’s event. A big “thank you” goes to Bob, Kenny and all the other folks who put this together! I’m already thinking about ESP this October. See you there!

Devil's Den Star Party 2004 Was A Huge Success! | 2 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Devil's Den Star Party 2004 was a Huge Success!
Authored by: dgrosvold onSaturday, August 07 2004 @ 09:41 pm EDT
Excellent Report!

I am sorry I was unable to attend this year due to other obligations. I was attending training sesions in Everett, WA over the two-week period that included the Star Party. Your story made me wish I was there observing with the rest of the group.

Dave - Greenwood, AR
Devil's Den Star Party 2004 Was A Huge Success!
Authored by: R Parks onSaturday, September 04 2004 @ 06:22 am EDT
What a nice report! I have always enjoyed the Devil's Den party, even when the viewing hasn't been great. I've met lots of nice people there too. It is a beautiful park in the daytime and at night. I like the curious campers who come and ask questions. The Mt. Magazine party will be a great event for astromers, but I wish that we would consider still having an event at Devil's Den for the public.


R Parks
Alma, AR

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