Note: If you want to see the pictures larger just double click...this will open a window with the photo gallery for this post. Nice!
Our first full day at the park we weren't really at the park all that much! We got up early - gotta get those pictures of the sunrises you know! By early I mean 5:00 AM...so we could get cleaned up and ready then get all the camera gear into the car and drive up Skyline Drive to the shelter with the picture window. We had scoped it out on our first day and had agreed that would be a great place to go for sunrise pictures...see what you think:
Just as the sun began to peek over the horizon -
Before it even rose above the mountains!
Talk about your Misty Mountains - or even
Purple Mountain Majesty!
I was fascinated by the pinks, purples, and blues.
I was pretty much convinced the light show was over and Rick and I were standing next to the sign showing the different trails available that connect to the shelter when I glanced behind him and all of a sudden saw the mountain in the background just LIGHT UP! I grabbed the camera and tried to get the shot before the light changed...
A golden mountain
Our next stop was the interpretive center. They have a great area set up where you can watch the various birds. You can go inside the building and read about the history of the mountains and the park or about the native wildlife. They have a huge window with rows of chairs set up and you can sit and view all the birds as they come to the feeders, or you can go outside where they have set up a wood fence "blind" with holes at different heights so you can view or take pictures. I really don't have the best lens for this type of photography, but here are a couple of my attempts!
This one looks like a Colima Warbler (to me anyway)
These could possible be Northern Mockingbirds?
After observing the birds for a bit we decided to head on over to the UT McDonald Observatory. I had heard a lot about it - I've never gotten to see an observatory before, and we knew they had some night programs we wanted to see, so we wanted to go ahead over and get the tickets before they were sold out.
The view from the observatory parking lot
We went in and found out we would have the opportunity to go to the "Solar Show" and take a tour of the facilities, as well as visit the exhibits, then return for the twilight show and "Star Party" later. We went to the Solar show where we were to see a live shot of the sun and while we were watching pretty much all we could see were the clouds crossing in front - not a good sign! But the show was great and I wish it were available for me to use in my class...I learned some new things about the sun, COOL! When we got out to go up the mountain to see the 107" diameter telescope this is what the sky looked like -
The scenic sky
We got to go into the observatory, walked up 70 stairs, and into the room with the telescope! This is the 107" diameter telescope the researchers use!
107" telescope pointed at the wall
After several kids were allowed to move the telescope around, they actually moved the entire top of the building to align the door with the telescope. The doors open up like elevator doors to expose the sky. Unfortunately, they can't open them up during the day because of the regulated temperature. They try to keep the temperature of the room the same as it will be at night so there is no condensation...did not know that!
After they moved the wall around so the doors would open to the view of the sky
This is the sign talking about the mountain the telescope is located on.
Just an FYI
We walked around the outside of the building and saw the visitors center. I shot two views - one with the telephoto and one with the wide angle so you could see how high up we were!
Wide angle view
We then drove on over to the 86" telescope. The mirrors on this one are amazing to see, but because they are so exposed you don't actually get to go into the room with them.
The 86" telescope building
We drove back to the campsite to eat a VERY late lunch and rest up for a bit, then it was back to the observatory for the twilight show and the star party. Of course we also wanted to get the sunset shot!
One of the beautiful cactus along the roadside
Sunset from the side of the road to the observatory
The twilight show and star party were almost a bust because of the cloud cover. They did show us Venus and Jupiter side by side, and we were able to see Mars and the Big Dipper. They were going to do talks in the building, and they had several smaller telescopes set up pointing at different areas of the sky but there were no guarantees that when it was your turn it wouldn't be shrouded in clouds. There were over 700 people there and we weren't going to fight small children to look through the telescopes anyway, so we decided we would head on back to the campsite. Because we were close to the back and one of the first few people out of the amphitheatre, we walked right up to a telescope...no waiting! I was able to look through and see Venus - what a cool ending to an amazing day!