Festival draws attention to night sky
By Kurt Schauppner The Desert Trail Nov 14, 2018
TWENTYNINE PALMS — Four hundred tickets were sold to astronomy enthusiasts from around Southern California who came here to attend this year’s Night Sky Festival Saturday, Nov. 10.
Sponsored by the Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center with help from Joshua Tree National Park and the city of Twentynine Palms, the one-day festival drew night sky fans to events at the observatory on Utah Trail, the community center on Joe Davis Drive south of Luckie Park and Patriotic Hall in Luckie Park.
Two school buses and an ARC van shuttled participants from the community center building, where they checked in, to the observatory, where they took part in activities in the morning and evening.
In the morning, Mike Schmitt gave tours of the observatory’s Orrery, a scale model of the solar system, while Caryn Davidson led families around the site’s nature trail and Darrel Shade led tours of the wilderness trail.
A solar telescope set up next to the observatory’s dome let people look at the sun while a small table offered children the chance to make crafts.
Among those taking part in morning activities was Janice Moran of Costa Mesa, attending her first ever Sky Festival, having read about the event in the travel section of the Los Angeles Times.
“I got right on it,” she said.
Moran came with a small family of friends, parents Jeannine and Ryan and daughter, Jubilee Pearce, 6 1/2, from Long Beach, who just took part in a night sky event at Lake Cachuma near Santa Barbara.
Organizer Ann Congdon noted that all 400 tickets for the event sold out quickly, most at the adult price of $50 each but about 25 at the children’s price of $35 each.
She noted that a handful of ticket buyers had to cancel because of wildfires in Southern California but that their tickets were quickly picked up by people on a waiting list.
People who had to cancel because of the fires, she added, will get refunds.
At the community center Saturday morning, people checked in and received commemorative tote bags emblazoned with the iconic “29!” design and the city’s www.visit29.org website address. These were donated by the city’s TBID.
“Those bags are going all over California,” Congdon said.
John Garrett, an astronomer from the Lake Elsinore area, placed red filters over small fashlights for use by participants in night activities at the observatory.
Members of his son’s scout troop were on hand to help with crowd control in the evening
Members of the Twentynine Palms High School Interact Club were also on hand, there to help pass out lunch to those taking part.
Alyssa Bruce, 11, and her brother, Jonah Bruce, 8, who traveled from Whittier with their grandparents, sat in the center of the room making paper rockets.
In one corner of the room a large computer display invited participants to play an astronomy-based game of Jeopardy.
Not far from there a representative of the Joshua Tree National Park Association had a table full of information to hand out.
A representative of the Dark Sky Association handed out information on light fixtures that can help preserve the night sky.
Across Joe Davis Drive, in a darkened Patriotic Hall, John Van Vliet conducted a follow-up to his Friday night workshop on astrophotography.
“I think it went very smoothly,” Congdon said while admitting “little glitches.”
In the afternoon people gathered at Patriotic Hall to hear Keri Bean give a how-to guide to exploring the solar system.
Kevin Poe spoke on Women’s Work and the solving of astronomy’s most monstrous problems. Dean Arvidson wrapped up the afternoon by answering the question, "What’s in the Sky Tonight?”
People parked at Luckie Park and rode buses to the observatory site. Each bus carried an observatory docent who explained the history and purpose of Sky’s the Limit.
“Most of the these people were from out of town,” she said. “Universally as people came down the hill from the experience they thought it was fabulous.”
People taking part in evening activities at the observatory found at least 20 telescopes set up, some of them motorized and computer-controlled.
They were serenaded by three native flute players, Jean Mueller, Rod Miller-Boyer and Julianne Miller-Boyer.
“There was this wonderful music wafting through the air,” Congdon said.
Sarah Bliss, a tribal cultural specialist for the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians, told Cahuilla Sky Stories while national park rangers gave constellation tours.
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Observatory and Nature Center
9697 Utah Trail
P. O. Box 1
Twentynine Palms, California 92277
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization