Frencil's Corner

Frencil is Christopher Clark, a guy who likes science, math, and programming.

Colorado Star Party 2021

Being back in Colorado last summer I was pumped to host another star party in the Lost Creek Wilderness as I had done in years past (and as I learned to do as a small child). Alas, it would have been in poor taste to invite a few dozen friends to camp together (however dispersed) in the middle of a pandemic.

But as we crawl our way out and vaccines are readily available a dispersed one-night group campout seems not only okay, but something a lot of us coupld probably use! Read on for event details and background on why star parties are terrificly fun.

A "Star" Party?

If you've never attended a star party, in a nutshell, it's a bunch of folks camping in the wilderness with telescopes and cameras pointed at the night sky.

Oh, but it's so much more than that. First of all, camping is fun. Camping with a big group can be even more fun. And camping with the explicit purpose of using astronomy equipment for what it was meant for... well that's a rare treat.

The best part about the star parties I've hosted over the years are the folks who are new to the scene. I like to invite all my friends, not just those who own telescopes or are seasoned campers. It's a terrific opportunity to see a completely new side of the universe for some... a much, much bigger side than the side they're used to, and helping folks have that opportunity is very fulfilling!

To get a feel for the amateur star party vibe, watch this short time lapse I compiled of one back in 2013. It was such a good time! It is also at roughly the same location as we expect to have for 2021.

Time lapse of a star party in 2013 in the Lost Creek Wilderness in Colorado.
Colorado 2021 Star Party Details
Saturday, August 14, 2021
Gathering in the afternoon, camping overnight, leaving Sunday morning

Tentatively at this site in the Lost Creek Wilderness
(near Fairplay, Colorado)
39°21'12.0"N 105°43'09.2"W

  1. From the Denver Metro Area head south on 285 towards Bailey
  2. After Kenosha Pass take the first left when reaching the valley floor (Lost Park Road)
  3. About 6 miles down Lost Park Road look for a sharp right that switchbacks up a hill to the south
  4. Follow this road about a half a mile to a 4-way intersection. Our camp will hopefully be on the southeast corner.

NOTE: This area is dispersed first-come-first-serve camping, so if our site is already taken I'll select abother site in the same general area. Watch for details posted to the Discussion Group day-of for confirmation of this site or details about an alternate site.

Who's coming?
Open to all, including kids and dogs! Between twelve and thirty people are expected.

What to bring?
You're responsible for all of your own shelter, bedding, rain gear, food, and water. Be prepared! Please bring one bundle of firewood to contribute to the group campfire.

Bad weather?
If it's cloudy we still camp and have a great time. If it's pouring rain then we may cancel. Cancellation notice will be posted to the Discussion Group.

How do I get updates?
If you're interested in attending then join the Colorado 2021 Star Party Discussion Group and look for updates there.
Frequently Asked Questions

What does it cost?
It's free! This site is dispersed camping in the Pike National Forest. It's federal land, and it's legal for a group of up to 75 people to camp without a permit or any fees to pay anywhere in the forest.

What type of facilities can I expect?
None. Seriously. This is dispersed camping - an open field tucked in the forest, no power, no trash service, no running water, and no bathrooms. Bring everything you need and prepare to pack out all gear and trash.

How many people are coming?
Nobody knows until the day of, but there's been a fair bit of interest. Having hosted similar star parties before with roughly the same number of invites we've seen anywhere from a dozen to thirty or so people show up, including kids and dogs.

What should I bring?
You're ultimately responsible for all your own camping gear, so shelter, bedding, rain gear, food, and water. We'll also have a big campfire for everyone to gather around, so please bring a bundle of firewood to contribute.

Can I get my tiny car / huge trailer into this site?
Yes! It's very accessible and camping vehicles of all sorts are welcome.

What if I don't have a telescope (or only have a dinky one)?One thing telescope owners love more than anything else is wowing other folks by capturing neat things in their scopes. Come along and enjoy the show. If you've got a scope of any size this is the best place to try it out, so bring it along.

What about photography?
Got a DSLR camera and a tripod? Try your hand at astrophotography! There will be folks there (myself included) who can give pointers if you've never done it. If you've got a few lenses bring them all or favor the "fastest" ones - the ones with the smallest f-stop number (e.g. f/2.4) as they tend to work best when shooting the dark sky.

Should I bring my kids and/or dogs?
Absolutely! This is a very kid friendly and dog-friendly outing. Especially if you've got little ones that have never really looked through a telescope before.

What if I hate camping?
Camping isn't something everyone automatically knows how to do such that it's fun and not a hassle. If you've never had a great time camping but want to give it another shot this is an excellent way to do it. Camping with a big group around a common fire is a very different experience from camping with only a few people or the family. While it's still important that you be prepared and self sufficient, our group will be a friendly social one and if you need help you'll have it!

What if it rains or is cloudy?
That will be a disappointment, but my core group (wife+kid+dog+me) plan to camp regardless. Even if we can't use the scopes it's still fun to camp! If heavy rain is likely we may cancel, and I'll be in contact via the email threads where invites are sent.

What will we see?

  • Up to four planets (Jupiter and Saturn in prime viewing time, Venus at dusk, Uranus rising after midnight)
  • The Milky Way including the galactic core
  • The waxing crescent Moon setting around 10:30PM
  • Several deep sky objects including star clusters, nebulae, and other galaxies
  • More stars than we can count and all the prominent summer constellations

The view south from the 2021 Colorado Star Party site at 10:00PM, courtesy of Stellarium
Star Party Etiquette

A star party thrives primarily on having good night vision and stable equipment. The guidelines are pretty simple...

  • After dark keep the amount of lights in the campsite to a minimum.
  • If using a flashlight to walk around after dark keep it pointed at the ground in front of you. Never shine a flashlight in someone's face!
  • If you have flashlights or lanterns with red filters those are preferable and will earn you bonus points with astronomers. Blue light kills night vision but red light does not. The pros tend to only use red lights when working in the field.
  • We're a big group so we might get loud. Though we'll be fairly well isolated it's good to keep the noise down, especially as it gets dark/late, to give and children in our group the quiet they need to sleep.
  • We'll establish a communal fire pit to have a good-sized camp fire (on which everyone can cook meals or just enjoy the warmth and glow).
  • Anyone can help tend/build the fire.
  • You are responsible for your safety and the safety of any members of your group (i.e. kids or dogs) around the fire.
  • We can gather wood from the forest to burn but should do so sparingly and bring the majority of the wood we'll burn in with us.
  • Someone should be attending the fire at all times.
  • Only wood and paper waste go in the fire.
  • The fire is put out with water when the last camper goes to bed and when the last camper leaves the site the next day.
Trash / Waste
  • All campers are responsible for their own trash.
  • There is no trash service at the site. All trash must be packed out.
  • This is a leave no trace event. Littering / leaving stuff behind is really, really not cool and will get you not invited back in the future. Respect the forest and the others who will come after us.

Star Parties are ever so much fun! I think I may have gone to my first when I was only two years old. My dad is an astronomer and brought my brothers and I along to star parties with dozens of other astronomers all throughout our childhood. Camping and the stars have always been closely intertwined and bring so much joy. I now have a son of my own who will be four and a half when he attends this star party in 2021. He's already no stranger to camping and has looked through our telescope plenty of times but has yet to experience a bigger group campout like this.

Especially after such a long and difficult year (that still deeply affects our daily lives) a big but safe camping party under the beautiful Colorado skies is sure to be something we can all enjoy on many levels.

Here's hoping for clear skies!


Christopher Clark

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