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