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Julian Starfest!

Spent the last new moon weekend of August at Julian Starfest, a fantastic event near the beautiful town of Julian in eastern San Diego County. Three perfectly clear nights and four comfortable days, absolutely wonderful to get out of the heat of lower elevations. I finally finished capturing data for my huge mosaic of Cepheus and now I’ve got a three day weekend to process it!

The drive out there was spectacular, some mid summer thunderstorms had been pounding the deserts and mountains and I caught the tail end of them as I was driving up highway 78 through Ramona and on to Julian. Saw a real bonefide double rainbow which in Southern California is pretty rare as it hardly rains, especially the last couple of years. What struck me was how brilliant the colors were all the way down to the ground.

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Arrived at the Menghini Winery around 7PM to a wet and muddy field with maybe 50 observers waiting to set up. Took a look at the Wundermap radar and it seemed that there would be no more rain for the night so I excited started unpacking the Toyota and began setting up. The night stayed clear but the seeing was pretty bad (no big deal since I was just going to be imaging at a focal length of 180mm) and the dew was horrible. I have a blow dryer for dew but no AC power to plug it in to and it uses a lot more power than I’m comfortable putting through my inverter. No matter, a periodic equipment wipe down was all I needed.

Went to bed in the back of the Toyota around 1 am but not before setting an alarm on my phone to wake me up every 2 hours to check on things. The night got much colder than I anticipated, what with the damp ground and moisture in the air. I had neglected to bring some of my normal cold weather gear as its the middle of summer in Southern California, who needs thermal pants? I did.

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Morning came. I had parked with the rear of the truck (where I was sleeping) facing east which resulted in a harsh dose of the one astronomical object that is hardest to avoid, the sun. I tried denying it for awhile, putting the sleeping bag over my head while trying to ignore the rapidly rising temperature. Eventually I had to come to grips with the fact that I was being baked alive in the sleeping bag. Alright, I’m awake. Stumbled out of the truck and started planning breakfast.

Whenever I do these multi day trips my biggest source of stress isn’t money, shelter, weather, navigation, fuel, local regulations, clothing, entertainment or forgetting crucial pieces of equipment. That stuff is easy, its static, matter of fact. Food is hard. I hate planning my meals, I hate having a predetermined amount of cooler space. I could care less what Dan two days from now wants to eat. I am too impulsive with food to even think about what I want for dinner. So planning for multiple days, even a week is a major annoyance. Sometimes I can just solve it by buying a couple of boxes of clif bars and tossing them in my backpack. Or at least I think I can solve it, on day three of eating cliff bars I get pretty cranky. Water is easy too, one gallon per day + four gallons for the truck in case I loose a radiator hose or something. But food? I’m out here working, not here to eat.

And thats what made Julian Starfest great. There are food vendors on site! There is the town of Julian a couple of miles up the hill! Markets, restaurants, gas station crap, its all there! All I put in the cooler was some energy drinks, beer and a six pack of hot dogs. How great is that?

I power my equipment in the field using a deep cycle marine battery hardwired into my trucks electrical system. The battery is recharged by the alternator which is really great, not having to worry about finding some AC power to steal is a big relief. But this necessitates me driving around for an hour or two to fully charge the battery back up. While the battery should easily last me two full nights I like to be on the safe side and top it off every day. Which means I get to drive around Mount Laguna, one of my favorite areas of San Diego County. Drove around Lake Cuyamaca which is pretty low at the moment (drought!) and stopped at a few overlooks on the side of the Sunrise Highway to get some photos of the Anza Borrego Desert down below. Witnessed quite a few cliff diving swallows in my general vicinity which was a pretty cool treat, I had never noticed them before.

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Lately I’ve been on a layered mountains (?) kick. Can’t help myself, not one bit.
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I just picked up a Rokinon 14mm Cine lens for the 6D, great lens for the price. Even though its the cine version I really love it for regular photography, the de-clicked aperture ring is a real treat when trying to get the perfect exposure. Almost no coma in the corners, great color rendition and while there is a bit of distortion its quite easy to correct in software. The real trick is trying to get the perfect angle, a small movement in any direction completely changes the whole feel of the image.

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