August 20, 2014

Week 4-The Quest for Dark Skies: Into the Appalachians.

A very slender Moon…

(All photos by Author).

The mountains always beckon. In the end, all astronomers must heed the call of dark, pristine skies and head into the foothills beyond the suburban lowlands in search of the universe only hinted at from our backyards. This past week we did just that in our week four installment of the great American Road Trip as we explored the U.S. Southeast and beyond. And, hey, we arrived under pristine skies just in time for this year’s Geminid meteor shower!

One Geminid of MANY seen!

Sunday saw a breakfast that couldn’t be beat at the Nosedive Bar and our departure from Greenville, South Carolina. As reported in week three of our 4-state spanning sojourn, we thoroughly enjoyed this town, a hip Portlandia-esque oasis in the South.

An armillary sphere-spotting at the Red Horse Inn!

A short drive saw us posed to hop across the North Carolina border in Landrum, South Carolina. Actually, we crisscrossed the border twice into “The North,” hitting the two outstanding wineries of Green Creek & the remarkable Overmountain Vineyards. We stayed at the charming Red Horse Inn in Landrum, where we consumed our days’ booty (a bottle of wine) under the stars in the hot tub adjoining our cabin. The Red Horse Inn would make an excellent star-gazing destination, as a short trip down the road finds you in total darkness away from the cottage lights… this would also make a fine group astronomy expedition area, especially as a good jumping off point for the graze line of the August 2017 total solar eclipse passing over the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area just to the west.

Mmmm… beer… line ‘em up!

For our next adventure we headed northward into Asheville, North Carolina. If Greenville is the Portland (Oregon) of the South, Asheville is its Seattle, set long before Grunge became a name brand. We stayed at the enormous Grove Park Inn, a massive hotel complex perched just outside the city. Asheville itself is a wonderful, rambling city sprawling over dozens of foothills that put us in mind of Amman, Jordan, repleate with art spaces and breweries instead of mosques and sheesha bars. The Arts District alone was fascinating, as was the encaustic work of Constance Williams. Hey, we’d never even heard of encaustic in our High School Art I & II days! The Moog factory was also a fascinating stop. Based in Asheville, Moog has been the proud manufacturer of keyboards and synthesizers since 1978. And hey, who knew that they still make the theremin? Sheldon would be glad know… check out the action on Moog’s YouTube and Twitter feeds!

At Moog, where the theremin still reigns!

After hitting the local Asheville  Brewing Company and a fine Tapas meal at Cúrate, it was off to Mars Hill, North Carolina and the Scenic Wolf Resort for a night of dark sky observing. Located at about 4,000 feet elevation in the shadow of Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the Appalachians) our cabin afforded a fine view of the 2012 Geminid meteors. And this was none too soon, as BBC 5 Live called us up that very night for a Skype interview! With a limiting magnitude of +5.5, I’d say that the Geminids put on one of the best displays in recent memory, with dozen several meteors seen gracing the sky before midnite!

The skies over Mars Hill, North Carolina.

But alas, we had to depart the beloved darkness for light-polluted climes all too soon. Having reached the northernmost apex of our journey, our ingress into society saw a brief stop in exotic Lincolnton, North Carolina… more to come next week!

 

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  1. [...] take over the Carolinas. We left the solitude and dark skies of the Appalachians as chronicled in Week 4 of the great American Road trip and headed back into civilization… and what a welcome it [...]

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