Some of what to expect from start to finish:
Up the mountain road. Most will arrive in the area on US33/WV28 (Single Sheet Directions). The turnoff to SKMC is not the road to Spruce Knob overlook itself, but further south. The road starts out paved but turns to fairly well-maintained gravel. Various visitors have gone up the mountain with RVs, trailers, low clearance cars, etc. without a problem. The road is a schoolbus route, so it is not a terrible road, but those with large vehicles report that it is slow and deserves very careful driving. There is always a chance that you may need to back up if you meet a truck going the other way.
Arrival. SKMC has a well-marked entrance on the right. The 1 mi. entrance road is the roughest part of the journey. Don’t go to the building (office yurt) on the right at the entrance — continue to the fields. If you arrive after dusk on a clear night, you will need to stay (or simply leave your car) at the marked area near the entrance until morning — no cars alowed in or out during observing periods.
Check-in. There will be a registration tent staffed by volunteers where you will get your admission badge, other items you may have ordered, parking guidance, and any info you need. You may be able to sign up for any activities which still have openings.
Selecting your spot. Pick a spot in your assigned field — red, green, or yellow — and unload your camping and observing equipment. If you are in the green or yellow field, your vehicle can stay with you inside your reserved plot. If you are located in the red camping-only field, after you unload you will need to park your vehicle in the nearby designated overflow lot. Volunteers will guide you to stay within prescribed parking/camping/equipment boundaries.
We limit the registration so that there are really no bad spots from which to observe.
Now would be a good time to orient yourself to all the observing fields, the yurts, port-o-potties, first aid kits, and the wash house (sinks, showers, and flush toilets).
Meals. If you signed up for SKMC meals, your registration badge will indicate which days you have purchased. Note that a “day” includes lunch, dinner, and the next breakfast. IMHO, the food is great, and quantities large enough for mountain appetites. Veggie options are always there. Food is served buffet style and eaten family style on picnic tables, benches, or on the grass. Hot and cold drinks are provided around meal times. For the second year: we do NOT need to wash our own dishes.
If you’re eating on your own, be sure to bring enough provisions and ice for the duration. It is a long drive to the nearest stores down the mountain. Potable water will be available at a pipe at a central location along the road near the observing fields, in addition to being at the kitchen yurt and wash house. Dehydration can be a serious problem at high altitude, in the summer, in the sun. Drink lots of water before you feel thirsty.
Bring your own munchies for midnight lunch and whatever else you need to keep going overnight. If you need electric to heat up your drinks, you can plug in at the main yurt. Coffee is frequently available late in the Main Yurt.
Daytime events. In addition to solar observing on the deck, during the day there will be talks and workshops, a ‘”swap table” for astro items on Friday, and outdoor activities. Talks are held in the large yurt “lecture hall,” with overflow audio and video in an adjacent tent. We have video in the tent, not just sound and slides.
Outdoor hikes and other local activities generally start on the yurt deck. More distant trips (Cass and GBO) will organize carpools on the deck if you don’t wish to drive alone.
Check the program schedule for times, and check the electronic message screens at the main yurt for updates. Real-time weather will also be shown on the message screen. Announcements will also be made over the FRS.
Again this year, the main AHSP web site will provide direct links to ‘current event’ updates at AHSP, including real-time weather maps and sensors on the front page during the event.
Evening events. After dinner and evening talks, the action moves to the fields.
Of course, you can always wander around, meet folks, talk, and see what they are observing. You can ask for help with optical alignment, polar alignment, etc. on that new scope or that old one you want to learn to operate better.
Skip Bird has offered to provide a sky tour after dusk (~8:30) to help beginners orient themselves in the late August and early September sky, and to provide interesting facts for all.
Observing. The major draw of Spruce Knob is the dark skies. Starting with various setup tasks at twilight (remember your dew protection!), there will be dozens of scopes pointing at easy and challenging targets. You can see an amazing number of objects with binoculars, or just sit and be awed by the Milky Way blazing overhead.
Remember to use minimum red lighting as you walk around, and low voices are always appreciated. After you become dark adapted, no lights should be needed at all — you can literally see by starlight in the open fields. Be careful on the uneven fields — avoiding a twisted ankle is another good reason for sturdy footwear.
If you use green or amber lights for reading or writing at night, these need to be shielded and dimmed as would a white light. This applies to light spillage from tents, as well. Respect your neighbors’ need to remain dark adapted.
Some observers will be concentrating on photography and others will be observing visually; just ask if they are able to share the view or chat. If you are considering a telescope or accessory purchase, you can ask the experts, and often see how various products work in practice.
Green laser pointers are not to be used without permission from the AHSP staff — for example, for an official sky tour.
There are so many objects available in the WV sky, that you should do some planning before you arrive. There are observing lists posted on the AHSP site. Here is an online sky map you can set for the data and time (choosing “Washington DC” for location is close enough) to get yourself oriented. From SKMC, the north and south horizons are great; east and west are a little higher.
Be prepared to see the zodiacal light immediately after sunset in the west, or as the “false dawn” in the east.
Planets these nights can be found here.
Power on the fields. Generators should not be used where they can disturb others, either observing or sleeping. In most cases, this means no generators at night or in the morning after clear nights.
Battery power has become the de facto standard for powering your telescope, electronics, dew heaters, and cameras. AHSP volunteers run a shuttle service from marked pickup points in the fields to an area adjacent to the main yurt, where power strips are available for your battery charger. Details will be found elsewhere.
Through the weekend. Go to any of the committee volunteers for help or questions. They can be identified by the unique lanyard color (orange this year?) they are wearing. Most of the other folks at AHSP are repeat visitors, so you can ask almost anyone for some guidance. You can also use your FRS radio, especially to call for help in an emergency. Often, you can find someone “in the know” at the main yurt or at the registration tent.
Plans and schedules may change. These will always be posted on the electronic message board at the main yurt or broadcast to your browser on www.AHSP.org.
The deck area is a good place to socialize. The yurts are also a source for WiFI connectivity, laptop power and battery recharging power. Astrophotographers can frequently be found there doing post processing on their newest images, or showing off older ones. Remember, this year there will be astro- and general photo displays on the large message screens.
While we don’t encourage traffic coming and going during the weekend, sometimes you need to go out. There are not many “destinations” close to SKMC. There are commercial caverns, the visitor center and some historic sites at Seneca Rocks, and fishing, canoeing, and hiking in the National Forest. Just remember the prohibition against leaving or arriving after dusk. That is one of the few absolute rules, and you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of the closed gate.
If it r**ns, activities continue at AHSP. Mostly, showers or even downpours are brief, and do not ruin the weekend. Talks and workshops go on, of course. The Cass & Green Bank Observatory outings will be held. Some outdoor activities might be cancelled. Socializing moves from the deck to inside the main yurt. There is an upper level in the kitchen yurt, which has a library, some games, and nature samples; this is a good inside area for supervised kids. Be sure to bring appropriate clothing for all weather conditions, so you can make the most of the weekend. This includes the possibility of rapid cooling on a clear mountain night in September.
We hope you had an enjoyable and productive weekend. One request as you pack up: Please take your trash with you. SKMC has no trash service, and it is very neighborly of us to take all our trash and recycling with us to deposit at home. The volunteers will come by to pick up all the NOVAC supplies and equipment to be ready for next year. NOVAC volunteers will also do their best to handle lost & found after the event.
Revised August 4, 2019