Star partiers enjoy fourth year at Eden Valley

‘Hercules’ a 14-foot tall homemade telescope gives once-in-a-lifetime views of the heavens

Dan Bakken of Spokane hauled his 41-inch telescope to last week’s Table Mountain Star Party, which was hosted for the fourth year by Eden Valley Guest Ranch east of Oroville. Bakken fashioned the 41-inch mirror for the telescope himself over a period of several years. It took six people to offload from Bakken’s trailer, more than two hours to set up, and stands about 14 feet high. It also attracted plenty of attention as lines of people waited for more than half an hour to see views of distant galaxies, remnants of exploded stars, and more. Above, an observer perched atop Bakken’s ladder is silhouetted (with the telescope) against the distant Milky Way. Brent Baker/submitted photo

Dan Bakken of Spokane hauled his 41-inch telescope to last week’s Table Mountain Star Party, which was hosted for the fourth year by Eden Valley Guest Ranch east of Oroville. Bakken fashioned the 41-inch mirror for the telescope himself over a period of several years. It took six people to offload from Bakken’s trailer, more than two hours to set up, and stands about 14 feet high. It also attracted plenty of attention as lines of people waited for more than half an hour to see views of distant galaxies, remnants of exploded stars, and more. Above, an observer perched atop Bakken’s ladder is silhouetted (with the telescope) against the distant Milky Way. Brent Baker/submitted photo

OROVILLE – Any time an event moves 200 miles from its longtime home, the natural evolution of said event is going to be disrupted.

The Table Mountain Star Party, named for its former location south of Blewitt Pass between Ellensburg and Wenatchee, experienced some of those pains after making the move to Oroville’s Eden Valley Guest Ranch after a 2012 fire burned the original site.

Pat and Robin Stice, proprietors of the ranch, were unaware of the star party until contacted by organizers following that fire, but for both Eden Valley Guest Ranch and the Pacific Northwest amateur astronomy community, it’s become a staple of the mid-summer.

In its fourth year at Eden Valley, the gathering of amateur astronomers and their telescopes saw its first uptick in attendance since the move and what was regarded by organizers as most overall success of the four years here.

star-party-logoTMSP has taken on a bit more of an Okanogan County flavor. For the first time, Robin Stice and her Eden Valley catering crew provided meal service for five dinners (and one breakfast). Not only the home-cooked food, but the ability for attendees to gather and mix while eating in the lodge provided a more social dimension to the week.

It also provided shelter (mostly unneeded, as it turned out) from the elements, at least at dinner time. Last year’s TMSP was plagued by intensely hot weather, smoke from nearby fires and an invasion of hornets that even had at least one attendee spending much of the week in a beekeeper’s suit.

Not so this year. After Tuesday evening’s rain, the attendees were blessed by partly cloudy weather in the upper 70s and clear weather for observing after the clouds dissipated after about midnight.

There also were a larger number of families with children this time around, lending a younger flair to the week. TMSP features an active program designed for kids, and organizers were kept busy throughout the week. A number of families spent the warm afternoons trekking downhill to Lake Osoyoos as well.

And, adding to the local flavor of the week, local author and Native American historian Arnie Marchand enraptured a crowd of adults and children alike with a nearly two-hour session of history, legend, and his own engaging personality.

On the telescopic observing front, there was nothing that competed with Dan Bakken’s 41-inch computerized Dobsonian telescope. The homemade instrument, which took several years for him to complete, stands nearly 14-feet tall when standing upright, took six people to unload from his trailer and more than two hours to set up.

But once that was done, the Spokane amateur astronomer and his telescope, dubbed “Hercules,” attracted lines of visitors who were treated to what for many were once-in-a-lifetime views.

The gasps and words of appreciation that filtered down from atop the Hercules’ ladder reflected what was the highlight of the week for most who were willing to make the climb in the dark of night.

The 2017 TMSP will be July 18-23. It’ll be a double-dip for many as they’ll take to the road Aug. 21 for the first total solar eclipse visible from the Pacific Northwest since 1979 (which will be viewable from Oregon and southern Idaho on a path that will stretch across the continental United States)

The full story of how the Table Mountain Star Party moved to Eden Valley can be found on the Gazette-Tribune’s website in a 2013 story at http://www.gazette-tribune.com/community/table-mountain-star-party-camps-out-in-okanogan-highlands/65175/.

‘Hercules’ a 14-foot tall homemade telescope gives once-in-a-lifetime views of the heavens

About Brent Baker

Brent, is a former reporter/photographer for the Gazette-Tribune and sometimes works as a freelance sports reporter for the G-T. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent worked as a full time reporter/photographer at the G-T from 2011 - 2014).