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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Iridium Flares and other fun things in the sky…..

Several of you either commented on the blog about my last post relating to the stars or you sent me emails.  So I want to share a great resource with you from the web.  Check out http://www.heavens-above.com/ .   This site is full of information about man made objects and naturally occurring  astronomical items.

You can find the expected sightings of the international space station, many other satellites, constellations, etc.  Of special interest are Iridium Flares. 

Iridium Flares are extremely bright lights that will appear in the sky for anywhere from 4 to 10 seconds and then are totally gone.  You have to have a good clear sky to see them.  You can see the schedule for them on that web site.  Just plug in your location and check out the schedule.  Brightness is measured from about a +6 to a –6.  The farther negative you go, the brighter the object.

If you see a flare scheduled in your area, make sure to watch for it.  If you are outside looking up, people will begin to ask what are you looking for.  You can tell them you are looking for a flare and if you time it right, you can really impress them.

In case you are wondering, Iridium flares are actually the set of Iridium satellites (used for sat phones among other things).  These satellites have extremely large solar panels that if the angle is just right, will reflect a large amount of sunlight to a narrow path on earth.  If you are in that path, you see what looks like a flare.

Some math guru figured out the formula for computing the orbit of the various Iridium satellites, the angle of their orbit to the position of the sun at any given day and time and where that reflection would hit the earth.  That formula is used then to make the predictions on the web page which I have found to be very accurate.

Enjoy the web site and happy star gazing!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

When You Wish Upon a Star

Thursday was a day of great weather here for us.  Sunny and temp of 81 which was a joy.  I went over to Avila Beach Golf Resort to get in 18 holes, but only got in three.  Carol called me on the third hole to come and help her get into the RV.  She was unable to open the lock.  So I gave up my round and sped back to the RV to rescue the damsel in distress.  Fortunately I was able to get a rain check at the pro shop and will try to play next week.

Thursday night about 9pm we drove down onto the beach at Oceana to view the stars.  It is very dark on the beach and we could see a number of constellations (Orion, Taurus, Pleiades, Cassiopeia, Aurgia, Canis Major & Minor, Ursa Major & Minor, Leo, Lepus, Cancer, Gemini, and Aries just to name a few).  I really enjoy looking at the stars.  It is something I started when I was about 8 years old.  I had a small paperback book full of information for young astronomers to be. 

When I was about 13 years old, I used to go up to Chabot Observatory to the public show.  They usually did some show & tell exhibits indoors and then if the night was clear, went and used their two telescopes.  After awhile, they would let me lead parts of the program and it was great fun and education too.  Due to that, I ended up taking 4 semesters of astronomy in college.

So getting our our chairs on the beach Thursday night was a great treat and brought back many memories.  I have several star charts that will help you locate stars and constellations.  We also had a great look at the winter Milky Way.  The MW is not as bright as in the summer because in the summer you are looking towards the center of our galaxy and in the winter sky, it is away from the center so fewer stars are visible (maybe a billion or so less).

Friday we went for a 6.5 mile bike ride on the Bob Jones trail.  We went to Avila Beach and rode the trail backwards.  It was more crowded than usual, but not too bad a ride.  We planned to go to Port Luis for lunch but when we got back to the car from the ride, the fog had moved in and pretty much ruined the sea view.  So we skipped that and hope to squeeze it in next week.

The fog stayed with us after noontime for the rest of the day.  Yet, still a lot of people came into our park for the weekend.

Today dawned clear and sunny with no sign of fog at all.  Carol has a cold so she wasn’t up to doing a bike ride.  I went ahead by myself and went on a 15 mile ride through several state parks along highway 1 and back.  It was starting to get a bit windy on the way back or I might have ridden further.

We packed a picnic lunch and drove out onto the beach facing the waves.  We listened to a podcast of a sermon by Art Azurdia who is the pastor at Trinity Church in Portland.

Also got word this week that I already have a semi-pro football game assigned to me as referee for March 17, right after we get home.  I have a good crew for the game so it should be fun.

We are already talking about things we need to do before we start the trek for home.  We will have been here 2 months which is great.  And we have done a lot of things while here and already can start looking forward to next January and our next 2 months here. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Odds and Ends…..

It has been a few days since my last post, so it is time to update everyone on what has been going on down here.  Now, we have less than 2 weeks left in our stay here and already we have mixed feelings on leaving.

On Monday, the unofficial President’s Day holiday, the campground was full.  So was the city of Pismo Beach.  We went for a long walk and ended up out on the pier.  The sidewalks, parking lots, and streets were all very busy.  With the holiday and great weather, many folks came out.

 

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Looking back to Pismo Beach from the pier.

We have a small problem with our satellite dish.  In the wind, it tends to move off target.  You can actually wiggle it from up on the roof.  I have been trying, with little success, to fix it.  I have been in contact with tech support at Winegard, who makes the dish and have done a few things, none of which are a permanent or total fix.  Found out from them this morning that I need to order a replacement turret kit to the tune of $40 plus shipping.  It should arrive here on Tuesday, so I know what I will be doing next week!

Today it started out sunny but now is getting high thin clouds.  We are planning a bike ride, not sure exactly where yet.

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Don’t know if you saw the above cartoon but it is kind of cute!  (And possibly true for more of us than want to admit it!)

 

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The above picture is our caption contest!  If you can think of a good caption for it, send in a comment to this post.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fore!!!!! (No, mostly Three!)

Played 9 holes of golf yesterday and really played well.  Only did nine holes, but finished only three over par.  Almost every shot I took was a good shot, no miss-hits at all.  Unfortunately, what usually happens for me after a great game is a disaster.  We will see next week.

Today after some errands this morning, we drove over to the Elfin Forest.  This is a walking area through a “forest” of various sagebrush and other shrubs of the same size.  Fortunately, there is a boardwalk loop path of slightly over 1 mile in length that takes you around the park.  It is a hilly area with great scenery.

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The boardwalk in the Elfin Forest

In the middle of the park there is a small grove of “Pigmy Oaks.”  These are actually oak trees that do not grow tall.  Instead they grow a tangled branch network that is really interesting to see.

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Pigmy Oak grove in the Elfin Forest

There are many kinds of plants in the forest.  This one is a fuchsia with buds that have not yet fully opened.

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While walking on the path, a sailboat came into the estuary.  It was a great day to be out on the water as our temperature was about 68 at the time this picture was taken.

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One of the nice things about the boardwalk is that the various plants are labeled so that you can tell what is what.  Anyone want to guess what this plant is?  (Answer at the end of the post)

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Someone was having a bit of fun and put the label below on one of the boardwalk planks.

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Also during the walk, you get a great view of Morro Rock in the distance.

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There are about 90 different kinds of birds that either live in the forest or spend part of the year there during their migratory travels.  We saw many hawks in the area and I tried to get a good picture of one.

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The video below will give you a 360 degree of the view from the Elfin Forest.

360 degree view from Elfin Forest

When we got back to the RV, I worked on our screen door latch.  It is poorly designed in plastic and has broken 3 times.  I have gotten tired of replacing old poorly designed parts with new poorly designed parts.  So I went to a RV parts store and bought a different latch system and adapted it to work with our door.  It is a hybrid installation now and the important thing is that it works great!

As reader Donna responded, “leaves of three, let it be” – the plant in question is poison oak – stay away!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Answer Isn’t Blowing in the Wind….

Thursday was another nice day!  I went and played golf again.  Didn’t do great or poor, just average.  But had a nice walk in the sunshine.  And I didn’t lose any balls which always helps keep the score reasonable.

I think there needs to be a new rule in golf.  If you lose your ball, there is no penalty stroke because you have already been penalized by losing the ball.  So no double jeopardy on the golf course!

Friday we drove over to Los Osos Oaks State Reserve.  This is a rugged area just outside Los Osos that has hiking trails that wind around through the hills.  Sometimes you are under the oaks as pictured below.

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Carol using her walking sticks under the oaks.

And sometimes you are out in the rugged brush and it changes very quickly.

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Some of the wild brush we walked through

We came across a couple of interesting sights along the way including trees covered with moss but out in the direct sunlight.

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Moss covered tree in sunlight

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Where did this one palm tree come from???

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Another moss covered tree, again in sunlight.

During the walk we came to many trail intersections but most were unmarked, so we were never sure which way to go.  We just plowed on for about 30 minutes and then decided to turn around and go back.  Even though we tried, we didn’t go back the same way.  So it made for another good adventure.

After coming back to the car, we went to Montana de Oro state park.  We drove into their day area and parked for a picnic lunch.  Because it was breezy, we ate in the car and watched the waves breaking on the rocks.

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Waves at Montana de Oro State Park

We were supposed to get 30+ mph wind last night and perhaps some rain.  However this morning it was fairly calm and only some drizzle.  So we decided to go to Cayucis, just about 6 miles north from Morro Bay.  This is a small town with about three blocks of shops and we walked by them and checked them out. 

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The Pier at Cayucos

After the shops, we walked out on the pier.  The skies were really divided.  Out to the northwest, the sky was clearing and you had a great view of the shoreline.

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View to the northwest from the end of the pier

But if you looked south, towards Morro Rock, you get an entirely different impression of the weather!  It is like the pier was the dividing line.

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Looking south from the pier

It was a good view from the pier but the breezes were getting a bit stronger so we terminated the walk and visited “Duckies" Chowder House” for lunch.  Then it was back to the RV. 

Here is a video panorama shot from the end of the Cayucos pier to give you some idea of what we saw today.

View from Cayucos pier

The big winds never did come and neither did the forecasted rain, though there is still some rain in tomorrow’s forecast.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away…….And it Does!

Well, we were forecast to have rain all day today with strong winds including gusts over 50mph.  Didn’t happen.  It did rain some during the night, but it was a light rain.  By morning, it was just a few passing showers.  The wind did come up a bit during the morning, but never got over 28pmh and was pretty much gone by noon.

We had a very quiet night last night with our leveling jacks.  No noise at all.  Too early to confirm the fix, but early results are really promising.  I sure hope this does the job!  Time will tell.

We did get out for a short walk today – maybe a mile or so.  We didn’t plan to do much today anticipating that the weather would be bad.  So we relaxed all day and then did our short walk late in the day.

We have our mail forwarded to us here at the RV park.  So we just received our election ballots and can now vote on a local levy issue.  All the capabilities of home!

Here is a great app for your cell phone……

One of my fellow referees sent me the above video and I think it is an app many would want for sure!

Monday, February 6, 2012

By the Dawn’s Early Light…..

Carol and I have sort of established a tradition already when we come to Pismo Beach.  There is a bakery in town called the “Old West Bakery” and they specialize in rolls.  They make an especially good cinnamon role which the store here at the park resells.

Each morning when the store opens at 7am, they have a limited number of these rolls to sell.  We have decided to have these rolls on Sunday mornings.  So each Sunday morning, I get up before 7 and walk over to the store.  Often there are others there doing the same thing – getting the rolls early before they run out.  So far I have always been able to get two for us, but one day it was close.  Yesterday, I was walking over just as dawn was breaking and the colors in the sky were really pretty.  But by the time I started walking back after purchasing the rolls, the colors were already fading.

After we got up and had our rolls and got organized, we went down to the beach with the car and drove about 5 miles down on the beach and then 5 miles back.  It was a nice ride and we saw Jet Skis, surfers, and ATVs of all sorts.  In fact, there are many RVs that come down and camp in groups further on down towards the dunes.  Our four wheel drive Honda CRV serves us well on beaches as it has no problem with the sand.  When Carol posts her next blog entry, she will have pictures from the beach drive no doubt.  I was too busy driving to really get any.

Then we came home had lunch and watched the game.  I was pulling for the Giants and I finally got one right.  Lately I have had a bad history of calling games and elections – even elections where I count the ballots I can’t get right.  But yesterday, I finally got one right!  Feels good!

Today I did some minor maintenance on our hydraulic leveling jacks.  I sprayed the pistons with silicone lubricant and then used a grease gun to grease the couplings.  Hopefully that will stop some of the strange noises our jacks have been making.  I emailed the manufacturer of the jacks about the problem and that was their recommendation.  We will see if it helps.  I will have to grease them again soon though because it looked like the factory never did grease them when they were installed!

After that we drove down to La Purisima state park.  This is a park just outside of Lompoc, about 55 miles south of here.  It is a California mission that has been refurbished.  You can tour the grounds and go through the buildings and see how the 1,000 people (Spanish and Chumash Indians) lived.

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Above is a picture of sheep in one of the pens at the mission.  There are many displays and they do a lot of living history presentations at the park.

La Purisima Mission State Park

We are expecting a storm tonight with rain and gusty winds forecasted to be in the 50+ Mph range.  But later in the week, it will turn nice again for another 7-8 days at least.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Back in the Saddle

You may have heard about the problem with my bike yesterday as I had posted the details in a comment on Carol’s blog.  To recap, I had a problem when crossing highway 1.  I hit a bump and my bike rack that sits over the rear tires broke.  Actually the horizontal supports snapped.  The 12 pound battery for my hilltopper sits on the rack so it came loose and forced the rack onto the tire which caused a grinding noise and just about made the bike immobile.

I was able to temporarily secure it with bungee cords (biker’s duct tape) and make it back to the RV.  At least we got a 10 mile ride out of all this.  In the afternoon, I went and bought a new rack, this one made of strong metal tubing and can take a weight of 45 pounds.

So today dawned, another nice clear and sunny day, and we went for another bike ride.  This one was 11 miles.  We went from the RV park up to the Soto sports complex in Arroyo Grande.  Even though the ride was relatively shorter than some of our others, it was on rough pavement for a good portion which means more energy to overcome the resistance of the road.  The ride was uneventful and the new rack did a wonderful job.  It is so much more steady that the old one.

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl and I will be rooting for the Giants.  Here is a cute picture which simply says it is not important how you are dressed, what matters is how you are perceived……

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And if you forgot about ground hog day………

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Slipping over to Solvang

Today we made the 60 mile drive to Solvang.  This is a small Danish city that was founded in the early 1900s by three Danish farmers.  The city is built to look like a typical Danish settlement.  We had great weather with warm temperatures in the low 70s and clear, sunny skies.

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One of the two large windmills in Solvang

All through the town, there are little houses mounted on the side of buildings or on the edge of roofs.  When you first see them, they look like bird houses.  But up close you can see that they are actually speaker enclosures.  Apparently the entire town has these speakers all wired together.

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Speaker on the side of a store

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Another speaker on the edge of a roof

In the spring, summer, and fall, the town is usually full of people with crowded streets.  Today we were lucky as the town was fairly empty and it was easy to get around.

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A view down one of the main streets

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A view up Copenhagen street.

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The other large windmill in Solvang

Most shops and common areas have pretty flowers, even in the middle of winter.

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One of the many flower beds in Solvang

One of the more interesting things I saw was an RV that was configured as a mobile Veterinary clinic.  We happened to come upon it as we walked up one of the streets.  They were just pulling out from making a “house call.”

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The mobile Veterinary clinic “Vet’s Here.”

One of the more interesting buildings is one with a clock tower and three bells hanging on the outside.  Every 15 minutes, the clock chimes and on the hour, it plays a melody.

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We then went to the small town of Santa Ynez which has a cowboy theme.  We just drove through the town as we had already done a walk that lasted an hour in Solvang.  So we just checked it out for a future visit.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

24,000 Monarchs–Who is in charge here, anyway?

Every 2-6 weeks, Carol has to go to get a lab test on her blood.  She had open heart surgery in 2009 to replace a heart valve and now she has a medication to thin her blood which has to be adjusted based on what she has been eating. When we are at home, she can just duck into the nearby Kaiser clinic and have it done.  But when we are on the road, it can be a problem.

Being in Pismo Beach for 2+ months exceeds the time-between-tests, so she obtained a “travel letter” from her doctor to give to the local clinic to get the test done.  Problem is, the nearest Kaiser clinic to Pismo Beach is in Ventura, CA, about 3 hours away.

We were planning on making a day trip to Ventura tomorrow for the test (which takes about 90 seconds!).  But during the night, Carol got the great idea to just see what a local lab would charge for the test.  With our insurance paying for the test at home, she only pays about $11, but we were fearful of what the total cost would be.

So this morning we went to the local medical lab to ask about the cost and availability of the test.  Yes they could do it, but the bad news was the cost.  It was $14.97!   For $3.97, we are not driving 6 hours round trip to Ventura.  So she had the test done there and we saved about $70 worth of gas plus 340 miles of wear and tear on the car and got back the whole day tomorrow.

After we came back to the RV, we went for a walk to the Monarch butterfly preserve just south of the RV park.   We walked on a nice path most of the way there.

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Once you get to the preserve, you start seeing lots of butterflies.

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Above is a super monarch with a wingspan of about 2 feet.   OK, this one isn’t real---it is just a wooden enlargement of a monarch mounted to show you are entering the preserve. 

Monarchs come here in November from the Rocky Mountains in November.  Monarchs from other eastern areas go to Mexico to migrate.  They stay here for the better weather until late February when they begin the 1,500 mile trek back to their summer areas.

They cluster on the branches for protection.  When the temperature get below 55 degrees, they cannot fly so they huddle together to protect themselves from being blown away during storms.  Carol and I think they actually invented “snowbirding” way before it became popular with RVers.

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Above is a picture of a cluster of Monarchs in the Eucalyptus trees which they favor for their wintering. 

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Above is a close up of the same cluster.  There are about 24,000 butterflies in this preserve this year.  That’s up about 7,000 from last year.  It seems to vary by how severe the winters are.  While there are numerous areas where they migrate to on the California coast, the Pismo preserve is thought to have the most butterflies.

The video below gives a better idea of what we saw.

Monarchs of Pismo Beach

Below you can see some of the Monarchs sitting on a lower bush in the sun.  Later as it cools, they will return to the cluster.

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After visiting the Monarchs, we walked out to the beach along a path with some rather interesting trees.

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Here is one I call the tree sculpture.  It looks really strange.

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As you can see, we had great weather for our walk.  It only took about 90 minutes total and in the warm sunny weather, it really felt good to get out there.

Tomorrow we are thinking of going to Solvang for the day.  Stay tuned for more of our adventures!