We left Austin headed to Alpine, TX. Because it is more than 400 miles, we planned a stop-over in Kerrville. Not much to do there except some grocery shopping, but the campground was great - right off the highway with easy access, wide roads and long pull-through sites.
It took us 6 hours to get to Alpine, but it was a nice easy drive across I-10. I was thankful because Stephanie has us fully book during our stay.....
On Day 1, we headed to the McDonald Observatory which is managed by UT - Austin and is part of the UT Astronomy program. The observatory is located on several summits in the Davis Mountains which were formed by volcanic explosions. The ruggedness of these rocks and lava cones is stunning. The five reasons the observatory chose to locate here (rather than in Austin) are: incredibly dark skies (no light pollution); low humidity; clear weather (250 nights per year); southern location to see deeper into the southern sky; and donated land. . . . not the least reason!
We booked the day tour which included a telescopic view of the sun. They have special filters on telescopes so you can view the sun without damage to the eyes. This also allows close ups of the sun spots and gasses burning on the surface. Next was an up-close look at their 32' telescope with a mirror of around 9' diameter. The guide provided demonstrations on how the telescope is adjusted and moved and how the dome roof is rotated to match the opening with the telescope. We then moved to their newer, larger telescope which has 91 hexagonal mirrors creating one 30’ curved mirror. This construction, in addition to some other factors like it does not move, kept its cost down.
On the way back, we stopped at Fort Davis, a fort that was particularly important during the Indian Wars. This was also an installation in which the Buffalo soldiers were assigned. Several of the buildings have been refurbished, but we did not wander around too much due to the 94 degree temperature.