NevadaGram #185 – Great Basin Observatory, Nevada Correspondence, Sourdough Slim in Eureka

Sourdough Slim at the Eureka Opera House

Sourdough Slim at the Eureka Nevada Opera HouseStory and video below

 Among the many things they can brag about, the rangers at Great Basin National Park can point to the sky and say, “It gets really dark here at night.”

See the Milky Way at Great Basin National Park, NevadaNot just really dark, pitch dark. Pure Black. Except where public safety demands it, the only light here comes from starlight and as sunlight reflected from the moon.

We’re up high here, where the air is thin, dry and pollution-free, and we’re far from local light sources. These are highly desirable traits in a world where the midnight dark is diluted by ambient light from the civilized habitats of humankind, or the skies are cloudy a lot, or thick with smut.

Great Basin Observatory, Great Basin National Park NevadaHaving visited the Griffith Observatory as a kid and seeing them in movies since, I imagined a substantial structure, lots of concrete, subtly sculpted in a modern style, a secular cathedral for reaching up into a material heaven.

Great Basin Observatory, Great Basin National Park NevadaSo I was surprised to discover that this particular Observatory resembles a giant popsicle. Or a techno-tulip — it’s a metal pod with a telescope inside, elevated about six feet in the air on a concrete pillar.

The pod opens and closes automatically according to the light, and closes itself at night in case of rain. So sensitive is this Observatory’s weather-sniffing technology in fact, that even the appearance of moisture-laden clouds on the western horizon causes the enclosure to slide itself shut.

Great Basin Observatory, Great Basin National Park NevadaIn 2012 Park Ranger Kelly Carroll received endorsement to engage a consortium of schools — UNR, WNC, Southern Utah University and Concordia College (Irvine California) — to conduct a feasibility study. This group reckoned it was feasible, and attached an equipment list, starting with the $210,000 telescope that totaled $720,000.

Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram

Christmas at the Red Dog Saloon, Virginia City Nevada

Christmas Cheer to All!

from Virginia City’s Red Dog Saloon
and all of us at the Nevada Travel Network

Read the whole thing here

Superintendent Steve Meitz went to the Park Service regional office in San Francisco for permission to site the Observatory at a location within the park which had already been vetted and cleared for use.

the CDK700, a 0.7 meter, Alt-Az telescope systemThe GBNP Foundation began fundraising to pay for it, and in November 2015 with contributions totaling $600,000, Board members Linda and Mike Niggli made a gift of $200,000. Construction began in the spring of 2016; the telescope went online in August and was christened on August 25th with a “First Light Celebration”.

The telescope is connected to a small control room a few feet away, which is connected in turn to the internet, and thus to the world at large. The control room isn’t necessary to the routine operation of the telescope; it is managed remotely from southern California where Paul Gardner is still fine-tuning the telescope and its settings in preparation for its classroom use.

Gardner’s firm, Observatory Systems, will manage the observatory for the Operations Committee, made up of the partner universities, which will continue in charge of operations and scheduling.

Great Basin Observatory, Great Basin National Park Nevada“A fully automated observatory is a very complicated system,” Gardner says. “Many pieces of hardware and software have to interact perfectly in order for the observatory to open, remain on the sky all night long and then close safely in the morning.”

There are many entities, ranging from individual hobbyists to agencies of the United States Government, that crave deep-seeing telescope time, and there’s a company out there that rents it. Thus there is a source of revenue to maintain the facility over time, and to fund a college scholarship the GBNP Foundation wants to provide to a graduating senior within the Great Basin Heritage Area.

Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority and the Nevada Travel Network!

Read the whole thing here

Once the telescope is available online, these kids and their teachers can use it according to the K 5-12 curriculum already in use elsewhere. The Foundation is underwriting development of a K-4 curriculum which will be adopted by others around the world in the same way.

Although ranger Kelly Carroll has transferred to Guam — talk about a change of scenery! — the Astronomy programs that inspired him to pursue the Observatory project are still popular under Ranger Annie Gilliland, and attract visitors from everywhere in the world.

Great Basin National Park has been added to the list of Dark Sky Parks and hold a Great Basin Astronomy Festival each year. The 2017 Festival will be September 21 – 23.

As surprising as it seems, thanks to the commitment of all involved, this odd piece of hardware implanted on the flank of a faraway mountain range in eastern Nevada is contributing to education around the world.

For a (quite) different perspective on the Park, visit Horst & Graben at Great Basin National Park

Sourdough Slim played the Eureka Opera House on November 4th, and Robin and I were in the balcony, just as in 2008 when son John was home on leave from Baghdad. He and I had set out on a journey through the sagebrush a few days before, with the show at the Opera House our destination where Robin was waiting with sister Allie and brother Chris.
This time we sat next to a local man who had been a kid in Eureka and had come to the Opera House when it was a movie theater in the ’50s. In those days the local culture provided that only high school kids could sit up in the balcony. Younger kids had to sit on the main floor with mommy and daddy. But by the time it was his turn to ascend the narrow stairway and be a big kid himself, ‘officially’ — the theater had closed. Still, he sits there now.

Fifteen Years Ago in the NevadaGram

On my way to Las Vegas I paused in Tonopah to visit with Bob Perchetti over coffee at the Silver Queen. Bob is a Tonopah native and businessman, formerly the director of the Convention Center and a State Tourism Commissioner.

Silver Queen, Tonopah
Tonopah’s Silver Queen Motel in 2001.

We reminisced for a while about old friends and local characters, which led Bob to recall Melinda Moffit when she owned the Hot Creek Ranch some years back. Bob has hunted chukar in the steep country around the ranch since he was a boy, and one day as he drove past the hot spring pool, Melinda rose up out of the steam, dressed only in turquoise jewelry and tattoos.

What the hell are you doing here?” they both yelled at once.

Some time later Bob invited a visiting friend out hunting, and bragged freely about the size of the birds there as they headed for a likely spot near the ranch. Unbeknown to Bob, Melinda had stocked the ranch with ostriches and emus, but then left for a California visit without leaving enough food for the exotic creatures. So Bob parked and the two of them were preparing for the hunt when they heard a rustling in the sagebrush, turned, and saw a herd of starving, saucer-eyed ostriches bounding toward them at a dead run.

Utterly flabbergasted for a looong moment, they came to their senses in time to jump back into the truck. They ended up giving their sandwiches to the birds while they hunted up more feed.

Read the whole thing here

Slim’s buoyant hops of unquenchable enthusiasm still lift him

only a couple of inches off the ground these days, but his epiglottal dexterity in the Alpine songbook is wider ranging and even more sublime than before. Otherwise my 2008 report is still apt —

“Slim was at his best — although the poor sap still hasn’t figured out how to get his harmonica-holder on and off without snagging it on his ears. He won over the audience with his wide repertoire of friendly old songs from the songbooks of Roy Rogers, Sons of the Pioneers and Riders of the Purple Sage, and he knocked us out with his yodeling. I’d have driven to Eureka just to hear his grand finale yodel. Magnificent! He could be the King of the Alps if he wanted to be. If yodeling were an Olympic event, the Swiss team would have to settle for the silver.”

This video was made with an iPhone from the back row of the balcony and the sound is not great, but even so Slim’s performance of “Yodeling Bill” (a song he wrote all by himself) is yodelicious! —Read more here

Here’s the photo journal of a Wellington-Yerington Road Trip.

THE FLYING MACHINE: Burning Man 2016 By Drone on Vimeo.

Two lesser-known reasons to celebrate our public lands

The Nevada Calendar — December

The interactive daily schedule for the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is now available on the Gathering website and you can access it on your mobile device via the Sched app at the Park, visit and share it with your friends on social media! . . As the snow begins to fall Ely host’s The Festival of Trees on December 2nd, then on December 3rd Ely hosts it’s Christmas Crafters Fair, followed by a Christmas Parade. Click here for details. Then on December 25th go to Ely’s Community Christmas Dinner at the Bristlecone Convention Center. On New Years Eve is Ely’s annual Volunteer Firemen’s Ball. . . Head west on Highway 50 to Eureka for their Christmas Tree Lighting on December 3rd. Follow Highway 50 further west to Austin on December 13th for V&T Polar Express in Carson CityAustin’s Live Nativity. Farther west on Highway 50 leads you to Fallon, where on December 2nd and 3rd you can attend the Sagebrush Sisters Holiday Art Show & Sale. Then on December 31st go to Fallon’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks and Bon Fire. . . Carson City resides where Highway 50 meets the Sierra Mountains, and on December 2nd check out the Carson City Silver & Snowflake Festival of Lights. Also starting on December 2nd is the Carson City V&T railroad’s Carson City Santa TrainPolar Express Train that is scheduled for December 2nd through 4th, December 8th through 9th, 10th through 11th,  15th through 16th , 17th and 18th and 22nd and 23rd. Click Here for further details. Carson City’s Santa Train is at the Nevada Railroad Museum on December 3rd and 4th,  10th and 11th and 17th and 18th. On December 11th go to the 33rd Annual Holiday Treat Concert. . . Up on the Comstock visit Silver City on December 3rd and listen to Poet David Lee in Silver City at  2:30pm to V&T Candy Cane Express5:00pm. Up the hill in Virginia City check out the 3rd Annual Holiday Faire on December 3rd. Also starting on December 3rd and 4th and again on the 10th and 11th is the Virginia Truckee Railroad’s annual V&T Candy Cane Express. Virginia City’s Parade of Lights is scheduled for December 3rd at 5:00pm. Then on December 11th is the Gingerbread Social at Piper’s Opera House. On Festival of Trees and Lights at MontBleu Resort Casino & SpaDecember 31st attend the “In a New York Minute” New Year’s Celebration at 10:00pm, then head over to the Red Dog Saloon for the year’s finale. . . To the west Lake Tahoe host’s it’s Festival of Trees and Lights at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa on December 1st through the 4th. Then on December 2nd through the 10th is Winter Ignite, Heavenly’s Season Kickoff Festivities! On December 10th the Tahoe Adventure Film Festival will commence at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa. On the north end of the lake go to the Northern Lights Festival on December 10th. On December 29th through the 31st Lake Tahoe host’s it’s SnowGlobe Music Festival. On December 31st come on up to Heavenly Holidays New Year’s Eve Celebration. . . Down the hill in Reno come on out to the Magic of Santa Art & Crafts Faire at Reno Livestock Events Center on December 3rd through the 4th. Also on the 3rd and 4th is the 8th Annual Craft Fair at Damonte Ranch High Reno Phil: Spirit of the SeasonSchool. Then the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra commences Spirit of the Season. On December 10th bring the whole family to Wilbur D. May Museum, Rancho San Rafael Regional Park for it’s Gingerbread House Competition & Festival. Also on December 10th go to the Urban Roots School off west 4th for A Handmade Holiday. . .  Across the pond in Sparks come on out to Hometowne Christmas Celebration on December 2nd and 3rd. Then on December 9th visit 39 North Pole Village. The 15th Annual Tommo Native Craft Fair is scheduled for December 16th and 17th. The on December 19th Big Heart Masquerade Ballthrough the 21st brings your youths to a One-Day Holiday Art Camps at Larry D Johnson Community Center. Then on December 31st attend the Big Heart Celebrate Christmas in GenoaMasquerade Ball. . . South down Highway 395 in Carson Valley Celebrate Christmas in Genoa on December 2nd. Then on December 3rd go to the 21st Annual Parade of Lights in Minden. Also on Deceber 3rd go to the Douglas County Historical Society’s Holiday Gala. The Carson Valley POP’s Winter Concert is scheduled for December 10th. Then on December 31st is the 3rd Annual New Year’s Eve Candlelight Labyrinth Walk in Main Street Gardnerville. . . Headed east on Interstate 80 will take you to Lovelock for their Small Town Christmas celebration on December 3rd. . .  In Winnemucca is their annual Christmas Craft Show
on December 3rd and 4th. . . Follow Interstate 80 farther east to Battle Mountain3rd Annual New Year's Eve Candlelight Labyrinth Walk
for their Festival of Trees that lasts through Dec 3rd. Also on December 3rd is Battle Mountain’s Cookie Walk, Christmas Craft Fair, Parade of Lights. In Carlin
on December 10th is the Sugar Plum Square and Carlin Light Parade. . . Elko host’s it’s 40th Annual Elko Christmas Bazaar. Then attend Elko’s Polar Plunge at 2:00pm, then at 5:30pm the SnoBowl Spaghetti Feed
at 5:30pm. On December 10th participate in the Snowflake Festival 5K, then the Parade of Light at 5:00pm. . . In Yerington on December 23rd you won’t want to miss a concert featuring Lacy J. Dalton at the Yerington Theatre for the Arts. . . Trek south for winter on Highway 95 to Pahrump
for the Best in the Desert Pahrump Nugget 250 “Race for the Gold” on December 1st through the 4th. In southern Great American Comic ConNevada on the east side go to Mesquite for their Parade of Lights and Tree Lighting on December 8th. In Boulder City on December 2nd and 3rd attend Boulder City’s Christmas Tree Lighting, Christmas Arts & Crafts Fair
Santa’s Picture Party, Santa’s Electric Night Parade and Holiday Bazaar. Henderson’s Winterfest is scheduled for December 8th through the 10th. Take advantage of the cooler weather and join the Run Laughlin Half Marathon and 5K on December 3rd. In Las Vegas on December 1st through the 11th attend the Stetson Country Christmas. On December 3rd and 4th Vegas host’s the Great American Comic Con. Go to a Cowboy Christmas on December 1st through the 10th. Don’t miss the big shindig in Las Vegas on December 31st, America’s Party – Downtown 2017.

— Parting Shot

Bluebirds in the Snow

Mountain Bluebirds, Nevada’s State Bird, in the first snow of winter, Photograph by Barb Swetzof-Lund



  1. Hello Dave,

    Some great stuff! I was particularly interested in the GBNP observatory. Can the public go into it and use it if we are there? Probably not but just asking?

    • Unless there’s a special event of some kind there’s nothing much to see or do. The observatory can be controlled from the small cinder block building nearby, but routine management is done from Pasadena California. There are to be large monitor panels at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center (and maybe at the one downhill too; I just don’t know all the details) which will display images from the telescope. To see it take the service road that takes off to the left as you approach the Lehman Caves Visitor Center from Baker and follow it past outbuildings and employee housing to the end. Fascinating to see even from the outside!

  2. Hi David & Robin,
    Great NevadaGram. So much good info packed into your travel magazine. Thanks so much for the kind words, excellent article and video on yours truly. Yodelicious, ha! It was so good to see you all again.


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