This is Part Two of my two-part post on my latest trip to Big Bend, TX. This post just covers the last day and a half we were in the area, but I saw a meteor fall from the sky and it deserves it’s own spotlight (get it? Because a meteor is a spotlight in a dark, starry sky? Ok, ok, no more dad jokes.)
We finished the remainder of our trip in Fort Davis, TX, and Marfa, TX, before heading home to Austin,TX. Fort Davis has this amazing old hotel called Hotel Limpia. If you stay in town (either because you are visiting the observatory or the fort and state park, stay in Hotel Limpia. They have light switches that are circles you push into the wall! It’s that old. There is also a wrap around porch, purrrfect for reading, and a hotel cat that will curl up with you (ok, maybe I’m not done with the dad jokes).
If you have a few days in West Texas, I highly recommend going to the McDonald Observatory. There are only six observatories in Texas, and the McDonald Observatory is home to one of the largest telescopes, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. They offer day tours and night tours, both equally enchanting and educational. For this trip, we decided to go with the night tour (our second time doing this event–yep, it’s that good!)
We arrived at the observatory around 7:45pm, just in time to see the sun set and the stars begin to peek out of the sky. We pre-ordered tickets to their Star Party, the outdoor night tour of constellations and other galactic phenomenon, which started after sunset around 8:30pm (make sure to pre-order tickets if you go!). Huddled in an outdoor auditorium, our guide and his very powerful green laser (as in, “you could go to jail for a very long time if you tried to steal it” powerful) pointed out the more common constellations, described the less common knowledge about the constellations, and showed us how far the earth has “wobbled” since astronomers first documented the night sky over 5,000 years ago. FYI, we wobble A LOT (cut to the looped meme of the wobbling cat and Shaquille O’Neal). Our North Star is actually like the third North Star documented by astronomers. Mind. Blown.
We also waved to the International Space Station and saw the station experience “sunset” as it traveled into earth’s shadow; viewed our zodiac constellations in a line, in the sky (P.S. due to this whole wobble effect, your constellation is actually a month or so off from its original documentation…so, though I am an Aries, Pisces is actually in the spot Aries once was); saw many shooting stars (which my brother informed me aren’t actually stars dying #englishmajor); and looked through more than 10 telescopes! Through the telescopes, we saw new stars, old stars, Jupiter and its moons, and star clusters. I don’t remember all of the scientific words, but this stuff was fancy star stuff, y’all. That being said, I do remember some of the star names. Draco, Bellatrix, and Sirius ring a bell to anyone? JK Rowling definitely looked to the stars for her answers.
After the constellation piece of the tour, everyone was invited to tour telescopes that showed all that was pointed out by the green laser. Here is when the magic happened. While we were all dispersed in the telescope lines, a meteor came into the earth’s atmosphere. THIS HAS TO BE ONE OF THE COOLEST THINGS I’VE EVER SEEN. You can’t plan this stuff, we were just in the right place at the right time. I was standing in line to see the star cluster in Ursa Major (the fancy name for the Big Dipper) when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the fields near the auditorium light up in green. At first I had thought someone stole the green laser! But simultaneous to this light, I heard a lot of excited “ooooo’s” and “OMGOMGOMGs.” Swinging around, I saw a meteor falling front and center in the sky. It was as bright as a firework but condensed into one, big ball, and it fell fast! It stayed together for about two seconds before breaking apart, turning even brighter green, and disappearing. SO COOL.
Later, I found out my aunt and uncle had been talking to the tour guide at the time the meteor appeared. The guide said that he suspected the meteor was the size of a golf ball and fell to the earth a few miles from the observatory. You know what I think? I think the universe gave me a belated birthday gift in the form of a falling meteor. So, now I would just like to take the opportunity to say back, “Thanks for that TOTALLY awesome gift, Universe! *wink wink.*” The universe and I are totally tight.
Back at the hotel, I drank a beer while taking a bath in our clawfoot tub (because of course Hotel Limpia has clawfoot tubs–just ask for one!), and reflected on all that I had seen this trip. It was a trip of rarity. Between having extended family meet up with us, seeing all the activity in the night at the house, meeting the javelina, experiencing so much of the park in one day, and then ending the trip with a meteor gift from the universe, it was a trip for the books. Sometimes you need these trips to reset, and I was sure grateful for the opportunity that was presented to me with this one. Keep your eyes open for those rare moments, friends. They can be life-changing.
The next day, we headed back to Austin, but not before stopping by the seemingly underwhelming Marfa, Texas. At this time, I invite you to see my photo blog, “Marfa in Photographs,” as there is not much to say about the very small town. Also, in true Marfa fashion, it needed its own space to feel special.
Overall, this trip was an amazing way to bring in my 27th year. To put into perspective just how much I love Big Bend, this was my 18th time out there, I hated leaving, and I can’t wait to go back. It’s dusty, odd, hot, and not for everyone, but if you appreciate the nature of this place as I do, visiting will be a magical and healing experience (and you may even get to see a meteor fall from the sky…but only if you are in the good graces of the Universe). Until next time, Big Bend!
If you missed “Big Bend: 2017 Edition, Part One–Yellow Jackets, Javelinas, and Beer-drinking Goats” click here!
Have you been to the McDonald Observatory? What did you take away from the visit?