John Lowry Dobson

When was your last visit to Crater Lake?

It wasn’t long ago, perhaps seven years or so. It wasn’t as good as when Hank Tanski was here. There was no place to give a slide show. The Community House was closed (2).  There were no facilities available to us for showers, so we were unable to shower for five days. The rangers weren’t interested in even looking through our 36-incher that we had transported to the park. I don’t remember whether or not we did the boat tours or not.

Is this present trip the only time you have visited Crater Lake without a telescope?

Yes, I’ve never come to Crater Lake before without a telescope. If feels strange not to have one. I feel like a tourist, especially with this room at the Lodge. I used to sleep in my van or in my 24-incher. We’ve had as many as three people sleep in that, you know.

When we would visit, one person stayed with a sun telescope and guarded our other telescopes. A sign was placed on our other telescopes that read “for night use only.” We would point them at the North Star since we know where the North Star is, even by daylight. Then the rest of us could tour the park by day. This allows us to become familiar with the park by day, and thus allows us to relate our introductions of the night sky to the features of the park as seen by the public during the daytime.

Can you share other experiences you’ve had in the parks?

We tried to do sidewalk astronomy in the Grand Tetons and in Yellowstone, but they could not make the arrangements for us.  We had been to Bryce Canyon, Zion, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Craters of the Moon, Rocky Mountain, and many other places. We still are active at Death Valley and in Yosemite, at Glacier Point. The rangers sometimes don’t always understand what we are about. One time at Glacier Point a security ranger told us that our telescopes would have to by put away by night! [laughter]. Another time we were told that the sky was not part of the park. I countered, “but the park is part of the sky!” A twelve year-old once complimented  our activities by saying, “The programs conducted by the Sidewalk Astronomers are the only programs in the national park not geared for children under the age of nine years!”

I feel that it is very important that the night sky above national parks be treated as a  important resource and that people who visit the parks be encouraged to stay out after dark. With telescopes it’s possible for them to see things they can’t view under city lights. After all, at night we are introducing them to the other half of the park.