The Okie-Tex star party is held every September around new new moon at camp Billy Joe in the Oklahoma panhandle. Friends have told me that the skies are better than the famed Texas Star Party, and that attendance often swells past 500. Hint… hint… “Richard, it’s a great star party to attend as a vendor”.
So this year I did, or rather we did. Steve Bisque and I both were in Maui for another conference that overlapped the Okie-Tex this year so we could not make the entire week, which is a shame because I understand the weather was phenomenal until we showed up! After a day’s recuperation and repacking, I flew to Denver to rendezvous with the the rest of the Bisque crew, and we drove down that Wednesday. We had quite the caravan, with one SUV, and a large pickup truck towing a trailer full of goodies. Steve Bisque, his daughter Sarah and her new husband Scott along with Don McFarland (production manager) came with me and we brought five Paramounts. One of each model, save the largest Taurus 600.
It’s about a 5 to 6 hour drive down from Denver, and the site is quite remote. The last 30 minutes or so is all via dirt road with the only infrastructure around being farming communities. Hilariously, I had just switched my cell phone service from AT&T to Verizon because I was tired of my friends with Verizon all having cell service at star parties when I did not. Of course, this time the universe had the last laugh and only AT&T cell service was available! Fortunately the camp had WiFi service and I was able to send smoke signals back to my family upon occasion, and check on social media and emails. Although the WiFi did go up and down a few times, it was much better speed wise than many other star parties I’ve attended.
Five Paramounts on the field was a hit, and I recount some of this on my Software Bisque blog. We brought a few telescopes, including a large 20″ to put on the big Taurus 500 equatorial fork. I carried my Veloce along on the flight and shipped an imaging train based on the FLI Microline 16200. This is an amazing imaging setup, and it was the only mount imaging ready for the star party we had setup. The others were mostly for show, except we did put a solar scope on the MX+ during the day. I hate flying with imaging gear, and would much rather drive from home, but this was just too far for that to be practical.
A week long star party greatly increases your chances for clear skies, and the previous nights were “glorious” if friends also in attendance are to be believed. We were there just two nights however, and the skies were mostly either cloudy, or hazy most of the time. We had
some fun with the Veloce doing short exposures of several objects just to show Sarah and her husband what raw data looked like coming off the scope. I managed a decent Milky Way shot the second night, and got almost enough data on the horse head region to make a decent image. I got enough of a sampling of good skies to make me lust for more. These were quite simply the darkest skies of any star party I’ve ever attended. It was a close match to my favorite, and darkest sky site I know of in the Dry Tortugas (and much easier to drag a lot of equipment too!). I was very impressed with the Milky Way at the Nebraska Star Party last year, but the Okie-Tex Milky Way wins hands down. It was truly awe inspiring.
A shiny ring was exposed at the front of my light shield on the Veloce, and that created a little artifact on the
horse head (you can make out the ring from Alniltak). Internal reflections are always a challenge no matter what optic you use, but at f/3 those curves are dangerous at high speeds! A little additional velvet at the front will nip that in the bud for next time.
The location for the star party is simply beautiful, especially for me being from the eastern US I’ve only seen terrain like this on TV westerns or on the occasional visit out west. The web site showed just north of 300 registrations, but the registrar on site said we had close to 500 people total. I’m not sure the reason for this discrepancy, but it certainly did feel like a 500 attendee event. There were several other vendors in attendance as well, and a meal service was provided that was quite good for star party food. Certainly more convenient that us cooking meals while also trying to “work”.
Also of importance is that ample power was available. This is great for imagers, or anyone who needs to charge batteries, laptops, etc. Power was not available on the “RV Scale”, but certainly enough to run your imaging or visual rig for the night. The weather was warm during the days, and cool at nights, and hot showers were also available. I would not call this “glamping”, but fussy people who like to stay in hotels would not likely be comfortable; an RV might be a better choice for them. I grew up camping, so I rather enjoyed it.
The area around the Black Mesa is a natural history wonderland. There is a nearby volcano (extinct) you can visit, native american petroglyphs, and a friend took me to a spot where there are preserved dinosaur tracks in a creek bed! The next time I attend, I will make some extra time before or after the star party to do some additional sight seeing. I’m a sucker for museums and nature hikes, and opportunities for nature photography abound. Alas, two days “working” was not enough to truly sample the area as a tourist. Next year our conference in Maui falls right over the new moon, and not only intersects, but completely overlaps the Okie-Tex. Instead of imaging from great Oklahoma skies, I will have to settle for the peak of Haleakala. Something tells me I will be okay with this.