Sunglow Ranch near Pearce, AZ-May 26-27, 2003
Nestled in the foothills of the Chiricahua mountains, Sunglow Ranch is a great retreat for astrophotographers.
The cloudy weather pattern at New Mexico skies looked relentless. The satellite images showed a swirl of cloud formation reaching northwestward from Mexico and Texas into the Sacramento mountains. The cloud pattern never seemed to reach into Arizona. There was a wall of clear skies to the west that seemed to be an opportunity for eager astro-imagers On the 3rd day of monitoring this activity, Ernie and I decided to make the move: we were relocating to Sunglow Ranch in southeast Arizona. We made a quick phone call to Sunglow to confirm that rooms were available. After a couple of hours packing gear, we were off on the 6 hour trek across the desert southwest. This was my first driving experience in this region. All of my westward trips have been via airlines. Yes, you can see forever. Mountains on the horizon seemed to take forever to reach at interstate speeds. Pecan tree farms, wineries and dust devils would occasionally break the monotony of the brown and rocky landscape. Ernie and I were skeptical that we would reach the break in the clouds as we continued westward. Upon reaching Wilcox, AZ, we knew we had made the right decision to relocate. The clouds were well to the east and the skies overhead were dry and clear.
Arriving at Sunglow, there was a quiet relaxing atmosphere that soothed any anxieties we had about the place. Three concrete pads welcome the astronomer. The pads are nicely sized to accommodate at least one photographic setup if not two. The pads are about 100 yards from the guest rooms. The landscape lights around the campus are extinguished at the end of twilight. The skies are very nice. A subtle light dome is present to the south-southwest and rises just above the mountain ridge. This may impact some exposures of far southern objects once they have passed the meridian. The Chiricahua mountains provide a beautiful backdrop for star trail photography. Other activities include hiking and birding. Sunglow is really a retreat from it all. Don't expect to communicate with the outside world without a fair amount of effort. This truly was a relaxing and enjoyable environment for astrophotography.
This was the first night of imaging on the trip and was actually the first night I had imaged with this setup. I mounted my AP Traveler on a side-by-side plate with a Pentax 300mm lens and the STV Efinder riding on the low end of the 130 rings and plates. Unfortunately, this setup proved to be a little too much for the 600 mount. The work with the Traveler was not up to specs. The 300mm lens work was fine. I did shoot with Provia 400 on the 300mm and really did not like the results. This was unusual as I had previously like the Provia results. At least on this trip, I preferred the E200 color balance and overall presentation vs. the 400 Provia and thus made the switch to all E200.
Ernie Mastoianni was my buddy. Ernie has extensive photographic experience as a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Ernie's setup included a G11 on a home built base with a Nikon 800mm f5.6 lens and ETX guide scope with assorted Hasselblad cameras and lenses riding piggyback.
This brings us to the topic of ambiance. Yes, I can't believe we are talking ambiance on an astrophotography trip, but it was certainly there at Sunglow. Breakfast and dinner are included in the overnight package price. I am not talking breakfast buffet at Hampton Inn. The breakfast and dinner was exquisite dining complete with fine wine at dinner. For me, this is the way an astrophotography trip should be; no worries in the world with the exception of taking good astrophotographs. The Sunglow staff numbers only a handful, but the hospitality is abundant. In just a few hours, everyone on campus will be greeting you by name. We just couldn't help but laugh when we thought of the ambiance we left behind at NMS with nine guys in a house. You know the ambiance that nine guys can create, right? Here we are with fine dining and great company. George and Saul also hooked up with us from NMS. They were enjoying visual astronomy and had been at Andy Homemeyer's place in New Mexico for a visit when they decided to meet up with Ernie and me at Sunglow. We also had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer from California. She was on a personal retreat and took in the hiking opportunities in the Chiricahua area. The fellowship among these friends was delightful. A truly enjoyable experience. One I will not forget.
From left to right: Saul, George, Jennifer, Ernie, and Jeff
Sunglow Ranch is a truly enjoyable astronomical location. I am scheming on how to return to this astronomical retreat as soon as possible, and I may even bring my wife for our second honeymoon!