Revolcadores, new astroimaging spot in Southeast Spain

April 2012

My favorite location in southeast Spain, Pinar de Araceli, being as it was a private business (rental of cabins high in the mountain), depended on its economic success to survive. And sadly, it didn’t survive. And so the place was closed “for good” when I arrived Spain earlier this past January. Suddenly I had no clue where to go to do my astro thing…

Some research via satellite imagery, light pollution maps, etc. led me to pinpoint a site, away from a barely traveled road, behind an old house in ruins, in the “Bortle gray” area, at about 5000 feet high, near Revolcadores (loosely translation: rollers), the highest point in the Murcia region, up above 6600 feet.

Best of all, it’s just a 65-70 minutes drive from home!! And mostly freeway, with the road in excellent condition (I can’t emphasize that enough, the freeways here in the Bay Area are an “undeveloped” nightmare in comparison!), no nonsense speed limits, and barely any traffic (on the way back, usually around 4-5am, you could count the number of cars driving in the opposite direction and for 90% of the drive, you’d be lucky if you count more than 10 vehicles), so quite a pleasure to drive, totally the opposite of driving here in the Bay Area! And since driving up to a dark site is a fundamental part of the “dark skies experience” (you do spend many hours driving), this fact alone was really enjoyable.

After a first visit exploring the area, I “signed it up” as my new observing/imaging spot. Good horizons, plenty of space, very secluded area… And of course, very nice dark skies!

I liked it on my very first visit, but 15 visits later I could confirm it’s a really good spot with very nice dark skies indeed, after getting many 21.7+ readings, and virtually every night reaching 21.6+ without a problem. It’s not the Nevada desert, but when you’re under a 21.7 sky (or even 21.6), you don’t _need_ anything darker. Yes, even darker skies would be nice if you have them, but it’s not really needed in order to have a ball or get excellent data. I couldn’t ask for more at just a 65 minutes drive.

Here’s a circumpolar showing “the old house”:

2 or 3 nights the wind was a problem, but that’s like everywhere else. Another unexpected problem a couple of nights was the snow that stopped me from being able to reach the observing spot. After driving a road in this condition for a bit:

or this:

and even (dangerously, aka stupidly) making it through some spots like this one (I was driving a low sedan with rather worn off tires, not a nice 4×4, SUV, etc):

And so, as expected, the 100 feet of gravel road to the spot was with over 1 foot of snow – in other words, undrivable with a “regular” sedan. Still, I managed to find other spots, at least for those two nights. One of those two nights, I accidentally forgot my snow pants and with temps below 15F (-10C), I was literally freezing!! Fortunately the sky was excellent, so I put up with the cold and got the darn data 😉

The other night, well, let’s just say that … yes, I’ve got skunked once!! 🙂 Also out of the regular spot (again, this was one of the two nights when snow was a problem), and just by the road. I NEVER set up next to a road no matter how remote the location is, but that night I just knew nobody was going to drive by, not only because it’s an almost never traveled road, but mainly because with the condition of the road, I knew it would be nearly impossible that someone would make it through the mountain pass. Em… Like I said, I’ve got skunked and I set up all my gear for nothing:

Other than that, all other nights were truly enjoyable (most of them without any snow, by the way). Some of those nights I even “invited” a few local astro friends who also seemed to enjoy the newly found location very much – so much, they all repeated 🙂

Talking about friends and company, a big thank you goes to all of them for the excellent company, and particularly kudos to Onofre for bringing the corner store with him (snacks, hot coffee, good Spanish wine, even some high grade spirits and what not). Onofre is probably the only person I know who would set up a tent for a one-night pack-before-sunrise session:

During all those 15 nights I pretty much only worked on my 54 frames macromosaic of Leo:

I really didn’t do anything else (could I possibly have time??? we’re talking about 54 subframes here!), although one of the nights, during a “break” I also decided to do some quick exposures of the most fascinating comets of the season:

Now I’m spending a couple of weeks back in the Bay Area, but personal matters demand me going back to Spain shortly for at least a couple of more months, so as long as the weather continues cooperating, I’m definitely looking forward to visit this spot – now commonly referred as “Revolcadores” by the local amateurs – very very soon!

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