I refuse to be undone from the latest pandemic setbacks.
Neowise is in town.
Also named C/2020 F3, the comet has been wowing earth-bound audiences in the Northern Hemisphere since its appearance around the beginning of July. The comet, which spans three-miles across, will mark its closest approach to Earth on Wednesday, July 22, at a distance of about 64 million miles, according to NASA.
Neowise stands for “Near Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer.” Like Halley’s Comet seen every 75 years—and last seen in Palos Verdes Peninsula skies in 1997—Neowise will pass Earth and not be seen for another 6,800 years or so.
With that in mind, on a whim about 2 p.m. last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I decided to take 142-mile drive to Red Rock Canyon in the desert to glimpse the comet, which is totally illusive when looking at harbor lights in the night sky.
I made a sleeping pallet in the back of the SUV, packed too many pillows, a healthy salad and lazy nibbles, dog food, lots of water, lawn chairs, sweats to sleep in, and set out for the highway.
Two seniors and a poodle-terrier on the road “lookin’ for adventure.”
We didn’t know if the campground was open and didn’t really care where we would pull off to sleep if the occasion arose. We are seasoned highway travelers, albeit a bit longer in the tooth than our last cross country trip in a comfy 32-foot long motor home.
As we drove along Interstate 14, the temperatures began to rise to 106 degrees. By the time we got to the Red Rock Canyon campground around 5 p.m. the Sorento guage said it was 102 degrees.
I wasn’t going to need sweats to sleep in back of a car that suddenly looked very small.
When we got to Red Rock, the campground had been only open for two days and was still almost deserted. We got our first site choice against the backdrop of spectacular buttes and cliffs.
Red Rock Canyon State Park is located at the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada. Dramatic colors and shapes define each tributary canyon.
It’s a lovely place to climb and explore for kids and adults alike. The canyon’s history is colorful, filled with movie making, 20-mule team wagon landmarks and is now protected because of its many paleontology sites.
The only wildlife we encountered were a few chipmunks, a couple of sparrows and huge, black army ants that converge in the hundreds at the inadvertent drop of a cheese nib—okay, I was curious.
It was far too hot to explore for any body with a heavier blood flow than lizards, so we hunkered down for the next five hours until we would be able to see the comet.
I took a nap in the not-so-soft bed of the KIA with the motor running and air conditioning on. Jim sat in the shade of the cliffs contemplating the stark beauty of our surroundings.
When the shadows crept well over the valley in front of our campsite we took a walk and explored some of the crevices. We climbed mounds that didn’t seem so tricky 17 years ago when we camped with friends and Shellby, our 13-year old granddaughter.
While Jim and Lambchop surveyed a gully, I managed to construct a small, two-foot high, impossible-looking stone stack.
Rock balancing can be a hobby, discipline or for some, actual art. A practiced eye may see stacks on many of the Palos Verdes Peninsula trails. Stones are placed on top of each other without the help of glue, wires or any support. Each stone is placed to perfectly balance out the ascending stones. The endeavor takes patience, a real “want to,” or having nothing else to do.
Around 9 p.m. we needed to move to more open ground to see the comet. Others were also skittering around in the dark near our vantage point.
One young adult approached (at arm’s length) and showed us an app on his cellphone displaying the position of the comet, as well as all the constellations in the sky.
Finally, about 9:30 p.m. the comet’s fuzzy tail began showing in the North Western sky just below the Big Dipper.
By 10 p.m. the brilliant constellations, Milky Way and shooting stars rather stole the show from Neowise whose tail had come full bloom, but was still not as pronounced as Jupiter or Orion’s Belt.
We slept intermittently that night with all the windows open.
As I peered out from time to time to view God’s wondrous canopy, I thanked Him for letting us share this moment of normality with Neowise and always—whispered a prayer for a more peaceful world.