In honor of tonight’s glorious full moon, I think I’m going to write about the Black Rock Observatory. (I know, it’s an FB link. I’ll put one to the last completed crowdfunding campaign at the end, but I didn’t want y’all to think I was directing you to donate. Yet. 😉 When the next crowdfunding goes live, though, I might bring it to your attention…)
At any rate, some of you may be wondering what the Black Rock Observatory (hereinafter BRO) is, and what does it want?
Well, it’s an observatory, just like it says on the tin. Specifically, a pair of wooden domes designed by artist Gregg Fleishman, and first set up in Black Rock City — the temporary city in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada where Burning Man takes place — as part of Burning Man 2014: Caravansary.
Black Rock Desert → Black Rock City → Black Rock Observatory. See? Makes perfect sense. 😀
Of course, you can’t have an observatory without a telescope, and the BRO has a handcrafted 20″ Dobsonian scope by way of the 2014 campaign. It goes in the larger of the two domes, which is mounted on a circular metal track so the whole thing can rotate to find the best piece of sky to view at any given time; the smaller dome is part solar observatory, part presentation space.
“Yes, that’s all well and good…but WHY?”
Because there was this guy who thought Burning Man would make a great place to stargaze.
I’m not trying to be obscure, it’s just…the nuts and bolts of the project aren’t really my focus tonight. What is, is what I’ve gained from it.
Last year was my first Burn, and when I was still early in the planning stages, two of my friends separately referred me for advice/planning wisdom, etc., to friends of theirs who had multiple Burns under their respective belts. And on finding out I was most likely going to be camping by myself, both these people recommended I volunteer for something, whether on the playa (that is, the alkali lake bed where Black Rock City comes into being) with one of the groups directly affiliated with the Burn (the Lamplighters, Playa Census, Lost & Found, and so on) or with a group that would be taking a project to the playa. The idea was that having SOMEthing to officially connect with while I was there would keep me from feeling too isolated…and considering how much time I spend alone anyway, I thought that was a great idea.
So I found the local Burner group and volunteered with their project, and by way of the fact some of the same folks were working on the BRO project too, I found out about the build days for the prototype dome. Missed the first one but made the second, and even wound up getting rather a lot of face time in a video taken of the second build day by a photographer/videographer visiting from Reno, which amused me no end. I must have looked like I knew what I was doing. Had him fooled, I did.
What clinched it for me, what moved me from “person making a donation” to “volunteer for hard work beforehand, middle-of-the-night shifts and teardown at the Burn”, was the people I met the day I took two buses, the subway, and another bus to the artist’s workspace just east of downtown. Amazing people, more welcoming that I expected to someone who was not only a complete stranger, but who isn’t necessarily handy when it comes to building/assembling/sanding/filing and such — I was there to help, and that’s what mattered.
I had so much fun that day I went back for the next two working days: the teardown of the prototype and the load-the-truck day that I actually spent assembling a model of the dome version 2.0. And volunteered for midnight or 2:00 AM shifts at the BRO on the playa, and the first day of teardown at the end of the Burn.
And did most of it again this year, except I couldn’t make it to the refurbishing days, but I made the planning calls instead, and volunteered for shifts on the playa again, and had another great time.
It isn’t just the stargazing. It’s the friends I’ve made because of this crazy thing in the desert and their dream to set up a telescope at Burning Man and show people a glimpse of the universe we live in. I am so very, very lucky to have met them.