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This year, Rick and I had plans to attend the Grand Canyon Star Party for a few days then head to Socorro, New Mexico to see the Very Large Array for something new for us this year.  From there we were going to hop in on the Los Almos Star Party at some mountains at approximately 9500 feet elevation then head back home.  But as most things this year for IYoA, it was forecasted rain and cloudy for the week at the Grand Canyon so within 24 hours we opted to take our vacation elsewhere in the total opposite direction.  We went back down to the Florida Keys to absolutely do nothing but work on our tan.  It was paid for courtesy of free hotel stays from Rick’s many business travels.


Even though we were going to be booked solid with nothing but lazy’n around pool side, we decided to take our telescopes because of the great southern exposure we witnessed last year with Rick’s binoculars alone.  We packed my 10 inch Celestron, Rick’s Orion 90 short tube, his 15 X 70 Garrett Optical binoculars and his Meade ETX 90 go-to scope along with bathing suits and a few pairs of shorts and sunscreen.


To our surprise when Rick booked the hotel in Key West, his diamond status availed him to an upgrade from his usual room selection.  The room in Key Largo was upgraded as well and we stayed at the Hilton, with a sea side view and a very nice large suite.  We got a glimpse of how “they” travel and the lifestyle “they” live.  Since this was a first for us, we did take advantage of the pool, room service and the 80 plus degreed Gulf of Mexico.  A storm came by and it was beautiful to watch from the balcony or through the sliding glass doors across the whole one side of the room.   (we did not feel too bad taking money out of Paris’ trust fund)


So, on to Key West the next day and of course we had to make a pit stop for me at The Theatre of the Sea Marine Life Park to visit my friend Duffy the dolphin.  He was there and I did my wading and visiting with him AND Stormy since there was a family of five with me we shared dolphins and the time in the lagoon together.  So after receiving a special gift from Duffy, its time we head down to the southern most part of the United States. 


Our hotel upgrade was at the Crowne Plaza on Duval Street which officially is called, The La Conch Hotel (pronounced konck) where Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Ford as well as Truman stayed at one time or another.  It is seven stories high and was built in 1927, and this is where the play, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, was conceived.  Staying on Duval Street can be compared to “Spring Break for Adults”, or very similar to Hollywood Boulevard in California, a stones throw from my home town.  There are people in various states of dress, cross dress and distress.  (several alcoholic bums needing funds for “food”)


We know from last year, that the Conch Republicians, native Key Westins, take their sun sets very seriously and have in fact created the ritual to toasting to the sunset.  So, as the sun makes its way to the west, when in Key West……. people flock to the harbor, seaside, and tops of hotels to take in the spectacular sight. 

Sunday night when we arrived, we had gone up to the roof top around 9:30 or so to see what viewing options we would have.  Fortunately, one side of the building on the south side did not have lights on the building or a wooden trellis to work around.  Of course we did ask for permission just to be on the safe side.  So, on Monday night we decide to head to the roof top in the tiny, crowded elevator to watch the sun’s last performance for the day.  People with various European accents and languages patiently waited with cameras and drinks in hand, for the sun to continue its descent into the sea.  As the sun got lower, the ocean picked up its reflection and the molten, yellow glow, looked like the sun was melting into the water.  It continued to sink, and created a sight unlike any Oklahoma sunset we’ve seen. Of course we waited to see that green flash but that didn’t happen. (sorta can see the melted sun in the water)


As soon as the sun goes down, the rooftop watchers flood the elevators to head down to Duval Street and continue their “socializing.”  We make our way down to the front desk to request a cart for all our telescope equipment.  An attendant named Phil, who welcomed us when we arrived the night before, grabbed a cart loaded it up, and navigated the cart through the hallway, up the tiny elevator to the roof top.


We tell Phil what we are doing and he said to let him know because he wanted to come take a look later.  We looked around and there were only a handful of people just chatting.  We got the Orion 90 short tube and binoculars set up and I went out and about to gather observers.  Rick had Saturn in the short tube and Omega Centauri in the binoculars, and I had approached this couple next to where we set up.

As we all know, the world is very small, this couple Brannon and Lynn were from Tulsa, down there to host a wedding a year after their elopement.  They were speaking to a gentleman Dave, who is the events coordinator for the Hemingway House.  As the couple came to view, I pointed out Scorpio to Dave and he mentioned he happened to be a Scorpio and that was the first time he had that pointed out to him.  He looked through the binoculars and shared some history with us about Key West (he is a native) then thanked us and left. Rick and I engaged in a conversation and with Brannon and Lynn and kept putting various things in view for them to peak at.  The viewing highlights for the evening were M4, M7, M6, M8, Mell 111, Omgea Centauri Scorpio, Sagittarius, Leo and Saturn, Brannon was interested in our schedule so we may see them at a public star party or at one of the side walk events.  He gave me his card that happened to have a black hole and quasar on it.  So that got us talking for another few minutes.  They headed out and off I go again to round up some willing viewers.  I go to the northern roof top and there are a few folks over there that follow me back to our observing site.


The couple that followed me were ranchers from Pennsylvania who admitted they still have a telescope in a box at home.  They took a look-see and I encouraged them to take their scope to a local club for help to assemble it and a quick lesson on how to use it.  They admitted they were procrastinators and that they would maybe do it someday. A young couple from Indiana and another couple from Ohio came over and they got the same show and they were so excited to see Saturn and a couple of his moons.  When Rick told them that Omega Centauri could not be seen from where they lived they were impressed.  They thanked us and left.  We also had a Cuban couple who moved to Florida years ago peak at Saturn.  They enjoyed the sight. (to the right)


It was now a little after 10:00p.m. and there was no one up there to grab.  I head down to the front desk and on the first floor people were coming in to the elevator and I told them about Saturn in our scope on the rooftop.  They thanked me and up they go, and off I go to the front desk where Phil, Tony, and their boss Jennifer were there.  I asked if any of them would like to see Saturn and they all take off.  Jennifer said she would stay there until her guys got back.  As we round the corner, Tony invites a maintenance man to tag along.  In the elevator the maintenance guy said that he has a telescope he uses but with his night schedule, he doesn’t get out as much as he wants to.


We get to the top and there is one of the ladies that entered the elevator on the first floor when I got off.  She lives in Tampa, and said she used to view all the time.  She likes to do lunar observing and I mentioned about joining the Astronomical League to get a certificate.  I told her it would keep her motivated to view.  She said she would look into it.  She thanked me and left.  By this time, the Crown Plaza staff is at both pieces of equipment.  They were pretty excited about Saturn and engaged in a short conversation with Rick since they needed to get back to work.  They leave and a few minutes later, here’s Jennifer the manager.  Rick gave her the same tour as the guys and she commented that the information from her classes were coming back to her as Rick spoke.  She thanked us and headed back down to the front desk.  We broke down the equipment and called it a night.  We didn’t do too badly for our first roof top sidewalk event.