As I write this, I’m sitting beside a roaring fire watching my husband eagerly researching specs of dust. If only he were this interested in dust when it’s time to clean the house.
I have to admit, he’s right to be fascinated. Until this evening I had no idea that the bright “shooting stars” that sometimes streak across the night sky are just bits of dust left behind by passing comets. How can something so bright, and dare I say magical, be no bigger than a grain of sand? I suspect there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
Every August (around the 10th to the 12th) Earth experiences the Perseids meteor shower. It is arguably the year’s most spectacular meteor shower though things like weather and the phase of the moon impact how visible it will be. Night-sky gazing requires a lot of luck, a bit of planning and a fair amount of patience.
This year we’ve done well in all departments!
Step one to enjoying a night of shooting stars is picking a location that’s reasonably dark. You can find places in the city like large parks or school fields. You can also check with your local astronomy society or university to see if they are hosting any viewing events (which is how I found the one we attended this year).
And what an event it was! Eagle's Eye Restaurant near Golden, BC sits up on top of a mountain. At 7,700 feet above sea level, it’s the highest hotel in Canada. The higher you are, the less atmosphere is in your way and the less light pollution there is. That means telescopes work better and shooting stars are a bit brighter.
The event had three options at different price points —
- “just” the night-sky watching, hosted by an expert who brought a big telescope and giant binoculars for everyone to check out or
- the above with a very yummy buffet dinner or
- the above with an overnight stay at the Eagle Eye Suites.
All of the options included a free ride up the gondola to the viewing area. Oh yes! We got to ride the ski hill gondola up and down the mountain (and over the grizzly bear sanctuary — I had no idea they had one). What a fun, beautiful ride!
The buffet was delicious and guests were a good mix of families with kids of different ages trying something new, people who were passionate about astronomy and a few couples who were obviously thinking a night on a mountain surrounded by shooting stars might qualify as “romantic”, hehe.
There have been a lot of forest fires in BC but luckily there was a big rainstorm on Saturday which cleared the smoke from the air. The skies were a bit cloudy early in the evening, but again luck was on our side and the skies were quite clear from 9pm until 11pm when they clouded over again. That only gave us about an hour of really dark skies to enjoy but that was plenty for the families and romance seekers.
Only the amateur astronomers were left wishing for more and they are a hardy bunch who tend to embrace the luck and patience required by their chosen hobby.
Before the sky got truly dark, our expert host showed us how to use the telescope. It was dark enough for us to take turns checking out the planets.
The timing this year was great with Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars all visible through the telescope. We checked out Venus first since it was scheduled to set before it was even dark. When we looked at Jupiter we could see four of its moons (they looked like stars in a line) and we could just make out Saturn’s rings. And of course, Mars really does look red even to the naked eye.
After playing with the telescope our expert gave a short presentation about viewing the night sky and the Perseid meteor shower.
Then we settled down in chairs or lying on large mats with blankets provided by the resort to watch for shooting stars. It took about a minute before we saw one and it was the most spectacular of the evening. Again, luck was with us and parents were able to take tired tots back down the gondola having accomplished their mission of wishing on a shooting star (and enjoying a really big dessert buffet, hehe).
All wasn’t perfect. There weren’t enough mats or blankets for everyone so we made an unspoken agreement to leave those to the kids while adults strained their necks in the chairs. Hot chocolate would have been a nice addition for the kids (adults had coffee or tea but there wasn’t really anything warm for the kids to drink).
I always wish events like this would have little handouts but they rarely do. A simple little booklet with themed word searches, crosswords, basic information and maybe a connect the dots puzzle would keep kids and fidgety husbands entertained while waiting for the sky to darken. The mountains were gorgeous enough to keep me dreamily mesmerized but not everyone likes meditation time as much as I do.
For this reason, I always packed a little treasure trove of activities to pass the time when traveling as a family. I’m of the opinion that one should never leave home without a deck of cards. I also like to bring along squares of paper to practice simple little origami folding projects... just something to fiddle with while waiting!
And Then It Was Over
By 11:30pm the skies had clouded over enough that Darren and I decided to head to our room. We fall somewhere between amateur astronomers and romance seeking couple (we can be both, right?). The resort provides a bottle of sparkling wine with the room so I enjoyed that with a nice warm bath to take away the chill of a night spent on top of a mountain.
Then we snuggled into our king sized bed and giggled that they should put a big window in the roof. Their suites are all up on the top floor and look like A-frame lofts with pitched wood ceilings. A big window in the roof likely wouldn’t be practical during the winter but it sure would make night sky watching cozy!
In the morning we enjoyed a gigantic breakfast (also included in the cost of the room) and then hiked along both ridge lines. The hikes were spectacular and felt quite safe. We saw a number of families enjoying them.
There are much harder hikes up there in the summer with the most challenging being the Via Ferrata rock climbing experience. Maybe I’ll try that someday? I like that they have a test area by the restaurant to see if you have the physical stamina needed to attempt it (before you find yourself dangling off the edge of a mountain).
They also have mountain biking in the summer (it looks pretty cool though I’m not a biker). I like that you can rent high quality bikes and safety gear at the hill so you can try out the sport.
And of course, during the winter they are a really popular place to ski.
What you need:
- strip of paper about 1/2 inch by 11 inches.
The edges don't need to be perfect so you can just fold and tear a 1/2 inch piece carefully off a piece of a children's menu or coloring page. Whatever you have on hand.
- Tie a knot in your strip of paper.
- Flatten the knot and then tuck the short end into the pentagon shape.
- Flip over and fold the long end back along the pentagon shape.
- Flip over (again) and fold the long end back along the pentagon shape.
- Keep flipping and folding your pentagon shape until the end is too short to fold anymore. Tuck that short end into your pentagon.
- Gently push in each side of your little pentagon shape with your fingernail
And you end up with a puffy little three dimensional star that's about the size of a nickel. They're really fun to make and once you've done it a few times are good fidgety activities to pass the time!
Disclaimer: As always, my opinions are my own. I don’t get free stays or telescopes or bottles of water for writing my reviews. No one involved is ever even aware I’m doing it.
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All photos in this blog post are copyright Leanne Guenther.
Wife, mom and the woman behind the scenes of the DLTK's Crafts for Kids websites. The websites are a terrific hobby -- run by (me) Leanne, a mom with two girls as my official craft testers and my husband as my technical support. DLTK are the first initials of each of the people in my family (I'm the L!). Whenever we send out little cards or whatnot, we sign 'love DLTK' ... when I started the website I used the initials. Had I known the website would get actual strangers visiting it, I would have picked a less mysterious name but we're all stuck with it now!
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