Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

An Aerial Adventure
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2011

Chapter 15

When Mark and Jackie arrived at the Prude Ranch, there werenít many people around, but more kept pulling in during the day with little fanfare, and soon there was a pretty good crowd congregated in the little meadow in the Davis Mountains.

After a while, they set up their tent and their campsite. They had both taken the opportunity to take showers, the first time in days. While Jackie started her letter home, Mark began to set up the telescope. It was a little different than he had become used to; the mount he had gotten in the mail was his original equatorial mount, where the telescope could follow the stars as they moved across the sky by a movement on a single axis, rather than two. The equatorial mount was a lot heavier than the simple little altazimuth mount he had built to take in the plane with him, and it wasnít easy to use, but if he was going to use his telescope for photography, he needed it.

As darkness fell, the place came alive. All over the field, dust covers and tarps came off telescopes that had been set up earlier. As much as Mark wanted to mess with his own telescope, the temptation to explore a bit and see what others had brought overwhelmed him, and Jackie wandered along with him.

Mark had never seen such a profusion of telescopes, of all shapes and sizes. As he had predicted, his own telescope was one of the smallest present; at least there were few smaller. Most, however, were not a great deal bigger.

Of course, they stopped and looked through many of the telescopes. Several of them were pointed at Omega Centauri, the big southern globular cluster that Mark and Jackie had seen through the Florida haze. Even in Markís telescope, they were able to see it a lot more clearly in the Texas sky.

But in bigger telescopes, it was even better. The advantage a bigger telescope has over a smaller one is not only collecting more light, they also allow smaller objects to become point sources, not just mere fuzz balls. In Markís telescope, it was possible to resolve the stars at the edge of a globular cluster like Omega Centauri or M-13, but, in one 12-inch telescope they looked through, it was possible to resolve stars nearly to the core.

With their eyes adapted to the dark, it was easy to walk around the field, lit only by starlight. Occasionally, they would have to use their red flashlights. Mark had warned Jackie that using a white flashlight was a major no-no, as even a glimpse of a bright white light could ruin someoneís hours of dark adaptation. In the darkness, Mark could see a group of people gathered around what had to be the biggest telescope heíd ever seen.

In the dark, it was hard to get a feel for how big it was, but Mark guessed it had to be nearly twelve feet long, with a mirror that could go as big as twenty-four inches. Never having looked through a telescope that size, they got in line.

As the line moved slowly ahead, Mark could see this telescope was not on an equatorial mount, but an altazimuth mount built close to the ground. Even as tall as he and Jackie were, and as low in the sky as Omega Centauri was, it took a stepladder to get up to the eyepiece. Mark let Jackie go first. "My God, you can see all the way to the core," she exclaimed. "This is such a fantastic view!"

"Thatís Omega Centauri," a tall, thin man standing next to the stepladder said in a thin, high, reedy voice. "But I suspect you know that already. If it starts to get out of the field of view, just push on the telescope until itís back in."

Jackie stood on the stepladder studying the globular cluster for a long time. She knew Mark and other people were waiting for a look, but she couldnít tear herself away from the view of the huge ball of stars that filled the eyepiece. It was as if she was standing at the porthole of a starship close by, studying the millions of tiny points of light Ė most of them white, but she could also make out pinkish, yellowish, and bluish ones.

Eventually she let Mark have a look. "Wow!" he said at the sight, "That is just absolutely incredible." He, too, stood there looking at it until he started feeling guilty about the other people who were waiting.

"Come back a little later," the man said. "After a while, weíll have a look at Jupiter. The view you get is very good. You can see all sorts of detail, and the red spot really stands out."

Mark stepped down from the stepladder, and another eager looker climbed up. "Thatís quite a mirror," Mark said. "Did you grind it yourself?"

"Oh, yes," the man said. "Itís a 24-inch mirror, made from porthole glass."

"Iíll bet it took you a while."

"Yes, but I had very little but time when I ground it," the man said. "You see, I was a Buddhist monk at the time, and I was living under a vow of poverty, but Iíve found over the years that working glass is very good for meditation."

"Youíre not a monk any longer?" Jackie asked.

"No," he man said, a bit ruefully. "The master decided that my telescopes were a distraction and threatened to throw them into the bay, so I left the monastery. Even at that point, Iíd had to hide my telescopes around the neighborhood. I often set up a telescope on the sidewalk after dark and let people look at the stars and planets, and, almost every night, a child would say, ĎHey mister, whatís that?í and I would answer, ĎA telescope. Would you like to take it home with you?í"

They laughed, and the man went on, "You see, I have felt over the years that if everyone could see sights like Omega Centauri, like you have just seen, we would all have a better picture of our place in the universe. Since Iíve left the monastery, Iíve mostly traveled around, introducing people to the universe."

"Thatís quite a telescope," Mark said. "I donít want to bother you now, but I want to come over in the daylight and get a good look at it."

Mark and Jackie walked away, to wander on and see what else there was to be seen. "Now, thereís a strange man," Jackie commented. "But heís a very nice person. And what a telescope! I can see how a look through that can give you a different perspective on the universe."

"I can, too," Mark said. "I mean, weíre already used to the concept of such things. But can you imagine some city kid on the sidewalk, seeing something like that for the first time, and what it would do to his view of his place in the universe? I mean, we think of ourselves as being pretty big and important, and even flying across the country, looking out Rocinanteís window, we begin to realize how small we really are."

"Wouldnít it be nice to have a telescope like that?" Jackie said. "I think I would enjoy doing just what heís doing, showing off the sky to people."

"I would, too," Mark said. "I donít think I would want to make a life of it, but when you look at it from his viewpoint, you can see how it would be rewarding."

They slept late the next morning, but not too late, because there were things to do during the day. They sat in front of their tent brewing coffee when a tall, thin, gray-haired man walked by. Mark thought he might be the man from the big telescope of the night before, and spoke up, "So how late did you stay out last night?"

"The moon was long up before the crowds died out," the man said. "I was rather tired after the long drive, but I donít like to put things away while thereís anyone waiting. It must have been two or three in the morning before I crawled into the telescope tube for the night."

"You sleep in the telescope tube?" Jackie exclaimed.

"Oh, yes, Iíve spent many a night there," the man said. "It keeps the rain off quite nicely. You see, I only have to loosen a couple of bolts to take the mirror out. It travels in its own special case, since the cell that holds the mirror is not strong enough to hold it in the tube while Iím traveling."

"Well, sit down, have a cup of coffee," Mark offered.

"Iíll pass on the coffee, thank you," the man said. "I donít drink it, since itís a stimulant. Is this your telescope?" he went on.

"Yeah," Mark nodded. "Iím afraid itís nothing special. I built it myself, back when I was in junior high."

"Why, thatís wonderful," the man said. "By the way, my name is John. May I have a look?"

"Sure," Mark said, getting to his feet, out of courtesy more than anything else. He helped John take the plastic tarp off of his little telescope.

"Very nice workmanship," John commented. He looked around for a minute, then something off in the distance caught his attention. "Perfect," he said, and pointed the telescope off at it. Mark could see him fiddle with the focus. "Very nice mirror," he said finally. "A bit overcorrected at the edges, but certainly not objectionable. I donít see any sign of stress from the cell."

"How can you see all that?" Mark asked, incredulous.

"I never had the money for a testing bench, so I learned how to test the mirrors right from the light of the stars. When you get used to looking at the disk you see when a telescope is out of focus, you can learn quite a good deal about a mirror."

"Thereís no stars out, right now," Jackie said.

"Yes, but all you need is a point source of light. Thereís a raven sitting on a post over there a few hundred yards away, and I used the sun glint in his eye to check the mirror."

Markís and Jackieís mouths both fell open with awe. "I canít believe it," Mark said finally.

John was used to his star tests amazing people, so he broke the silence. "You were in junior high when you ground this mirror?"

"Yes," Mark said. "It was quite a job."

"You did an excellent job," John said. "You have every reason to be proud of yourself. You have the patience to do a very good job on a much larger mirror."

"Yeah, I keep thinking about a larger telescope," Mark admitted. "I guess Iíve got aperture fever, like everyone else. But, it never seemed worth it to go from a six to an eight or a ten, and once you get beyond ten, an equatorial mount really gets to be a handful. But, you seemed to have cracked the problem. Thatís simple, but it really seems to work well."

"I had no choice but to keep it simple," John said. "Aside from the natural beauty of simplicity, I didnít have the tools or the shop to do anything complex."

Jackie smiled. "You mean, like, ĎLife is too complicated. Simplify, simplify?í"

"Youíve read your Thoreau, then," he said. "Yes, thatís it exactly. That man had a lot of wisdom, and his message of simplicity often gets overlooked."

"Well, I want to come over in the daylight and see just how simple that is," Mark said. "I mean, I like the idea of a big mirror, but your tube seems like such a big hog to have to deal with."

"It is big, but simple," John told them. "Again, I didnít have the facilities to do anything more complex, but it works well, too. I can think of ways someone could keep the sheer size of it down, if that was important to them. You donít really need a big tube, when the purpose of the tube is mostly to support the secondary and the eyepiece, and to keep light out. A simple frame of small tubes could provide the support, and a black cloth could keep out stray light."

Mark tried to picture it in his mind. Yes, it could work, he realized, and wouldnít be much more complicated than the big, simple tube. "It all needs to be thought about some," he said. "But I think Iím going to be looking for a piece of big glass."

*   *   *

For the next week, Markís and Jackieís biggest problem was there just werenít enough hours in the day to do everything they wanted to do.

The problem was pretty simple: in the meadow on the Prude Ranch, there were about a hundred telescopes, of which Markís was one of the smallest. Even on the first night, the moon wasnít rising until after midnight, so there was much to see Ė but perhaps more important than looking through their little telescope was the visiting around to other, larger ones, traipsing around, keeping them going until after the moon was up.

That wouldnít have been so bad; in a normal situation they could have slept in the next morning. But the organizers of the event didnít want anybody to get bored; so all day long there were seminars, discussion groups, presentations, and field trips. When those werenít going on, there was always someone to stand around and talk to.

Some of the seminars were rather on the technical side. Jackie, at least, skipped those, in order to keep the sleep deficit from getting too out of balance, and she tried to spend at least some time each day lying out in the Texas sun in her bikini, working on her tan.

Jackie still made it to many of the seminars, at least the ones not totally Greek to her, and she found that, after all this time spent in astronomical discussions with Mark, she understood more than she thought she would.

Some of the field trips were fun, too. One day they boarded a van and rode the few miles over to McDonald Observatory, which stood on the hill overlooking the field of telescopes.

Touring the observatory was lots of fun. Mark had never been inside a big dome, or seen a big research telescope close up. The 82-inch was by now relatively small potatoes as a research instrument, though still on the list of the ten biggest telescopes in the world. Somehow, it seemed old and a little outdated, next to its younger and bigger brother, the new 107-inch telescope that had only seen first light a couple of years before.

"Now think about it," Mark said. "Think of how much better the view is between my six-inch and Johnís twenty-four inch. Thatís about the difference between the view in Johnís twenty-four inch and the 107-inch."

The week sped by rapidly, a maze of days and nights, busy all the time. Mark spent a lot of the time talking telescopes, and Jackie knew that in his sketchbook were some drawings of various ways to do larger telescopes. "Iím getting a lot of good ideas," Mark said at one point. "I guess when we get home again, Iím going to have to find a big glass blank and start in on something a little bigger than what Iíve got now."

Though they were busy, they had a good time and met lots of new people, all of them avid astronomy people. There were plenty of new friends, people to stand around and talk with and people to have a lazy cup of coffee with. Given the common interest, it was easy to meet people, and the conversation wasnít limited to things astronomical; topics ranged from politics to religion, from sex to sports cars, from birds to fishing. It was a refreshing week, and it came to an end all too soon.

A week after they arrived, the new moon came; the sky was free of the moon all night, and the observing ran on until the wee small hours. They got a good nightís sleep, then got up, took a final shower, tore down their tent, and packed up. Among the packing was the box with the extra observing gear, including a few new things Mark had picked up; another box was filled with some extra odds and ends they had accumulated in Rocinante and decided they would not need again on the trip.

Jackie managed to cadge a ride for them back into Marfa from some new friends from Oklahoma they had met, so along toward the middle of the day. They loaded their things into the back of an already-full pickup camper and the four of them squeezed into the front of the camper for the ride to the Marfa post office, then to the airport.

It was good to get back to Rocinante again; it had sat there, faithfully waiting for them like a long-lost friend. This had been the longest time that they had been away from the little Cessna on the trip. It was hot inside the cockpit, as the plane had sat in the sun for days; they opened the doors wide, to let it air out a little, and carefully packed their things back in the luggage compartment. In a week, they had forgotten some of the tricks, but soon they were ready to go. "Where are we heading?" Jackie asked.

"Now that you mention it, I donít know," Mark said. "Ever since we left Florida, weíve been kind of heading for the Texas Star Party. Now that itís over with, I really donít have any plans. You got any ideas?"

"Letís head for another part of the country," Jackie said. "Maybe someplace like Yellowstone National Park. That ought to keep us going for a few days, until we can make other plans."

"Sounds good to me," Mark said, reaching into the folder behind Rocinanteís right seat where he kept the maps, and laid out some WAC charts.

It took parts of four different charts, laid out on the concrete of the Marfa airport, to work out a general plan. "Well, if we head more or less north to about Cheyenne or Casper, in Wyoming, and then turn west, we can stay out of the real high country," Mark told Jackie. "I donít have any experience in mountain flying, and I would kind of like to ease into it, rather than start out in the really high country, which weíd be facing if we head there directly. Not that weíre not going to see some high country, but letís ease into it."

"Youíre the captain," Jackie said. "Iím only the co-pilot, but it sounds pretty good to me. What else is north of here that we might want to check out?"

Mark traced his finger over the WAC chart in the general direction of north. "Not a heck of a lot on this chart," he said, starting to put it away.

"Hey, look," Jackie said, "Right here on the edge, Carlsbad Caverns."

"Yeah, thatís a possibility," Mark agreed.

"Weíve spent the last week looking up," Jackie said. "Iíve always heard Carlsbad Caverns are pretty spectacular. Maybe we need to look down a bit."

A few minutes later, they had Rocinante in the air again. They flew north, up over the Prude Ranch, where they had spent their last week. It was in the middle of the Davis Mountains, so they were up fairly high. The white domes of McDonald Observatory, which held the telescopes that seemed so large, were just tiny pimples below them, and the field where they had spent so much of the time lay very small. They could see, even from their altitude, that only a handful of campers and astronomers were left at the ranch. "I sure would like to go back there, some time," Mark said.

"Maybe next year, if weíre still traveling," Jackie agreed.

It was only about an hour and a half flight to the north to Carlsbad Caverns airport, but after they left the Davis Mountains there was very little beneath them, although they could see the Guadalupe Mountains off in the distance to their left. There were but a handful of landmarks to steer by for most of an hour, but their navigation was good; the airport came up almost right over the nose.

At the airport office, they called the park headquarters and learned they would have to have reservations for the cave tour; the earliest they could get reservations was the next day. They got a rather reluctant permission from the airport managerís secretary to camp under Rocinanteís wing, then pitched their tent and had a late lunch.

After Mark made a couple of sketches of Jackie, they killed the rest of the afternoon getting back to their reading program, which had been more or less put on hold during their busy week at the Texas Star Party. Their reading was more Walden again, and the New Testament. They had finished the Gospel of John at Big Bend, and were now deep into the book of Acts, and they read on and on about the adventures that Paul and other apostles had as they spread the word of Jesus all around the eastern Mediterranean centuries before.

"Iím impressed with the depth of their faith," Jackie commented at one point. "They had to be interesting people. I just wonder what it would have been like to meet one."

Mark leaned up against Rocinanteís wheel, deep in thought. "You donít have to wonder," he said finally. "After all, we met one, just the other day."

Jackie looked puzzled for a moment, then said, "Youíre talking about John, arenít you?"

"Sure," Mark replied, still mentally exploring the idea. "An apostle, wandering the world, preaching the gospel of . . . no, thatís not right, heís a Buddhist, after all. Wandering the world, preaching enlightenment through understanding of the universe. Sharing his message with all who would come and listen to him. I donít think Paul or Barnabas would have been very different from the apostle we met."

The next morning they hiked several miles down to the cave, proper. It turned out they had signed up for a long tour of the cave, one that didnít get started until the middle of the morning. Mark had not realized he was a touch claustrophobic. He was uneasy all through the tour, but that didnít keep him from enjoying the wonders they found underground: some of the huge rooms filled with flowstone, stalactites and stalagmites, and other rooms filled with various intricate crystal gypsum forms too difficult to describe. Carlsbad Caverns were an awesome spectacle, and they were both glad they had come to check it out, although Mark, and to a lesser extent Jackie, were happy to see sunlight and clear skies above them again.

They were lucky to get a ride back to the airport. By now, it was late in the day, and as they walked up to their campsite, the airport managerís secretary waved at them. They went over to talk.

"I caught hell for letting you camp there last night," she told them. "I donít mind, but I hope you arenít planning on staying again tonight."

"We had kind of planned on it," Mark said. "Itís kind of late, and weíre tired."

"Well, Iíd rather you didnít," the woman said.

"How about if we load up our packs and hike a mile or two out into the desert?" Jackie suggested. "That way, we wouldnít be around to bother anybody, and we could get on our way early in the morning."

"Iíd have no objection to that," the woman agreed. "Be sure you take some water with you, though. Itís awful dry out there."

They quickly loaded their packs, keeping them light with the idea of only spending a single night in the desert. They made a fairly short hike, only a mile or so, toward a little ridge that looked like it might make for a shady camping spot.

They found one under some scrubby trees. It was not a great campsite, but it would do for the night. By the time they got their tent set up and had some supper from a can, it was getting dark, and stars were starting to pop out overhead. To the west, they could see the thin sliver of a very new moon setting into the mountains, and they only got to read a little bit from "Acts" before it was too dark to see the fine print.

"Might as well turn in," Mark yawned. "Itíd be nice to get an early start in the morning. Maybe we can really get some miles on."

They were hardly in their sleeping bags when the moaning started. It was low, at first; they had to strain to figure out if they were really hearing something, and they asked each other if they heard the sound, just to prove it wasnít their imaginations.

As the evening went on, the noise increased. It was almost as if there were some animal caught in a trap, crying out in pain; or, perhaps, a ghost.

"You donít suppose it could be a ghost, do you?" Jackie said, as the sound of the moaning increased to the point where it was about as loud as a spoken word between them.

"I donít believe in ghosts," Mark said, "But, I donít know what it could be. It almost sounds like wind blowing through a pipe, or something like that."

The sound came and went, sometimes higher in pitch, and sometimes lower; sometimes louder, and sometimes quieter, but loud enough that neither of them could sleep, wondering what it might be. Once, Mark and Jackie both got out of their sleeping bags and went out into the night, trying to figure out where it was coming from, what it could be. After a while and finding nothing, they were no wiser, and they went back to their sleeping bags and tried to sleep. "I still think itís a ghost," Jackie said.

Though neither of them thought they slept much, they must have gotten some over the course of the night, for when they awoke bleary-eyed in the morning, driven out of their sleeping bags by the heat of the sun on the tent, the moaning had ceased.

"I donít think I slept an hour," Jackie said. "Do you want to make coffee, or do you want to see if we can get some at the airport?"

"Oh, the heck with making any," Mark said. "Letís just pack up, get back to the airport, and get the heck out of here. Maybe we can make a short flight today and find a good place to stay tonight. I donít know about you, but Iím getting about ready for a night in a decent bed."

"I donít know that I need a decent bed," Jackie replied, yawning again, "But I sure need a decent nightís sleep."

Their exhaustion was evident when they walked into the airport office and got a cup of coffee. "You donít look like you had too good a night," the secretary said.

"Didnít sleep much," Jackie said, explaining about the moaning that had bothered them all night.

"Oh, you must have been out around Misery Hole somewhere," the woman said. "It sounds like that a lot. Itís not only at night; it can happen at any time. Sometimes, on a quiet day, you can hear it from here."

"What causes it?" Mark asked.

The woman shrugged. "Nobody knows," she said. "Iíve heard a lot of stories, and some of them are pretty weird. Some say itís the ghosts of some Spaniards that Apaches tortured to death."

"Weird, right," Jackie agreed.

They gassed up Rocinante after they finished their coffee, and set out to the north. The New Mexico countryside to the north of Carlsbad Caverns was empty indeed, and they had to go far out of their way to find roads to follow in their trek northward.

On that day in May, 1971, both Mark and Jackie yawned as Rocinante carried them northward following an empty road across a nearly featureless desert, with mountains far off in the distance. After a couple of hours, they landed at the little town of Santa Rosa for fuel; in country as empty as this was, there was no point in flying with less than half a tank. It was the hottest part of the day, and the heat was stifling. They were pretty well done in, but the airport manager said there was no motel nearby, and even the one in town was nothing to write home about. "I think thereís a good motel near the airport up at Raton," he said.

Raton was a hundred miles and more farther north, but over more settled countryside; they decided to push on for the hour or so and make a short day of it. Perhaps they could get an afternoon nap. It was with some reluctance that they got back into Rocinanteís cockpit and flew on to the north.

Mark tried to figure out a compass course to take them over the next empty wasteland by dead reckoning, and picked out a compass course a little to the west of north, knowing that in fifty miles or so they would come up on Interstate 25. Once they found that, they could follow it northward.

As they came up on the Interstate, they were angling in on a high mountain range. Off in the distance, they could see snowcapped peaks. "It looks like it might be fun to go hiking up there," Jackie said. "Iíll bet it would be fun, up in the high country."

"Maybe later," Mark told her. "Looks like itís still a little cold up there, right now."

At Raton they found that the airport was unattended. "It doesnít look like weíre going to be able to get fuel here, anyway," Mark said. "Maybe we ought to fly on north."

"I saw some motels off by the Interstate interchange when we landed," Jackie said. "But thatís farther than I want to walk, right now."

They were almost ready to leave when they saw a sign on the hangar wall: one of the motels offered a courtesy car. That settled it. "We can get gas somewhere north of here tomorrow," Mark yawned. "Letís see if we can find a place to tie this thing down."

The courtesy car came for them within a few minutes of being called, proving the motel wasnít very far away. Mark and Jackie noticed a pool and a restaurant as the car pulled in, but at the moment, they were too tired to care.

The motel was more expensive than they wanted, but they were in no mood to argue. They carried their packs to their room, not far away, but when they went inside, they discovered it was hot; while there was an air conditioner, it hadnít been turned on.

"Damn," Mark said. "Itís too hot to sleep, until that takes hold, and thatís going to take a while."

"I know we had showers only a couple of days ago," Jackie agreed, "But right now I feel too grubby to want to mess up clean sheets. Why donít we go jump in the pool for a few minutes, while the air conditioner is cooling this place off?"

"Iím almost too tired to care," Mark told her. "Besides, it might wake me up. But, what the heck, I donít think I could sleep in this heat, anyway."

In a few minutes, Jackie was in her bikini, Mark was in his cutoffs, and they were in the pool. The water was quite warm, and it stank of chlorine, but it felt good, anyway; it was fun to splash around and dive.

The motel room was still warm when they got back from the pool, although the air conditioner was gaining. They each took a quick shower, mainly to wash the chlorine off. It was still too warm for pajamas, so Jackie decided sleeping in her bra and panties was no worse than wearing a bikini. Besides, she was too tired to care. By the time Mark got done with his shower and pulled on his undershorts, Jackie was asleep on the bed, and he lay down beside her.

They slept soundly for several hours. Perhaps it was his pure exhaustion, or perhaps it was the smell and feel of Jackie lying beside him, but he found himself dreaming of Mei-Ling, for the first time in some time. In his dream eye, they were back in the hotel room in Bangkok, with the heat and the humidity surrounding them, both of them peacefully asleep. In his mind, he reached out and pulled her to him, and caressed her, and kissed her, and . . .

"Damn it, Mark, what are you doing?" Jackie said quite loudly in his ear.

Somehow, he pulled his mind together from a deep sleep. It wasnít Bangkok, but Raton, New Mexico, and the girl he held in his arms wasnít the little Mei-Ling of his dreams. He looked down, and realized that in his sleep he had unfastened Jackieís bra, and was caressing her bare breast.

Embarrassed, he pulled his hand away. "Sorry," he said. "Just a dream, I guess."

"I thought it was a dream, too," she said, squirming around to get her hands behind her, to refasten the bra. "I guess maybe I was dreaming, and I was really enjoying myself, and then all of a sudden I realized what was really happening."

"Well, I hope you wonít mind it if I say I was enjoying my dream, too." He pulled her close to him, and kissed her.

"Yes," she said a while later, "It was such a nice dream, Iím almost sorry it wasnít real."

*   *   *

Raton, New Mexico

May 28, 1971

Dear Dad and Sarah:

Iím writing this to you from a restaurant. Mark and I had a rather sleepless night last night, so we took a nap this afternoon and just got up.

Last night we were camped out in the desert, down near Carlsbad Caverns, and we kept hearing the strangest noise. It was kind of a moaning, or a howling, and it kept us awake most of the night. The lady at the airport this morning said the locals down there think itís the sound of ghosts of old Spaniards murdered by the Apaches, centuries ago. I donít think it was a ghost, and I donít know what it was, but I do know we were awfully tired when we got here this afternoon.

The Texas Star Party turned out to be a lot of fun! We had a busy week, and met a lot of nice people. The only problem is that we were up most of every night, and then all day following, and we kind of got behind on our sleep.

By rationing ourselves very carefully, we managed to make the cookies last all the time we were at Ft. Davis. Thank you again for them; we really enjoyed them. It was nice to hear from you, and we thought of you every time we ate some.

We flew over an awful lot of desert today. Itís so empty, itís unbelievable, but at the same time, itís pretty in its own sort of way. Most of the way we followed roads, but there were a couple of places where we got away from them, and out away from the roads there is absolutely nothing. Itís totally empty, except for maybe a scattered windmill, or a bunch of cattle here and there Ė really, darn few cattle for all the land we flew over. Iíve seen a lot of old westerns, and even then you donít realize how empty the land must have been for the cowboys Ė and this is now. What must it have been like a hundred years ago?

I guess weíre heading north and then west for Yellowstone National Park, now, but youíd better not send any mail there, yet. I really donít know if and/or when weíre going to get there, and, for that matter, I donít know where youíd send it that weíd find it.

As soon as we finish dinner, I guess weíre going to try and catch up on our sleep some more. Right now, I feel so groggy from lack of sleep that Iím really looking forward to conking out again.



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