Academics in Action

​Stargazing and S’mores in Joshua Tree National Park

by Amanda Edwards ‘13

I HAD JUST FINISHED A LONG WEEK OF CLASSES, WORK, AND PAPERS. Finally, it was Friday. On this particular Friday I was anxious for work to end and the weekend to begin, because I was going to Star Party.

Star Party is an event the physics club puts on every semester to Joshua Tree National Park for some amazing star gazing. All 30-some students piled in an old fashioned school bus with our tents, sleeping bags, flashlights, guitars and s'more stuff. I knew most of the people going even though we had never formerly met. That is the nature of Whittier College, you know so many more people than you think you do just by association within the community.

The Physics Club left to get there early so Dr. Piner had time to set up the high magnification telescope on the tripod. When we arrived at camp there was a warm fire already made. The warm fire was much appreciated because the temperature drops to the 50s after the sun sets. The campsite is fit to accommodate 45 people. There is a central pavilion with three tables on a cement deck. To the right are two grills for barbequing. The fire pit is located further into the campsite and we were free to set up our tents where we pleased within the boundaries of our plot.

Some of the group gathered around the fire while others cooked or looked through the telescope where Dr. Piner had a double star in focus. He explained that often when one sees a big bright star, it is really a double star or a cluster of stars.

As the burgers were cooking, no time was wasted. The campfire circle began singing songs everyone knew; the Beetles, Wheezer, the Black Eyed Peas, etc. It was like being out in the desert, three hours from school brought us all immediately closer and any insecurity you had about your vocals faded away, for better or for worse.

It was a crisp, clear fall night. We were able to see Jupiter and the moon and many shooting stars that night. My personal favorites were the sightings of the meteor shower. I had never seen longer, brighter shooting stars!

During the night; the moon shed enough light for us to hike up the nearby mountain. From the top we all stared in awe, into the humbling night sky.

In the morning, while everyone was waking up, eating donuts or cooking up leftover burgers, three of us took a nature walk. We were able to spot a big coyote, various birds and two jack rabbits!

The ride home was quiet, most were quick to fall asleep after a long night of star gazing, joke telling, game playing, and hiking through the desert. If you ask any student at Whittier, Star Party is one campus event, of many, that you must experience before graduating.