The stars shine bright for the Astronomy Club

Astronomy students braved the oceanside wilderness in hopes of catching a glimpse of a few stars, but what they found was a deeper connection and appreciation for the world around them.

The Pierce College Astronomy Club traveled two hours out of Los Angeles into Santa Barbara where they spent three days camping at the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area from March 28 to 30.

“I think it’s been more than a month now that we’ve been talking about the trip,” said Felipe Cabello, vice president of the Astronomy Club.

Nine Pierce students along with adviser and assistant professor of astronomy, Dale Fields, hiked to the site to see the stars.  Club President Hillary Manly was planning to join the group, but had personal matters to attend to.

“Overall, I did get a nice chance to take a look up at the stars,” Fields said. “That’s something that I always enjoy.”

The students were able to view millions of stars at night while enjoying long hikes during the day. Fields provided a telescope from Pierce and a few students supplied their own.

The students were only able to view stars on Friday night, as clouds and rain restricted them from viewing on Saturday.

In the middle of the night, rain sprinkled throughout the campground, leaving Cabello and a few other students with leaks in their tent and damp sleeping bags. Cabello ended up sleeping in his car for the night to avoid the rain.

A group of the students went hiking Saturday, covering the Sweetwater and Oak Canyon Nature Trails.  The students diverted off of the trails at some points, walking through wildflower fields and dried-up lake beds.

“There are two trails that we tried to go through, and we didn’t exactly do what the trails said,” Cabello said. “It was about a total of six or seven miles.”

Following the trail, the Club members ran into a place where the trail had dissipated, forcing the students to climb up the mountain to find another path, he said.

“I found a fortress, seriously,” said Irvin Rojas, a club member who went on his own hike. “If you go out on the peninsula about two to three miles, there is a fortress made of wooden crates and mud.”

The students also witnessed the effects of the drought rampant throughout the state by the nearly 20-foot-high water line on the mountains where the lake used to be. Clam shells could been seen covering the ground and previously floating docks were beached.

“Santa Barbara County is at Drought Impact Level D3 Extreme Drought, where Drought Impact Level D4 Exceptional Drought is the highest level,” said County of Santa Barbara officials.

For a few of the students, this event was the first time they had ever gone camping.

“This has been my first time camping, and none of my family has ever gone,” said Henry Tech, member of the Astronomy Club. “I just wanted to see how it is and convince my family to go.”

Everyone slept in tents and worked as a team to start campfires and cook meals.

“Will [Hamilton] and Phil [Shaffer] took over; they did all of the cooking,” said Jordy Rataizer, founder and treasurer for the Astronomy Club. “Liz [Avelar] was helping a lot too, spicing and chopping.”

The first night, the club made chicken with an array of peppers and eggplant, eventually breaking into the hot dogs. The second night, the members served up chili, chicken and the rest of the food with s’mores for dessert.

“I bought three different kinds of chocolate,” said Rataizer, who planned on “having a s’more fest” Saturday.

Many of the students encountered bugs including spiders.

“I’m a wussy with spiders,” said Phillip Shaffer, an Astronomy Club member. “I’m the Ron Weasley of this entire group.  Even seeing the spider in Jordy’s bag freaked me out.”

Cabello was getting ready to go to sleep when he felt a spider crawl onto his face.

The group packed everything early Sunday morning, planning to leave around 9 a.m. when they found that Fields’ car would not start.

Most of the group waited for AAA to bring Fields a new starter and then proceeded to make their way home to Los Angeles, some giving a sigh of relief to be heading home.

“I see the Astronomy Club as like a family. You hate, you love, it’s just give and take,” said William Hamilton, an Astronomy Club member. “Some people might upset you, but in the end you’re a group and you guys love the same thing — that’s why you’re in the group. There shouldn’t be any arguments or anything like that, it should just be fun.”