The autumn 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 05 to 07 February 2016.

The autumn Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) followed so hard on the heels of the Southern Star Party in November (read all about it here) that we felt there was hardly any break. We were booked out two weeks before the event, which was a record, and it was a huge success judging from the verbal comments and the written feedback we received. We are obviously elated at the success but also a tad tired, so the long gap till the next Star Party at the end of October is most welcome. However, that gap is already filling up with all sorts of other things so we won’t be exactly idle. We are in fact going flat-out at present to get our grant application for the National Science Week ready to send off to SAASTA by the end of February.

This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program fir the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There was lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember all recipients of the passport – it has to accompany you to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, to bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There is lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember, all recipients of the passport have to bring it to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. Bottom: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. BOTTOM: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

On Tuesday the 02nd of February at 07:00, without any sleep the previous night, Lynnette, Snorre and I left and arrived at Night Sky to find the lawn mowing in full swing. Shortly after they finished, Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent. As soon as that was done I got the projection screen set up and then it started raining lightly. The three of us went to bed early and the next morning we started organizing the tent. Alan and Rose arrived in the course of the morning and after they had set up camp they pitched in to help setting up as well. During the course of Wednesday Auke also arrived. Volker and Aka Kuehne from Pforzheim in Germany were also at Night Sky as they are every summer from early January to mid-March. This was their second SSP and as on the previous occasion they were always ready to lend a hand with just about everything.

This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.
This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.

Lynnette and I drove to Bonnievale to meet Rudolf who had found a fossil deposit and after viewing and photographing the Zoophytes trace-fossils in the Witteberg sediments, we drove back to Night Sky after some essential shopping. Before going to Night Sky we stopped off at Oppiekoppie Guesthouse (go here to see more about Oppiekoppie) to label the rooms, so everybody would know where to go when they arrived the next day. We then drove back to Night Sky for supper, putting up all the banners at the entrance on the way, to make sure nobody got lost. Shortly after supper we turned in. On Thursday Jonathan Balladon, Louis Fourie, Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer and Barry & Miemie Dumas arrived, followed by Pierre de Villiers, Karin de Bruin and Susan Joubert from the Hermanus Centre.

TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Wittenberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Witteberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. Middle: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. MIDDLE: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.

Alan once again set up his model table in the tent where he displayed the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle, the yet to be completed model of SALT and some very nifty models of the Mars habitat with the surface vehicle and fuel generation unit. During the course of the SSP, and especially on Sunday morning this attracted a lot of attention and many favourable comments.  I personally can’t wait for the completion of the SALT model.

This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.
This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.

Just as we were preparing for the evening braai on Thursday, I was laid low by a kidney stone. Juri de Wet went to a great deal of trouble to track down Dr Esterhuisen in Bonnievale who agreed to meet us at his consulting rooms. Auke drove Lynnette and I there in his car in a record time and I was given a shot of morphine to reduce the pain. The doctor liaised with an urologist; Dr Deon Marais in Worcester and off the three of us went again to the Worcester Medi Clinic. I was put on a drip and had to stay in hospital for a scan before having an operation to remove the kidney stone, the next day. Lynnette and Auke had to leave me contemplating my kidney stone, while they drove back to attend to the running of the SSP. On the Friday Alan and Rose were roped in to help organize things and keep the administration running smoothly while Lynnette came back to Worcester in Auke’s car. She stayed with me until late in the afternoon before driving back to help at Night Sky, where everyone had by now arrived. I was eventually operated on at around 18:00 on Friday and at 06:00 on Saturday, Lynnette was there again in Auke’s car, to pick me up and back to Bonnievale we went.

TOP LEFT: I herby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for the budget overruns.
TOP LEFT: I hereby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for their budget overruns.

Shortly after 08:30, on Saturday morning, I had a session with the beginner group and was rather amazed to find Pierre de Villiers, current ASSA president there. I am quite certain he is well out of the beginner category, but perhaps he just wanted to make sure I did not spout too much drivel.

Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Magda Streicher’s talk “Deep-Sky Delights” which took us on a genteel journey through the process of observing deep-sky objects and sketching them. Her talk was lavishly illustrated with personal anecdotes and examples of her own sketches. We are all looking forward to the book you intend publishing with all those sketches, Magda!

Next up was Bani van der Merwe who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so Pierre de Villiers, present ASSA president, came out to bat and he more than welcomed the extra time at the wicket. Pierre’s topic “How to foster an interest in, and enjoyment of, astronomy” was actually a workshop rather than an ordinary talk. He illustrated the various initiatives of the Hermanus Centre intended to achieve these objectives and engaged with the audience to get their ideas on the matter.

While Pierre was talking Marius, Kim, Lynnette and I packed and lit the fires for the lunch-time braai. During the course of the lunch-break it was decided that it was just too hot to go back into the tent for the remainder of the talks at 15:00, so everything was postponed until 17:00. We hoped that it would have cooled by then. The lucky draw also shifted and the Pub Quiz looked as if might have to take a back seat till October.

Ray Brederode’s presentation “The discoveries of Rosette and Philae” was very well received and generated quite a number of questions from the audience. He was followed by Charl Cater, who presented a short, but very interesting talk entitled “Green Pea Galaxies”. Auke Slotegraaf rounded of the programme with a presentation titled “To Forever Remain a Child: Astronomy and cultural heritage in South Africa.” The talk covered a number of important issues pertaining to astronomical heritage in South Africa and hopefully some members of the audience will heed Auke’s call to become involved in efforts to preserve that heritage.

On Friday night Dwayne apparently only had eyes for the stars in the love of his life’s eyes. How do I know? Because he took Claire out under the stars and proposed to her. Congratulations, this is the first engagement for the Southern Star Party and we hope that by the next SSP he will have taken the logical step and be able to bring his starry eyed wife along. We took the opportunity after the last talk to congratulate them and hope they enjoyed the bottle of wine and slab of chocolate we presented them with.

A series of images depicting the telescope are which was a focal point by day but especially at night.
A series of images depicting the telescope area which was a focal point by day, but especially at night.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.

By this time the light was just right for the group photo and after that Pierre de Villiers drew the three winners of our raffle. The first prize, a Skywatcher  Newtonian telescope was won by Chris Vermeulen (D=130, F=650, 25mm & 10mm eyepieces, Red Dot Finder, tripod and manual equatorial mount). The second and third prizes were two bottles of good red wine which went to Barry Dumas and Martin Coetzee respectively.

it was clear that time had overtaken us so we cancelled everything else and got ready for the evenings observing and related activities. It was a good evening for observing even though there were signs of clouds encroaching by about 23:00 and it actually rained around 03:00 or shortly thereafter. Martin Lyons and several other stalwarts were quick to rescue the telescopes that had been left in the telescope area by owners that had ignored the impending change in the weather.

TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours. Camera - Nikon D5100. Lens - AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G ISO 800 & f/1.8 Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals) & combined with StarStax 0.71
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours.
Camera – Nikon D5100.
Lens – AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
ISO 800 & f/1.8
Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals)
& combined with StarStax 0.71
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph also taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party by Leslie Rose.
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph, taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party, by Leslie Rose.

On Sunday Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to lay out the material for presenting astronomy to the visually impaired so that people coming to the tent to say goodbye could look at it. Part of the display was Dr Wanda Diaze-Merced’s 20 mHz Jove radio telescope. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd. On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre and I and Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday Tersius and his team took down the tent and loaded up the tables and chairs and on Wednesday the rest of us packed up and left. This brought down the final curtain on the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

Alan tending his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
Alan tending to his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.

Last but not least, a special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Waltons.

Leeuwenboschfontein: March 2015

A venue with a huge amount of potential for all sorts of things an especially astronomy.

Leeuwenboschfontein is advertised as a 4×4 venue but it is a lot more than that. It has a lovely, well-grassed camping area, provides excellent guest house facilities, has ample space for large groups in a well equipped barn, has lots of walking potential, is a nature lovers paradise, boasts a landing strip and, last but not least, it is dark enough and high enough (just over 1000m) to do some quite decent astronomy, despite non-ideal horizons to the southwest, west and northwest.

The signposts at the turnoff from the R318
The signposts at the turnoff from the R318

The normal way to get there from Cape Town is to turn off the N1 onto the R318 shortly after you have ascended the Hex Pass. Continue for 25 km until you get to the turnoff to Leeuwenboschfontein on your left and leave the tar. The next section can be tricky after heavy rains. At about six km after leaving the R318 you pass the entrance to Kopbeenskloof on your right. Go here to read about our previous visit there. Another six km and Leeuwenboschfontein is on your left. Go here to read more about Leeuwenboschfontein. We were coming from Sutherland and not from Cape Town, so our route took us through Touws River and then onto an unsurfaced road past Njalo-Njalo Safari’s. Go here to read more about their activities. After passing through Nougaspoort about 25 km after leaving Touws River, there is a signposted road for Leeuwenbosch turning off to your right. You pass Drie Kuilen Private Nature Reserve on your left and just over seven km after turning right, Leeuwenbosch is on your right. Go here to read more about Drie Kuilen.

Kopbeenskloof is very well signposted
Kopbeenskloof is very well signposted.
Kopbeenskloof also provides a wide range of activities.
Kopbeenskloof also provides a wide range of activities.

Top left: Entrance to Njalo-Njalo Safari's. Top right: View through the fence of Njalo-Njalo's setup.  No entrance unless you have a booking.. Bottom left: part of Njalo-Njalo's signage along their front fence. Bottom right: Personal welcome to expected guests

Top left: Entrance to Njalo-Njalo Safari’s.
Top right: View through the fence of Njalo-Njalo’s setup. No entrance unless you have a booking.
Bottom left: Part of Njalo-Njalo’s signage along their front fence.
Bottom right: Personal welcome to expected guests.

Background: The Vito parked at the entrance to Leeuwenboschfontein. Bottom right: Leeuwenboschfontein's signboard and logo
Background: The Vito parked at the entrance to Leeuwenboschfontein.
Bottom right: Leeuwenboschfontein’s signboard and logo.

Leeuwenboschfontein is owned and run by a father and son team, Johan Roux (snr) and Johan Roux (jnr) from Ceres. On-site management is done by Joan who manages the reception office and her husband John who does the outside stuff.

Top left: A lovely campsite for two groups situated above and away from the main campsite. Top right: View north over the landing strip from the lawn in front front of the larger of the two guest houses. Bottom left: Another secluded campsite for two groups close to the reception area. Bottom right: The reception area.
Top left: A lovely campsite for two groups situated above and away from the main campsite.
Top right: View north over the landing strip from the lawn in front of the larger of the two guest houses.
Bottom left: Another secluded campsite for two groups close to the reception area.
Bottom right: The reception area.

The following photographs tell the rest of the story about our visit there with Iain Finlay, Willem van Zyl and Snorre.

A panoramic view taken on the road from Touws River. South is looking down the road, past the pole toward the hilles and Nougaspoort in the distance.  Leeuwenboschfontein lies behind those hilles
A panoramic view taken on the road from Touws River. South is looking down the road, past the pole toward the hilles and Nougaspoort in the distance. Leeuwenboschfontein lies behind those hills.
Panoramic view of the main campsite. this is a well equipped, shady campsite with lots of grass.
Panoramic view of the main campsite. this is a well equipped, shady campsite with lots of grass.
Panoramic view taken from the landing strip. West is toward the pointy hills in the middle of the photo and south  is toward the left.
Panoramic view taken from the landing strip. West is toward the pointy hills in the middle of the photo and south is toward the left.
Sunsets are fantastic at Leeuwenboschfontein, as are sunrises.
Sunsets are fantastic at Leeuwenboschfontein, as are sunrises.
Top left: The lawn in front of the larger of the two guest houses. The barn's roof can be seen in the middle and there is a pool just beyond the last pillar.  The landing strip is to the left out of the picture. Top right: The trees at the main camp site. The strucure furthest to the right is Willow Cottage which sleeps four and the other structure is one of two ablution blocks. Bottom left: Sunrise taken from the grassy area west of the main camping area. Bottom right: Sunrise over the dam in the main camping area.
Top left: The lawn in front of the larger of the two guest houses. The barn’s roof can be seen in the middle and there is a pool just beyond the last pillar on the left. The landing strip is to the right out of the picture.
Top right: The trees at the main camp site. The structure furthest to the right is Willow Cottage which sleeps four and the other structure is one of two ablution blocks.
Bottom left: Sunrise taken from the grassy area west of the main camping area.
Bottom right: Sunrise over the dam in the main camping area.
Top left: There is an abundance of bird life. Top right: Lynnette relaxing and doing nothing, for a change. Bottom left: The traditional braai with Willem and Iain. Bottom right: A beautiful sunset which also meant no observing.
Top left: There is an abundance of bird life.
Top right: Lynnette relaxing and doing nothing, for a change.
Bottom left: The traditional braai with Willem and Iain.
Bottom right: A beautiful sunset which also meant no observing that night.
Snorre took  a very dim view of the fact that some campers pitched up with a dog. Ghastly aniomals that leave their poop lying around all over the place.
Snorre took a very dim view of the fact that some campers pitched up with a dog. They are ghastly animals that leave their poop lying around all over the place.

Geology talk at Brackenfell Library: March 2015

Once upon a time, in the  distant past when the Western Cape was young ….

A tale of why everything isn’t just flat everywhere

The talk, which lasted for just under an hour, was attended by a small group of people and afterward, there was coffee, courtesy of the Brackenfell library and some discussion on the topic.

A view from the listeners angle
A view from the listeners angle
The audience: John Skinner, David Skinner, James du Toit, Marlene van Niekerk, <arlene le Roux, Susie Thorburn, Marie Eygelaar, Maida Ackerman, Rentia Rabe, Billy Brits, Errol Swanepoel
The smallish audience: John Skinner, David Skinner, James du Toit, Marlene van Niekerk, Marlene le Roux, Susie Thorburn, Marie Eygelaar, Maida Ackerman, Rentia Rabe, Billy Brits, Errol Swanepoel
Coffee and talk afterwards. The Moon? I just added that for the fun of it.
Coffee and talk afterwards. The Moon? I just added that for the fun of it.

Blaauwklippen Christmas Market: Wednesday 17 December 2014

Christmas Market at Blaauwklippen in Stellenbosch: 17 December 2014

Lynnette, Snorre and I arrived just before 14:00 and we had hardly begun unpacking when Auke pulled in. Then it was a case of all hands to the plough to get everything set up before the official start at 17:00.

Lots of space at Blaauwklippen for us to spread our wings
Lots of space at Blaauwklippen for us to spread our wings
Follow the reed arrow (note the wavelength) and a poster to wet the appetite
Follow the red arrow (note the wavelength) and a poster to wet the appetite
Follow the blue arrow (note the wavelength) for  more informative posters.
Follow the blue arrow (note the wavelength) for more informative posters.

Our new poster wall was quick to set up but my new banner stand was decidedly trickier. The poster wall proved quite successful and the banner stand showcased our banners properly for the first time at a public event.

 

The poster walls were easy to set up and quite effective as an information display but they also have great possibilities as crowd channels
The poster walls were easy to set up and quite effective as an information display but they also have great possibilities as crowd channels
Our five metre banner nicely displayed for a change on the new banner stand
Our five metre banner nicely displayed for a change on the new banner stand
Auke and Lynnette organizing the tables
Auke and Lynnette organizing the tables.  Between them in the background you can see Jaco’s refurbished 60 mm refractor and Walter resplendent in blue over to the right
Auke getting Walter ready for the show
Auke getting Walter ready for the show.  Jaco’s refractor can be seen on the table in the right foreground

Alan and Rose arrived a little later after successfully negotiation the late afternoon traffic between Edgemead and Stellenbosch. The extra hands made light work of setting up the pull-up banners, organizing the tables, putting out the display telescopes and, of course setting up the telescopes we would use for the public. We had Jaco’s 60 mm refractor which he refurbished years ago as well as my old 4.5 inch Newtonian on display.

Lorenzo ready for action
Lorenzo ready for action
Auke on an inspection round
Auke on an inspection round
An A3 poster displaying our major sponsors.  We will make an A2 poster  in the near future, which will have space for all our sponsors
An A3 poster displaying our major sponsors. We will make an A2 poster in the near future, which will have space for all our sponsors
The Vito almost empty which means we were set up and ready to roll
The Vito almost empty which means we were set up and ready to roll

We have always had this problem that the public think they have to pay to come and look at our stuff and to look through the telescopes. Many potential views are lost this way because they just stand at a distance and eye us. This time Auke had printed tickets entitling the bearer to a free viewing of the Sun and the stars. He distributed them amongst the visitors at the other stalls and, with Hugo le Roux’s permission, also asked the gate guard to hand them out to people coming in. I thought it was a brilliant idea and a great way to get past this barrier in people’s minds.

Alan helping Brett set up his specialised solar scope
Alan helping Brett set up his specialized solar scope
Auke and Lorenzo handle some of our first viewers for the afternoon
Auke and Lorenzo handle some of our first viewers for the afternoon
Auke and some Canadian visitors
Auke and some Canadian visitors
Lynnette talking to solar viewers.  Note the eye-catching Star People pull-up banner in the background
Lynnette talking to solar viewers. Note the eye-catching Star People pull-up banner in the background
People actually stopped to read our posters this time
People actually stopped to read our posters this time
The sun was very low by now, judging from Lorenzo's declination
The sun was very low by now, judging from Lorenzo’s declination

Brett and Tammy also arrived somewhere in the course of the afternoon. Brett brought his solar telescope which he proceeded to set up and Tammy, much to Snorre’s delight, spent a large part of the afternoon and evening scratching his head. By the time the first viewers lined up we had an impressive array of telescopes in the field; Lorenzo the veteran, Walter on his first official outing, Alan’s eight-inch Dobby and Brett’s innovative solar telescope. Only Lorenzo and Brett’s telescope were equipped for solar viewing but the others would do their bit as soon as it was dark enough to see some stars. Our poster wall drew quite a lot of attention and people spent time browsing through it on their way to the telescopes and often after viewing the Sun as well. I even noticed people browsing along the wall after it got dark as there was enough light for them to see the posters reasonably well. The poster wall might just be our best solution yet to effectively display our large selection of posters but only time will tell

People started arriving in dribs and drabs around 17:00 but eventually we had quite a crowd, especially after it got dark. Auke did his usual, very effective laser guided sky tours after dark and, in between these he put Walter through his paces. Alan and his Dobby also hard at work a short distance away. While Lynnette was taking Snorre on his toilet patrol, one visitor walked up and said, “Excuse me what sort of dog is that you have on the leash?” Snorre, much to his credit just ignored her.

After sunset the visitor tempo picked up noticibly
After sunset the visitor tempo picked up noticeably
How long do you let people look through the eyepiece?  Some viewers become glued to it and watch until the object drifts out of view
How long do you let people look through the eyepiece? Some viewers become glued to it and watch until the object drifts out of view
The telescopes were the focal points where people grouped themselves
The telescopes were the focal points where people grouped themselves
Auke busy with a sky tour.
Auke busy with a sky tour.
It always amazes me how, once you get people to look up, they keep on looking up
It always amazes me how, once you get people to look up, they keep on looking up
I would really love to have this many people at a very dark site to show them how beautiful the night sky really is
I would really love to have this many people at a very dark site to show them how beautiful the night sky really is
Alan and his eight inch Dobby were in the thick of it
Alan and his eight inch Dobby were in the thick of it. ASSA, please note the poster inviting people to join ASSA. Also, note Alan’s nifty stand for the Dobby which serves as a stand and leveling device as well as means of transportation and has compartments for all the important bits and pieces one needs when observing
The poster wall  really showed of our posters to good effect
The poster wall really showed of our posters to good effect
A different section of the poster wall
A different section of the poster wall
The queues just did not seem to get any shorter but some of the viewers were definitely a bit short
The queues just did not seem to get any shorter but some of the viewers were definitely a bit short
Martin lending a hand with Walter for a short viewer
Martin lending a hand with Walter for a short viewer
On last shot of the poster wall with viewers still clustered around Auke in the background
One last shot of the poster wall with viewers still clustered around Auke in the background

Eventually 22:00 rolled around and it was time to take everything down again. Thank you, Tammy for paying attention to Snorre and to Brett for setting up your Solar Telescope.  Thanks also to Martin for lending a hand with Walter when the going got rough. The very able and willing assistance of Alan and Rose probably shortened our packing up time by more than an hour and a half. Thanks, guys, without you Auke, Lynnette and I would have got to bed even later than we did! Packing up was also complicated by the fact that everything was quite wet with dew. We dried as much water off as possible but all that damp stuff had to be opened out to dry when Lynnette and I got home. As we also had to finish packing for our scheduled trip to Kopbeenskloof the next morning, this additional activity was not exactly a welcome one.

Blaauwklippen was a very nice venue and we had a huge area all to ourselves. We had stacks of enthusiastic viewers and all enjoyed the evening thoroughly. Thanks, Blaauwklippen and Hugo le Roux for having us. A special word of thanks to Alan, Rose, Brett and Tammy for the hard work, moral support, and companionship which helped make the evening a success.

Star People and the Slow/Christmas Market at Oude Libertas in Stellenbosch: November 2014

Star People @Slow, Oude Libertas in Stellenbosch

Lynnette and I arrived at 15:30 as arranged. The scene outside the entrance was quite chaotic. There were cars everywhere with drivers vying for very limited parking space in front of the gates so they could commence unloading, officials waving their arms and gesticulating as they tried to maintain a semblance of order and control and eager assistants with trolleys darting in and out among the cars with loads of stuff which disappeared up the incline in the direction of the actual market. We found a spot to park the Vito and I ventured up the incline to see how we could get to our designated area.

Once inside one was almost overwhelmed by the colourful gazebos and variety of displayed goods, not to mention the people scurrying around as they carried, packed, fetched and arranged in preparation for the expected hordes of customers. In the meantime Auke and Wendy had arrived and managed to squeeze their vehicles into the same area where Lynette had parked the Vito and we could start transferring stuff from the vehicles to our spot. The spot was very nice and shady with lots of tables, but the shade was not going to make viewing either the Sun or the first quarter Moon easy.

Auke and Edward hard at work setting up the stand
Auke and Edward hard at work setting up the stand
Auke, busy laying out the tables with banners and posters.
Auke, busy laying out the tables with banners and posters.
Everything is coming together nicely
Everything is coming together nicely
One old backside and three nice banners
One old backside and three nice banners
The tightly packed central area with hardly room for a mouse
The tightly packed central area with hardly room for a mouse
Our setup was really very colourfull
Our setup was really very colourfull
Getting Lorenzo ready for the afternoon's work
Getting Lorenzo ready for the afternoon’s work

After getting the banners and posters up and arranging things on the table, I set up Lorenzo, equipped with a sun filter and Wendy found a spot to set up her eight inch Dobby to view the Moon.. Auke and Lynnette began sending prospective viewers in our direction and the afternoon’s fun could get underway.

Auke redirecting a prospective viewer
Auke redirecting a prospective viewer
A young sungazer takes his turn at the telescope
A young sungazer takes his turn at the telescope
Wendy waiting in a shady corner for her moongazers
Wendy waiting in a shady corner for her moongazers
A view from in front of our area toward the centre of the area filled with stalls
A view from in front of our area toward the centre of the area filled with stalls
Outreach is as much about talking and explaining as it is about showing
Outreach is as much about talking and explaining as it is about showing
Often the same person or group of people ends up talking to each member of the team
Often the same person or group of people ends up talking to each member of the team
As the sun sank lower it became time to move the telescopes
As the sun sank lower it became time to move the telescopes
As the sun set the clouds came in and spoiled any chance of seeing the stars
As the sun set the clouds came in and spoiled any chance of seeing the stars

Shortly after 18:30 we had to move both telescopes as we were losing the competition with the trees. The new spot was chosen to give us a last glimpse of the Sun and continued Moon viewing as well as an uninterrupted view toward the west and south, but the clouds had other ideas. The Moon was fine for the rest of the evening but the high level clouds were just opaque enough to obscure the stars which were already having a tough time competing with the light pollution. So Wendy and I both concentrated on the Moon. She used a 25mm eyepiece on her Dobby which showed the whole Moon very nicely, and I beefed up the magnification by combining a 32mm eyepiece with a 3xBarlow. The higher magnification necessitated more pushing, pulling and shoving to keep Lorenzo on target, but the “Oohs” and “Aahs” from almost every viewer, both young and old, made the extra effort worthwhile.

Empty and silent with the stall holders and eager buyers all gone home.
Empty and silent with the stall holders and eager buyers all gone home.
Lonely sentinels will wait fir the next day's activities.
Lonely sentinels will wait patiently for the next day’s activities.

Auke started packing away when he saw the other stalls begin to break down while we continued showing the Moon for a while and by the time we had stowed the telescopes Auke and Lynnette had already made major inroads into rolling up the banners and taking down the posters. By this time the stall area was all but deserted and the last of the vehicles were queuing up to load. Our nice parking spot now showed its dark side because our exit was cut off by the guys loading their stuff and we had to wait a while before we could head into Stellenbosch for a well-earned cup of coffee (or two, or three). Thanks Auke! May the fleas of a thousand camels infest the loins of the person who stole our door magnet and just for good measure also those of their present family and the next ten generations too.

What did we learn from the evening?

The venue was quite spectacular, but not really suited for deploying telescopes and the question arises should we skip venues like this or do them for the exposure we and astronomy get? The exhibition tables were fine and it is just a pity we didn’t know beforehand we were going to get tables. We made good use of them and the stand made a good showing. Because we were off to one side and the whole area was very congested, we were not really all that visible unless people specifically came down to that end to sit down and eat. This must have had a negative impact on the number of visitors we attracted.

The Sun is quite boring and less spectacular than most people expect it to be, when viewed through a telescope equipped with the appropriate filter. The pale circle just does not measure up to the spectacular satellite images that are freely available in print and on the electronic media. The relative size of the Sun compared to the Earth and the size comparison between the Earth, Jupiter and the sunspots does elicit a “Wow” from many viewers and the idea that space is only 100 km away causes some viewers to raise an eyebrow. Generally though, the Sun through a telescope does not measure up to people’s expectations.

The Moon on the other hand, always manages to steal the show. The combination of one telescope at a higher magnification than the other was quite successful. It is a pity that we were unable to show anything other than the Sun and the Moon, but that’s the way the astronomy cookie often crumbles.

The usual logistical problems popped up again. Getting everyone to sign the visitor’s book is almost impossible and some people even flatly refuse, because they suspect some dark and devious dealings. The system we used in Clanwilliam where one person simply walked down the line of waiting viewers and got them to sign before they reached the telescope worked quite well, but it ties up and additional person. The telescope operator could also have a clipboard and insist that viewers sign before they look through the telescope, but this requires enough light at the telescope so that people can see where to write.

We still do not know how to deal effectively with the genuinely interested or just plain talkative viewer at the telescope. We want people to be interested, but if you have a queue of people waiting to look through the telescope and one person totally appropriates the operator, everything comes to a standstill, people actually get fed-up and leave if they have to wait too long. Not talking to an interested person and answering their questions is bad for business, but then so is having people leave the queue if they have to wait too long. This total appropriation also happens to the presenters doing duty at the exhibition tables and it really is a difficult call to make as to when to break off a conversation in the interest of serving other members of the public.

I think the evening was a success and I think the exposure we got was reasonable. The venue was great and it is a pity we weren’t advertised more aggressively.

Bonnies Bed & Breakfast

Bonnies Bed and Breakfast in Bonnievale, November 2014

Auke. Lynnette, Snorre and I set out for Bonnievale on Thursday 30th October where Star People was due to set up at the annual Bonnievale Bonanza. The general idea was to provide an opportunity for the general public to view the Sun during the day and the Moon and, hopefully, some stars in the evening.  According to the weather forecast we would also not be almost washed away as in 2013.

Pools of water on the banners after one of many downpours in 2013
Pools of water on the banners after one of many downpours in 2013

This was a special occasion because the Bonanza was in its 20th year and Huipie Schreuder, the dynamic organizer of the Bonanza for eight years running, had vowed to lay down the reins and retire.  We were booked into Bonnies Bed & Breakfast where we had also stayed in 2013. Bonnies is situated in Van Zyl Street, and is run by Div and Wilna de Villiers. The establishment has five comfortable en suite rooms and Lynnette, Snorre and I were housed in the same room we occupied in 2013. Our room had a private entrance to a secluded patio and the beautiful garden. There is a swimming pool in another section of the garden for the hotter weather too.

The garden is well planned, well tended and creates an air of tranquility
The garden is well planned, well tended and creates an air of tranquility
A second view of the garden toward the secluded swimming pool
A second view of the garden toward the secluded swimming pool

All rooms offer tea and coffee making facilities and are equipped with ceiling fans and heaters. TV, M-Net, DSTV. Telephone, Cell phone, Internet & email and Fax Facilities are also centrally available.

Wilna speaks fluent German and so they regularly host German tourists. This particular skill was not called into service for our visit. Div, a native of Namaqualand, is very clued up on local tourist activities and has a well-stocked depository of brochures and pamphlets on all the local tourist attractions as well as many much further away. Div, as on our previous visit, very kindly evacuated his one garage so that we could store our trailer there. Trailers are currently prime targets for theft in the Brackenfell area and we did not want to tempt fate in Bonnievale by leaving it nicely accessible in the driveway.

On the Thursday evening we had a braai in our section of the garden. For this Div not only supplied the wood but also packed and lit the fire. The garden is a bird lover’s delight with feeding stations and water points all over the place and plants chosen to attract various bird species. There was even a pair of Barn Owls nesting in the tree next to our patio.

Lynnette and Auke relaxing at the braai.  The tree with the Barn Owls is just visible behind them and to the right
Lynnette and Auke relaxing at the braai. The tree with the Barn Owls is just visible behind them and to the right
A variety of birds visit the feeding station in the morning
A variety of birds visit the feeding station in the morning
The weavers also like the sugar water provided for the sugar birds and humming birds but their beaks are not the right shape to quite get to the liquid
The weavers also like the sugar water provided for the sugar birds and humming birds but their beaks are not the right shape to quite get to the liquid
This weaver was loudly voicing its discontent at not being able to really have a go at the sugar solution
This weaver was loudly voicing its discontent at not being able to really have a go at the sugar solution

The full country breakfasts were more than adequate with Wilna preparing the food and Div serving and talking. The dining room also offers a view of the garden and two of the bird feeding stations. All in all, Bonnies is a comfortable and affordable place to stay with attentive and pleasant hosts. Their proximity to the main street (one block away), shops, library, post office, museum, antique stores and Tourist Information Centre are other reasons to consider Bonnie’s next time you need to stay over in Bonnievale.

Cat lovers the world over will enjoy this notice
Cat lovers the world over will enjoy this notice
This is in Afrikaans and clearly aimed at the male guests that insist on practicing their long distance accuracy
This is in Afrikaans and clearly aimed at the male guests that insist on practicing their long distance accuracy

Physical Address; 15 Van Zyl Street in Bonnievale
Telephone: 023 616 2251
E-mail: div@bonniesb-b.co.za

Bonnievale Bonanza 2014

Bonnievale Bonanza, November 2014

Auke. Lynnette, Snorre and I set out for Bonnievale on Thursday 30th October where Star People was due to set up at the annual Bonnievale Bonanza. The general idea was to provide an opportunity for the general public to view the Sun during the day and the Moon and, hopefully, some stars in the evening.  We would of course also answer questions and dispense astronomical pearls of wisdom to all and sundry during the course of the day and the evening. This year was a special occasion because the Bonanza was in its 20th year and Huipie Schreuder, the dynamic organizer of the Bonanza for eight years running, had vowed to finally lay down the reins and retire.

Roadside breakfast on the way to Bonnievale
Roadside breakfast on the way to Bonnievale

Annaliese and her two assistants from Bonnievale Verhurings arrived exactly on time to pitch the marquee tent. After they left Auke Lynnette and I put up the bunting and some of the banners while we waited for our official armbands and an identification disc for the Vito. Once we had received them we went back to our guest house, Bonnies Bed & Breakfast where we had a nice relaxing braai before going to bed.

Auke taking a pipe-break in the garden at Bonnies
Auke taking a pipe-break in the garden at Bonnies

On Friday morning we had an early breakfast end then set off for the High School sport fields where the Bonanza was to be held. The rest of the morning was spent setting up the rest of the banners, putting up our poster display, putting together the Solar System and organizing the hand-outs. Although Lorenzo was set up for solar viewing the partially cloudy weather did not make it easy as one no sooner had the sun in the eyepiece when it nipped in behind a cloud. When it reappeared one had to go through the whole rigmarole of getting it in the field of view all over again. This was very frustrating for the operator and boring for the potential viewers waiting in the queue. When the clouds became too numerous in the west we switched to the 2nd quarter moon that was handily positioned to the east and quite clearly visible. No sooner had we done this than a contingent of high level clouds appeared, backed up by a squad of lower level fluffy ones and preceded to play hide and seek with the Moon. The wind had also picked up and was causing us some concern as the tent started lifting alarmingly in the stronger gusts. We phoned Annaliese and she dispatched her husband Tertius to attend to the problem. He tightened all the guy ropes and assured us the tent had survived much stronger winds in the past.

Inside the tent and out of the wind
Inside the tent and out of the wind
General view of the tent as passers bye would see it
General view of the tent as passers bye would see it
From the inside looking out at the Earth, Mars and the Moon
From the inside looking out at the Earth, Mars and the Moon
The two main banners outside the tent
The two main banners outside the tent
Lorenzo keeping Mars and the Earth company
Lorenzo keeping Mars and the Earth company
ELF Astronomy and Star People's posters on my home made poster stands
ELF Astronomy and Star People’s posters on my home made poster stands
Lynnette, Lorenzo and two solar viewers
Lynnette, Lorenzo and two solar viewers

Come evening the Moon was fairly clearly visible for a while, much to the delight of the many eager viewers. The badly placed spotlights were, as in 2013, a serious problem for viewing anything fainter than the Moon. By 21:00 the clouds were gaining the upper hand and the Moon was only visible for short periods so we decided to pack up and get some sleep.

The first of the evenings Moon viewers
The first of the evenings Moon viewers
At times we had a lot of people who wanted to look at the Moon
At times we had a lot of people who wanted to look at the Moon

On Saturday morning the weather looked a bit better and the wind had died down so we set Lorenzo up for solar viewing. As the day progressed the clouds cleared more and more and it also became hotter and hotter. By around 16:30 the clouds were building up again in the west making solar viewing very difficult so I switched to the Moon. By around 18:00 the clouds were really becoming a serious problem but the Moon was still visible for reasonable periods until by 21:30 it became clear that the clouds were winning so we packed up and went home.

Saturday morning solar viewing in full swing
Saturday morning solar viewing in full swing
This tall gentleman was a great hit with the children
This tall gentleman was a great hit with the children
Anneliese and Tertius waiting in line to take a look at the Sun
Anneliese and Tertius waiting in line to take a look at the Sun
Moon viewing fighting a losing battle against the gathering clouds
Moon viewing fighting a losing battle against the gathering clouds
Despite the clouds there were lots of potential viewers
Despite the clouds there were lots of potential viewers
Officially due to none of our doing, we were billed as the "Observatory" on the programme
Officially due to none of our doing, we were billed as the “Observatory” on the programme

Bonnievale Bonanza 2014 was over and done with.

Boesmansrivier Primary School visit on the 28th of August 2014

A second visit to our favorite Farm School

On Thursday the 29th of August, Lynnette and I visited the Boesmansrivier Primary School on behalf of Star People. The Principle, Mrs. Madondo, had invited us back after our previous visit so we took her up on that. Thanks also to Laurette for helping to arrange this visit. We had planned to set up a telescope and do some solar viewing but the weather was not having any of that so we had to settle for a talk to the learners of Grades 4, 5 and 6 and a short chat to their educators, Mr. Mentoor and Mr. Sauls.

Our photographic record is, unfortunately, not good as the camera had a focusing malfunction. As is usual one only becomes aware of the problem at the last minute and then one can usually not find the cause of the problem either; at least I seldom can. When examined afterward the camera worked perfectly so it must have been a specific Boesmansrivier gremlin that got into the system!

Learners from grades 4, 5 and 6 at the Boesmansrivier Primary School filling up the class before my talk
Learners from grades 4, 5 and 6 at the Boesmansrivier Primary School filling up the class before my talk
Learners at Boesmansrivier Primary during my talk
Learners at Boesmansrivier Primary during my talk

My short talk emphasized the fact that knowledge was not only the key to personal development and improvement but also the best protection against being swept up and carried away by misrepresentations.  Knowledge provides one with the ability to present counter-arguments to many of the widespread fallacies about science in general and about Astronomy in particular.

Learners at Boesmansrivier Primary School.  Mr Mentoor is just visible on the left
Learners at Boesmansrivier Primary School. Mr Mentoor is just visible on the left
Me, doing my thing while Mr Sauls keeps a watchful eye on the proceedings
Me, doing my thing while Mr Sauls keeps a watchful eye on the proceedings
Showing the lerners how privelaged they are to live in an area with dark skies.  Mr Sauls is seated on the left
Showing the lerners how privelaged they are to live in an area with dark skies. Mr Sauls is seated on the left

Afterwards, Mr. Mentoor and Mr. Sauls undertook to put on their thinking caps about how we could assist them in the future and what type of presentation and material would fit in best with the curriculum and be most beneficial for the learners. Mrs. Madondo was very appreciative of the posters and hand-outs we had brought for the school and invited us to return to the school whenever we were in the area again.

In discussion with about Mr Mentoor (left) and Mr Sauls (centre) about future visits and their specific requirements
In discussion with about Mr Mentoor (left) and Mr Sauls (centre) about future visits and their specific requirements

None of the school’s learners are available at night for stargazing, so we want to time our next visit to coincide with the first quarter moon. Then both the Moon and the Sun will be visible in daylight for viewing in a telescope.

 

Visit to Boesmansrivier Primary School

Last year at the Bonnievale Bonanza Laurette Erasmus, a teacher at the Boesmansrivier Primary School, approached us and asked us to consider coming to the school to talk to the learners about astronomy. The school is a so-called farm school and is situated on one’s left about two kilometres after turning off the R317 on the road that takes one to Night-Sky. We had previously attempted to get the learners and teachers to the Southern Star Party, but the transport logistics defeated all our best intentions in this regard. The school is only five kilometres from Night-Sky making it very convenient to visit the school during daytime while staying at Night-Sky so we had hoped to combine our stay there with a visit to the school.

Top left to bottom right: The schools name board, The School and a very bare school yard, The Grade R-building, The school rules, The school's badge and motto, Norwegian assistance

Top left to bottom right: The schools name board, The School and a very bare school yard, The Grade R-building, The school rules, The school’s badge and motto, Norwegian assistance

This time lady luck was indeed on our side and by Friday evening 30 May, Laurette had the Headmistress, Mrs Boniswa Mabombo’s permission and it was all systems go for Monday morning. We arrived early on the Monday morning 2 June, not wishing to make a bad first impression. I must say I was rather nervous, as speaking to 175 primary school learners seemed a rather daunting task. The school secretary, Stephne Segutya received us and was friendly and very helpful in giving us all the names of the learners as well as all the details about the teachers. Mrs Mabombo finished her lesson and came to welcome us, while Laurette and her colleagues organized the seating and got the Grades 1 to 3 learners seated. The chorus of “Good morning …..” took me back many years to my own Grade 1 days – then known as Sub-A. May the ghosts of Christmases, past, present and future, visit Miss Walton and Mrs Knight wherever they are. All went well with the talk and we were presented with a very colourful thank you note prepared by Aviwe Kolomba and presented, with an appropriate speech by a charming little girl, Nekisha Antonie, resplendent in pigtails with blue ribbons.

The grades 1 to 3 learners were very attentive - well most of the time anyway. and I get thanked by a charming young lady.
The grades 1 to 3 learners were very attentive – well most of the time anyway. In the end I get thanked by Nekisha.
The thank-you letter prepared by Aviwe Kolomba and presented to me by Nekisha Antonia
The thank-you letter prepared by Aviwe Kolomba and presented to us by Nekisha Antonia

Next up were the Grades 4 to 6 learners accompanied by their teachers. This session also went of very well in my opinion. Lee-Ann Hendriks did the honours of delivering the little thank you speech. After this session Mr Mentoor asked me to download my slides for the two talks for him as he felt he could use the images in his class presentations. After that I gave Mrs Mabombo a set of educational posters we had left over from the 2013 National Science Week, which she promised to hand over to the appropriate teachers. Mrs Mabombo and the other teachers assured us we would be most welcome back at the school and they would very much like us to follow up on this visit later in the year.

There were fewer learners in grades 4 to six but most paid close attention.   Lee-Ann thanked me very nicely at the end.
There were fewer learners in grades 4 to six but most paid close attention. Lee-Ann thanked me very nicely at the end.
Mrs Mabombo looks at the posters we brought and the other photos show the school yard during the break.
Mrs Mabombo looks at the posters we brought and the other photos show the school yard during the break.

Down on Earth and up in the Sky in the Karoo

Field trip with Dr Juri van den Heever and the honours students from the Department of Botany & Zoology at the University of Stellenbosch.  17 – 22 March 2014

This is a diary of the six day event with lots of pictures to illustrate the text.  I must first give some background about the tour and its origins to put all readers in the picture.  Juri van den Heever, the architect of the tour, moved from the South African Museum to the Department of Zoology at Stellenbosch in 1987.  In 1988 he took the first of these tours as part of the Honours course and has been taking them ever since.  I had been with the Department of Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University since 1985 and, as Juri and I had been at school together, we were able to renew our friendship when he came to Stellenbosch.  This led to him asking me if I would like to participate in the tours and fill in on the Biochemistry of plants as well as some other aspects.  The tour provides the students with information on Geology, Vertebrate anatomy, Palaeontology, Plants and plant usage, Insects, Birds, Ecology of the areas visited, History, Culture, Geography, Astronomy and, last but not least, the opportunity to participate in discussions on science in general and the philosophy of science and being a scientist.

So, from around 1994 or so, we have been in this together, although I skipped one or two due to pressure of work at Biochemistry or some other immovable commitment.  Over the years we have also taken members of the public, high school learners and fellow colleagues at the University on these tours, whenever there have been seats open in the vehicles.  These “outsiders” have very often made valuable contributions to the range and depth of the topics touched on during the tour.  One interesting feature of these trips over the years has been the large number of our University colleagues who have annually committed themselves very enthusiastically to participate in the next trip only to pull out at the last minute.  This year we had 14 students from the Department of Botany and Zoology and one member of the public, Peter Müller, a retired Wood Technologist.

Monday 17th March

Just after 06:30 on Monday the 17th of March, Lynnette dropped me off at the University’s vehicle park where Juri was already inspecting the two Toyotas and completing the paperwork.  We hooked on the two trailers and shortly before 07:00 we were parked outside the Department and the students could begin to load their gear, the supplies and other equipment for the week.  Shortly after 07:00 Juri gave the first briefing and then we embarked and headed out of Stellenbosch toward the West Coast Fossil Park near Langebaanweg.  Our route took us through Malmesbury, which has a tepid, sulphur chloride spring that once attracted many ailing Capetonians to a Sanatorium that was built there.  A shopping centre now covers the site.

After turning off the N7 onto the R45, our route took us across the undulating hills of weathered Malmesbury shale that form the wheat fields of the Swartland (Black Land), These were once covered in Renosterbos (Elytropappus rhinocerotis), which is the signature plant on weathered shale and mudstone throughout our area.  Its dark colouring, when seen from a distance, was probably the origin of the name Swartland.  Once past the Moorreesburg turnoff, the countryside gradually changed to alluvial sand covered in restios interspersed with small and medium sized shrubs.  Just after the small settlement of Koperfontein we passed the brand new 66 MW Hopefield wind farm owned by Umoya Energy.  The farm became operational in February 2014 and develops sufficient energy to power 70 000 low-income homes or 29 000 medium-income homes, when the wind blows. Go here to read a short article on this wind farm.

The R45 bypasses the town of Hopefield, a fact which has turned the town into a virtual ghost town. Between Hopefield and the Air Force Base at Langebaanweg, the markers of the pipeline bringing water to the West Coast from Voëlvlei dam can be seen at intervals on one’s right and, shortly after Langebaanweg, we turned off the R45 into the Park.  The Park was originally a Chemfos phosphate mine, but after the closure of the mine in 1993, it was declared a National Monument Site in 1996.  The Park, now covering about 700ha, was officially launched in 1998. It is currently under the control of the Iziko Museums of Cape Town, and is managed by Pippa Haarhoff.  It has recently been declared a National Heritage Site.  The following site gives more information on the Park.  The fossils date back about 5.2 million years to the late Miocene/early Pliocene era.  Go here for more information on this exceptional area.  After some refreshments at the visitors centre we got back into the vehicles and followed the guide, Wendy Wentzel, down to the dig site.

DSC_6040_Wendy_Wentzel_Group_WCFP
Wendy briefing us on the background of the area and the dig site
DSC_6044_Attention_x13_WCFP
The group lined up listening to Wendy. Angus is to the left out of the picture and Peter to the right also out of the picture

The dig site is in the old ‘E’ Quarry area and displays an astounding array of fossils.  Wendy ran us through an informative description of the various animals found at the site, the conditions thought to have existed when the animals died and the methods used to uncover the fossils.  The majority of the bones visible seem to be those of the short-necked giraffe or Sivathere but there is evidence of wales, seals, various elephants and different sabre toothed cats as well.  The only bear south of the Sahara was also found at the Park in the smaller dig site adjacent to the larger one visited by the general public.  Shark teeth found here are evidence for the existence of a behemoth that would have dwarfed the infamous cinematic Jaws.  After the talk we moved outside to the sorting trays where everyone had a go at finding the fossil remains of the smaller animals such as mice, frogs and moles.  Then back to the vehicles to return to the visitors centre for a quick bite to eat, something to drink and a visit to the essential amenities before departing on the next leg of our journey.

DSC_6045_Claire_Benjamin_Dale_Different_Reactions_WCFP
Dismay, amazement and indifference? I do not really think so but you’d best ask Claire, Benjamin and Dale yourself
DSC_6051_Bones1_WCFP
5.2 million year old carnage. The bottle does not date back that far
DSC_6055_Bear_WCFP
A reconstruction of the Southern African bear. Check out the size comparison with a human
DSC_6056_Sivathere_WCFP
The short necked giraffe or Sivathere compared to a human. This was a big animal and, judging by the bones here quite common too
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Wendy instructing the group on how to find the really small stuff

We retraced or route past Hopefield and shortly after Koperfontein we turned left to Moorreesburg.  On that stretch of road we had an excellent view of the ancient termite mounds or “heuweltjies” that give the fields such a lumpy appearance.  These mounds were already alluded to by the 18th century Astronomer and Geodesist, Nicolas-Louis De La Caille.  Go here to read the section in Dr. Ian Glass’s book on De la Caille. For a more recent and scientific coverage of the topic you can go here to read an article published by the Department of Soil Science at the University of Stellenbosch.  We passed through Moorreesburg which considers itself the “heart” of the Swartland wheat industry and actually boasts a wheat industry museum, one of only three in the world.

We then headed for the twin towns of Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel.  Just outside the former we passed the cement factory of PPC (Pretoria Portland Cement) where one can visit the restored house in which General Jan Christian Smuts was born.  Smuts, educated at the Victoria College, later the University of Stellenbosch, and Christ’s College at Cambridge University, went on to become State Attorney of the Transvaal Republic, a successful general in the Anglo-South African War and eventually Prime minister of South Africa.  Daniel Francois Malan, the first Prime Minister to actively apply the basic principles of institutionalized apartheid after the 1948 elections, was also born in Riebeek West. These two towns lie on the slopes of the Kasteelberg.  From these two towns one has a sweeping view of the Northward tending arm Cape Fold Mountains from the Limietberg behind Wellington through the Winterhoek west of Tulbagh and on into the Cederberg where the peak of Cederberg Sneeukop can just be made out.

We left Kasteelberg behind, crossed the Berg River and just after passing the hamlet of Hermon, we turned left on the R46.  Our route took us past the blockhouse that once guarded the railway line during the Anglo-South African war and then Voëlvlei dam, one of the major sources of water for Cape Town and the West Coast before passing into Nuwekloof through which the Little Berg River exits on its way to join the Berg River several kilometers beyond the village of Gouda.  In 1739 the head and right hand of the infamous Estiénne Barbier were placed in this area after his execution as a gruesome warning to anyone contemplating an uprising against the VOC.  In Nuwekloof one can still see the dry stone wall supporting Andrew Bain’s road which was in use for more than a hundred years until it was replaced by the present road in 1968.  The road then passes into the Land of Wavern, south of Tulbagh and heads up the valley of the Little Berg river with the Witzenberg rising on the left and, on the right, the Elandsberg which is replaced by the Watervalsberg once one has crossed the watershed at Artois. It then swings to the left, passing North of Wolesely and shortly afterward entering Michell’s Pass.

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Lunch al fresco in Michell’s Pass on a section of Andrew Bain’s old road
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The after lunch lecture in Michell’s Pass

In Michell’s Pass we stopped on the only section of Andrew Bain’s road that has been preserved.  Out came the tables and food and, while a light lunch was enjoyed, Juri spoke at length about Bain, the founding of the town of Ceres and the true origins of the town’s name as well as the tremendous importance of the pass at the time it was constructed.  After lunch we packed up before inspecting the impressive dry stone walls of the old road and then drove the last bit of the pass into Ceres where we filled up with fuel and everyone had an opportunity to visit a small supermarket.  Our next stop was the pharmacy to so that Benjamin could buy medication for the Otitis Media he had developed.  We finally left Ceres heading for Eselfontein, the farm of Gideon and Janine Malherbe where we would look for fossils in a quarry and spend the night in their Ecocamp.  Driving out to the farm the road ran across extensive beds of Bokkeveld sediments with the Skurweberg’s younger sandstone layers sloping down under them from our right.  In the distance on our left were the cliffs of Gydoberg and the Waboomsberg rising high above the northern edge of the Ceres valley.

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The quarry on Eselfontein with typical Renosterbos veld in the background and students in the foreground
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Benjamin’s Trilobite find.
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The campfire at the Ecocamp on Eselfontein with the pointers to the Southern Cross prominent in the night sky in the background

We spent time in the quarry giving everyone the opportunity to experience the thrill of finding a fossil.  That special feeling when you crack open the rock and see it, knowing you are not only the first human but the only human to ever have seen the creature that has been entombed in the sediment for several hundred million years.  Many shell imprints were found from a variety of families as well as several fragments of trilobites.  The prize find of the afternoon was Benjamin’s trilobite.  Fairly late in the afternoon we packed up and drove up the fairly rigged road to the Ecocamp where we unpacked and set about preparing supper.  Benjamin and Dale did their first of several stints at the fire on the trip, grilling the chicken to perfection.  Benjamin’s approach is that he would rather cook every evening than wash dishes.  Juri, Claire and Sheree’s potato salad went down very well too.  Unforeseen problems with the water supply meant that we all had to wash in the adjacent mountain stream.  There was very little interest in astronomy as most people were pretty tired after the long day but, nevertheless, the Moon, just one day past full moon, rising behind the pine forest made quite a spectacular site.

Tuesday 18th March

At 07:00 Juri started the day by getting everybody up and moving in the direction of breakfast after which we packed up, packed everything into the vehicles and the trailers and set off on the first leg of day two.  This entailed a short drive in the direction of Lakenvlei dam, then past Matroosberg to Okkie Geldenhuys’s farm Matjiesrivier, where we collected our annual allocation of peaches.  With the sandstone of the Cape fold mountains behind us, but still standing on Bokkeveld sediments, the view to the north of the farm gave us our first view of the Witteberg sediments.

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Early morning at Eselfontein with the moon peeking between the branches of a Protea bush and the morning sun touching the mountains in the background.
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Juri delivers the morning talk on what the day has in store for everyone
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We start moving out of the Ecocamp on Eselfontein
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The historic homestead on Matjiesrivier

Shortly after leaving the farm we picked up the R46 again and headed East toward the N1 and our first fossil stop of the day near the game farm Aquila.  On the way there we passed Verkeerdevlei, the original water supply for Touws River and a forlorn looking Dakota aircraft parked amongst some scraggy looking pines in a military training area.  About 300m before reaching Aquila, we pulled over and got out to look for Zoophycos, one of the few fossils one finds readily in the Witteberg sediments.  After finding some examples and making sure everyone knew what it looked like we departed.  As we drove away, we had a good view of Aquila’s huge automated solar energy installation that produces 60 kW of electricity by means of a Concentrator Photovoltaic system.  The area around the solar panels also houses the lion rehabilitation pens as a deterrent to would be thieves.  This system forms part of an eventual 50 MW installation currently under construction.  Go here to read more about this exciting installation.

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Roadside talk on the Witteberg sediments and the fossils the group might expect to find there
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The panels of the Solar installation just across the road from the Game Farm, Aquila.
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They are probably wondering where to start

Our next stop was Touws River for acquiring refreshments and use of the amenities and then we were off again headed for the Logan Cemetery on the N1.  Although the mountains around us were all Witteberg deposits, we were soon driving on the frist of the Ecca deposits and about 10 km north of the town the first patch of Dwyka tillite, a glacial deposit, appeared to the left of the road.  Also fairly abundant along the N1 was the yellowish Kraalbos (Galena Africana), a pioneer shrub that takes over in disturbed or overgrazed areas.  It can, however, proliferate to the point where it suppresses the regrowth of other plants.  As we progressed in the direction of Matjiesfontein, we saw more and more  Dwyka tillite on either side of the road and the Witteberg Mountains to the south also became more and more prominent.  When parked at the Logan cemetery one can see good examples of Ecca, Witteberg and Dwyka.

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The group gathered around Andrew Wauchope’s gravestone. An identical one was erected at his birthplace in Scotland
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Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope was a much admired officer in the British Army
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Jimmy and Emma Logan’s gravestones
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A memorial from friends and colleagues to John Grant who was killed in an accident during construction work on the railway

At the cemetery Juri discussed the mystery surrounding the burial of Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope (known as Red Mick) in this spot.  He was the commander of the 3rd (Highland) Brigade at the Battle of Magersfontein on the 11th of December 1899 in the Anglo-South-African War and was killed in the opening minutes of the battle.  His wife Jane gave instructions that he should be buried where he fell – at Magersfontein – and yet he lies here.  Also buried here is James Douglas Logan, the founder of the little town of Matjiesfontein, owner of the farm Tweedside and Member of the Cape Parliament, his wife and several family members.  A little further away is the grave of George Alfred Lohmann a phenomenal English cricketer of the late 1800’s who, despite several trips to recuperate at Matjiesfontein, eventually lost his battle against tuberculosis.  After taking a look at the obelisk commemorating Wauchope higher up on the hill and examining the Dwyka tillite on the hillside, we left for Sutherland.

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Juri and the students gathered around the memorial commemorating Andrew Wauchope. Note the pointy outcrops of Dwyka tillite on the hillside
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George Alfred Lohmann’s gravestone
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A most appropriate symbolic indication that a great cricketer had finally been bowled out
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In memory of private Doyle of the Royal Scots Greys. One wonders how many of these grave markers are scattered across the world commemorating young men who died “For King/Queen and country”

On the way to Sutherland we took note of the various sizes of the drop-stones in the cuttings through the Dwyka tillite and also pointed out the various outcrops of the Whitehill Formation, a distinctive stratigraphic unit near the base of the Ecca group and stressed its importance as a repository of Mesosaurus, fish and insect fossils from the early Permian.  As we progressed northward we crossed the Collingham Formation, a section of volcanic ash and eventually arrived amongst the Beaufort or Karoo sediments which were deposited on land by huge meandering rivers in a gigantic basin that stretched right across the present day South Africa.  At a deep cutting about one km after crossing the Tanqua River, we stopped to look at the exposed mudstone and sandstone beds so typical of the Karoo sediments and also to explain to the students how the early Karoo Basin was filled in.

In Sutherland we visited Mr Eddie Marais, who in his youth had the privilege of collecting with Dr L. D. Boonstra.  Mr Marais has a collection of artefacts that Juri used to explain to the students what they could expect in the field the following day and how to distinguish between calciferous nodules and actual bone.  He also took the opportunity to discuss the development of the Karoo fauna and explained the gradual transition of true reptiles to mammal-like reptiles and later to true mammals which could be observed in the fossil record of the Karoo sediments.  After enjoying the refreshments graciously supplied by Mrs Marais, we left to refuel the vehicles.

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Everything nicely set out by Mrs Marais in her garden and all we now needed were the people to enjoy the spread
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The pet graveyard in the Marais’s garden; pet rooster on the left followed by three cats

On our way to Fraserburg we passed the SAAO site where SALT and all the other South African telescopes are situated.  On arrival at Fraserburg, we unloaded and Karin showed us to our rooms and as soon as the children in the hostel had left the dining hall, we moved into the kitchen to prepare supper.  The end result of the kitchen team was a delicious pasta dish.  After supper there was some astronomy discussion with various members of the group and most of the group went to bed in preparation for a long day on Wednesday.

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Pasta supper on the first evening in Huis Retief, the School hostel in Fraserburg

Wednesday 19th March

We were in the dining room shortly after eight to have breakfast and then we set off for the local museum which is housed in the old Pastorie of the Dutch Reformed Church.  The very friendly person in charge of the museum, Don Pedro Malan welcomed us at the museum and Juri set about giving a detailed explanation of the fossils on display.  His explanation also covered the development of the various groups of animals that had been present in the Karoo basin during the period when it was filling up. After his talk everyone had the opportunity to look more closely at the fossil display and look around the museum in general before we set of to Droogvoetsfontein, where we met up with Mr Pieter Conradie.  We all piled onto and into his pickup for a trip into the veld and then back to our vehicles which Juri and I then drove to the next stop while Pieter ferried the students there.  Juri and I then rejoined the crowd on the pickup for the trip to where he had found a fossil, or at least bits of a fossil.  As with many of the fossils in the Karoo lying exposed on the surface the elements take their toll and this one had not fared any better.  All that was left, were a few scraps of nondescript bone not worth collecting and the surroundings also suggested that these had probably washed in from elsewhere in any case.  Back on the pickup and back to the vehicles for a short drive before we dispersed in all directions to look for the elusive fossils.  After about two hours I had found some pieces of rib bone and others had found another badly weathered fossil on the slope of a hill.

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The Old Pastorie Museum in Fraserburg
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Jurie running through the fossil display in the museum and explaining the relationships between reptiles, dinosaurs and mammal-like reptiles

 

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Benjamin and Dale discussing the day’s programme, or are they planning the evening’s braai?
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Pieter Conradie (snr) and Johannes closing the gate. Juri and I still had to clamber aboard
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The immensity of the Karoo dwarfs members of the group as they scour the veld for fossils
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Some members of the team found something but, unfortunately, not worth collecting
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Lunch is served under the trees on the farm Dagbreek

Back to the vehicles and off we went to Pieter’s farm, Dagbreek, where we prepared a light lunch in the shade of a tree.  The new-born lambs were an immediate hit with the students.  After lunch we set off again, but this time with Pieter on his motorcycle leading the way.  After an interesting drive, we arrived at the next farm, Onderplaas, disembarked and set off on foot down a riverbed with scattered pools of water and muddy patches amongst the grass to trap the unwary.  What was left of this fossil was still firmly embedded in the rock, but most of it had been worn away by the perennial flooding of the river.  Disappointed we trudged back to the farmyard, said our goodbyes and set off for our next contact, also Pieter Conradie, the son of the first Pieter Conradie.  He and his wife Marisa were waiting at the appointed place with their three lively children and our prickly pears.  Pieter excitedly led us up a hill to look at his fossil, which unfortunately turned out to be a collection of calciferous nodules; his disappointment was quite tangible.

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A fossil at last on the farm Onderplaas but also to far gone to make it worth trying to take it out

Our group did a quick recce, found nothing and then set off after Pieter Jnr for refreshments at his farm Middelfontein a few kilometres down the road.  Refreshments, in addition to cool drinks, consisted of chilled prickly pears, ice cream and various delicious liqueurs to be used as toppings.  I, for one, made an absolute pig of myself with the prickly pears and ate 50 of them!  After some small talk with the Pieter and his wife and their three cats, we said goodbye and headed back to Fraserberg, anxious to get there before the shops closed as the beer supply was running low.  We rounded the day off with a congenial braai, once again executed by Dale and Benjamin in a masterly fashion.  We did some astronomy too for those who were interested and then went to bed.

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Chilled prickly pears and ice cream on the farm Middelfontein courtesy of Pieter Conradie (jnr) and his wife Marisa
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A braai back at the school hostel rounds of the day

Thursday 20th March

Today is the autumn equinox when the sun is exactly over the equator on its way north and the day and night should be the same length.  It also signals the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  These facts did not really seem to impress anyone, so I didn’t push the matter.  Anyway, we were packed up and finished with breakfast shortly after eight – at least most of us were!  Then we set out on the Williston road to the palaeosurface on the farm Gansefontein.  It is very sad to see the systematic deterioration of this site when we visit it every year.  All Coenie De Beer’s efforts since he took a month’s unpaid leave from the Geological Survey in Pretoria 25 years ago and came down here on his motorcycle to map and measure the then freshly exposed surface, have been in vein.  Well, not quite in vain, because an insurance company donated money to put a fence around the site and put up a notice board.  What is really needed is a building to cover the existing site and money to uncover more of the surface around the existing site, but as things stand now, the non-preservation of this site is actually a disgrace for South Africa.

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Breakfast discussion on the last morning in Fraserburg and Juri explains how high we will have to climb
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The palaeosurface on the farm Gansefontein. The white markers outline the areas one should not walk on
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The Geological Society of Southern Africa’s notice explaining what may be seem on the palaeosurface
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Juri interprets the bones. Sorry, that should be traces and tracks
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A great, great, great, great, great, great, great – and then a lot more greats – grandchild of the animals that made some of the tracks at the palaeosurface

After the visit to the Palaeosurface we made a quick stop for biltong and dried sausage and then set off down the R356 toward the Theekloof Pass and our next destination.  Theekloof Pass is potentially one of the most spectacular passes, if not in the country, then most certainly in the Western Cape Province.  After the obligatory stop for photos half way down, we continued our descent into the lower regions of the Karoo.  The pass also affords one an unprecedented view of the layered nature of the Karoo sediments with their alternating sandstone and mudstone layers, broken by dolerite sills and dykes in many places.  Upon arrival at Rooiheuwel, the farm of Flip and Marge Vivier, we were enthusiastically welcomed by the Jack Russels and an overzealous Boxer before being taken inside for a welcome cool drink.  Once that was done, we set off to look at a fossil on a neighbouring farm, which was “just around the corner”. Those of you who do not know the Karoo, should beware as this phrase could mean anything from 15 to, as we have experienced, 40 or more kilometres.

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Tafelkop and Spitzkop with the vast expanse of the Karoo spread out southward as seen from a vantage point in Theekloofpass
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A view up the pass with some of the group members perched on the edge of the kloof
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The house of Flip and Marge Vivier on the farm Rooiheuwel
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I found a new species of goat – a Zebra Goat

When we finally stopped and disembarked, Flip indicated that the fossil was “just over there”, pointing at a fairly distant hill on the other side of a dry riverbed, so of we went,  The fossil was also a disappointment.  Almost definitely a Pareiasaurus, but apparently lying on its left side with the tail, pelvic girdle, right limbs and ribs all missing.  The head was very probably also no longer there, so we decided to leave it there to continue its losing battle with time and erosion.  Back to the vehicles and to Rooiheuwel for a quick lunch and then a short drive to a place where we could get into the veldt to look for fossils again.  Once again no luck, so we drove off to explore for likely fossil sites.  One problem on this farm is that the vegetation cover is quite dense and the potential fossil areas are well hidden until you are right on top of them and finding traces of bone would then be doubly difficult too.  We returned to the farm, said goodbye and drove to Merweville, our overnight stop.  Juri’s vehicle was running low on fuel so he drove quite slowly to conserve what he had, but eventually we got there.

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Juri pronouncing judgement on the fossil remains of a Pareiasaurus.on the farm De Krans
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Juri holding a single vertebra and one can clearly see how badly it has been eroded. The bone surface has been removed exposing the spongelike inner structure
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Our ever hopeful band of searchers combs the hillside on the off chance they will find a skull or perhaps a tooth or two
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In the far distance Tafelkop and Spitzkop which lie just below the Theekloofpass
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Rule in fossil hunter’s guidebook: It always takes longer to get back to the vehicles from the site than it took to get to the site from the vehicles when you didn’t find anything
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The usual lunch in the shade of a tree, but this time on the farm Rooiheuwel
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Yet once again we return empty handed
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Juri and our host on Rooiheuwel, Flip Vivier, in a serious discussion
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Sunset from the grounds of the school hostel in Merweville
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Beware! In Merweville they have thorns, lots and lots of them

At Huis Mervia, the local school hostel, we unloaded and Juri set off to find the local parson of the Dutch Reformed Church, who had promised the group could go up into the church tower and out onto the catwalk to admire the view.  He found him and off they went.  In the meantime, the braai-maestros were getting the fire ready for their next culinary tour de force.  As an entrée, we had slices of bread from two huge farm loaves baked by Mrs Blom, the hostel matron, and then it was Karoo lamb a la Dale and Benjamin, with onions and butternut wrapped in tin foil and grilled to perfection on the fire.  Some astronomy after supper and then most of us turned in for the night.

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Opuntia infestation, the scourge of the Karoo, on the grounds of the hostel in Merweville
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Huis Mervia, the school hostel in Merweville
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The clan is gathering for the evening’s festivities in Merweville
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Merweville and the two iconic symbols of all small Karoo towns, the windmills and the church tower

Friday 21st March

It was a public holiday which we assumed would not affect us, but it eventually did.  I went into town to refuel my vehicle, came back and had breakfast before we packed up and left to visit our fossil on Hendrik Botes’s farm Jakhalsfontein, which is spelt oddly as you can see.  Juri thinks the fossil might actually be on Vaalleegte and we should really resolve the discrepancy someday. En route we passed the turnoff to the tragic Englishman’s grave, but that story will have to wait.  Once on the farm, we unhooked the trailers for the long drive to our fossil dig site where we have been letting successive groups of students systematically excavate, what we hope is a fairly complete Pareiasaurus.  It is quite a long walk from where we park the vehicles, but once there, we rotated and some hacked away with hammers while others scoured the area for other fossils.  About two hours of hacking away and Juri decided to call it a day and head back to the vehicles.  Eventually everyone was back and aboard so we could turn round, drive back, hook up the trailers go to an unoccupied house further down the road and his house is definitely on Jakhalsfontein.  We had lunch on the veranda or, as it is called locally, the stoep.  During the lunch break, some quinces were picked under Juri’s expert tutelage so we could have stewed quinces and cream for dessert that evening.

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And into the veld once more led, as usual, by Juri. The fossil is just over that far hill
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Some hacked and some searched. Our Pareiasaurus is under that white lump of plaster of Paris in the centre of the seated group of hackers
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The Karoo is vast – have I said that before? Peter Müller is just visible centre right and in the background the blue line of the Swartberg Mountains. One can just make out the gap where Seweweekspoort is and, just to the right of that Seweweekspoort Peak and, a little further to the right of that the magical  mountain,Towerkop
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Home we go until we bring the next group in 2015, maybe
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It might be a long way to Tipperary but I think it’s further to those vehicles
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Zoomed in on Towerkop . Now see if you can find it on the previous photo
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Lunch on the stoep of the old Jakhalsfontein house

After lunch we made a quick stop at the café in Prince Albert Road and an essential pit stop for some members of the group before hitting the N1 and heading south to Laingsburg.  This took us out of the Karoo sediments and onto the Ecca which were laid down just offshore in huge estuaries.  We arrived at Laingsburg to find the liquor store open, but the supermarket closed so we had beer but no cream and we also needed sour cream for the potjiekos Dale was going to prepare for supper.  We checked some of the other obvious possibilities for cream and sour cream, but none produced the goods.  So we drove to the sports fields where we were going to spend the night in the clubhouse and, after unloading, I went and investigated one more possible source for the cream and sour cream, but that also turned out to be a dead end.  Dale had found ways to improvise his way around the sour cream, but the prospects looked grim for the stewed quinces.

It is a pity the Flood Museum commemorating the disastrous flood of 1981 was closed as I would have liked the students to see it.  If you visit Laingsburg pay the museum a visit and then drive down to the railway bridge, get out of your car and stand under the bridge.  When you look up consider the fact that, on that fateful day, the water was lapping the rails on top of the bridge before the embankment at the eastern end gave way.  Just for a moment consider the entire valley filled to that depth with churning, muddy water. It is a chilling thought I can assure you.

Dale’s potjiekos and rice was excellent.  Actually it wasn’t, it was superb!  After lots of philosophical discussions, there was some down to earth stuff too, we tidied up and went to bed.  As I was having the last conversation with Juri, before we finally went to bed, he remembered that he had forgotten to cook the quinces.  I had actually wondered about this after supper, but assumed the lack of cream was to blame.

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Hows that for camouflage
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Relaxing outside the Clubhouse at the Laingsburg Sports-fields
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The streak of light is Dale buzzing around his potjiekos in the background

Saturday 22nd March

While gathering the troops, it turned out that rather than make their own breakfast, everyone was in favour of picking up coffee and whatever from the local Wimpy and heading south as quickly as possible.  A few kilometres outside Laingsburg, we crossed into the ancient lake basin again and could clearly see the tell-tale white slopes on either side of the road.  Before long we encountered the first of the Dwyka tillite and shortly after that, the Witteberg Mountains came into sight on our left.  Just before Touws River we encountered the first of several stop-and-go sections where the National Roads Agency was undertaking extensive road works all the way down to the Hex River Pass.  Topping the rise just before the farm Kleinstraat, we had a good view of Aquila’s second solar farm with 1 500 panels, being built by the French firm, Soitec, which was nearing completion.  The installation will provide 50 MW (peak DC) power and provide a 36 MW AC output to the local grid.   This makes it one of the largest plants of its kind in the world.  Go here to read more about the installation about the installation.  You can also go to this link for more information.

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Loading up to move out from Laingsburg on the last morning
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The whole group with a high hill of Ecca sediments in the background.

From this point we were on the Bokkeveld shale again and, as we navigated the Hex Pass and skirted De Doorns and Orchard, we moved further and further into the sandstone layers of the earlier deposits.  By the time we exited the Hex River Valley we had left the Bokkeveld behind us and the sandstone layers towered high above our heads.  Shortly after leaving the Hex River Valley, we pulled into the De Wet Cooperative Winery where we traditionally stopped to sample their Muscadels and Ports.  Just across the road from the winery was an impressive hill of Malmesbury shale lifted upward by the rising magma millions of years ago.  As the magma cooled and formed granite, the heat baked the otherwise fairly crumbly shale into a hard metamorphic rock the geologists call Hornfels.  This is mined in a quarry on the Worcester side of the hill and produces the blue-grey chips ubiquitously used in road making.

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At De Wet Cooperative wine cellar. On the immediate left is a high hill of Malmesbury shale and the mountains in the background are younger sandstones of the Table Mountain group
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Sampling the fruit of the vine at De Wet Cooperative Cellar on the N1

From De Wet we took a back road via Nonna, Overhex and Aan de Doorns to Eilandia and the quarry where we hoped to find more insect fossils and perhaps a fish or too and just maybe a Mesosaurus. At the quarry Juri and I were somewhat concerned by the fact that there had been considerable excavation since our last visit, and access to the specific section that usually produced the insects, was quite precarious; in fact rather dangerous.  Apart from Juri having a rather nasty fall, it all went well.  We came away with several Notocaris imprints, a fantastic leaf imprint thanks to Robyn and section of Mesosaurus backbone courtesy of Nombuso.  A snap vote before we left decided against stopping for lunch so we would head straight back to Stellenbosch.  One got the distinct impression that the students felt it was a case of “Home James, and don’t spare the horses”.

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Final briefing of the trip from Juri before we tackle the quarry in the Whitehill Formation at Eilandia
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This is really a very tricky site to work in now that it has been escavated to an almost vertical slope
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Take the fence post just left of centre and measure three lengths of that post down from the top edge of the slope. There is a thin grey line of bentonite there. The insects are usually found just above the bentonite
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Up we go for the last dig and hack of the trip
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The exceptional leaf imprint Robyn found
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The section of Mesosaurus backbone found by Nombuso
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The circular patches caused by the termite mounds. They change the soil’s composition and structure creating micro-habitats that are preferential growth areas for specific plants. These areas then stand out against the surrounding vegetation

I stopped to take photos of the clearly visible termite mounds on the slope of a hill that we passed. Our route took us past Brandvlei dam and then through Rawsonville and Du Toit’s Kloof Pass where Juri elected to avoid the Huguenot Tunnel and drive over the pass, which is the route to take if you want to enjoy a spectacular view.  After unloading at the Department and saying all the goodbyes I went and dropped off the trailer and then delivered the vehicle to the vehicle park, where Lynnette was already waiting.  We stowed all my gear away and then went back to the Department to pick up Lona, who also lives in Brackenfell and had asked if we could give her a lift home.

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Unloading in front of the Department and 2014’s trip has come to an end
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Juri ticks off the all important hammer register as everyone hands back their geological hammers

All that was left for me to do, was to work through all 500 photos that I had taken and write this report.  The report writing was seriously disrupted by the need to complete our application for a National Science Week grant from the NRF via SAASTA.