Shortly after my 10th birthday, our family left Dallas in our 1935 Plymouth for a trip to West Texas. Memorable stops along the way were eating breakfast in the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg, and spending the night in the new Lone Starr Lodges in Kerrville. We headed for Fort Davis, where we spent the night at the Prude Ranch and then drove up Mt. Locke to see the new McDonald Observatory on September 7th.
My first visits to McDonald Observatory occurred in the seventies as a camper at Prude Ranch. One of our field trips was to the Observatory and what struck me the most wasn't the telescopes or skies, but the migration of thousands of ladybugs on every surface. It was a Milky Way of orange and black.
My Dad, a traveling salesman, and I visited McDonald in the summer of 1950. I was a high school junior from Lamesa, Texas. We met Paul Jose and how I"ll never know, I was invited to spend a week or so at the Observatory. I lived in the dome. I got to observe at the prime focus, develop plates, and do just about everything! Paul and his wife kept me fed and happy. It was a truly wonderful experience. I went to Texas A&M and finished with a degree in Physics. Then I received an MS in Physics fron UCLA and finally a PhD in Astronomy from Wisconsin.
My father Henry Noah Jones lived in the Ft. Davis , Texas area when my sister Mary Lou Jones was born there, My mom told me dad helped haul a huge lens up the mountain for a new obsevatory being built there at the time.
I happened to be in the neighborhood of the observatory after presenting a workshop in Alpine and decided to drive up to see what was going on. Alas, the observatory was closed for a private tour of Japanese tourists. I decided to take my chances, started mingling with the group, and told our observatory guide that I was a translator for the group. The truth is I didn't speak a word of Japanese! Sometimes, a little fib and subterfuge is necessary when the stars are calling, and there are no other options available.
Special Viewing Night was offered to the locals of our area in west Texas for no admission. We had never been to the McDonald Observatory and thought this would be an opportune time. We picked the perfect night for our reservation. The skies were clear and the temperature cool. Dan, the moderator, showed us several interesting things in the night sky. Looking through the 36-inch telescope, we were blown away by the awesome wonder of the universe. The McDonald Observatory is truly a treasure in our area, and we will definitely be back again.