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"We packed up and drove down the mountain. We heard the next day the SHOOTING STARS went off about an hour after left."
As plans go, this one seemed foolproof.
My brother-in-law Javier put out the call to head for Mt. Pinos on a Friday night to catch the Perseid meteor shower. He'd gone up last summer and it proved to be the perfect star-gazing destination. Dark and uncrowded, the parking lot offered a quiet place to lay out a blanket and take in the amazing show exploding across the night sky.
Since it was my first week back at work after road-tripping through Colorado, I was going through outdoor withdrawals. An evening spent in the pines at 7,500 feet would prove just the fix. The media reports I read on Friday morning about the shower the night before kicked my anticipation up another couple of notches. It promised to be an exciting night.
We rendezvoused at the Castaic Starbucks and headed up the hill. A last stop at the Flying J Truck Stop in Frazier Park emptied bladders, topped off snack supplies and allowed us to connect with the stragglers in our party.
We finally got our caravan headed west on Cuddy Valley Road for the last part of the drive. Our party totaled seven adults and eight kids between the ages of 5 and 16. I was a little worried about the size and potential volume of our group. Get my kids together with their cousins and they get, well, loud. That didn't seem like it would play well on a quiet mountain top populated by amateur astronomers.
We rolled into the parking lot to find absolutely no danger of infringing on anyone's solitude. Cars ringed the lot and a double line had started forming down the middle. We claimed a small area near the entrance as our own and set up our base.
Javi rolled out a couple of area rugs that he keeps handy for outdoor adventures. They were perfect for making the asphalt more homey. The kids plopped down with their blankets and once comfortable, started asking for the snacks.
We couldn't have a fire, but we still had s'mores. Javi's buddy Robert thought ahead and packed s'more-flavored Pop Tarts. Between those, other assorted chips, crackers and soda, and the novelty of being in the mountains on a Friday night way past their bedtime, the kids were distracted for awhile.
Finally, my 5-year-old niece Sammi asked the obvious. "When does the meteor shower start?" came her little voice from under a blanket.
Good question. I craned my neck back and stared into the sky. Stars glittered in the darkness and planes arced overhead, their lights tracking across the expanse. The Milky Way was even faintly visible. While impressive, it wasn't what we had come for. The news reports about Thursday night's display said nearly 200 shooting stars an hour were visible. So far, we'd seen about four.
We waited. And waited some more. After being in the office for the week it was just nice to be outside. A half moon illuminated the trees behind us. The air was fresh and tinged with pine scent. It was so chilly I needed a sweatshirt.
Any boredom was pre-empted by watching people driving around the parking lot. Some didn't clue in that headlights ruin night vision and blinded us. Others drove without their lights and veered way too close to where the kids were laying.
Around midnight, my wife called it. Game over. Time for bed. For her, not the kids. We packed up and drove down the mountain. We heard the next day the shooting stars went off about an hour after left.
We missed the show, but learned something more important. There are three campgrounds in the vicinity.
So we've got a new foolproof plan: Next time we go for the weekend, stay up as late as we want and not worry about driving home in the dark.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.