I was sitting around a table with some of our guides in the Fall of 1985 beginning to plan for our upcoming schedule of trips for the upcoming new year. Running trips out in Big Bend since about 1974, we all knew how fantastic the night sky viewing was–I can’t remember who thought about actually planning and scheduling Halley’s Comet trips but somehow I found myself with books, sky maps, and a night sky computer program cranking away to check out the possibility of viewing Halley’s comet out in Big Bend during the Spring of 1986.
Back in 1985 BTW (before the web) with no website (we came “online” in 1986) we were promoting a lot with press releases and phone calls to newspapers and publications–We never imagined what was about to happen late that fall.
We mailed out press releases “River Company to do Halley’s Comet trips” in Big Bend National Park…
The first thing I heard was from a guy in our office that was answering phones and booking our first six people for our Halley’s Comet Adventure–he said hey Mark, I just booked us 6 people on one of our Halley’s Comet trips–then the phone rang again and we were interrupted by another phone call wanting reservations–then honestly another phone call–that day in December we didn’t have time to talk in the office- all 3 phone lines were constantly ringing–all from two press releases that had caught the eye of two publications, Texas Highways and the Dallas Times Herald–More articles followed and pretty soon our original trips were sold out and we were scampering to coordinate more trips.
Planning these trips we looked to the Houston Astronomical Society for volunteers to come on the trips and be our “Telescope Specialist” providing their telescopes and expertise as well as our telescopes so that our guests would learn about the night sky and more importantly Halley’s Comet.
Our trips were coordinated as 3 day events with either a 2 day river trip or a combo trip of rafting one day and hiking or horseback riding on the second day of activities, then a 3rd night of camping at a base camp and then heading home afterwards.
We all hoped throughout March, April and the first 2 weeks of May that the weather would cooperate and provide us with clear skies for viewing. The night sky in Big Bend is just break-neck incredible–if you have never seen it (especially without a moon) you will have a problem looking back down at the ground–so many stars–and so little time–I get so entranced, that honestly I sometimes “forget to breath”–honestly–
SO–here we are, I am managing the 2 day river trip–My other partner is running the “Combo”–we arrived the first night and our advance team had set up our basecamp, tents, kitchen, and our Astronomer from the Houston Astronomical Society had our telescopes set up. Our group of 24 guests were eager to head to bed so after a brief stop at the telescopes, most turned in–Sunrise over the Chisos mountains and the smell of bacon and eggs woke up our crowd–as we were inflating the rafts, and packing gear our guests our consuming coffee and hot chocolate like it’s going out of style. After breakfast, we headed down to the river to pack our guests gear, and do a safety talk–we’ll raft about 10 miles today and camp out just above Santa Elena Canyon where we have a great open sky to view not only the comet, but the incredible Milky Way. Rafting the first day is all ways a lot of fun–our guests are excited, our guides are doing an incredible job with everything they need to keep up with, including our schedule, lunch, hikes and getting to camp on time–fortunately, water levels were great and we met our first days schedule of lunch and to our campsite on the river. After supper and dusk turned into dark, our Astronomer was geared up and ready to go–guests were so excited to view not only the comet with the naked eye, but everything else in the night sky that was possibly visible. I think the Astronomer finally made it to bed about 2am–I hit the sack probably around 2:30–but I found myself waking up about every hour, and before opening my eyes, I smiled, then opening my eyes I would see Halley’s Comet just glaring right at me. Those trips were somehow still after 25 years unforgettable. We still see guests at shows or on some of our other trips that make mention of those Halley’s Comet trips as something they too, will never forget. And that’s our hope–that every adventure we take, our guests remember them vividly in their minds for years to come.
Hopefully we’ll see you on the river sometime soon.