Friday, February 15, 2008

Skywatch Friday, telescopes and Arty Farty stuff

Hi. Firstly, I must apologise for being so scare recently. I have not posted or visited much, because I have an art exhibition on, which opened on Tuesday. There was the usual last minute flurry of activity right up till the first guest walked into the gallery for the opening. (Max-e covered the opening, including the surprise arrival of the man everyone loves to hate in this town, on his blog yesterday.)

And while I was hanging pictures some rotten $#^%&^% stole both electronic wing mirrors off my car. So the last couple of days have been spent rushing around trying to sort that out, as well as coping with builders, who are still hard at work transforming our courtyard into a wasteland of mess and chaos, before if hopefully morphs into a useful art studio in the near future.

Then, I visited the Cuyler Street gallery yesterday, to discover that the exhibition the delightful owner Tossie offered me is not at the end of March, as I had thought, but opens on the 4th March. Guys, that's just over 2 weeks from now... eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!! So apart from having to urgently produce 3 paintings on commission for a corporate client who wants them 'yesterday', I must also produce enough new work to fill 2 rooms of the gallery. And I thought going into art full time would be less stressful than running an interior design business, silly me!!.........Actually, to be fair, it is, and I am loving every minute of it. I find tight deadlines help to keep me on my toes and get the old creative juices pumping.

But I guess you can understand why blogging has had to be bumped down the priority list a notch or 2 (along with cooking and housework hehe, any excuse for that!)

Anyway, before I rush off to splash more paint around, here is my Skywatch for this week.

I thought I'd take you on a quick journey to Sutherland, in mid winter. We went to see the famous wild flowers of the west coast (Namaqualand) a couple of years ago. It was the end of August, officially spring, but winter had forgotten to leave!

Just to set the scene for you, most of the journey took place between the Band of mountains that divides the coastal belt of South Africa from the inland plateau, and the plateau itself. The major part of this plateau, beyond these mountains, is an arid, open area known as the Karoo. Because it is semi-desert, it is characterised by dry rocky plains, wide open spaces, and scrubby vegetation. It also has extremes of heat and cold. The area where the Karoo and the mountains meet is a fascinating transition zone. The moist sea air from the coast drops most of its rain on these mountains, producing lush valleys that are home to very productive fruit farms, while just next to them are bare mountaintops.



Heading towards the little Karoo town of Steytlerville, and it is cool despite the blue skies. In Port Elizabeth, skywatching usually consists of sunrises and sunsets. because there is almost always a coastal haze in the air, objects like stars etc are fuzzy, and killed by the city lights. Here in the Karoo, the air is sharp and thin, so everything looks clearer and brighter, even the con-trails!



Heading towards the little village of Willowmore. We are in a valley between two bands of mountains, called the Langkloof (literally "long valley"), and there is a carry-over here of the mediterranean climate of the Western Cape, so it gets winter rainfall. This is icy cold windswept rain, as opposed to the fat warm raindrops experienced in the summer rainfall are to the north.
As a matter of interest, note how narrow the cement road is in this remote stretch, when a car approaches, you each keep one wheel on the road and the other on the gravel verge. You can see the heavy clouds and rain on the windscreen too.







Approaching the pretty little hamlet of Prince Albert, nestled among the Swartberg mountains, and here you see the village spotlighted as the sun finds a gap in the clouds.





We stayed in a delightful Guesthouse in an old mill-house, next to an earth dam. The sunset over the dam was lovely, and we awoke to heavy frost.





The cold sky reflected in the windscreen. I realise that for those of you who have had months of thick snow, this is childsplay, but trust me, for us thin blooded coastal types who consider 16 degrees C to be miserable, this was FREEZING. We were togged out in layers of clothes, beanies, scarves etc!


I loved the typical little Karoo style cottages against the cloudy sky.


Leaving Prince Albert and heading towards Sutherland, we leave the mountains and their clouds in the distance, and enter the real arid part of the Karoo. You can clearly see in all these pix, but particularly this one, how the clouds are linked to the mountains, and the Karoo itself has clear blue skies.


But, do NOT be fooled by the blue skies, the air is biting here!


Sutherland on a mountaintop in the middle of the Karoo, and it is the coldest place in South Africa. It is an arid, desert type of cold that results in amazingly clear skies in the the dry thin air. And so to the ULTIMATE SKYWATCH........ the array of southern hemisphere telescopes on a mountaintop outside town, including the massive new SALT.






The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, with a hexagonal mirror array 11 metres across. Although very similar to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) in Texas, SALT has a redesigned optical system using more of the mirror array. It is able to record distant stars, galaxies and quasars a billion times too faint to be seen with the unaided eye - as faint as a candle flame at the distance of the moon.
The construction of SALT has been funded by a consortium of international partners from South Africa, the United States, Germany, Poland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Many of the people working on the telescope never leave their own country, they work at home on images transmitted to them from the mountain at Sutherland, while snug in their offices. Very wise, apparently. My father-in-law went there late last year and said it is incredibly miserable and uncomfortable in there!

Sadly it was fully booked the night we were there so we could only view it from the distant main road. But I'm sure we'll be back, and when we do go there you'll be the first to see all the pix!!

By the way we were camping in a little nylon tent and it was minus 9 degrees there that night, so we moved on to Calvinia which was only marginally warmer, we still woke up to find the tent stiff and crispy and white with frost! But that is a story for another day.... cheers for now.

29 comments:

RuneE said...

Fascinating landscape pictures, but that reflection in the wind shield was my favourite!

RUTH said...

Gosh you've certainly had some drama going on. Good luck wth the exhibition. A wonderful array of skies and scenic views. I'd never thought that you might get Frost!!
Take Care
Rx

Ida said...

Thanks for taking me, through your pictures. Love the lanscape. :)

ArneA said...

Difficult to choose between so many, but I like best http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COMsKPeWAsw

Paulie said...

Interesting each and every one but my favorite is the ominous looking sky as you drive up the road with not a car in site.

Sandy Carlson said...

Your panoramics are blissful. This is a wonderful sequence and narrative.

Sonia said...

Stunning photos, Suzi-K! Love all them, but the sky on the Karoo style cottages is wonderful!

Good luck on your exhibition!

Sharon said...

What a wonderful series! They were all beautiful, but my favorite was the one looking through the valley. Thanks!

Your kitten is sweet. I used to have one that looked like that named Koko.

dot said...

What a bunch of gorgeous pictures! The cement road amazed me and I think ya'll drive on the opposite side from us. Very interesting!

Sheila said...

Photo ninth from the bottom is amazing, what fabulous scenery.

No apologies needed. I've been MIA too lately. Hopefully sunnier days will inspire me to get moving once more.
It won't be this weekend though,
20 cm more snow on the way..yuk..!
hugs
xx

daryl e said...

WOW

Andrea said...

These are some beautiful views. Great shots.

Enjoy your Friday.

Lilli & Nevada said...

Beautiful scenery, thanks for the drive

Misty Dawn said...

All I can say is "WOW"! These are really fabulous!

Petunia said...

Lots of great shot here! like the one with the windmill...

Yolanda said...

I really enjoyed all these shots. It is such a different landscape to where I live.

ellen b said...

How wonderful to travel to all these places through your photos. Beautiful...

Old Wom Tigley said...

Ha! by eck! you made up for your absence here ... these are wonderful SWP... catch up later

Pat said...

What an interesting read today! Loved your photos and the narration to go with it!

Pat

Guelph Daily Photo, My Photos.

Marie said...

Beautiful!

Old Wom Tigley said...

Me again... I did not have the time to read all through this yesterday.. I had a good look at the picture, and off I went to the next Sky Watch Blog... I visited everyone yesterday..
Anyhow I have now read the post properly.. stunning. I had no idea it got that cold around there, the scenery is stark but very beautiful at the same time.. I think the camping out would have been fun.. I bet the excitement has intense ( IN TENTS ) ha!
Good luck with your art shows. Great post.. sorry I did not have the time yesterday to read through.

Suzi-k said...

hey Tom, don't apologise, at least you did the rounds, I still have to get there!

Suzi-k said...

Ruth, at the coast, I have only experienced frost once in 31 years here, but inland, and especially amongst the mountains, it is fairly common.

Dot, yes you drive on the right side of the road, which means we must drive on the wrong side, lol.

Sheils, hang in there girl, summer's on its way!

Gillian said...

Love that Prince Albert panorama and also the cottages - fantastic drama in that stormy light.

It's lovely to see your beautiful country. x

Andrée said...

i loved the mountains. they are so rugged and dramatic, not like our soft wooded mountains. great post. My Sky Watch is here.

Kerri said...

Beautiful skywatch shots! Hope the exhibition goes well!

Shirley Goodwin said...

Lovely photos as always, Suzi, and well done for the exhibition. The new arrival looks cute!

quintarantino said...

Most beautiful photos. Good look for your project.

Diane said...

Next time you are in Prince Albert, try Onse Rus! My granny grew up there in that house 1910s-20s. We stayed there with Lisa and Gary on our July 07 trip--wonderful, welcoming, and "welaxing"!
Also--is "Yellow-woods" still around in the Hankey-Patensie area? We used to braai and picnic there in the 70s and 80s on many a Sunday. Loved cooling off in the river!
Love your photos--they make me homesick!
:) Diane in Iowa, USA