Construction and Dedication of the SJO

The SJO was designed and constructed in the spring and summer of 2015. The observatory is 12′ by 12′ with a retractable roof, and houses a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with computer guided pointing and tracking. It is located on the southwest corner of The Bluff, just below the grassy level of the park used for festivals.
The Smokey Jack Observatory was designed by Jim Bradburn and Charles Keyes. Due to the generosity of local merchants (Paul Wenke from Ace Hardware, Frank Oberlin from Critical Path Metal Works, and Kent Beach from Beach Ready Mix Concrete), all the construction materials have been donated-in-kind! Plus volunteers John Peleaux, construction leader with Mike Liebman, Bob Remington, Bob Tobin, Bob Huestis, and Jack Naff, did all the construction work. Wireless service to support telescope operation for the observatory is being provided by DD Wireless.
The observatory is named in honor of Suzanne B. Jack, known to all as Smokey Jack, the first Dark Skies President. Smokey and Bill Jack owned and operated the Texas Creek Ranch. Smokey loved the beautiful night skies of the Wet Mountain Valley, and she wanted others to be able to admire the Milky Way. In 1998 Smokey Jack organized a small group of concerned citizens to “…prevent light pollution through education.” Under Smokey’s able leadership, replacing one light at a time, Dark Skies had solicited enough donations to change all 45 streetlights in the Town of Westcliffe to dark sky friendly fixtures by August of 2001. Smokey Jack died of cancer in 2004 at the age of 58, but left behind a legacy of education about light pollution that continues to spread, protecting our pristine dark skies for future generations.

Public Operation of the SJO

At this time, the procedures for the public to reserve and use the SJO are still in development. It will require the recruiting and training of a number of volunteer guides who will assist during the entire viewing session by opening the roof, aligning the computerized telescope to the stars, showing the operation of the telescope, and securing the observatory at the end of the session. Dark Skies will start out slowly to fine tune the procedures by limiting reservations to a few nights per month.

Dark Skies Seeks Volunteer Star Guides for the SJO

The new Smokey Jack Observatory, located at The Bluff Park, has been completed and made fully operational. In order to make the observatory as fully available to the public as possible, Dark Skies is now seeking volunteers to be “star guides” to operate the observatory whenever an individual or a group would like to use the facility for a night of stargazing enjoyment. They will work in pairs, so couples or mutual friends are preferred.

It is important that the star guides be present at all times to assist in the use and operation of the telescope. Volunteers should be willing to spend an evening of approximately two hours at the observatory and be responsible for its operation. Although an understanding of things astronomical is welcome, it is not necessary. Training will be provided. We will rotate the scheduled times to utilize all volunteers fairly.

To this end, the duties and requirements of the volunteer star guides are as follows:

  1. Must be an adult, 21 years of age or older.
  2. Must be able to deactivate the alarm, and reactivate upon leaving.
  3. Must be able to open the roof by operating a boat-type winch, and then close it before leaving.
  4. Must change out eyepieces in the telescope, as needed.
  5. Must be able to operate the computer system that automatically aims the telescope.
  6. Must be able to access information from the computer system about the object being viewed and convey that to the guests in an interesting manner.
  7. Must be able to park the telescope using the computer system and turn off the computer system.

We will conduct a required set of three full training sessions once we get a sense of the numbers wishing to volunteer. During the training, we will also provide some understanding of basic astronomy, but we promise — no rocket science. Also advice on how to make the viewing session interesting and fun.