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‘More of a Sprinkle’; Clouds obscure meteor shower view at Enchanted Rock

by John Tedesco
Metro / South Texas

All content (c) San Antonio Express-News

ENCHANTED ROCK — Watching meteors at this state park begins with a 20-minute hike to a granite moonscape.

The journey ends with a lucky glimpse of a streaking fireball. Or it’s cut short by the whim of clouds that blot the sky.

For most of the 760 visitors at Enchanted Rock, Wednesday night’s showing of the Leonid meteor shower ended with clouds and few fireballs.

“It was not a (meteor) shower,” Jamie Lynn, 20, of Fredericksburg said as she headed off the rock with her friends after a cloud system rolled in a few hours before dawn.

“It was more of a sprinkle,” a friend chimed in.

The hope for a cosmic fireworks show Wednesday — one of the peak evenings of the much-heralded meteor event — lured some people to drive hundreds of miles to Enchanted Rock, a towering mound of granite 1,825 feet above sea level.

They came for a panoramic view away from city lights. Under a clear sky littered with stars, the fissures and crater-like holes on the desolate surface of the rock looks like an alien landscape.

“We’re on the edge of the Earth,” said Gayle Brandt, 46, who drove more than 630 miles from the plains of Douglass, Kan., to watch the meteor shower.

Debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which causes the shower, is best viewed in Europe and western Africa. But the many people who came to Enchanted Rock still were hopeful.

The quest began in earnest as a quarter-moon sunk beneath a hill at 1:40 a.m. The park became pitch black. Stars came to life across a clear sky. The only bad omen was a smudge of clouds to the North.

Wrapped in parkas, Frenchy Grant, 79, and her husband, Jay, 85, preferred to watch the oncoming shower at the bottom of the rock. They stared at the sky, sitting in folding chairs with their poodle, Mikey, who growled at the occasional passer-by.

“You’re not supposed to see anything until 2 o’clock. We expect it in the next 10 minutes,” said Grant, who drove more than 100 miles from Lytle.

A biting wind had driven some people off the rock. Those who remained rested on blankets, some drinking beer and wine coolers, waiting.

Near the base, friends Harold Sjogren, 44, and Jim Houston, 45, both from Houston, readied cameras. The two men went to Enchanted Rock last year to see the meteors. Catching sight of a meteor depends on a mixture of timing and luck. Sjogren said the trick is “pretending to be a wide angle lens.”

“Instead of focusing, I lean back in my chair, cock my head back, and look at the whole sky,” Sjogren said. Seconds later, a bright fireball shot across the sky like a missile, leaving behind a trail of light that slowly faded.

“Wow, did you see that?” he exclaimed.

Minutes passed. Soon, occasional meteors streaked overhead. None was as brilliant as the first, but some left tails. Sjorgren and Houston counted about a dozen meteors in 40 minutes. But they also eyed trouble brewing to the North.

“It’s clouding up on that side,” Sjorgren said. “It looks like it might be heading this way, too.”

A blanket of clouds quickly moved in, gobbling up stars and ending the show.

“We saw one” meteor, Frenchy Grant said. “It was a really little streak. I’m going to sit here and hope maybe the clouds go away.”

On the rock, people gave up and began heading down, their flashlights forming a line along the trail. “I was expecting it to be better,” said Louis Tessier, 21. “I had been looking forward to it all evening.”

A few people stayed on top, trying to wait out the clouds. Brandt, who delivers newspapers for the Wichita Eagle, was about to give up at 4 a.m. Heading down the trail, she struck up a conversation with some meteor watchers, then looked at the sky.

“Look at that, it’s clearing up!” she said happily. A hole in the clouds opened up for a few minutes, offering Brandt a few more meteors. By 4:45 a.m., the hole shrank and once again the stars were hidden.

Brandt stopped scanning the sky. “I’m wearing out on this faith deal,” Brandt said as she began hiking down the trail to drive back to Kansas. “I’m done.”