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I recently visited Lake Tahoe for the first time as a guest of poet and star guide, Tony Berendsen and Northstar® Resort. Tony owns and operates Tahoe Star Tours and has been educating and inspiring people about the night sky for twenty years. In addition to running Tahoe Star Tours, Tony is an award winning amateur astronomer, past president of the Astronomical Society of Nevada, telescope operator for Fleischmann Planetarium in Reno and President of the Northern Nevada Science Coalition. Tony utilizes Celestron equipment exclusively in his star tours and we have formed a friendship over the last year corresponding by email and phone.
Tony invited me and my family to visit Lake Tahoe to experience one of his star tours and after a lot of going back and forth trying to confirm a date in between my Celestron event travels, we were finally able to meet this past Labor Day weekend. Tony greeted us at the Reno airport, presenting us with a wonderful Tahoe Star Tours goodie bag and a warm hug. First stop on the agenda was a trip to the University of Nevada - Reno, to take a look at a classic blue & white Celestron 22" telescope that was recently donated to the university by the McLean family. I am told that Celestron founder, Tom Johnson, traveled out to Mr. McLean's residence back in the 1970's and set this scope up himself. So it was a real treat to take a look at it. It's got a new home on the campus and will be used for research and public outreach. Very exciting! I would like to thank Dr. David Benumm, UNR Physics Department Chair, for opening up the observatory for us to take a peek.
We then followed Tony up the mountain via a beautiful scenic drive where we stopped at an overlook that showcased a breathtaking view of the pristine lake of the sky, Lake Tahoe. While we were all gazing out at the view, Tony recited a poignant poem by W. Wordsworth that really summed up the whole experience. We then said our goodbyes until later and continued our drive to Northstar resort where we would be staying during our visit. After getting settled in, we walked over to the gondola that carried us up to the Ritz Carlton Destination Club to meet the group we would be enjoying the star tour that night with. Tony's assistant, Ryan, greeted us, provided the group with Northstar flashlights and then guided us on a pleasant hike through the Ritz Carlton grounds down to the star tour area. We came upon a cozy outdoor setting where chairs were placed around a blazing fire pit, which was a welcome sight in the crisp mountain air. Tony was waiting to greet all of his guests and kick off his star tour, which featured Jupiter that night. As images of Jupiter played on a screen, Tony recited his poem "Elders" and spoke about the planet and our place in the Universe while we enjoyed his talk against a jet black, star filled nightscape. Tony then quizzed everyone with astronomy trivia and gave away some prizes. I brought a 50th Anniversary Celestron FirstScope to give away to a lucky winner, who happened to know that Mercury is one of two planets that do not have a moon (Venus being the other).
Tony invited everyone to take a closer look at the Universe and we all walked over to the viewing area, where he gave a very interesting talk on the various constellations and their myths while tracing them out in the sky with a laser. Everyone then took turns viewing through the Celestron equipment Tony and Ryan had set up. Tahoe Star Tours uses a CPC 1100, a CGEM 9.25, a SkyScout Personal Planetarium and SkyMaster binoculars to guide guests through the sky. As everyone leisurely gazed at the stars and planets, Tony showcased awesome astronomical photos on his iPad for everyone to enjoy while he told them stories and facts about the objects.
This was hands down one of the best star gazing experiences that I have had the pleasure of experiencing and truly believe that Tony is living up to the Tahoe Star Tours vision; "One day everyone will walk out under a starry sky they understand". I certainly understand and appreciate it better after this experience. I highly recommend that you book yourself on a star tour with Tony Berendsen next time you are in the Lake Tahoe area. He is such an engaging, knowledgeable, passionate star guide. It's comforting to know that individuals such as Tony are out there; sharing, teaching and entertaining people with stories about our beautiful, mysterious Universe. Visit www.tahoestartours.com to book your Lake Tahoe stargazing experience.