This past Wednesday on January 15, 2014, John Dobson passed away in Burbank, California. Many people worldwide are familiar with his invention of the Dobsonian telescope and the group that he founded known as the Sidewalk Astronomers. Those of us who have been visiting Death Valley for a long time, however, also know him for the wonderful star program that he would hold every year during the last week in December at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. From the period of the late 1990s through the mid-2000s, my family and I always made it a point to be in Death Valley during that particular week and attend his program. That led to my friend Joe and I working as volunteers for John and the Sidewalk Astronomers during those programs, where our job was to assist the public with telescope viewing through the telescopes set up on the Furnace Creek Visitor Center lawn. We got to know John quite well and also spent time with his assistants Donna (Managing Director of the Sidewalk Astronomers) and Katy (Vice President). One of my most special memories of John was spending the evening late into the night sitting around a campfire with him at the Furnace Creek campground and listening to his stories and thoughts on the universe. Due to failing health, John was not able to make the trip to Death Valley to hold his program over the past few years. It was a program that we really missed and always will miss. In memory of John, I have added a picture of him and Joe onto my Introduction Page just below the picture of John and I that I have had posted there ever since I began this site.
John had been coming to Death Valley yearly since at least 1969. Some of his visits to the park were quite long, where he would spend 9 full days and nights sharing telescope viewing with park visitors. You can read an article he wrote about some of his experiences in Death Valley here. In explaining why he brought his telescopes to Death Valley and other places, John said: “Everyone should see. Everyone should understand. What we do for ourselves is a waste. What we do for others is beauty.” Thank you for the wonderful memories in Death Valley, John, and for the wonderful programs you put together for several generations of park visitors. What you did was beauty.