I have just returned from two nights at Zephyr Ridge. I had not visited in a while, and it seemed prudent to check on my observatory because there was a recent severe windstorm in the region. As it happened, I timed my mission to coincide with some decent weather for observing.
There is usually something to do when I visit my observatory, so I always bring a wide selection of tools. One lesson I have learned from owning a remote observatory is to expect the unexpected, and this trip was no exception. There were two small projects this time, one that I had planned to do and one that confirmed the need to be prepared just in case.
Evidence of the storm greeted me as soon as I turned off the highway onto the private road that leads to my property. I had to stop twice to remove obstructions. The top half of a tree had broken and lay across the road. I was able to push it aside in a few minutes. Further along the road a small tree had been uprooted, and again I moved it off the road.
Fortunately my observatory was in pretty good shape overall, although it did not escape unscathed. The 2” PVC exhaust pipe for the composting toilet fan system had been torn from the building. The wind literally ripped one of the mounting brackets off the building and the pipe snapped. (See photo, taken after remounting the top bracket.) I found the top half not far away. With the help of some duct tape (never leave home without it!) and a new screw for the bracket, I was able to perform a quickie repair, but I plan to get replacement PVC to do a proper repair on my next visit.
A more long-term issue has arisen that I discovered on my last visit. The isolated concrete pier is now about 3/8” below the level of the surrounding slab, giving the impression that it has sunk. In fact, I believe the pier has not moved, as the way it was constructed makes movement highly unlikely, as is desirable for a permanent pier. Instead, I believe water has gotten under the slab and caused the middle of the slab to rise, perhaps due to freezing. There are minor cracks on the surface of the concrete and a bubble level showed a slight slope downwards to the edges of the slab, confirming my diagnosis.
The A-frame roof of the observatory has no gutter system. Having a moving roof makes gutter installation more problematic. So, it is plausible that water flowing off the roof to the base of the foundation is causing the slab problem. I brought a roll of 6 mil plastic sheeting with me on this trip. I installed a three-foot barrier of this material around the east and west sides of building (see photo), where the roof run-off occurs. I will need to get more gravel to cover the plastic, but this should help divert the water further away from the foundation.
The weather was quite cold while I was there. The daytime temperature hovered in the low 20s F, and after sunset the temperature dropped to the low teens. It made for frigid conditions for observing, but I did enjoy a clear sky in the early morning of Feb. 1, and again in the evening on the same day. I will report on my observations in a subsequent post, which I will prepare as soon as I have compiled my logs.