The story begins a few years ago when in a mild mid-life crisis, I purchased a Meade fourteen-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope (SCT). We had recently moved to a neighborhood out of town, and I decided the sky was finally right for such a purchase. As the neighborhood grew, my neighbor’s floodlights were soon as bright as my house in town. My neighbors seemed to hate the red filter and my astrophotography days were soon over. I was able to conduct some visual observation but, the big SCT was really a giant paperweight.
I began my search for a dark location. Did you know that more than 80-percent of Americans cannot see the Milky Way?
The best widespread dark skies in Alabama are around a Bortle of three. Bortle is a way the darkness of skies are measured. Bortle one is the best with no halos on the horizon and Bortle nine is in the middle of Times Square in New York City. So, I went on a hunt for a Bortle three location closest to my house. The second criteria for financial reasons was for the parcel to be small and affordable. The third would be to have a peak in elevation which would allow for the least amount of tree clearing if that was necessary.
Turns out, in Alabama, a Bortle three location which fulfilled the other two criteria was almost always going to involve significant tree clearing.
Ten acres became available near the Franklin/Colbert County line. It nicely fulfilled all of the criteria and exactly fulfilled my wishes. A wise philosopher once said be careful what you wish for.
My criteria almost guaranteed a long and winding drive would have to be constructed through the limestone formations of northwest Alabama. Without the drive, concrete and other building materials for the observatory would have to be hauled up the hill. Hauling concrete up the fourteen percent grade of the old four-wheeler trail would have been, well, fun’s cousin.
At the time of this writing, the road is mostly complete. More trees were sacrificed to accomplish the task than I would have liked.
The only thing left was the name. The hill I had purchased was not named so that was no help. There were however, two creeks. Rock Creek stood a mile away while Beech Lick Branch was about a thousand feet down the hill.
Before we go any further, we should probably have a conversation about licks.
Wikipedia defines a mineral lick as follows:
“A mineral lick (also known as a salt lick) is a place where animals can go to lick essential mineral nutrients from a deposit of salts and other minerals.”
So, I immediately imagined the starved and exhausted pioneer who settled the area and named the creek or branch just north of my hill. He probably saw a deer licking the ground near both a Beech tree and the creek just before he shot it. The deer, that is. Hunting stories are the same as the fish variety. Knowing the place is what gives the audience hope.
My selection of names was sealed when I began looking at all the licks near the top of the hill I would later name Observatory Hill. Apparently, the former owner was an avid deer hunter and established multiple salt licks on the property. My game cameras attest to how successful the former owners were in talking the local deer into dropping by.
Resident Principal Investigator