News: Sky’s the Limit reaches for the stars with Out of This World event in Cadiz

Nearly 200 attend fundraiser in Cadiz, raising $4,160 for observatory project

By Kelly O’Sullivan,  The Desert Trail
Published: Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Cadiz, CA — Dylan Wood couldn’t wait to see the surface of the sun.

The West Hills 4-year-old fidgeted quietly while his brother, Auden, 8, looked through a telescope set up by amateur astronomers Saturday, April 30 at Cadiz Ranch east of Amboy.

When the older boy was finished, his eager brother scrambled up a small step ladder and fixed his eye to the lens.

“I saw a big red dot,” he exclaimed, smiling from ear to ear, adding proudly, “I’m almost 5.”

The boys were among the 180 people who attended Sky’s the Limit’s Out of this World fundraiser at the sprawling organic farm where grapes, citrus and other crops are grown year-round.

Guests came from across the Morongo Basin and from as far away as Parker, Ariz., Los Angeles and Las Vegas to support the committee of the Basin Wide Foundation that has been working for half a decade to build an observatory and nature center on Utah Trail adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park. The event, sponsored by Sky’s the Limit in partnership with Cadiz Land Co., brought in $4,160 for the educational project.

Attendees toured Cadiz’s vineyards, looked at the sun and the stars through telescopes large and small, spoke with scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena about their Mars rover project and watched a video of the team testing a prototype near the Amboy Crater last year.

They also sat down to a hearty meal of barbecued chicken and beef, chips and guacamole, and ranch-style beans and Spanish rice as the acoustic band Out of the Blue performed.

Children lined up in the shadow of a blow-up version of the Mars rover to let the scientists drive a remote-controlled miniature rover over their backs as adults stood behind them and watched.

“Who wants to be an astronaut?” scientist Charly Fisher asked a group of laughing kids. “Meeeee!” they answered in unison.

Only one little girl spoke up when he asked who wanted to be an engineer.

“Engineers get to have all the fun,” Fisher laughed as he maneuvered the tiny rover over the bumpy kid terrain.

Adults and kids alike called the event “awesome,” each pointing out something they’d learned that evening.

“I did not realize that the water situation was so great here,” Twentynine Palms City Councilman Dan Mintz Sr. said of the ranch. “It’s a well-thought-out operation.”

Little Auden Wood loved the telescopes and the Mars rover.

“I like space, and this is about space,” the 8-year-old said.

His sentiments were echoed by Jacob Baker, 11, of Twentynine Palms, who was riveted by scientist Steven Lee’s talk about the Mars Science Laboratory project.

The one-ton rover, named Curiosity, and its accompanying one-ton jet pack are slated to launch in November and arrive on Mars in August 2012.

The rover will search for organic matter, aka signs of life, on the Red Planet.

“I think it’s pretty cool how they’re testing it out,” Baker said, adding that his favorite part of the evening was seeing the video of the rover. “The animation and the graphics, that must have taken a long time to do that.”

Rollie Shinaver of Twentynine Palms also liked the fact that the scientists chose the Mojave Desert for testing such a big project.

“I was amazed at what the whole program cost — $2.5 billion,” he said.

Lee, Fisher and fellow JPL scientist Jim Montgomery spent hours telling attendees about NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory and the upcoming rover mission.

Folks interested in following the rover as it prepares for its fall launch can go to

The site is packed with information on the program. Click on the Where is the rover now? link to see a live webcam stream of technicians working on Curiosity.

Dr. Bart Pedersen of Yucca Valley, who planned to camp overnight at Cadiz with his wife, Merkie, and several friends, was impressed with

the organic farming operation and the fact that Sky’s the Limit was able to draw so many people to such a remote outpost.

“A lot of people went through a lot of trouble to put this together,” he said. “Remarkable food, great information.”

“We’ve enjoyed it,” Merkie Pedersen added.

Twentynine Palms Mayor Jim Harris was equally enthusiastic.

“What a nice turnout,” he said. “The entire Hi-Desert was represented. It was awesome for them to open (the ranch) up for this.”

Just as impressed with the evening were the JPL scientists.

“I’m so glad I came,” Montgomery said. “It’s actually reinspiring me. Sometimes you get bogged down in the details … seeing how people are so excited reenergizes me. It does my heart so good that people are so interested.”

Montgomery, Lee and Fisher all lauded Cadiz Ranch and its manager,

Lesley Thornburg, for hosting a great evening and for opening up the ranch to the rover team last year.

During the two weeks the scientists worked in the desert, they stayed at the ranch.

“When they see it land,” Fisher said of the rover, “the Cadiz community should know that it had a big part in it. I don’t think we could have done it without their support.”

Visit the rover

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology will hold its annual open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15. Here’s the 4-1-1:

Where: 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena

How much: Free, and there’s no charge to park

What you’ll find: Hands-on activities for kids, exhibits and demonstrations about the lab’s research and space exploration. Scientists will be on hand to answer questions.

Information:; (818) 354-0112

Learn more about Sky’s the Limit

For more information on Sky’s the Limit and its observatory and nature center project, as well as how you can get involved, go online to

Online gallery

To see more than 100 photos of the event, go to’s photo gallery.

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Comments? Questions? E-mail Kelly O’Sullivan at

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