Southern California Desert Video Astronomers

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Our Friends Remembered


When SCDVA began, the forces that made it happen came unexpectedly. A small group of amateur astronomers, who enjoyed sharing views and thoughts about the great abyss, above, formed the core. But, it was the enthusiasts who came and took in our outreach that created the reason.

Through hot and cold and windy, and sometimes, cloudy nights, we would show up, driven by the commitment to do what we do and knowing we would not be alone. There would be an audience driving us onward, joining us, and anticipating something exciting.

We'd set up our telescopes in the fading daylight at sunset and prepare so people could look up and see with their own eyes, and with the best of our ability, the Cosmos above. Once we were ready to go, a quick glance around revealed that we were, indeed, not alone.

On many a beautiful night, the desert brings soothing warmth and calm, a welcome feeling that only the desert can bring. At such times, and with much delight, the soulful sounds of a classical guitar might fill the air. Soft sounds of mood and spirit and peace. Even a bit of Southern drawl that reminds of down home accord and harmony.

Looking around, there was Walt, unpretentiously playing his guitar, subtly adding mood and spirit to the evening and creating depth to the stillness that was, otherwise, only punctuated by voices of overlying conversations.

With his music, Walt brought peaceful sensations of harmony and friendship to our astronomy events. His wife Joyce, joining him in the outings and assisting with the things they brought, unfolding chairs and blankets and setting up their camp spot for the evening.

This was the common occurrence. Something we became accustomed to the point of expectation.  In fact, if Walt and Joyce were not attending, feelings became uneasy with worry. Not to the point of distress, but, wonder that all was well. The reason was easy to understand since Walt and Joyce had been attending our events since the very inception of what we were evolving into and were instrumental in the foundation of the support structure defining what SCDVA was becoming.

Walter with Al Nagler

As ardent members of the Andromeda Astronomical Society, the Metcalf’s were amateur astronomers in their own right, and astronomy was an important element in the reason they loved the desert. Joshua Tree National Park was a cornerstone in the core of their connectedness to the community and the wellness of the desert and this includes the dark skies and protection of environmental habitats and desert beauty.

Walt was active on social media and spent much time sharing thoughts he had about social conditions and the wellness of humanity, at large. His pointedness in calling out stupid government actions and lacking in reverence for honesty and fairness defined him as a man, willing to speak his mind. Something he could do well with his gruff but kind, deep, voice. Then, he’d share something funny that balanced the perspective he had and made everyone laugh at a cartoon he found or a joke he heard and the tone became humorous and the air light. Good humor was a keynote of his manner and smoothed the edges of the sarcasm he could prick into a situation. He had strength in understanding and ability in discerning right from wrong and placed his efforts in supporting the things that were meaningfully in need.

Such was the case for his support for SCDVA. He and Joyce were constant supporters and givers to the work we do as an outreach astronomy association. Not only in coming to our events, but with donations and assistance when we needed them most. It is no secret that he and Joyce are core members of our team.

As time went and things happen, Walt’s health began to wane. He had been struggling with his illness in silent humility and missed more and more of our events. Joyce filled in and would bring news on his condition, and on his better days he would come along with her and show up to get a little dose of starlight he loved so much.

Finally, as things go, we learned of his passing. It came with some shock and surprise though the path was destined. We can’t begin to imagine who could ever make us feel better for the time we shared and can only hold to the wonderful memories of times we had with him. Thanks, Walt! We will always remember the wonderful song you were, and the love you shared with us. In deep regard, you are with us in spirit and hope, and with the friends we miss so dearly.


Gary Stepp

Slim was his nickname. It came from his past, and though this tall and thin fellow was fittingly suited his cowboy handle, we only knew him as “Gary”. That’s how he wanted things when he took up with us, the folks he called his friends, during the last years of his life, in Joshua Tree.

Gary was a simple guy who had country style roots and a deep love for horses. He sat tall in the saddle and had command of the reigns with something that we knew little about as it was from a time before we met him. Only, thanking old photographs that hinted at the high level of horsemanship he had, yet, not shared with us. His style, however, clearly carried the markings of an experienced horseman. His unpretentious way tended his privacy well as he was one who seemed to live for the day at hand.

His simple and humorous manner often delivered sober thoughts that exposed a thoughtful interior of an adjusted man. One, coming from a past with little more than a modest need to have reason to find meaning with the heat of a trying desert day. He seemed to enjoy the gruel and test of enduring the heat. It was when it got cold that it seemed things pressed upon him in a way that showed clearly that Gary was, at heart, a desert boy.

His skill in construction and building things is what brought him to us, at scdva. He’d been out and seen one of our star parties at the theater and found a place that he said connected him with the stars in a way he never thought possible. He had an intense thirst to know the names of stars and constellations and was a constant student of the night sky. He even had a bright green laser that served as his tool so he could share his knowledge and point out features he loved to explain.

Combining his talents, Gary became a volunteer core member of the scdva Team X group who were helping to build the facilities, now known as the Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater. His hand is in nearly every project that we built, together, and his craftsmanship is embedded in the ambiance of the place where Ken Keller’s art works are installed and lengthy fence lines coral the astronomers camping area. Rocks in the gardens and lights along the audience area, all attended by his effort to help build something he said he “loved”.

There were many times when his cheer and positive outlook brought added relief to the stress things like less than hopeful weather and less than wished for star party turnouts. He had optimism in excess and shared his forward looking nature to better times ahead. Things were always going to work out in Gary’s anticipation of his prospects, and they usually did.

It was only a short time earlier that his best friend and daily companion, Chappy, had passed on. Gary and Chappy were a team that defined a man and dog relationship in a superlative way. Ideal symbiosis in companionship. They were inseparable and bonded in spirit of soul and care. Chapman and Gary are together, now. Both seemed aware of the beckon calling that has made this so. A difficult, untimeliness.

Around the “Lake” is a shoreline that has footprints left in the sands of its beauty and Gary put them there. He found a peace and a reliquary of his efforts along the edges of the lake he loved. I saw him sitting, on many occasions, just absorbing the warmth of the reflecting setting sun coming off the cool water of the lake, warming his face, as he gazed into the bull rushes. Birds flying about, fish jumping at evening offerings, and Chappy, laying on the shore, near his feet.
Good bye, Gary. Your memory is well held in the place you helped make real, and “Team X” will always be with us! Peace, be with you!


- Chappy - 
Team X

 Dogs, are people, sometimes.....
It's very rare to occur, but, it does happen.
  It is one of the great mysteries of life that a dog will have such manner and charm to allow acceptance at the dinner table.  There is no true understanding telling us how this happens, but it does.  When it does, bonds are often made that cause the spirit of both, man and dog, to become true friends and companions beyond explanation.  Trust and care for what is only limited by the obvious physical differences, but, not those in the spirit of mind and soul.

The connection between man and dog, in spite of the deepest hopes of man, never lasts long enough. Surely, this is true for the dog, as well. It is best to remember, though, that the dog understands this much better than does man!  Man would be wise to learn many things from a good dog.  Some of life's best lessons are taught by great dogs to their masters and friends.  Rarely will a dog reach into that place in your heart that gives you more than people often can... But a good dog might!

With great sadness, we at scdva have, yet, lost another member of our team.  A companion and associate that has given more joy and support than many would have known possible.  Our mascot and flag bearer has reached the end of his trail and journey with us. Chapman!  A dog everyone knew and loved has died.

Chappy, as we all called him, was a special dog.  He was a trained service dog and had the skill to do things normal dogs could only dream of.  Gary, Chappy's master, was a great teacher and took a small stray puppy and gave him the place and time that let him become a dog that was one in a million!

A dog that everyone immediately liked and who's company was always enjoyed. Gary would dress Chappy up in his service vest and at that point Chappy became noticeably eager to serve.
A dog never smiled so much as did Chappy! He was a happy dog and loved having fun.  Right to the end, Chappy never wore a frown.  His beaming smile was always showing off his affable nature.  He simply had such good spirit that his tolerance and charisma  made everyone love him.  

He was a poor sport, though, when it came to playing ball, as once he had it, he had it!  There was no chance he would let his teasing fun be open for the loss of control over his beloved tennis ball.  Waiting until he was off guard and then, perhaps, you could pull one over on him, but you had to be really stealthy.  His willingness to play made fun days that are remembered by all of us.

There is nothing but good to say about this wonderful dog and member of our team that can be added. Only, we all are deeply sad and will miss him very much!




Ric Knudsen
When the sun went down and our star parties were about to start, I'd address the audience and say, "hello, we are the Southern California Desert Video Astronomers and welcome to the Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater".  After a few warm up questions and a bit of info about our show, I'd say, "And now, we are going to take a tour around the night sky and here to guide us through the stars and other deep space wonders, I am pleased to introduce our very own star gazing Guru, Ric Knudsen".  And everyone would applaud!

Wearing his fuzzy wizard hat and shyly taking the microphone, this soft spoken, unpretentiously kind fellow would say, "Hello, and thanks for coming to our show".  Quiet would befall upon the visitors as a bright green laser began slicing through the darkness, drawing ooh's and aah's from the kids in the crowd.  With this, our show had officially begun!


After a while, our projection screens would come alive with images of deep sky objects and among satisfying the inquisitive questions of the audience, Ric would say, "Oh, look, here we have the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, on the screen," and point his laser to the small black spot in the sky, and then tell a story about Messier and how the M had meaning.

Ric was an amateur astronomer since he was a kid.  His big red Dobsonian telescope that he had for years, often accompanied him to many of the star parties we went to, together.  His knowledge of the night sky was better than anyone in our group and we counted on him more than the visitors knew.  His eagerness to share his experience with everyone was invaluable to scdva and we can't begin to express our gratitude for his willingness to work with us.

Time after time, he would come and join in and be "that guy" who we, could never be!  Adding a taste that was always regarded as special and memorable. The feedback was always positive and Ric had a unique talent for reaching to people in a quite, calm, knowledgeable style.  Sometimes, too quiet, and his wife, Marilee would whisper, "Ric, tell them about...... and he'd say, "Oh yeah, ....." and continue.  And, we would laugh....

His last visit to our site was only a short time ago.  Ric had been going through some medical problems that had made it difficult for him to come to the last couple of our events. Then, one warm afternoon in late May, he showed up with his grandson, saying he just wanted to check things out and "see how things were coming along".  It was great to see them.  We spent a couple of hours together, observing the sun through the solar telescope.  It was really active that day and put on a great show for us. His grandson, who had a nice moment to spend with his grandpa, enjoyed doing what Ric liked most, looking at our universe!  We talked about the hopeful future of our effort, together, working on the astronomy show and our plans.  It was the last time he would be sharing his time with us, because Ric succumb the dreaded illness he hoped to overcome.  Now, he is among the stars above, and in the heavens he loved.  We will miss Ric very much!


Robert Ward

For those who can see into deeper levels of realization, self awareness may be less important than an awareness about others. This was how it seemed to be with Robert.  After 80, or so, years of experience, his drive always appeared to be coiled around the historical intertwining's of his life with those he cared about and respected.

His polite and calm manner that was redundantly cordial and sympathetic when he considered the state of affairs in his friendships and acquaintances.  Mindful of the idea that there was an educated way to approach everything.  His regard for friendship was held at high levels as he casually accepted the unexplainable with simple equating's of human nature. He had stories that repeatedly held these truths to be as natural to him as was his love for literature and music. His early experience knowing an astronaut, and being a fireman, in his working years, made him stand with posture and pose. He had self esteem in a subtle manner indicating, plainly, that he kept his independence in good order. 

Robert (right) with Shirley & Dick
At the Andromeda Society table
During the Starry Nights Festival

Scdva knew Robert because of his love for the night sky and  his desire to know the inner meanings of astronomical understandings. Beginning with our association as members of the Andromeda Astronomical Society, Robert had been a long time member.  From that introduction, he joined with us as we grew as a side-shoot from that relationship.  Attending many of our star parties Robert was integrated into our program as an orator. His practiced participation in reading from the works of Carl Sagan was a passion he dreamed into reality as he read for our audiences on several occasions.  Working his words with scrutiny and a demand for personal perfection,  he endeared the chance to share Sagan's message with others. We installed a solar powered blue lamp that lights, automatically, each night to fit into the program he inspired. 

He breathed meaning into the concept that now holds firmly to a most important  tome of our reason for existing, as the group we are.  Sharing the meaning of a message he understood. One that we now know to be true, as well! The importance of our place on the "Pale Blue Dot".

We will always keep the "Pale Blue Dot" lit in honor of Robert Ward.  Sagan's words will ring with the tone that Robert could hear and we now continue to share! 



He will always be in our memory!


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Orv Hunter
When Orv Hunter was involved with something there was sure to be humor and a lesson learned while laughter abounded  His calm and simple nature had spirit that exuded enthusiasm and cheer.
He was a community man who got involved in many social ongoing's and spoke for causes he knew important and meaningful. The wellness of community meant everything to Orv as he strived as an individual to achieve goals that helped the common good and spurred others to greater success.  With his wit and charm, he sought the kind approach while learning from his mistakes with personal observation and insight.
Orv loved the night sky and was an active member of the Andromeda Astronomical Society where he gained much esteem with his thoughtful manner. He was well read in the subject of astronomy and astrology and often gave presentations that were filled with anecdotes and lessor known facts that embellished on the subject in ways that made his work special. He was a natural born teacher and found reaching out to people with his knowledge an easy thing to do. His support for SCDVA was immense. He reflected once that  the future of amateur astronomy and the effort that connected mankind to the depths of the unknown was at hand with the technology we use. He was sure that the work we do would change the world in a positive way and said once "count me in! I want to be a part of this". And, he was! Though, truly a bigger part than he realized!
Since our world is so small in the great expanse of the universe, it is easy to feel insignificant. Orv Hunter saw things differently. He said he thought that we were exactly the opposite. That we were the most significant beings in the universe and felt we should strive to reach our potential with the great gifts we have. His life was lived this way and he shared his best with everyone. Known far and wide as "Orion Man" because "Orion is a Hunter", he knew he was connected to the meaning of everything. Now, his spirit is in the deeds of his past and in all of us who knew him and loved him. For us to keep and to share. Goodbye, will be missed and well remembered!

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                                                                                                          Unger Family Photo

Rick Unger

Rick Unger was a man of style and many talents. His early success as a professional musician and later as an accomplished artist gave him a background and foundation that allowed him to achieve anything he set his mind to.

Rick was a visionary who could find humor harmonizing with stark sarcasm in a friendly realization of the stupidity of a situation.  Particularly in politics and waste of public resources that often inspired his mood in his paintings.

His love for sci-fi and space stuff that reflected the deco-retro interests he collected only hinted at the appreciation he had for life. 

As the winner of the Los Angeles "Big Labowski Fest" look-a like contest in 2009, Rick was truly the "DUDE" and he lived the part as naturally as Jeff Bridges portrayed the caricature in the movie.

Rick was the "Dude". In astronomy, he had a technical skill that gave him the edge in that subject, as well.  His observatory in Johnson Valley, CA, was filled with the gear that makes amateur astronomers strong contenders for great discovery.  He loved the night sky and spent a lot of time under the stars of the California desert.  We will miss Rick.






Ken Keller

Ken Keller was a founding member of SCDVA.  He was a regular hard working guy with great talent and appreciation for science and art and was an accomplished artist and amateur astronomer.

He had a passion for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the wonders of the night sky and promoted dark sky awareness.   He gave financial assistance to many charitable causes that he supported and loved the high desert where he made his home.

His family was at the forefront of his endeavors and he spent a lot of time with his grandchildren, guiding them through many adventures that he knew kids loved.

His dry humor picked at the truth and often caused many to think beyond simple ramblings and doldrums.  He was known to be honest to a fault and had hopes that the world would "wise up" but had his doubts.  To have known Ken was something that never can be forgotten as his smile and kind side would be there at surprising times when it often mattered most.
There is little more to say than he will be truly missed