Yep, the landing was a very emotional, very exciting time, and seeing clips on science programs still makes me shiver, but as a self-confessed "scenery freak" I think my pre-Victoria
highlight was getting to and then into Endurance. I must admit I got rather sick of sol after sol of endless rippling dust dunes, so when Burns Cliff appeared on the horizon, catching the sunlight and looking like the fossilised spine of some ancient martian dinosaur jutting out of the ground I knew we were going to see some really great views. Wasn't disappointed either. Endurance was a great playground, with amazing views of the cliffs, clouds drifting across the sky above the crater, and Wopmay sitting there halfway into the crater, looking like some bizarre stone sculpture. I was really sorry when Oppy turned her back on that stone, and of all the rocks and boulders I've seen through the rovers' eyes I think Wopmay is the one I'd like to own, although 'McKay' sitting on top of Homeplate comes a very close second, thanks to Spirit.
But the arrival at Victoria has been the highlight so far. Not so much the view itself, which was pretty amazing, but the way here on UMSF we all walked alongside Oppy as she advanced towards it, scanning the horizon looking for the crater to appear... sighting Beacon, and 'debating' what it was and which side of the crater it was on... Then the arrival at the edge and our first view of the great buttresses of stone on the far side beyond the crater's floor, with those dust dunes at its centre... I could almost hear Oppy give a contented sigh, knowing she'd done her best, and could do no more.
I remember sitting here on that day, looking at that first "into Victoria" view and thinking that if Oppy died then, that very moment, she'd have shown me the Mars I've always seen in my mind. I had a very vivid vision of future martians going to Victoria - preserved as a martian National Park or Heritage site - and following the "Oppy Trail" around the crater's edge, much as they will do the "Spirit Trail" up and down Husband Hill then past Ultreya and on to Homeplate. I saw that crater open up in front of me in the days that followed and with each new picture it became clearer to me that Oppy had reached a place that will be seen by future martians - settlers and natives - as a very special place indeed. And standing next to Oppy on that first day, seeing the crater for the first time, I felt like one of the first people to enter Yosemite Valley and stare up at those towering granite cliffs and gushing, rainbow-framed waterfalls.
Going to be hard to beat that...