I was fortunate in late 2006 to travel to Cerro Tololo where we imaged from a 16″ f/12 RCOS RC telescope rented from one of the 5 PROMPT (U. North Carolina) observatories. These observatories were funded to measure data immediately upon detection of a gamma ray burst (GRB) from the SWIFT satellite. We we allowed to do deep sky astrophotography when the system was not being used for research. There was a group of four of us as part of SSRO-South. We were allowed to visit the 4m Blanco telescope in the observatory at the top of the hill. This was my first vist to an active, professional astronomical observatory.
With help from Prof. Doug Welch in Canada, we made contact with Gemini South and were allowed to visit. Gemini South is located on Cerro Pachon, which is the next ridge to the south of Cerro Tololo, and which can be seen from Cerro Tololo. They took us on a full tour of the facility. This is BIG SCIENCE on a scale that I have not seen before. They opened up the cover to show us the primary mirror, showed us how the primary mirror was lowered, stripped and coated in a huge coating chamber. Astounding! We finally visited the SOAR solar telescope at Cerro Pachon. Both of those facilities used state-of-the-art adaptive optics.