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Best observing sites in N. America

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#1 mikewirths

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 02:09 PM

My observing buddy Attilla made me aware of an short online article listing the best N American observing sites using the data compiled from the 4300 clear sky charts. The list was generated based on %age of clear nights, transparency and seeing data. He admits the list could be incomplete as only sites having a CSC are used.
I had never heard of the Mesquite Springs site before (Death Valley), its used by the astronomical society of Nevada. It lies at around 2000' elevation. Has anyone ever observed here before? Is the heat oppressive?

Link to article/list:
http://www.watchobs....astronomy2.html

It did'nt come as a surprise to me that the SPM site and my site were high up on the list (thats why we moved here after all) since we get over 300 nights a year clear and the seeing up at top of the mountain are superb.
Getting to our spot may be problematic for many who do not have access to a 4WD vehicle, but the park is accessable via a paved road and there is a great open area (7960' elevation) called Vallecitos which has nice horizons and room for lots of scopes. Heres a pic of the area, the observatories 2 meter dome can be seen to the east. Anybody want to join me for an observing expedition this spring/summer?

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#2 mikewirths

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 04:03 PM

I found a good write up on the Mesquite Springs observing site by an amateur, looks like it would be amazingly dark:

http://rattlesnakeob...agingsites.html

110 degrees is a bit much for me though, I'll take the daytime 60-70's we get here in the park during the summer!

cheers

Mike

#3 mountain monk

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 06:35 PM

Mesquite Springs is a great spot---black sky zone, wonderful. Very hot May-September.

Dark skies.

Jack

#4 smallscopefanLeo

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 09:01 PM

I drool to think of what our celestial neighborhood looks like under those pristine skies... one of these days, one of these days!

#5 GeneT

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 10:50 PM

Notice how many of these sites were in Nevada and Utah?

#6 JayinUT

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 11:57 PM

Depends on the year. This year it hasn't been very good in Utah. Was hoping that southern Utah would be clear this weekend but it isn't looking that way. Oh well, it averages out and hopefully spring will be good.

#7 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 12:38 PM

Mike:

An interesting list...

I would guess that many of the top sites just not part of the database. Monument Valley is on the list, it was quite good until they put in 500 room resort hotel. But the nearby Navajo National Monument is about 2000 feet higher in elevation and more isolated. It's a favorite. The Valley of the Gods is very similar in altitude to Monument valley but about 40 miles east and with less local light pollution. No hotels, no nothing, you gotta carry everything out.

Baja mountains, they got to be just wonderful. We are on the north end of the range just across the border but suffer from light pollution.

Jon

#8 mountain monk

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 05:18 PM

Mike,

The weakness of the list is, indeed, that it is indexed to CSC locations. To take only one example from my personal experience, Boulder, Utah and Goblin Valley, Utah are both good sites, but the former is now a blue sky zone and the area between it a Goblin Vally is filled with black sky zones--including most of Capital Reef National Park. There are innumerable superb dark sites in the area of, roughly, SE Oregon, NE California, the northern Nevada border, and the southern Idaho border. Not many people live or roam there, but believe me it has some of the darkest skies in North America.

Dark skies.

Jack

#9 mikewirths

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 05:46 PM

Jon, Jack

For sure the weakness is the incompleteness of data points! But if people have pristine observing sites like the ones you describe Jack, why not send the coordinates in to Attilla and have him create a CSC for it!

What I've always wondered is once you are at a black zone area, does it matter that much how far the site is from the transition to a gray zone? Or are other variables such as humidity, particulate content of the air much more important at that point than virtually non existent sources of light pollution?
I was surprised to see TSP as being so low on the list but it is actually just inside a gray zone, presumably due to lights from Fort Davis.

I'm just very thankful of how close I am here to my pristine skies!!

cheers

Mike

#10 mikewirths

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 06:18 PM

Actually I can think of another weakness of the list. While the cloud cover and transparency data of the CSC's are usually spot on, the seeing predictions I almost never pay any attention to as they are usually not right. It seems the algorithm used does not take into account the topography of the area. Since a lot of the best areas are in mountain regions I think the accuracy of the seeing data derived are probably suspect here.
Alan Rahill does his best to constantly evolve the seeing modeling methods but it must be just too complex to predict!

Mike

#11 mountain monk

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 06:23 PM

Yes, you are a very fortunate man! I was down where you are as a kid--good as it gets. Yes, there are considerable differences and variables even in gray and black zone skies--IMHO--but very few people spend enough time there to note the subtle differences. The first time visitor is just---WOW. I'm big on the importance of altitude, though many people here differ with me on that. My best skies in the U.S. have been in Death Valley, the Beartooth Range on the Wyoming/Montana border at 9-10,000 feet, and at various points in southern Utah. The idea of creating more CSC points is a good one, as are the (now rare, it seems) SQM readings that used to be posted here. They would all help people know where to go for their vacations.

And yes, too, many of the "classic" dark sites have changed. For instance, Bryce Canyon is now a blue zone. Soon will all being going to Nevada or Baja :).

Dark skies.

Jack

#12 FirstSight

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 06:56 PM

To take only one example from my personal experience, Boulder, Utah and Goblin Valley, Utah are both good sites, but the former is now a blue sky zone and the area between it a Goblin Vally is filled with black sky zones--including most of Capital Reef National Park.


Just curious, since I was through Boulder late last June (2012) on a road trip along the astonishingly scenic Utah route 12. I passed through Boulder in late afternoon, but missed seeing any substantial-enough development, commercial, residential, or tourist, that seemed like it would likely cause any but very minor, immediately local light pollution. I'm not doubting your experienced word that it's there; maybe I'm simply under-estimating what quantum is sufficient to degrade any sigificant portion of the area from black down to blue. The area around Torrey/Bicknell, some thirty-five miles over a 10,000 ft+ mountain pass, I can understand being degraded to that extent, even though these are very small, isolated towns by the standards of most other places.

The Capitol Reef Area and southward from Hanksville over on the east side of the Henry Mountains looked like it would provide spectacularly dark viewing opportunities (after all, that's on the way to Natural Bridges National Monument, the epicenter of the darkest skies in the lower 48, a long way from any significant town or lights). Unfortunately, I wasted a clear night staying in a motel in Torrey instead of camping out, expecting I'd get to spend the next night out at Natural Bridges National Monument under clear skies once the moon set just after midnight. But alas, that next night @NB turned cloudy and stormy, and I only got a teasing glimpse an hour or two before dawn of the night sky through gaps in the too-slow dissipating clouds from the T-storms earlier in the night. That's a trip I'd love to repeat, timed with clear weather and a new moon cycle, and with my scopes and gear along.

#13 JayinUT

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 07:20 PM

I agree, areas that once were dark are becoming lighter and in Utah, there are still some good areas but more are in the West Desert at around 6000 feet in elevation. For the mountains one is having to get out into the Uinta Mountains and away from the greater SLC light dome. Over in the Light Pollution thread I posted a link to a video on the population growth between now and 2042 and lets just say that LP is only going to impact dark site locations. I fear that many dark sites in the east that are blue or green or even gray are going to move down a couple of levels and out west we'll see the same thing. I'll be 77 if I am still around then and probably not too active outside of looking through a smaller dob or refractor. I wonder if the day will ever come where in the lower 48 except perhaps western Utah and Nevada that the best location will be a green or yellow zone?

#14 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 08:57 PM

I agree, areas that once were dark are becoming lighter and in Utah, there are still some good areas but more are in the West Desert at around 6000 feet in elevation



One of the reasons I like the Navajo reservations is that it has changed very little over the last 25 years. It's an area of 27,000 square miles with a population of about 200,000, there is a concentration in the south eastern corner around Window Rock and Fort Defiance but other than that, there is Chinle, Kayenta and Tuba City, all about 5,000 people. Development is unlikely since to live on the reservation you need to be a Navajo unless you are a teacher or a medical professional.

Jon

#15 vsteblina

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 09:10 PM

The last areas to become light polluted in the US will be the southern portion of eastern Oregon and northern Nevada.

I had a GIS person do a map with NO LIGHT DOMES in the US.

Given that map and population growth....eastern Oregon and northern Nevada.

IF they don't find oil there!!!

#16 mountain monk

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 09:20 PM

Chris,

I first went into that country (SE Utah) in 1959, and beat my way with an old Ford truck between Torrey and Boulder along a dirt road that is now Route 12 in the autumn of 1963--- just after running Glen Canyon before it was flooded. It remains one of my favorite parts of the West and I try to return every year--we are going again in April.

Yes, the light pollution around Boulder is limited, but as you no doubt noticed, there is a lodge there (Boulder Mountain Lodge), gas stations, etc. The area you mention, between Boulder and Torrey, gets my vote as one of the finest places to observe in all the U.S.---9,000 feet plus, campgrounds (in summer only), and magnificent views over the canyon lands. Try the area around the Steep Creek overlook. In the old days you could see the towers in Monument Valley from the point where Route 12 turns north beneath the rim of the Aquarius Plateau. There are a number of little two-tracks around that allow free camping--crash anywhere you want places. In my experience, the only time anyone stops is to ask if you are OK--mainly ranchers, or, in the fall, hunters. That part of Utah is very safe.

Other good places in the general area are:

South from Henriville toward Cottonwood Canyon (nice slot canyon walk).

Down the Hole-in the-Rock road south of Escalante. You can do the first 50 miles in a car, though some of the side roads may require more clearance. After Davis Gulch it is definitely 4x4--my wife walks most of the way. Ask about conditions at the Monument office in Escalante. Can be very muddy after heavy rain.

South from the main campground in Capital Reef down a good dirt road until it crosses a grim looking creek bed--Pleasant Creek, again, 4x4 (great Indian art up creek on the right). I usually park just before that in a large open area by a corral. Also good sites down the Notom road, and a NP campground at Cedar Mesa. Perhaps the best--if you have high clearance, is the NP campground at the top of the Cathedral Valley--quite high--7,000 feet? Requires fording the Fremont river but tourists do it all the time. Again, check with the rangers in Fruita before you go.

Off Route 95 toward the Maze ranger station. Dark, dark, dark.

And Goblin Valley--nice campground.

Bridges is very dark but sort of boring if you are not observing.

That should take you awhile :). If you want more info when you go, just PM me.

Dark skies.

Jack

#17 Starman81

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 02:03 AM

Jon, Jack

For sure the weakness is the incompleteness of data points! But if people have pristine observing sites like the ones you describe Jack, why not send the coordinates in to Attilla and have him create a CSC for it!

What I've always wondered is once you are at a black zone area, does it matter that much how far the site is from the transition to a gray zone? Or are other variables such as humidity, particulate content of the air much more important at that point than virtually non existent sources of light pollution?
I was surprised to see TSP as being so low on the list but it is actually just inside a gray zone, presumably due to lights from Fort Davis.

I'm just very thankful of how close I am here to my pristine skies!!

cheers

Mike


That is a great site deep within the 'Black' zone! Are there any problems going down to the Baja from the US for American citizens? On the Dark Sky Finder I see this statement for the Sierra San Pedro Martir site: "Located in a area of Mexico that may be hazardous to Americans."

#18 lintonius

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 11:31 AM

To take only one example from my personal experience, Boulder, Utah and Goblin Valley, Utah are both good sites, but the former is now a blue sky zone and the area between it a Goblin Vally is filled with black sky zones--including most of Capital Reef National Park.


Just curious, since I was through Boulder late last June (2012) on a road trip along the astonishingly scenic Utah route 12. I passed through Boulder in late afternoon, but missed seeing any substantial-enough development, commercial, residential, or tourist, that seemed like it would likely cause any but very minor, immediately local light pollution. I'm not doubting your experienced word that it's there; maybe I'm simply under-estimating what quantum is sufficient to degrade any sigificant portion of the area from black down to blue. The area around Torrey/Bicknell, some thirty-five miles over a 10,000 ft+ mountain pass, I can understand being degraded to that extent, even though these are very small, isolated towns by the standards of most other places.

The Capitol Reef Area and southward from Hanksville over on the east side of the Henry Mountains looked like it would provide spectacularly dark viewing opportunities (after all, that's on the way to Natural Bridges National Monument, the epicenter of the darkest skies in the lower 48, a long way from any significant town or lights). Unfortunately, I wasted a clear night staying in a motel in Torrey instead of camping out, expecting I'd get to spend the next night out at Natural Bridges National Monument under clear skies once the moon set just after midnight. But alas, that next night @NB turned cloudy and stormy, and I only got a teasing glimpse an hour or two before dawn of the night sky through gaps in the too-slow dissipating clouds from the T-storms earlier in the night. That's a trip I'd love to repeat, timed with clear weather and a new moon cycle, and with my scopes and gear along.


Very interesting thread here and, having explored the Colorado Plateau quite a bit and just moved to Torrey/Capitol Reef, I have a lot I'd like to say. I'm on the road though - checking out of a motel in Chinle/Canyon de Chelley - en route to Tucson. So for now I'll just dispute Boulder Utah being a light polluted blue zone. The little blue blip on the LP map is Escalante, which has seen somewhat of a tourism boom, since the creation of the Escalante Grand Staircase N.M. More to follow...
Linton

#19 mikewirths

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 12:00 PM

Hi Starman,

As far as the "safeness" of Baja California goes I can only speak from our own experience. In our 5 years living here we have never once felt uncomfortable or threatened. Of course there are other states in Mexico where we would not go such as Veracruz and the city of Monterrey but rules of common sense apply anywhere in order to minimize risk. Overall the state of Baja California has a very low population density, once you pass south of the bustling border town of Tijuana the mood is actually quite mellow, and the people are more open and friendly than the hectic socal cities. We usually breathe a sigh of relief once we pass south of the border and get away from the frenetic SoCal traffic!
The Sierra San Pedro Martir park has very low visitation rate, less than a few 1000 every year, if you go in spring/summer its entirely possible that you could be the only visitor in the park! Plus since there is only one way in, after 8 o clock the park rangers close the front gates and there isno more traffic! At our 1200 acre ranch the most trouble we have had, has been with the off road community (American and Mexican,Canadian) We put up gates to maintain some security and they broke them on more than one occasion,leading to some uncomfortable exchanges between us and them, luckily after 2 years of this they have finally given in to using another route. All part of living in a very remote region!! But we really love it here, soon we will have federal status as a privately owned nature preserve which will give us access to funding for conservation projects.

clear skies

Mike

#20 Starman81

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 05:56 PM

Hi Starman,

As far as the "safeness" of Baja California goes I can only speak from our own experience. In our 5 years living here we have never once felt uncomfortable or threatened. Of course there are other states in Mexico where we would not go such as Veracruz and the city of Monterrey but rules of common sense apply anywhere in order to minimize risk. Overall the state of Baja California has a very low population density, once you pass south of the bustling border town of Tijuana the mood is actually quite mellow, and the people are more open and friendly than the hectic socal cities. We usually breathe a sigh of relief once we pass south of the border and get away from the frenetic SoCal traffic!
The Sierra San Pedro Martir park has very low visitation rate, less than a few 1000 every year, if you go in spring/summer its entirely possible that you could be the only visitor in the park! Plus since there is only one way in, after 8 o clock the park rangers close the front gates and there isno more traffic! At our 1200 acre ranch the most trouble we have had, has been with the off road community (American and Mexican,Canadian) We put up gates to maintain some security and they broke them on more than one occasion,leading to some uncomfortable exchanges between us and them, luckily after 2 years of this they have finally given in to using another route. All part of living in a very remote region!! But we really love it here, soon we will have federal status as a privately owned nature preserve which will give us access to funding for conservation projects.

clear skies

Mike


Thanks Mike, I checked out your site--looks great. Would love to visit someday!

#21 Joe Bergeron

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 10:31 PM

I can attest to the quality of the sky at Capitol Reef and environs, having spent 5 weeks there doing outreach this past summer. Here's a view very low near the horizon in Scorpius, shot on a typical night there:

The Stinger

I don't think I've ever seen darker skies.

#22 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 07 February 2013 - 08:07 AM

I'm on the road though - checking out of a motel in Chinle/Canyon de Chelley - en route to Tucson.



Which one was it, the Best Western, the Thunderbird Lodge or the Holiday Inn? There is also the Spider Rock campground where you can stay in a Hogan...

My wife and I were married in Chinle. :)

Jon

#23 lintonius

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 11:00 AM

I'm on the road though - checking out of a motel in Chinle/Canyon de Chelley - en route to Tucson.



Which one was it, the Best Western, the Thunderbird Lodge or the Holiday Inn? There is also the Spider Rock campground where you can stay in a Hogan...

My wife and I were married in Chinle. :)

Jon


Sorry for the delay, Jon. We've been running around the world's largest Rock Show, lusting over thousands of meteorites!
We stayed in the BW. Canyon de Chelley was outstanding. We'll be returning. What a cool place to get married!
Linton

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#24 Seldom

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 11:35 AM

+1 Spider Rock Campground :bow:

#25 careysub

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 06:28 PM

That is a great site deep within the 'Black' zone! Are there any problems going down to the Baja from the US for American citizens? On the Dark Sky Finder I see this statement for the Sierra San Pedro Martir site: "Located in a area of Mexico that may be hazardous to Americans."


I have been doing some reading the last few days on this subject and what I have found is that the hazardous areas are restricted to the more urbanized zone along the border. Apparently all of the violent incidents involving U.S. citizens were in this zone.

The less settled southern half of Baja California (Baja California Sur) has no travel advisories.

Even though it does have tourist towns on the southern tip (Cabo San Lucas, etc.) these have apparently been essentially problem-free. Although the SSPM site is north of the Baja California Sur border, it is geographically part of the same very rural region that dominates it.






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