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Road trip- Arizona and New Mexico with scope

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#1 chaoscosmos

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 01:31 PM

Hello all,

I am probably opting out of a trip to Kauai (previous post) in favor of a road trip from home in southern California through Arizona to New Mexico. At the outset I think I would opt for the route through Flagstaff to Albuquerque to Santa Fe, but I am open to other suggestions. The trip will be a combination of sight seeing (largely just stopping off the side of the road and walking around with camera where something looks interesting) and, of course, since I'd have my 4 inch refractor- hopefully some great dark sky observing. The likelihood is the only other companion I'll bring besides the scope will be my German Shepherd. I've already got some links to dog friendly stop overs at B&B's etc.

Anyone like to make some suggestions re route, weather, good observing spots, or have info to where I can make contact with a good star party? What would be the optimum time to go, from the first week of June or later this summer?

Thanks...

#2 Tony Flanders

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 01:47 PM

I am probably opting out of a trip to Kauai (previous post) in favor of a road trip from home in southern California through Arizona to New Mexico. At the outset I think I would opt for the route through Flagstaff to Albuquerque to Santa Fe, but I am open to other suggestions.


Going through the northern parts of AZ and NM is wonderful. But going through the southern parts is equally wonderful in an utterly different way. Up north you're in the red-rock country and the mountains. Down south you're in the beautiful Sonoran desert.

#3 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 02:09 PM

What would be the optimum time to go, from the first week of June or later this summer?


Well, you don't want to go during the summer monsoon.

http://geoplan.asu.edu/monsoon.html

http://phoenix.about...nsoontrivia.htm

In addition to the Lowell Observatory, I suggest visiting Kitt Peak and, in New Mexico, the Apache Point Observatory, the Sunspot NSO site, the White Sands Missile Range Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, and the NRAO Very Large Array.

You may want to consider a stay at New Mexico Skies at Mayhill, if it's still open for visual observing.

Dave Mitsky

#4 seryddwr

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 02:16 PM

Sunspot NSO... :grin:

#5 csrlice12

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 02:37 PM

In New Mexico, just drive any direction from Albuquerque off the Interstate, You'll be in the middle of nowhere in notime. I love the Jemez mountain area though. Also South of Albq about a 40min drive is a small town called San Antonio, NM. Take that exit and go East, Be sure to stop at the Owl Cafe for the world's best Green Chili Cheeseburger and Fries. Keep going East, after a short drive, you can just about pull off anywheres...it's all pretty much a black zone there........

#6 Tom Polakis

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 03:07 PM

Hello all,

I am probably opting out of a trip to Kauai (previous post) in favor of a road trip from home in southern California through Arizona to New Mexico...

Anyone like to make some suggestions re route, weather, good observing spots, or have info to where I can make contact with a good star party? What would be the optimum time to go, from the first week of June or later this summer?



You definitely should go during the first week of June. The dark periods in the July, August, and September are all likely to be affected by monsoon cloudiness. The other advantage of going in early June is that you could make a stop at the Grand Canyon Star Party. This is primarily a public star party for people at the Park, but you'll have the place to yourself by 11 p.m., with plenty of of other amateur astronomers with large scopes nearby.

Grand Canyon Star Party

Since the GCSP is only a few weeks away, it's probably best to contact the TAAA to get free admission if you plan to attend with your scope.

Having read my own post, I am editing it to mention that June is the statistically driest and clearest month in Arizona. As I key this in, the dew point in Flagstaff is 21F, and relative humidity is 16%. This is the typical level of humidity through the last week of June.

Tom

#7 dpippel

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 03:37 PM

I'll reiterate what others have said here - you're better off avoiding monsoon season in the southwest so I think the beginning of June would be good. Monsoon in the AZ high country (Flagstaff, Prescott, Payson, etc.) can result in pretty regular (and powerful) afternoon thunderstorms. In the deserts the rain is usually more spotty and isolated, but downdraft dust storms can hit very unexpectedly. And it's hot down low. The rest of the year is pretty mellow weather-wise.

Plus, June 8th is New Moon. :)

#8 BillFerris

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 05:11 PM

If photography takes priority over the nighttime astronomical observing for you, then traveling through northern Arizona and New Mexico in July or August will be preferable. The summer monsoon reliably delivers dramatic afternoon and early evening thunderstorms across the region. A lot of great landscape photography is as much about the weather as it is about the land.

If the nighttime observing is your priority, June typically offers clear weather in northern Arizona. The middle two-weeks of the month historically deliver the highest number of photometric nights. June 8 is new Moon so, June 8-15 should offer good opportunities for observing in northern AZ. I'm not as familiar with the New Mexico climate.

Bill in Flag

#9 jrbarnett

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 06:06 PM

Arizona gets its rain in mid-to-late summer. It's called the "monsoon" season. Though it varies according to the whims of Mother Nature, typically the rains begin about a week into July and end around the end of August, with the occasional rogue thunderstorm on either end of that period by a week or so. You'll want to AVOID the region during the heart of the monsoon season if you plan on reliably being able to do any astronomy.

Early June wouldn't be too bad. Early fall, too, isn't too bad. It's cooler in the higher elevations, so if you stick to the northern parts of these states (AZ and NM), you'll suffer only high 80s to low-mid 90s typically rather than the 105+ that's common to the south in the low deserts.

I love my dogs too, but many of the best places to see things in this northern southwest corridor are not dog friendly and it will be hot enough that you can't humanely leave dogs in a vehicle. I'd hire a dog sitter rather than taking the dog along as it'll broaden your activities horizons considerably.

Cool things to see and do along your intended route are plentiful. In California there's a lot to see in the Mojave including spots in and around the Mojave National Preserve, as well as to the south of the 40. For example, check this out:

http://goo.gl/maps/hFUeh

Know what that is? It's not natural and it covers a very large area. It's an ancient geoglyph site of a sort. It's called the "Topock Maze". Pretty cool. It's on BLM land so you can visit it if you like. Along the NV-AZ-CA border, you can hit the casinos in Laughlin.

Heading across northern AZ, the Grand Canyon is a natural. In Flagstaff, a visit to and tour of Lowell Observatory is neat. Outside Flagstaff to the east there are a couple of interesting Sinagua cultural sites; Wupatiki to the NE of Flagstaff and Homolovi outside of Winslow, about an hour east of Flagstaff on the 40. About midway between Flagstaff and Winslow is the exit for the Barringer Crater.

http://goo.gl/maps/YVMLX

It's on private land, sadly (talk about a poster case for Imminent Domain!), so it's a bit of a cheesy tourist trap, but it's one of the best preserve meteor craters in the world and well worth the scalping.

Petrified Forest National Park is interesting just before you reach the AZ-NM border. Canyon de Chelly inside the Navajo Nation to the north is stunning, though you'll need to pay for a native guide and be prepared for a monster hike to get up close and personal with any of the major ruins in the Canyon. If you're the adventurous sort, head north into the southeast corner of Utah and visit Hovenweep National Monument which straddles the Utah and Colorado border.

And we haven't even entered NM yet. :grin: But I've rambled enough. Do your homework and you'll have a splendid time. My club is headed to northwest NM the first week of September and I plan on spending 2 weeks of my upcoming 6 week sabbatical soloing southern Utah and Colorado and northern AZ and NM. With a full month you'd barely be able to scratch the surface of all there is to see and do.

Happy, safe travels.

- Jim

#10 davidmcgo

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 07:29 PM

For New Mexico, Chaco Canyon is a must. I think the visitor center there now has an astronomy program with a 25" obsession, and the ruins and the "supernova petroglyph" is really neat to see. If you end up north of ABQ, stop at Charette Lakes near Wagon Mound. It is a spot I used a lot when I lived in Colorado. I think it was NM Fish and Wildlife land but really dark, superb seeing, and a pair of lakes, waterfall, and ospreys, herons, nighthawks, and plenty of fish. Capulin Volcano is not too far, really well preserved cinder cone you can hike around.

Dave

#11 lcaldero

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 07:59 PM

FWIW, in New Mexico we say the monsoon season starts around the Fourth of July. This spring has been unusually cloudy and windy. Check out The Albuquerque Astronomy Society's website for star parties in the ABQ area. Plus, the Chaco Canyon star party is June 8.

Have a great trip!

Laura

#12 amicus sidera

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 08:05 PM

Take water with you - plenty of it. The desert is rather unforgiving.

A reliable metallic argument might also stand you in good stead, should the need arise.

#13 KidOrion

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 11:38 PM

Definitely stop by the VLA in central NM.

US Naval Observatory and Lowell's Anderson Mesa station are also good visits. The new Discovery Channel scope might be a good bet, although I'm not sure what their "tourist" capabilities are.

#14 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 11:53 PM

A few favorites:

- The Navajo National Monument, the Canyon View campground. Primitive camping but with latrines and trash.. Free, beautiful scenery, the skies can be most dark and wonderful.

- Spider Rock Campground, Canyon de Chelly.

- The road from Lukachuki over the mountains to Red Rock and on to Shiprock. It's high forest with a natural spring where the locals get water.

- The road down from I-40 to St. Johns, Alpine and then east into NM and down the border to Silver City and the Gila National Forest quite wonderful..

There was a time I would have recommended the primitive campground at Monument Valley (see photo) but since they put in the 500 room View Motel, it's been a lost cause. Now we go to the Valley of the Gods which is east of Mexican Hat and quite similar but it's BLM Land and desolate except for a bread and breakfast.

Jon

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#15 BillFerris

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 09:30 AM

Definitely stop by the VLA in central NM.

US Naval Observatory and Lowell's Anderson Mesa station are also good visits. The new Discovery Channel scope might be a good bet, although I'm not sure what their "tourist" capabilities are.


Neither the Anderson Mesa facility nor the Discovery Channel Telescope are open to the general public for tours or visitation. The domes at Anderson Mesa can be seen from the asphalt road leading to the fenced-in facility and the DCT dome is visible from Lake Mary Road, but both are closed research facilities. Lowell Observatory in west Flagstaff is open daily, 9am to 10pm, for visitation, tours, and nighttime observing. The gravel pull-out at the top of Anderson Mesa has been used for years by local amateurs as an observing location. The sky to the west and northwest is impacted by the Flagstaff light dome, but overhead, to the east and south is still quite dark.

One word of caution about observing in northern Arizona during the summer, several outstanding observing locations under pristine dark skies can be found in the region's national forests. However, being the peak of the fire season, there is always the possibility of a forest-wide closure to public recreation. An open fire ban has just gone into effect in areas other than developed campgrounds. As long as the monsoon rains arrive on schedule (early July) without the development of any major wildfires, this will likely be the extent of the fire precautions for the summer. However, one or more major wildfires in the region could result in the closure of all but the Kaibab National Forest to public recreation.

Bill in Flag

#16 Kevdog

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 04:38 PM

One other thing about Lowell Observatory that is neat. At noon, they put out a SolarMax II 60mm sun telescope to view through. It was the first time we had ever seen through a solar telescope and definitely a neat experience. Warning: $2000 later we have our own one! :D

#17 radial195

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 10:56 PM

If you come through Kingman on June 1st the local astronomy club will be having a star party on Hualapai Mountain at the ATV trailhead. Hualapai Mtn. was second choice to Kitt Peak so the skies are dark and clear. Get off I-40 @ Rt. 66, turn right, go to 3rd (?) traffic light and turn left on Hualapai Mountain Rd. ATV trailhead is signed and just past the crest of the mountain on the left. C U there.

#18 Tom and Beth

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 12:07 AM

Just north of Flagstaff you'll find Sunset Crater Nat'l park. Notice they don't take kindly to pets on the trail, and leaving a dog in the car out here is REALLY frowned upon. Even a drive through the park is interesting and will take a few hours.
http://www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm

From the link they also mention some night and Solar observing spots, geared towards families, in the Flagstaff area.

The Painted Desert, Chaco and the Petrified Desert are each worth a day to explore, and that's just Arizona.

Can't stress enough having water, a gallon a day per "animal" is a good rule of thumb. Arizona is a beautiful state but Summers here get hot. Life threatening hot, if you are not prepared. It's really common sense, but so many seem to lack that nowadays.

#19 csrlice12

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 09:07 AM

Yea, AZ & NM get pretty hot and you'll need time for your mirror to warm up! Actually that's high desert, and the temp drops fast after sundown, so if you take a dob, I recommend a fan. NM has some fantastic skies.

#20 chaoscosmos

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 09:29 AM

What should I expect in general for temps at night off the northern route or in general in the vicinity of I 40 and the stops suggested? Any place in particular I should avoid with respect to chill factor in the first weeks of June?

Re a Dob, I just ordered a Z10 which I'll have before leaving, but don't plan to take at this point as I think two scopes would be a tad tight in a Camry. If the dog or 2nd person don't go, maybe.

#21 Kevdog

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 11:10 AM

This is for flagstaff:
http://weatherspark....a-United-States

Hi's mid 70-s

Lows around 40


Kingman is lower elevation, so warmer all around:
http://www.accuweath...-weather/331805
His mid 80's
Lows around 60

If you stay in the northern half of arizona, then it shouldn't be too shocking either way. Still will be hot in the daytime and the sun is intense! And it's dry dry dry... drink a lot.

Living in Phoenix, we drive up to the north to escape the heat around that time of year :D

#22 BillFerris

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 11:30 AM

The topography along I-40 from west-to-east across Arizona is defined by the Colorado Plateau, which occupies the northeastern quadrant of the state. Kingman is at the relatively low elevation of 3,450-feet with average highs of 93F and average lows of 58F in June. Continuing east along I-40, you'll climb up the western slopes of Colorado Plateau. Williams, Arizona is at 6,800-feet elevation with average highs of 80F and average lows of 47F. Flagstaff is at about 7,000-feet elevation with average highs of 77F and lows of 35F. Winslow, Arizona is at 4,850-feet elevation with avg. highs of 91F and avg. lows of 54F. By the time you've crossed over into New Mexico, you'll have gained some elevation to 6,500-feet when entering Gallup, which offers average highs of 85F in June and average lows of 45F.

Of course, these are average temperatures. While it's very rare to get much above 90F in Flagstaff, you could easily encounter temps in the upper-90's in the area around Kingman. Winslow and the Painted Desert region can also become quite warm. Climate is what you expect but weather is what you'll get. Generally speaking, you'll be comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt during the day. Wear a hat and use sunscreen. If you've got access to a freezer at your hotel, freeze bottled water overnight and allow it to slowly melt during the day in your car. You'll enjoy nice, cool water to keep refreshed throughout the day.

At night, you'll want to have long pants, a sweatshirt, probably a jacket and a cap of some sort. Observing tends to be a sedentary activity so, you'll need layers to stay comfortable in the cool evening temperatures. Also, since your scope may be spending much of the day in the car while you're outside exploring the wonders of the Desert Southwest, try to set it up at or just before sunset to get the optics cooling well before dark. Astronomical twilight ends at about 9:30pm during June so, setting up by 7-7:30pm would be optimum.

If you make a side trip to the Grand Canyon during your visit, give yourself at least one full day just to explore sights along the South Rim. It's worth it. Every lookout offers a slightly different view. You'll enjoy the best views of the river from Desert View at the far eastern end of the South Rim. Grand Canyon Village is located about 26 miles west along the East Rim Drive and it can easily occupy half a day just working your way from viewpoint to viewpoint along this stretch. After a full-day, you'll have just scratched the surface of all there is to see. Photographing a sunrise or sunset from the rim is always spectacular. It is especially so when a thunderstorm is in the area. If you'd like more specific information about great places to do photography at the Canyon, feel free to contact me by PM.

Bill in Flag

#23 Jwemes

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 11:32 AM

This morning, 3am to be exact, at 7200' elevation, west of Flagstaff, the thermometer indicated 32F. Keep checking with NOAA for local conditions. Above all, enjoy the trip!

#24 chaoscosmos

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 03:18 PM

Another question: I am wondering if getting on the road and playing it by ear without any accomodation reservations could reasonably be expected to have a successful outcome. A couple weekends ago I discovered that I can get at least 3 hours sound sleep in my car, if I'm tired enough, and wake up refreshed. Of course this would only be as a last resort. :)

#25 BarbMoore

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 10:57 PM

Southern New Mexico. The darkest skies I've ever had the pleasure to observe in was around Mayhill, New Mexico at a place called New Mexico Skies.

Of course if you are around the Alamogordo/Oliver Lee State Park area on June 8th, you are welcome to join our group at the Oliver Lee State Park group shelter.

http://www.astronomersgroup.org/






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