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A night and day binocular tour of the Southwest.

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#1 Penarin

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Posted 13 July 2005 - 08:47 AM

Here we are, back from a pleasant vacation. In 8 days we saw Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and a few State Parks out that way. Not to mention, the darkest skies I've ever seen in my life.

Since 5" refractors are hard to stow in the overhead compartment, and grenade-sized 2" EPs might not make it past security, we took both of our binoculars along: the Pentax 10 x 50 PCF WPII and the Orion Outsider 8 x 40 WA. I'm glad we took them, as having binocs at hand really changed the whole trip.

Both the Orion and the Pentax saw plenty of day use. Image quality and ease of use (comfort / eye relief) was excellent on both, as I was able to leave my glasses on as long as the eyeguards were rolled or clicked back.

At St. George, Utah, we sat on a cliff high above town, and watched the sun go down. With the binoculars, it felt like I could explore the parks and tree-lined streets of the whole town from the "comfort" of my rocky seat. Wildfires burned in the distance, smoldering mostly, but with the binocs I would occasionally see flames whip up. That was a surreal experience- look right and the hills burn, look left and there's a quiet town, all under that odd sunset light.

At Bryce Canyon, I found the binocs to be indispensable. I commented many times that they would be by my side on all future trips. I really feel that we saw much, much more of the park, and experienced it more fully. Distant formations couldn't hide, and the intricacies of closer objects became clear.

All in stunning 3D. Through both models I was constantly impressed by the color, depth and clarity of whatever was out in front of me- be it a distant valley or a small lizard in front of us on the trail. I'm not sure of the official close focus specs on these two models, but in most cases they were very usable for critters or wildflowers.

We watched prairie dogs playing, chipmunks feeding, and at one point saw some sort of oddly colored mother bird walk her clan of 14 baby birds through the brush and across the road. She brought up the rear, and made sure they all crossed safely. Cute when viewed with two eyes, and squeal-inducingly so when seen up close, as my wife discovered through the Orions.

Our first experience with the dark Southwestern sky was Bryce Canyon, at the Fairyland Point overlook. We got there at sunset, and I saw Venus for the first time. We were tired, and didn't stay till full dark, but as the stars came out one by one they were easy to identify on the map. While I did enjoy looking at Jupiter's moons in the 10 x 50s, I didn't have any particular targets in mind... we just scanned the skies.

The next night, we arrived at the point around 11pm, and it was a breathtaking sight. The gray band of the Milky Way was incredibly distinct. There were so many stars that I felt lost, and eventually put away the chart and just took it all in. With the wide angle 8 x 40s, scanning the Milky Way was a pleasure. There seemed to be a faint fuzzy at every turn. I am happy with my skies back home, but living with Utah skies every night would be a true treat.

In both the Pentax and the Orion, the entire FOV looked great. With the 9 degree Orion Outsiders there was so much to see, I would often hold the binocs steady and scan around the view in the EP with my eyes. Selling for $65, the 8 x 40 Outsiders win my award for "Most fun you can have in astronomy for around 50 bucks."

Now, before we leave the stars of Fairyland Point, I might mention that the tranquility of the night sky was, at one point, temporarily disturbed. About 50 feet to our left, a minivan had pulled up. I heard people shuffling around outside the van, didn't see any lights, and assumed they were stargazing as well. Then it happened.

In addition to being dark, it was very quiet. Occasionally, a slight breeze would sway the pines, but that's all there was to hear. Until someone from the minivan group created a not-so-slight breeze of their own. There was much giggling from that end of the lot, and the van pulled away soon after that. I'm sure the darkness covered up a few red faces.

Leaving Bryce behind, we took off for the Grand Canyon. Terrestrial views here were severely reduced by smoke in the air. Standing at any major viewpoint, I'd say we were able to see about 25% of the scenery. Everything past that was washed out in a featureless haze. Still, it was impressive to look down into the canyon at the river below, where the utility of binoculars again became clear- we saw views of the rapids that would otherwise require long hikes with large backpacks.

Also, down along the river, we saw what looked to be something of a base camp. Hard to make out with the naked eye, with the binocs we could view the buildings, trails, tents, and picnic areas, and wonder what it would be like to spend the night down there, canyon walls towering above and civilization so far away.

In the week we were gone, we saw much more by carrying the binoculars along. So while this is something of a review of two specific models, it's also a general call to take those binoculars with you when you travel. From stars above to rivers below, why not see more?

- -
Thanks to EdZ, whose CN review “Nikon Action Extremes 8 x 40, 10 x 50, and 12 x 50” helped me decide on the Pentax. Thanks also to saberscorpx, whose post “Orion 8x showdown”
called my attention to the Outsiders.

#2 Erik D

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Posted 13 July 2005 - 10:19 AM

Jasen,

Thanks for sharing your national park adventure with us. Living in central NJ we seem to have no more than a a dozen dark clear nights each year. Since I have many binos on hand I have started using them more and more for terrestrial viewing. It's quite interesting the variety a wildlife or aircraft I can spot with high powered binos. A few month ago I was scanning for raptors with my 20X80 binos on a clear day. The blue sky looked completely empty naked eye. However, within a minute or two I spotted a well defined helicopter in my 20X bino. The chopper was so far away I could not hear the engine noise at all....it was invisible without 20X optical aid.

I have taken my Leupold 12X50 Roof Prism on two overseas trip this year. The cityscape of Beijing was not very interesting from my 8th floor hotel window. A lot of haze and air pollution. However, I had a fine view of the ships in Marina Bay in Singapore this past June. Also took the 12X binos to the famous Singapore Jurong bird park. I can pick out a lot more details compared to the 8X32s I packed last year. I plan to take them again when we take our two week family vacation next month...

Erik D

#3 KennyJ

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Posted 13 July 2005 - 10:31 AM

Jasen ,

Thank you for a really interesting report.

A nice little "read" to welcome me home from another hot and uncomfortable day at work !

I think EVERYONE should take a bino along with them EVERYWHERE they go -- within reason of course :-) -- you'll probably know I do !

Regards , Kenny

#4 Swedpat

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Posted 13 July 2005 - 12:40 PM

A big thank to you for a very inspiring story which makes me to long for getting out in the nature with binoculars!
Here in Sweden we also have very nice nature and national parks, though propably not in the greatness of for example Grand Canyon...
We haven't neither Grizzly bears or mountain lions, no snakes who are dangerous for the life, and that feels secure...

Patric

#5 Glassthrower

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Posted 13 July 2005 - 05:15 PM

The gray band of the Milky Way was incredibly distinct.


That must be the nougat, right next to the chocolate. From my area, that is all the Milky Way is : a candybar.

Seriously though, nice report. Those dark skies must have had you wishing for your scope. Maybe next time you can find a way to stuff it in the overhead.

MikeG

#6 edwincjones

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Posted 13 July 2005 - 06:01 PM

After being around amateur astronomy for a while, many star parties, and multiple trips to the Southwest; I am beginning to think family trips to the SW with binoculars/telescopes may be the ultimate astronomy experience. I have had many trips, from naked eye at Hovenveep National Monument, to 20x100s at the GrandCanyon Star Party this year, to 25x150s at StarHill Inn in NM and SkyWatchers Inn in AZ. The clear air, dark skies, unlimited horizons and high altitude are great for astronomy.

The best description is by Leslie Peltier in his book Starlight Nights when he describes his camping honeymoon in the southwest.

ed jones

#7 Glassthrower

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Posted 13 July 2005 - 10:05 PM

The clear air, dark skies, unlimited horizons and high altitude are great for astronomy.


I have always pictured myself retiring around the Ozark mountains or in the mountains of the Carolinas, but the more I progress in my pursuit of astronomy, the more I am drawn to the qualities you just mentioned. Their is an undeniable beauty to forests, but the desert can have it's own stark brand of beauty and have the added benefit of being stargazer-friendly.

MikeG

#8 edwincjones

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Posted 14 July 2005 - 05:24 AM

I live in/by the Ozarks, and we are having large inmigratiions of people, much economic development with the resultant deteration of the skies. Most of the Ozarks have Mag 5-6(at best) skies, and the summers are hot, humid, hazy. The SW is also having development, but their skies are at least one magitude darker.
We will be glad to have you in our astronomy club, but if you move for the skies go further southwest.

ed jones

#9 Glassthrower

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Posted 14 July 2005 - 09:44 AM

I live in/by the Ozarks, and we are having large inmigratiions of people, much economic development with the resultant deteration of the skies.


My wife and I have one over-riding criteria for any location we choose as an eventual retirement spot : no Walmart or "big box" retailer anywhere within a 2-hour drive. Unfortunately, the Ozarks no longer fall into that category. At this point, the only places left to go that have dark skies are the really remote areas of the desert and the high mountains. I am a skilled survivalist, so I will have no problem leaving behind things like the internet and electricity. Call me kooky, but there is something ultimately enticing about not having ANY neighbors and having magnitude 7+ skies in your backyard.

MikeG

#10 Patrick

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Posted 14 July 2005 - 12:34 PM

Peranin,

Having just returned from a trip to the SW in June, I throughly enjoyed your report. I think one of the highlights of our trip was in New Mexico when we were waiting for the clouds to clear and had just about given up when we realized they weren't moving...we had mistaken the Milky Way for a cloud band! Viewing with my 15x70s that night was just awesome!

Patrick

#11 edwincjones

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Posted 14 July 2005 - 06:03 PM

" no Walmart....anywhere within 2 hr drive"

Mike,

I guess you won't move here. I have 7 Supercenters within 30 minutes drive, and the Walmart home office is across the street from one of them. Our clubs dark site is so isolated, only a old-not supercenter Walmart is 5 minutes away.

ed jones

#12 edwincjones

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Posted 14 July 2005 - 06:09 PM

Last Labor Day weekend, we went camping at Hovenveep National Monument in SW Utah, 30-40 miles from anywhere and camped in the campground with only two other campers. The skies were the darkest I have even seen. The only light sourse was a bulb in the restrooms. I had small binoculars, but was looking at constellations-they were very hard to see because so many stars were present.

Very quite and peaceful,
ed jones

#13 Guest_**DONOTDELETE**_*

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Posted 14 July 2005 - 06:49 PM

Nothing kooky about it MikeG. I have a yearning desire to live in interior Maine where there is virtually nothing around. Oh you might have a neighbor 10 miles down the road, but that's about it. The winters would be brutal and the cold pristine skies would be...well...heavenly. If it wasn't for the lack of reasonable work to earn a living, I would be there right now.

#14 Swedpat

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Posted 14 July 2005 - 07:33 PM

Last Labor Day weekend, we went camping at Hovenveep National Monument in SW Utah, 30-40 miles from anywhere and camped in the campground with only two other campers. The skies were the darkest I have even seen. The only light sourse was a bulb in the restrooms. I had small binoculars, but was looking at constellations-they were very hard to see because so many stars were present.

Very quite and peaceful,
ed jones



I also have experience of that the darkness/clarity of the sky has an enormous importance for the visiblity of the stars. I want to say that a 8x25 can be superior in dark sky outside the city to a 10x50 in the city.

Patric

#15 btschumy

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Posted 14 July 2005 - 08:24 PM

I want to say that a 8x25 can be superior in dark sky outside the city to a 10x50 in the city.


Even naked eyes at a really dark site is superior to 10x50 in the city (IMO).

#16 Penarin

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 12:58 PM

Thanks all for the kind words. It was a great trip. One thing I learned while hiking around with binoculars in tow- soft cases are not that great. Might be time to look into a more suitable case. Something padded with adjustable straps.

In addition to the natural wonders of the area, I already miss the 75mph speed limit. There are some great roads out there, from wide-open top end speed, to rollercoaster curves and hills. And my car was parked back at home :(


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