Jump to content

  •  

CNers have asked about a donation box for Cloudy Nights over the years, so here you go. Donation is not required by any means, so please enjoy your stay.

Photo

Advice on locating a safe and secure dark sky spot

  • Please log in to reply
28 replies to this topic

#1 Wesker

Wesker

    Vostok 1

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 119
  • Joined: 06 Mar 2009

Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:20 PM

I live in a bright red location in Dark Sky Finder in North Dakota, but can get to a dark grey (2nd darkest on the map) in 30 miles. Haven't made a trip yet though due to the weather, and quite frankly not having a clue where to set up that is safe and allowed. Any advice on this part? When I had my binoculars, I would just drive on a county road for ten miles until it was pitch black, get out of the car on the side of the 2 lane road, and observe. But with a telescope and other gear, I'm not sure exactly how to approach this.

 

I would imagine scouting out locations in the daytime is necessary, but then you also need to know what they look like at night. Public vs. private property, getting permission, etc. Just wondering if anyone has any good advice on how to begin approaching this as I have access to some phenomenal viewing areas, but don't want to get approached in the middle of the night by god knows who either. 


  • buddy ny and Augustus like this

#2 MikeTahtib

MikeTahtib

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 617
  • Joined: 10 Oct 2016

Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:36 PM

Excellent question, I've been wondering the same thing myself.  One suggestion is to look for campgrounds in the area, then visit them during the daytime.  The problem with campgrounds is that it seems like most campsites are surrounded by tall trees.  But if you can find one with an open field, they might let you set up I the field.  I  have done that a few times near me, especially during times when they aren't too busy, they don't really care much where I go.  Unfortunately, the one I used closes in October, and when they are open, they recently installed a very bright spotlight that shines down the field right where I set up.  I've considered finding someone who has a lot of land, maybe farm space, and explaining what I want to do and asking if I could set up there on a good night for some nominal fee.  The big question then would be what to do about bathroom facilities, they probably wouldn't want me using their in-house bathroom n the middle of the night.  I look forward to what other people suggest.


  • Dynan likes this

#3 havasman

havasman

    Cosmos

  • ****-
  • Posts: 8815
  • Joined: 04 Aug 2013
  • Loc: Dallas, Texas

Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:38 PM

State parks, national parks and club dark sites could be your best bets. Contact the park administrators for info. See if there's a local or regional club and talk with them.

30 minutes to a grey zone is a better option than 99% of the amateur astronomers in North America have!


Edited by havasman, 11 January 2019 - 03:39 PM.

  • Illinois, jdupton, ShaulaB and 3 others like this

#4 RyanSem

RyanSem

    Messenger

  • *****
  • Posts: 423
  • Joined: 29 Jul 2018
  • Loc: Marietta, GA

Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:41 PM

I've contacted a few town police stations and public park offices in the past to ask permission to view in specific areas at night. For instance, I planned a trip up to High Point, NJ back in the summer since it was one of the few dark spots within a 2 hour drive from where I grew up. Before I went I made sure to call the park office to see if staying past park hours would be allowed. They told me no problem! They were just happy someone was taking advantage of the park. 

 

I've also heard of others asking owners with lots of private property if they could set up a few nights a week in specific locations. They all had a good rapport with these people beforehand though. I wouldn't know how to approach this out of the blue. 

 

In general, public spaces and parks are probably your best bet. I'd double check with law enforcement or whoever runs the area first to make sure it's ok before you set up, but if you're in a grey zone I'd definitely make the most of it while you can!


  • ShaulaB likes this

#5 scadvice

scadvice

    Viking 1

  • *****
  • Vendors
  • Posts: 729
  • Joined: 20 Feb 2018
  • Loc: Lodi, California

Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:43 PM

I would look up the local farm or ranchers association and give them a call. Post a letter with them maybe. Another option that most of us don't think of is the local chamber of commerce.

 

Years back, I was looking for places to fish in ND and drove past a beautiful stream in a fenced pasture. About a quarter mile by it I stopped and asked a guy repairing the fence for directions. Turned out it was his property and he let me go fishing on that creek. It was full of nice big German Browns. His biggest issue with people was coming on to his land with out asking and wrecking his fencing.  


Edited by scadvice, 11 January 2019 - 03:44 PM.


#6 TOMDEY

TOMDEY

    Gemini

  • -----
  • Posts: 3030
  • Joined: 10 Feb 2014
  • Loc: Springwater, NY

Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:52 PM

Not too many decades ago, setting up on agreeable private properties was pretty common. Now, with TV commercials encouraging everyone to sue as a windfall strategy... most rural landowners have become understandably wary or letting strangers (or even friends!) just show up, and hang out most of the night.

 

I used to allow friends to hunt, camp, swim, party, picnic, or observe on our property... stopped doing that about ten years ago, for that very reason: A neighbor had an accidental shooting on his land and... nearly lost his house over it! Casual acquaintances and even friends and family can spontaneously turn completely mercenary, once an ambulance-chasing lawyer gets ahold of them!    Tom


  • ShaulaB likes this

#7 jdupton

jdupton

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1451
  • Joined: 21 Nov 2010
  • Loc: Central Texas, USA

Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:55 PM

Wesker,

 

   As others have already pointed out, County, State, and National Parks, as well as National Forest or Recreation areas are all good potential spots. Many will have manned ranger stations and security is often very good. Most, or at least many will be happy to have you there, particularly if you don't mind and offer views to other campers.

 

   In finding these spots, Google Earth Pro running on a computer (as opposed to running the mobile phone / tablet version) can be your best friend. Turn on display of all the points of interest listed above (State and County Parks, etc.) and you can zoom in to examine camping spots, get an idea of local lighting, and even switch to Street View for many parks to get an idea of the lay of the land.

 

   If you download and install one of the light pollution image overlays available (like the New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness), you can even see right on the aerial views the amount of light pollution to expect. Once you have several prospects in an area picked out on the map, call the park headquarters in question and ask about observing there. After narrowing down several potential safe sites, you can visit a few to see how well they work out.

 

 

John


Edited by jdupton, 11 January 2019 - 03:58 PM.

  • Freezout likes this

#8 B 26354

B 26354

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 641
  • Joined: 05 Jan 2017
  • Loc: Southern California semi-desert (NELM mag 5.3)

Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:59 PM

Two weekends a month, for quite a number of years, I set up in the dirt parking lot of a mountaintop fire-lookout station that was about an hour-and-a-half's drive away. Except for the lookout tower itself, it commanded an almost uninterrupted 360° view. I'd set up just before sunset, and I always stayed all night. If I got sleepy, I'd just throw my sleeping bag on a tarp and take a nap. The lookout was occupied on-and-off... but in all of the years I went there, I was never once visited by any of the occupying rangers.


  • Dynan likes this

#9 M11Mike

M11Mike

    Viking 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 629
  • Joined: 02 Apr 2016
  • Loc: Ballston Lake, NY

Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:02 PM

I often use one of three town parks - two are actually RECREATION fields --- both have THREE full size baseball fields.  And both have just ONE security light that I can block with my vehicle.  I "scoped" them out during the day.  

 

Got permission from the TOWN SUPERVISOR for one and the MAYOR for the other (Clifton Park, NY and Round Lake, NY).   The third is a soccer playing field.  No security lights.  Again got permission from the Town Supervisor (Clifton Park, NY) on that one....I actually drive my car out on the field.  Right in the middle.    

 

I must admit I kinda know these people personally - so that helps.  Town security comes and they now and then say something and I just tell them I have permission and they leave. 

 

Trees are at distance and the two with baseball fields.

 

I also use a COUNTY park --- actually a wildlife preserve....my #1 dark site.  I do not have permission from the county but it's a PUBLIC park and NO ONE has bothered me yet there...other than some other star gazers that show up now and then (hardly ever).

 

The "park" supposedly closes at 10PM or something --- but I have never been approached by the County Sheriff who has policing responsibility for the area.  In fact, my next door neighbor is a Saratoga County Sherriff's Deputy (we are friends) --- and I carry his card plus I I have a window sticker he gave me that says "Saratoga County Sherriff's Department" on it.  So, if they do show up some night I doubt I'll get the boot.        

 

Not easy to find "good" spots ---- but you can --- requires some effort ahead of time.

 

M11Mike 


  • Dynan likes this

#10 M11Mike

M11Mike

    Viking 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 629
  • Joined: 02 Apr 2016
  • Loc: Ballston Lake, NY

Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:06 PM

FWIW - I asked about viewing from a local STATE park about 25-30 minutes from my place.  They have a nice big field near the camping area.  They said NO.  Gave me a # to call in Albany - all to no avail.  M11Mike



#11 Couder

Couder

    Sputnik

  • -----
  • Posts: 35
  • Joined: 24 Feb 2014
  • Loc: Missouri Ozarks

Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:07 PM

The park rangers around here hold star parties themselves, give yours a call. Maybe you can help out someone else while you're helping yourself.


  • havasman and Dynan like this

#12 Dynan

Dynan

    Vanguard

  • *****
  • Posts: 2083
  • Joined: 11 Mar 2018
  • Loc: NOLA

Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:08 PM

In southern MS, there is a great lake park called Okhissa Lake. It is in a National Forest. I marveled at he open spaces and it rated as a Bortle 3-4. Restroom facilities were there and though they had some BRIGHT lights in the parking areas, there was plenty of dark places to set up. Much to my disappointment the park said CLOSED AT DUSK. BUT, I did notice a posting at the gate that said permitting for overnight events allowed...fishing derbies, weddings, etc.

 

I contacted the office, and asked if there was any way I could use the premises after dark. The manager in charge said, "Sure!" We coordinated through email and I had in my possession a 2 day (set up day one, image day two, leave after sunrise). They are usually more than willing to let someone use the facilities.

 

I arrived and marveled at the clear, dark sky. By the time I finished setting up, clouds and ground fog rolled in an ruined both nights...as usual.

 

This one is closed at night probably to prevent 'seismic keggers' and other potentially unwanted occurrences. But if you ask nicely, many places are open to our quiet pastime.

 

Of course, of the three 2-day permits I was issued, aiming at New Moon dates, I got to use NONE because of a three month stretch of cloud covered skies.gaah.gif


Edited by Dynan, 11 January 2019 - 04:10 PM.


#13 bobito

bobito

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1426
  • Joined: 15 Aug 2014
  • Loc: Litchfield County, CT

Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:13 PM

I'll second looking into State and Nat'l Parks.  Also use Google Maps Satellite view to scout out open areas.  You may have some luck with asking a business (restaurant, golf course, etc...) if they don't mind you using their property at night.



#14 Dynan

Dynan

    Vanguard

  • *****
  • Posts: 2083
  • Joined: 11 Mar 2018
  • Loc: NOLA

Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:13 PM

Got permission from the TOWN SUPERVISOR for one and the MAYOR for the other (Clifton Park, NY and Round Lake, NY).   The third is a soccer playing field.  No security lights.  Again got permission from the Town Supervisor (Clifton Park, NY) on that one....I actually drive my car out on the field.  Right in the middle.    

 

I must admit I kinda know these people personally - so that helps.  Town security comes and they now and then say something and I just tell them I have permission and they leave. 

 

I also use a COUNTY park --- actually a wildlife preserve....my #1 dark site.  I do not have permission from the county but it's a PUBLIC park and NO ONE has bothered me yet there...other than some other star gazers that show up now and then (hardly ever).

 

The "park" supposedly closes at 10PM or something --- but I have never been approached by the County Sheriff who has policing responsibility for the area.  In fact, my next door neighbor is a Saratoga County Sherriff's Deputy (we are friends) --- and I carry his card plus I I have a window sticker he gave me that says "Saratoga County Sherriff's Department" on it.  So, if they do show up some night I doubt I'll get the boot.        

 

M11Mike 

As Mel Brooks (almost) said: "It's GOOD to know the King!"


Edited by Dynan, 11 January 2019 - 04:14 PM.


#15 Starman47

Starman47

    Messenger

  • -----
  • Posts: 425
  • Joined: 10 Jun 2018
  • Loc: Tennessee

Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:25 PM

At Theodore Roosevelt National Park they hold an astronomy festival. 

 

https://www.nps.gov/...ts-festival.htm

 

You might contact the park people and ask to speak to the person who arranges the festival. Of course, the national parks will need to the open first. fingertap.gif

 

Another bit of advice gleaned from experience and from Cloudy Nights, do not go alone to a dark sky location. You never know when you might need a buddy to help. And the hobby is fun when it is shared.  



#16 Wesker

Wesker

    Vostok 1

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 119
  • Joined: 06 Mar 2009

Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:53 PM

Some great advice on here. Thanks everyone.

 

In my area of North Dakota here, its basically small towns sprinkled along the highway that are usually green or blue zones, then dark grey all around them. Everything around the towns seems to be primarily farmland. Nearest National park is Roosevelt, which is about 140 miles which is just too far with small kids and a business to run during the day. I think there may be a few wildlife refugees mixed in among the farms, maybe I will check those out but I question whether they will want people wandering in to those. 

 

I'd kinda prefer to stay closer to one of the small towns so I'm not completely in the middle of nowhere, as that is always a bit unsettling. I recall once almost 10 years ago my wife and I went out to the middle of nowhere to look around with the binoculars. Couldn't see anything, maybe ten feet, it was so dark. All of a sudden we heard a bunch of cows mooing all over. Hilarious but also a bit disconcerting. I might reach out to my Facebook network to see if anyone I know has or knows someone who has farmland in the general area. That may be the best choice to stay in the grey zones. 



#17 jdupton

jdupton

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1451
  • Joined: 21 Nov 2010
  • Loc: Central Texas, USA

Posted 11 January 2019 - 05:03 PM

Wesker,

 

   If you could give us a hint as to what part of ND you are in, we might be able to show more pointers. In Google Earth Pro, I see dozens and dozens of Federal and State Wildlife areas and preserves which can be investigated. I can give you a few of the many names I see if you narrow down the search area a bit. Or, you could load Google Earth Pro onto your PC and poke around for yourself. The information is all built in and very often linked to more data on the Web which allows you to find contact information for the officials in charge of the parks and management areas.

 

 

John



#18 Wesker

Wesker

    Vostok 1

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 119
  • Joined: 06 Mar 2009

Posted 11 January 2019 - 05:08 PM

Wesker,

 

   If you could give us a hint as to what part of ND you are in, we might be able to show more pointers. In Google Earth Pro, I see dozens and dozens of Federal and State Wildlife areas and preserves which can be investigated. I can give you a few of the many names I see if you narrow down the search area a bit. Or, you could load Google Earth Pro onto your PC and poke around for yourself. The information is all built in and very often linked to more data on the Web which allows you to find contact information for the officials in charge of the parks and management areas.

 

 

John

I live in Bismarck, right in the reddest red of the red. It sorta stinks viewing from home. 

 

I did just get an idea, North Dakota has a TON of state historic sites, some only as small as a blip of land on the side of the road where a wagon trail used to be 100 years ago. I wonder if some of those might not be a possibility, since they are public land.

 

I did some looking and there are a few state historic sites open to the public year round nearby. Three old Indian village sites. One in the yellow, one in the green and one in the blue. 

 

There's also a huge refuge, Long Lake, that is in the grey, but its only open to the public during daylight hours. ****. Think there is any chance of getting a special permit for astronomy purposes?


Edited by Wesker, 11 January 2019 - 05:38 PM.

  • jdupton likes this

#19 jdupton

jdupton

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1451
  • Joined: 21 Nov 2010
  • Loc: Central Texas, USA

Posted 11 January 2019 - 05:43 PM

Wesker,

 

   Here are a few potential locations that jumped out at me while browsing with Google Earth Pro.

 

Florence Lake
National Wildlife Refuge | North Dakota

https://www.fws.gov/...your_visit.html

 

Chase Lake
National Wildlife Refuge | North Dakota

https://www.fws.gov/...your_visit.html

 

Beaver Lake State Park

Wishek, ND

http://www.parkrec.n.../blsp/blsp.html

 

Sheep Creek Dam State Recreation Area

Elgin, ND

https://www.ndtouris...sheep-creek-dam

 

   These examples were just the ones that were easy to track down more details covering rules. A little Google Web searching will find similar information for lots of other sites, once you know they exist. As I mentioned let Google Earth Pro and Google Web Search be your best friends for searching out new dark observing location possibilities.

 

 

John


  • Dynan and Starman47 like this

#20 Ru4scuba

Ru4scuba

    Vostok 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 132
  • Joined: 26 Dec 2018
  • Loc: Northern Virginia (NCR)

Posted 11 January 2019 - 09:57 PM

I live in a bright red location in Dark Sky Finder in North Dakota, but can get to a dark grey (2nd darkest on the map) in 30 miles. Haven't made a trip yet though due to the weather, and quite frankly not having a clue where to set up that is safe and allowed. Any advice on this part? When I had my binoculars, I would just drive on a county road for ten miles until it was pitch black, get out of the car on the side of the 2 lane road, and observe. But with a telescope and other gear, I'm not sure exactly how to approach this.

 

I would imagine scouting out locations in the daytime is necessary, but then you also need to know what they look like at night. Public vs. private property, getting permission, etc. Just wondering if anyone has any good advice on how to begin approaching this as I have access to some phenomenal viewing areas, but don't want to get approached in the middle of the night by god knows who either. 

Been wondering the same thing myself.  As a USG employee...don't want to torque off the Masters...etc.  Just want to enjoy the hobby w/o invoking the po-po for trespassing LOL



#21 jfaldo

jfaldo

    Vostok 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 154
  • Joined: 12 Aug 2013
  • Loc: Kaycee, Wy

Posted 11 January 2019 - 11:24 PM

Here in Wyoming we have public sections of land. For those that don't know a section is one square mile or 640 acres. They are all over the state and are made up of a mix of BLM and state owned land. Most have excellent access due to the use by hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts. From my house here I have access to several without having to go more than five miles in any direction. I know this is not the case in every state but public access lands I would think exist in one form or another in most states.


  • Dynan likes this

#22 Dynan

Dynan

    Vanguard

  • *****
  • Posts: 2083
  • Joined: 11 Mar 2018
  • Loc: NOLA

Posted 12 January 2019 - 04:28 AM

Here in Wyoming we have public sections of land. For those that don't know a section is one square mile or 640 acres. They are all over the state and are made up of a mix of BLM and state owned land. Most have excellent access due to the use by hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts. From my house here I have access to several without having to go more than five miles in any direction. I know this is not the case in every state but public access lands I would think exist in one form or another in most states.

I found an abandoned cement pad, probably from a defunct gas pumping station just SE of Lander, NW of Muddy Gap. Bortle 1 sky!

 

Set up there on Oct. 9th and it was a little breezy. Got there late, so I set up anyway and was going to image next night. At sunrise the wind kicked up to 45 MPH, with gusts to 60! Barely got my gear broken down without it blowing away!

 

Tucked tail and headed back home. But on the way home, the wind was calm just short of Cheyenne! Imagine that!

 

I popped out in disbelief when I pulled over on Harriman Rd. Absolute calm. So at 10:30 PM I set up next to the little used road in a utility gravel driveway.

 

Harriman Rd.jpg

 

Without much fuss setting up (only a StarSense Auto Align) I got these:

 

ANDROMEDA 2.jpg VEIL NEBULA 4.jpg

 

Nothing great, but saved the 3500 mile trip. And 9949 feet elevation didn't hurt!  smile.gif


Edited by Dynan, 12 January 2019 - 04:57 AM.


#23 jfaldo

jfaldo

    Vostok 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 154
  • Joined: 12 Aug 2013
  • Loc: Kaycee, Wy

Posted 12 January 2019 - 09:07 AM

Isn't that the truth about Wyoming. Usually dead calm, or near it, or full out gale. I lived in Hanna for 10 years before moving here. Skies were much better at 7000' but wind was usually worse. Back to the original post, we definitely have the advantage to set up on so many different places that are public land with 1st class dark skies. 


Edited by jfaldo, 12 January 2019 - 09:08 AM.

  • Dynan likes this

#24 Starman47

Starman47

    Messenger

  • -----
  • Posts: 425
  • Joined: 10 Jun 2018
  • Loc: Tennessee

Posted 13 January 2019 - 07:46 AM

A bit off topic, but in the Dakotas there is nothing to block the wind. I know. I lived in SD.


  • Dynan likes this

#25 t_image

t_image

    Mercury-Atlas

  • -----
  • Posts: 2572
  • Joined: 22 Jul 2015

Posted 13 January 2019 - 09:40 PM

Lots of good advice so far!

I live in different parts that you, but I do like you did with your binos,

except I set up my gear.

I have found public property locations (roadsides) that are infrequently visited

(usually dead-ends or access easements of undeveloped property up for sale) and in darker locations as a closer option than some of my club's sites.

..Note I do research (local property maps) and know the area (so I am aware it isn't a local spot for illegal activity due to remoteness)......

I just get used to the random visit of Law Enforcement just "checking up" to see that I'm alright.

I do chose locations (away from critical infrastructure/away from houses) that make it obvious I wouldn't be doing anything improper...

Never had a problem, also demonstrates the good guys are more likely to happen upon me!


  • Dynan likes this


CNers have asked about a donation box for Cloudy Nights over the years, so here you go. Donation is not required by any means, so please enjoy your stay.


Recent Topics






Cloudy Nights LLC
Cloudy Nights Sponsor: Astronomics