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Advice on finding dark(er) sky sites?

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#1 jfjohnny5

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 02:52 PM

I'm just getting started in the hobby, loving it so far, but definitely lamenting where I live - the SW burbs of Chicago. I'm in a Bortle 7-8 zone; based on different online resources. I can get to Bortle 4 skies in just a quick 30-45 minutes. The problem I seem to have is that all the parks and open public spaces I find are "Closed at Dusk" in the case of local municipality and county sites, and "Closed at 8pm" for state parks. It's... frustrating. I understand it's a liability and public safety thing, but it seems so arbitrary.

 

Anyone have advice on how to find spots that are telescope-friendly, so to speak? I'm not so much looking for campgrounds as I am somewhere I could go for a few hours after dark, and still drive home afterward.



#2 tjschultz2011

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 02:56 PM

I would recommend talking to local rangers at those parks to see if they'll make an exception for you. I've heard of this working before and some people on here have had success with it. 



#3 photoracer18

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 03:21 PM

Find out if any astronomy clubs meet at one of these locations on the dark of the Moon days. This is what they do in my area. They get permission from the park service to have a public or private star party at those locations.


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#4 Pauls72

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 03:44 PM

A few places I would recommend.

 

Green River State Wildlife Area - Harmon, IL

https://www2.illinoi...GreenRiver.aspx

 

Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area - Medaryville, IN  (we use the Sand Crane Observing Area parking lot).

https://www.in.gov/d...shwild/3091.htm

https://www.google.c...201!2d41.137191

 

 

Not as dark as the first two, but these two are reasonably good:

Potato Creek State Park - North Liberty, IN (you need a daily or annual pass)

https://www.in.gov/d...rklake/2972.htm

 

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Kemil Beach parking lot - Beverly Shores, IN

The address to plug into gps is "Kemil Beach, Beverly Shores, IN 46304, or GPS Coordinates - 041.40.39N 087.00.35W

 

Here are some pictures by a friend of mine at Jasper Pulski.

https://www.facebook...986710145075386


Edited by Pauls72, 04 August 2020 - 03:45 PM.


#5 SilverLitz

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 04:16 PM

Many local Astronomy clubs own (relatively) dark sites, that are available for dues paying members.  Some clubs also have permanently setup telescopes and computers in a roll off roof building, for members viewing and photography.  My local club (Louisville (KY) Astronomy Society) has all of this.  They often have public nights, that are open to the public for free.  Check them out.



#6 Alex McConahay

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 04:32 PM

Be careful when talking to state park and other such "rangers." Their idea of the perfect campsite (god love them) includes trees and amenities. You kinda want to avoid that. Even when you make it clear that you don't want trees, they will start waxing eloquent about their favorite campsites, ecommend you go visit them, and then they tell you about the "nice shade trees.....it's so pretty there!" They cannot help themselves!!!

 

Your best bet is to hook up with the local clubs, and let them guide you. 

 

Alex



#7 halx

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 05:26 PM

If there is no local club already mapped your area and established some observing locations which are open during pandemic (they usually are as the number of people visiting these is small):

1. Study the map: https://darksitefind...#4/39.00/-98.00

2. Select most promising (affordable to spend your effort) dark regions (I'm looking for grey/dark only) and decide on suitable for your observing flow locations.

3. Go there for a moonless night and evaluate for yourself.

 

I did just that over past decades despite our local community has a well established network of observing spots (many are even gated) as most of them already obsolete on the initial Bortle scale which they were selected for (the best are only Blue LPZ).

 

At the stage No.1 I'm looking not only for the color, but also for possible light domes in the South from the potential location, and for passable roads available well within the marked area.

 

At the stage No. 2 I'm expecting to setup simply on the side (at the curb) of a rural/service road with minimum of traffic, good width shoulder so I could safely park the car and setup the Telescope either behind it (ideal) or on another shoulder nearby. Surely with the well open South horizon or better, and with the low chance of fog if close to the Ocean. Thus, the first substage is to use the "Terrain view" and find a road above 1200' line with potentially low South horizon. Then "land" there in the "Street View"  and follow the road to get a sense of possible conditions you need to deal with there. Be observant as you "virtually drive" for trees/foliage types in the area, fences, gates, signs, passing/parked cars, animals, people, tents and homes suddenly revealed on the Google camera, as they might help you to figure the suitability of the particular road/location.

 

At the stage No. 3 Expect failing with your plans (new area development, overgrown foliage, closed/damaged/private road, etc), so at #2 make sure you have at least 4 possible stup locations on that "roads network" and one more realistic one (e.g. I'm often driving through the California East to West when hunting for such a location, and when failing usually ending up observing on one of the Freeway 1 cliff overlooks if the weather is cooperating). At least a fantastic sunset is always guaranteed grin.gif

 

Edit:
On a side note: Roads you want are really rural, so the safety is usually very good (except for wild animals but that's rare in open spaces you desire to have). Police attitude is favorable when they see a telescope. Avoid popping a tent or too much of furniture, as camping is prohibited on the side of most any road, if the officer insists, just tell them you need just an hour to see "that Galxy", just pack and leave if they have objections (never happened to me). Locals might be surprised, but just try to friend them, they usually freaking out (but that could be my Russian accent as well lol.gif). In a worst case have a plausible "legend" ready, that you are doing a scientific research for some very local University. Had to use it once to avoid doing "curb astronomy" for passer-bys, while I was actually doing some private research program near the Mt. Hamilton (Lick observatory).

Make your car well visible for passing cars to avoid a collision (parking with tail lights looking into the traffic is good enough). If in doubt, don't setup in the broad light, wait for the late dusk. Always a good idea to bring a buddy with you and have someone on the "Main Land" knowing where you are going.


Edited by halx, 04 August 2020 - 05:49 PM.


#8 vsteblina

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 06:00 PM

Be careful when talking to state park and other such "rangers." Their idea of the perfect campsite (god love them) includes trees and amenities. You kinda want to avoid that. Even when you make it clear that you don't want trees, they will start waxing eloquent about their favorite campsites, ecommend you go visit them, and then they tell you about the "nice shade trees.....it's so pretty there!" They cannot help themselves!!!

 

Your best bet is to hook up with the local clubs, and let them guide you. 

 

Alex

Now that's not true!!!  I always asked folks what they wanted to do and then made recommendations.

 

Talk to people and be CLEAR on your needs.  Most will give you good advice, but people "love" trees.  So after a bit you get programmed.

 

One trick is too ask if anybody in the office is into astronomy.  That would have gotten me....even when I worked in a non-public contact job. 


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#9 halx

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 06:12 PM

Sadly, most campgrounds are too close to populated areas. In hot or windy regions most are definitely overgrown. And most are closed this time. A better bet would be some rural gated community with rental properties (which is rare, but exist). The trick to observe from such locations is to have your rig truly mobile. So after parking the car at the "basecamp" you could hike or drive out at night to an open spot.



#10 jfjohnny5

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 10:01 PM

Wow, there are some great ideas in here already! I'm kind of blown away by how helpful this community really is. :) 

 

Definitely want to try talking to some rangers. They've been.. hard to find lately, haha. The office phones I've tried calling have recorded messages about being closed or having limited hours due to the pandemic, etc etc. All very much expected - just adding to the challenge for sure.

 

That Green River site has definitely caught my eye. Some good looking spots in Indiana there too. Thanks!

 

Honestly not sure where to start with an astronomy club. My last Google search turned up one in my area that seemed to be associated with a local college, but I want to say the last post on their website was about an upcoming meeting in December.. of 2017. But I'll admit I didn't really dig around looking for more. Will have to give that another shot - just need to find some good resources.

 

I've definitely thought about parking alongside a rural road... That 30-45 minute drive I mentioned takes me to the middle of corn and soybean fields. (It's amazing how quickly the Chicago suburban landscape turns fully rural) Anyone else done that kind of guerrilla astrophotography?




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