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Dark-sky observing near Sedro-Woolley/Concrete, WA

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#1 KidOrion

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Posted 09 August 2020 - 08:50 PM

I'm going to be in Sedro-Woolley for a week, starting Friday, and am looking for the darkest skies I can find within a 45-minute drive or so. I see a Clear Sky Chart for a Sauk Mountain observing site, but it seems like some rough driving (and my wife'll kill me if I scratch up her car).

 

Does anyone have suggestions?



#2 clusterbuster

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Posted 09 August 2020 - 09:00 PM

Have your wife drive !

 Enjoy that dark Sky Site !!!

 Mark



#3 VeloBob

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Posted 09 August 2020 - 10:24 PM

I live outside of Sedro Woolley, and the problem is that the area is in the foothills of the Cascade mountains.   The hill behind my house is 3,800', the hill across the way is 4,000', and the mountains are up the road a few miles.  So while it is possible to get some nice dark skies as you head east on Highway 20, the basic problem is that the highway runs in the Skagit River valley with mountains in the 5,000-8,000' range all around, so getting views within 30 degrees of the horizon are difficult.  I haven't been to the Sauk Mountain trail overlook, but have been to others in the area, and have not found a really good spot for planetary viewing.  The best spot in the area for viewing is at Artist Point on the shoulder of Mt. Baker, but that is a couple of hours drive from Sedro Woolley.  If you are interested in DSO's and can work with the horizon limitations, then just about anywhere in the area is good.


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#4 KidOrion

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Posted 10 August 2020 - 01:37 PM

I live outside of Sedro Woolley, and the problem is that the area is in the foothills of the Cascade mountains.   The hill behind my house is 3,800', the hill across the way is 4,000', and the mountains are up the road a few miles.  So while it is possible to get some nice dark skies as you head east on Highway 20, the basic problem is that the highway runs in the Skagit River valley with mountains in the 5,000-8,000' range all around, so getting views within 30 degrees of the horizon are difficult.  I haven't been to the Sauk Mountain trail overlook, but have been to others in the area, and have not found a really good spot for planetary viewing.  The best spot in the area for viewing is at Artist Point on the shoulder of Mt. Baker, but that is a couple of hours drive from Sedro Woolley.  If you are interested in DSO's and can work with the horizon limitations, then just about anywhere in the area is good.

Thanks for the excellent advice. I'll probably not go all the way to Artist Point, although I was looking at several spots along the west side of Baker Lake and Lake Shannon. I may try the Sauk Mountain spot if I can scout it out ahead of time (and again, if it's not more than an hour from SW). 

 

If I have to pass up the southern horizon, that's no problem. I can work in the Aquila/Cygnus area and parts north of there for the week. :)



#5 VeloBob

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Posted 10 August 2020 - 03:59 PM

Just for fun, I drove out to the Sauk Mountain Overlook this morning.  To start with, it is approximately 30 minutes from downtown Sedro Woolley to the turn-off onto Sauk Mountain  Road.  After that, it is a solid half hour of driving to get to the parking lot.  Although it is only about 8 miles, I was doing about 15 mph over most of the road.  For the most part the road is one and a half lane gravel and dirt--there is room for two cars to pass if both go as far to the edge as they can.  There are some stretches of actual single lane where somebody has to back up if two car are to pass, but generally these are shorter than a quarter of a mile.  The road condition is generally good, but as you get near the top, the condition deteriorates markedly.  Just below the parking lot, there is one stretch of about 30' that I don't think most sedans could navigate--in my RAV4 with 17" wheels, I scraped bottom.  The view from the parking lot is superb to the south and west; to the north and east is a nearly vertical rock wall probably a thousand feet high that blocks all view in roughly 180 degrees.  Coming down the hill in the dark could be interesting--but you wouldn't have to worry about traffic.  The parking lot is the jump-off for a very popular trail, so there is some traffic during the day.  Going up and back, I encountered eight cars, and had to back up about 50 yards on one occasion.  If anyone in the car is prone to motion sickness, this is not the road for them; I would guess that there are more than 50 switchbacks as the road climbs the roughly 4,000' from the valley floor.

 

Closer in to SW, there is a county park a couple of miles east of town--turn left onto Helmick Rd.  This closes at dusk, and I don't know how diligent the Sheriff is about enforcing it.  Further east is Rasar State Park, with a couple of clearings where you could set up.  The airport at Concrete is on a plateau south of town, the owners are friendly, and they may let you set up there.  There are some lights that have to be worked around, though.  Going west, instead of east, there is a state park on Padilla Bay--Bayview State Park--which has open views of the sky, but is closer to the light pollution of the oil refineries on March Point.  Then there are the city owned parks that are south of Anacortes.  Finally, the Port of Skagit County has a large reserve around the Burlington airport, and there are parking lots for walkers to access the perimeter trail.   Again, closer to the light pollution of Burlington/Mt Vernon, but with more open skies.

 

Bob


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#6 KidOrion

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Posted 10 August 2020 - 07:15 PM

Just for fun, I drove out to the Sauk Mountain Overlook this morning.  To start with, it is approximately 30 minutes from downtown Sedro Woolley to the turn-off onto Sauk Mountain  Road.  After that, it is a solid half hour of driving to get to the parking lot.  Although it is only about 8 miles, I was doing about 15 mph over most of the road.  For the most part the road is one and a half lane gravel and dirt--there is room for two cars to pass if both go as far to the edge as they can.  There are some stretches of actual single lane where somebody has to back up if two car are to pass, but generally these are shorter than a quarter of a mile.  The road condition is generally good, but as you get near the top, the condition deteriorates markedly.  Just below the parking lot, there is one stretch of about 30' that I don't think most sedans could navigate--in my RAV4 with 17" wheels, I scraped bottom.  The view from the parking lot is superb to the south and west; to the north and east is a nearly vertical rock wall probably a thousand feet high that blocks all view in roughly 180 degrees.  Coming down the hill in the dark could be interesting--but you wouldn't have to worry about traffic.  The parking lot is the jump-off for a very popular trail, so there is some traffic during the day.  Going up and back, I encountered eight cars, and had to back up about 50 yards on one occasion.  If anyone in the car is prone to motion sickness, this is not the road for them; I would guess that there are more than 50 switchbacks as the road climbs the roughly 4,000' from the valley floor.

 

Closer in to SW, there is a county park a couple of miles east of town--turn left onto Helmick Rd.  This closes at dusk, and I don't know how diligent the Sheriff is about enforcing it.  Further east is Rasar State Park, with a couple of clearings where you could set up.  The airport at Concrete is on a plateau south of town, the owners are friendly, and they may let you set up there.  There are some lights that have to be worked around, though.  Going west, instead of east, there is a state park on Padilla Bay--Bayview State Park--which has open views of the sky, but is closer to the light pollution of the oil refineries on March Point.  Then there are the city owned parks that are south of Anacortes.  Finally, the Port of Skagit County has a large reserve around the Burlington airport, and there are parking lots for walkers to access the perimeter trail.   Again, closer to the light pollution of Burlington/Mt Vernon, but with more open skies.

 

Bob

That's great info. Thanks!

 

The president of the club there warned me about the Sauk Mountain road; he also said that Artist Point is closed, too. He said they'd been planning to go out to Mazama, but that there had been a lot of construction on Lake Chelan and he wasn't sure about light pollution there. (It's a too far for me to go, in any case.)

 

I'm probably going to try to stick to driving east, but I don't know how far. I probably won't go past Marblemount. There was a spot down south of Rockport I was looking at, but it looks seriously steep. The owner of the property we're staying at suggested a wildlife-viewing area west of Concrete, where there are elk roaming nearby.

 

Bakers.jpg

 

The two sites I'm looking at are labeled Baker 1 and 2 on the photo (even though they're by Lake Shannon); they almost look like undeveloped campsites. That's Baker Lake Rd. just to the west of the sites. I'm going to call the rangers tomorrow and see if there are any restrictions I should know, or if they have any suggestions.



#7 VeloBob

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Posted 11 August 2020 - 12:00 PM

Another possibility--there is a KOA just beyond the turnoff to Baker Lake road--the Grandy Creek KOA.  They have a big open field there, which would at least get you out of the trees (my kids and grandkids go there every summer).  Don't know how much light pollution they put out, though.  If you were willing to drive further east, there is a big turnout and viewpoint off Hwy 20 just after you climb out from Colonial Creek.  I'd pull up the topo map on Google maps and look at those sites you have shown.  Baker lake is mostly in a canyon, so you may find that your only view is straight up.

 

Bob


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#8 KidOrion

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Posted 11 August 2020 - 03:46 PM

Another possibility--there is a KOA just beyond the turnoff to Baker Lake road--the Grandy Creek KOA.  They have a big open field there, which would at least get you out of the trees (my kids and grandkids go there every summer).  Don't know how much light pollution they put out, though.  If you were willing to drive further east, there is a big turnout and viewpoint off Hwy 20 just after you climb out from Colonial Creek.  I'd pull up the topo map on Google maps and look at those sites you have shown.  Baker lake is mostly in a canyon, so you may find that your only view is straight up.

 

Bob

Is the Colonial Creek viewpoint a paved area on the east side of Diablo Lake? That might work--it's listed as about 90 minutes' drive from S-W, but it looks manageable. (There's also one on the west side, just before crossing the lake.)

 

The Lake Shannon sites are definitely in the valley there, but they'd probably work, even if there's only a chunk of sky visible. I can work anywhere in the sky with the agenda I have. Darkness is the main criterion, I think. (Although having a decent-sized section of sky to work in would be really nice.)



#9 VeloBob

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Posted 12 August 2020 - 11:43 AM

Yep, that's the one--east side of Diablo Lake.  It is far enough off the highway that headlights should be less of a problem, and has a level area on concrete where setup should be relatively easy.  I don't recall one on the west side, but there is Colonial Creek campground, part of North Cascades National Park.  As an aside, I've camped there while riding my bicycle over the pass.  Nice camp sites, but bears can be a problem in the upper level.



#10 KidOrion

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Posted 13 August 2020 - 07:13 PM

Yep, that's the one--east side of Diablo Lake.  It is far enough off the highway that headlights should be less of a problem, and has a level area on concrete where setup should be relatively easy.  I don't recall one on the west side, but there is Colonial Creek campground, part of North Cascades National Park.  As an aside, I've camped there while riding my bicycle over the pass.  Nice camp sites, but bears can be a problem in the upper level.

Wife is saying she really doesn't want me driving that far, although some of the spots in the Baker Lake area I've looked at are only a little shorter. There's also Hurn Field (the elk-viewing spot on 20) and the Marblemount boat ramp that I'm going to check out.



#11 VeloBob

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Posted 14 August 2020 - 01:01 PM

Another spot might be Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport.  I've never looked at it with a view towards viewing, but it's a possibility.

 

Bob



#12 KidOrion

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Posted 23 August 2020 - 01:21 PM

So as it turns out, I was skunked by clouds the entirety of the trip--except for the night I got into town (Tuesday the 18th; I had to stay behind for a few days while my wife went on ahead).

 

I did get to scout out a few spots that night, though, and got a few SQM readings. We went by the Baker Lake dam, which would've been a decent spot if not for the insanely-bright floodlight there; I got several 21.2 readings (aiming into the Great Square of Pegasus, the best patch of measurable sky available).

 

Along Baker Lake Road, there are a couple of small hills with bare tops (I labeled them Baker 1 and 2 on the Google Earth shot posted earlier). These were gated off, but stopping by the gate of the #2 spot yielded SQM readings of 21.6.

 

The Shannon Creek boat launch had potential, but I didn't get to check it out at night. Of course, being so close to the lake was a recipe for heavy dewing, too.

 

Also along Baker Lake Road is a gravel road off to the west (Schreiber's Meadow Road). The road was closed at the 4.5-mile mark, but there's a gravel pit at 48 40 40 N, 121 43 41 W that had some decent and usable open sky, but the horizons are pretty blocked by trees. Again, I only got there during the day; it seems to be popular with those looking to create empty shell casings.

 

The Marblemount boat launch was a no-go.

 

The Hurn Field wildlife-viewing area is usable for observing if you don't mind cars whizzing past on the highway; I got readings of 21.2 and 21.3 there. Nice views to the south.

 

We drove the Cascade Loop, so went into Mazama, Diablo Lake, and Lake Chelan. Looked like plenty of potential spots there. And also at Artist Point on Mount Baker, but I didn't have time to look for a specific spot there.

 

Beautiful area, with a lot to do besides astronomy. I'll have to go back once they get the weather machine fixed.



#13 VeloBob

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Posted 23 August 2020 - 02:18 PM

The Puget Sound region, in spite of our general reputation, actually gets less rain than many of the other areas of the US--somewhere around 35-40" of rain a year, depending on where you are.  And it had been sunny for several weeks before you got here, and is sunny again now.  What the area does have is clouds for about nine months a year.  It sits in a bowl between two mountain ranges--the Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east--and beginning in mid September, the clouds roll in and stay till mid June.  Sorry about the clouds for your time here; that is moderately unusual for this time of year. 

 

Bob


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