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Best & safest North American Continent dark site viewing places.

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#1 25585

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:08 PM

USA and Canada. I have no relatives but want to plan an astronomy based holiday.

 

Where & when are good viewing places to stay? Buy a scope & tripod there possibly to cut down on luggage. Planes, trains & taxis for transport (no foreign self-driving).



#2 petert913

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:10 PM

Eastern Oregon has some of the darkest skies in the country.  Friendly people live there, too.


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#3 brlasy1

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:15 PM

Hmm.  Tough call.  Plenty of dark sites (two here in Texas) that are safe and comfortable.  The US and Canada are really big, though, and the dark sites in the West are not generally near public transport. Other than the lane swap, and an absence of roundabouts, it's pretty easy to drive here.

 

Maybe a CN member close to a dark site would be willing to help out?


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#4 David Boulanger

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:23 PM

Well...  The Florida Everglades are very dark.  There are places to set up in very dark skies.  Problem is you need to deal with Pythons, Bears, Panthers and bugs.


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#5 qswat72

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:27 PM

Went to Montana over the summer. Some of the darkest skies I’ve ever seen and you could clearly make out the Milky Way (something I’ve never been able to do from my light polluted backyard). The scenery there especially near Glacier National Park was really something.
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#6 ngc7319_20

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:33 PM

Virtually all the Astronomy B&B in dark places I once frequented are now closed down.  No self-driving will limit you significantly -- most public transport / taxis / etc are near large cities.  Try lots of googling.  There are places on AirBnB in dark locations, but you would need to arrange your own transport and scopes. 

 

You could order a scope and have it shipped to the location -- i have sometimes done that.  The disadvantage is that you are using it for the first time.  And if there is shipping damage, you don't have much time to sort out the problems.  Did that once, and had to deal with half-busted scope for a week.  Or optical quality problems, etc.

 

You ask for "best" and "safest" but may be hard to find 6 total.

 

One potential example -- i know the name but never been there:

http://www.jacknewton.com/

 

Good luck!!!!


Edited by ngc7319_20, 20 January 2021 - 02:33 PM.

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#7 icomet

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:35 PM

I live in Montana.

 

I can see the Milky Way in the middle of town. Pick out different Messier objects naked eye.

 

That being said; what do you suppose it looks like 5 miles away? 10 miles? Undisputed Bortle 1, just

 

drive a little farther. I'd say park by the tree, but there isn't any.

 

Clear Skies.


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#8 ex-Bubblehead

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:36 PM

Arches National Park in Moab, UT is outstanding.  No predators, no trees, no bugs.  I was there in early November and it was basically deserted.  A little cold, but nothing a jacket, gloves and hat couldn't really handle.

 

TLDR; Amazing dark solitude.


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#9 Sleep Deprived

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 02:39 PM

It'll be difficult to find a dark place available to mass transit.  But... the US west is a big place.  Will you be camping during your off--time, or will you want a place to stay (hotel/motel, B&B)?  There ARE organized astronomy 'compounds'.  Look here for an example:

 

http://www.nmskies.com/index.html

 

You could rent equipment, rather than buy.  I am sure if you contacted them, you could discuss equipment, fees, facilities, access, etc.  There are others - this is the one that I have saved their site - if you would be willing to go that way.

 

Lots and lots and LOTS of dark skies in the West!!


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#10 eyeoftexas

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 03:04 PM

Hmm.  Tough call.  Plenty of dark sites (two here in Texas) that are safe and comfortable.  The US and Canada are really big, though, and the dark sites in the West are not generally near public transport. Other than the lane swap, and an absence of roundabouts, it's pretty easy to drive here.

 

One option:

1) place to purchase scope + tripod: Land, Sea & Sky in Houston (airport landing from UK)

2) rent a car and drive to Canyon of the Eagles and set up outside of their observatory (https://canyonofthee...ye-observatory/)

3) There are other sites to go with great skies in Texas, especially out in the Big Bend National Park area, where you can visit the McDonald Observatory (they do have tours; https://mcdonaldobservatory.org).


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#11 edwincjones

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 03:28 PM

I would suggest going to a major star party.

A lot of amateur astronomers make it safe,

star parties by definition must be in dark locations,

and the *vendors there would be happy to sell you a scope.

to name only a few:

-Texas Star Party

-Winter Star Party

-Nebraska Star Party

 

edj

 

*check with the vendors before time and they could deliver at the SP


Edited by edwincjones, 20 January 2021 - 03:35 PM.

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#12 ngc7319_20

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 04:26 PM

One spot I visited years ago was near Kendrick Park north of Flagstaff, AZ.  I see the place I visited is closed, but a new one opened next door:

https://www.themountainstar.com/

 

You could fly into Flagstaff and either get an Uber car or rent a car at the airport.  (Probably you could drive a car for 30 minutes around Flagstaff without too much trouble?) 

 

You would need to arrange a scope.  There is also a public observing at Lowell Observatory.

https://lowell.edu/category/observing/


Edited by ngc7319_20, 20 January 2021 - 05:15 PM.

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#13 photomagica

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 05:38 PM

One spot I visited years ago was near Kendrick Park north of Flagstaff, AZ.  I see the place I visited is closed, but a new one opened next door:

https://www.themountainstar.com/

 

You could fly into Flagstaff and either get an Uber car or rent a car at the airport.  (Probably you could drive a car for 30 minutes around Flagstaff without too much trouble?) 

 

You would need to arrange a scope.  There is also a public observing at Lowell Observatory.

https://lowell.edu/category/observing/

When I go to Flagstaff, I usually fly to Phoenix and take the Groome Shuttle van from the PHX to Flagstaff. This drops me off at the train station right downtown. There are several hotels within an easy walk or a cab ride. I prefer the Drury Inn. From the Drury you can actually walk up Mars Hill to Lowell Observatory in an hour or so. Cabs are also easily available. Check with Lowell, for a fee they may be willing to grant you time on the telescopes in the Giovale Open Deck Observatory (GODO) after public hours or grant you individual time on a telescope during public hours. The sky in Flagstaff is very good, but due to the proximity of the city not perfect, even though Flagstaff is a dark sky community. Still, views are truly impressive through the 32" Dobsonian, the 24" Clark Refractor or the other telescopes on the GODO deck or with the new 24" Dyer telescope, a PlaneWave CDK. 

 

Alternatively, the suggestion to find a motel or lodge with viewing facilities is a good one and will likely be your best option for the darkest skies.


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#14 ngc7319_20

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 07:05 PM

When I go to Flagstaff, I usually fly to Phoenix and take the Groome Shuttle van from the PHX to Flagstaff. This drops me off at the train station right downtown. There are several hotels within an easy walk or a cab ride. I prefer the Drury Inn. From the Drury you can actually walk up Mars Hill to Lowell Observatory in an hour or so. Cabs are also easily available. Check with Lowell, for a fee they may be willing to grant you time on the telescopes in the Giovale Open Deck Observatory (GODO) after public hours or grant you individual time on a telescope during public hours. The sky in Flagstaff is very good, but due to the proximity of the city not perfect, even though Flagstaff is a dark sky community. Still, views are truly impressive through the 32" Dobsonian, the 24" Clark Refractor or the other telescopes on the GODO deck or with the new 24" Dyer telescope, a PlaneWave CDK. 

 

Alternatively, the suggestion to find a motel or lodge with viewing facilities is a good one and will likely be your best option for the darkest skies.

Flagstaff has some advantage since that you can drive 30 minutes north of town and quickly get dark skies.  And theres public transport, airport, stores, etc. in town.   There are very dark sites in west central New Mexico (Pie Town) and east Oregon (Fields), but you are 3 to 4 hours from any major city.  Its fine if you are driving a car, but may be challenging if you are relying on public transport.


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#15 Syks7

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 07:23 PM

I'll throw in central Idaho.  Ketchum, Stanley, Challis, Salmon.  Friendly people and a virtual black hole as they're all adjacent to the Frank Church river of no return wilderness.  The largest contiguous wilderness are in the contiguous US.  Stanley and the Sawtooth mountains are spectacular to boot.  You can make a really great road trip visiting that area, driving over to Jackson Hole/Yellowstone, then on up into Montana and Glacier national park.  Bortle 1 & 2 the entire way.   The only caveat is that you will have to rent a car.  No trains and very few planes.



#16 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 07:38 PM

USA and Canada. I have no relatives but want to plan an astronomy based holiday.

 

Where & when are good viewing places to stay? Buy a scope & tripod there possibly to cut down on luggage. Planes, trains & taxis for transport (no foreign self-driving).

 

The covid pandemic makes it very difficult.  You will need to find a place, figure out how to get there in a safe and affordable manner. Since you will be flying, there will be added concerns. 

 

Prior to the pandemic, I would have recommended just hooking up with Cloudy Nights member who has access to dark skies along with space, time and some telescopes.  

 

I don't see that happening at this time. If and when the pandemic is under control, then once again such holidays are possible but currently, everyone needs to limit their travel and not take risks. 

 

Jon


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#17 Tony Flanders

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 06:25 AM

Getting to remote places in the United States without a car is only marginally practical, especially now that hitch-hiking has become unpopular. I can speak with some authority, as someone who loves remote places and has lived without a car for extended periods.

I'm not sure why you're phobic about driving here. Remember that on remote roads, you can drive for hours without seeing another car -- literally. If you're worrying about driving on the right, you'll find that the instinct to keep your steering wheel near the centerline is stronger than the instinct to stay on one particular side. At least that's always been my experience when I'm in the UK.


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#18 davidmcgo

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 09:11 AM

About the only place with dark skies you could get to without a car would be the Grand Canyon if you can get lodging within the park.  But the shuttle busses don’t run 24/7 and you would still want to get to one of the overlooks away from the village.  If you picked one with a rest room and did not camp but stayed up observing from the overlook from last evening bus to next morning bus that could work.

 

 

Dave


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#19 Jeff Lee

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 09:37 AM

To give an example of Oregon (which is about 300 miles x 300 miles in size, there are many places with in 3 or 4 hours of Portland that have very dark skies. Where every you go get a hikers books on that state and read up on the wildlife (we have friendly and then not so friendly critters). Even if you drive to a dark location remember you could be very far from folks and will need a good "kit" for safety and water/food that far from civilization.  If I were doing what you are doing I would rent an RV, safe and comfortable. And then you could go to SE Oregon in the Malhur area and see some of the darkest skies here in the US.  Americans are generally friendly and will help you in this endeavor. Contact the Rose City Astronomers and they might even lend you a scope (might ask to you join for $35 a year).

 

Here is a contact page, https://www.rosecity...rs.net/contacts. Email Margret, explain what you want to do.



#20 rhetfield

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 10:24 AM

USA and Canada. I have no relatives but want to plan an astronomy based holiday.

 

Where & when are good viewing places to stay? Buy a scope & tripod there possibly to cut down on luggage. Planes, trains & taxis for transport (no foreign self-driving).

As others have pointed out, North America and the countries occupying it are much huger and much less densely populated than what many travelers realize.  Because of the distances and low population density outside the larger cities, there is not a lot of public transportation options in the rural and wilderness areas.  Even small towns and villages are often too far out to make public transportation economical.  The result is that rental cars end up being the main mode of transportation for travelers.

 

Light pollution will be much smaller in small towns.  Everything west of the Mississippi is much more spread out and darker.  The great plains are cursed with cloudiness, haze and turbulent atmosphere - making the astronomical views poor.  As mentioned by others, Florida and the southwest desert are good.  

 

I would suggest looking at Amtrak train schedules, bus schedules (greyhound and big bus), and scenic tourist train/bus schedules.  See what small towns and parks they stop at.  Another option is the Alaska ferry system.  The ships go as far south as Seattle and stop at coastal and island towns all the way up the west coast to Alaska.  The only caveat is that you would be very far north and limited with observation targets as a result.

 

Acquiring a scope could be the bigger challenge.  Covid has disrupted the supply change and most everything is out of stock and on months long back order.  If you can't hook up with a local club at your destination, your best bet might be to get a heritage 130 or an ST-80 and stuff it, along with a decent photo travel tripod, into a small bag or pack for the plane trip.  Otherwise you would end up probably with a spotting scope or big binos.

 

As far as safety, most rural folks are friendly and will be helpful with regards to helping you find an appropriate spot to set up - lot less fear, suspicion, and rules than in the urban areas.  Animals are the bigger concern.  Livestock in rural areas and the cats, wolves, bears, and reptiles in wilderness areas.  Also moose, elk, and bison in some places. 



#21 Jim Haley

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 10:31 AM

What area you visit will depend on the season.  It would be very hot visiting Texas in August! and snow would cover the ground many places up North in the Winter.  But Summer up north or Texas in March - May can be quite nice.  

 

You don't say how far out you will make this trip.  If it is after the pandemic is under control, I would seek out a cloudy nights member to help with transportation and/or rent you a scope (especially if attending a major star party).  


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#22 gwlee

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 01:55 PM

USA and Canada. I have no relatives but want to plan an astronomy based holiday.

 

Where & when are good viewing places to stay? Buy a scope & tripod there possibly to cut down on luggage. Planes, trains & taxis for transport (no foreign self-driving).

Places with dark skies are dark because there are few people there, so little or no public transportation. I have never seen a telescope or any accessories that an astronomy enthusiast would purchase where the skies are dark. Any place with truly dark skies will have lightly traveled roads. 

 

All of my astronomy travel that requires using any form of public transportation has been done with handheld binocular and wouldn’t do it any other way, especially in the US, so that’s my recommendation for anyone contemplating astronomy travel in the US without their own vehicle. 

 

 



#23 river-z

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 02:02 PM

I think there could be a few places where a person could fly in, use public transportation, and have dark skies.  These are places that attract a lot of tourists (and rich people), which means they have good local airports.  The seeing conditions might not be that good, because of large mountains nearby, the scenery is amazing.  How you would buy a decent telescope once there is a separate question, and not an easy one to answer...

Here are three places I can think of:

Jackson, Wyoming

Mammoth Lakes, California

Kalispell/Whitefish, Montana



#24 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 02:14 PM

You probably should wait until about 2023 and plan to attend the Texas Star Party.  Bring your own binoculars, and bum views through scopes.  There's plenty of sharing.  You could fly to El Paso or Dallas, and catch a ride with someone already planning to attend the TSP.  I think 2022 might be a bit early for all the covid problems to be totally sorted out.


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#25 gwlee

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 03:28 PM

You could fly into LA with a handheld binocular tucked away in a carry on bag just in case, probably find a suitable telescope for sale somewhere within a 60 mile radius of LA that can be reached by public transportation, or mail order a telescope in advance and have it shipped to your hotel, and travel to Death Valley National Park on public transportation with an advance reservation at one of the few motels/hotels there. Once there, you there, you will find fairly dark skies, but you probably wouldn’t want to go there in Summer. 

 

Or, you could plan something similar by flying into San Francisco and visiting Yosemite National Park, which is near my home. It’s about Bortle 3-4 here. For astronomy, you probably wouldn’t want to be here in Winter. Snow forecast for this weekend.

 

Feel free to contact me by private message for planning advice for a trip to Yosemite. CN has a lot members near LA who can probably help with planning a trip to Death Valley. 
 

Anywhere you go in the US for astronomy, even a major National Park that can probably be reached by publication transportation, the lack of a private automobile will severely limit what you can see and do while you are there. If you are uncomfortable driving in the US, you probably won’t enjoy driving near LA or San Francisco. However, you might find driving in an out of the way place with truly dark skies a pleasant experience. 


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