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Dark site anxiety

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#51 StarWolf57



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Posted 20 June 2021 - 12:12 PM

We've made a couple trips now to Darwin, CA which is very dark at SQM 21.99. The strange thing there is the wild burros which are active at night. It's a bit eerie to hear them walking all around when you can't see anything. At times it sounds like they are only a few feet away when they are actually more like 50 feet or more.


I'm curious - what did you think of Darwin? It would only be about a 3 hour trip for me, so I'm a little intrigued. I was somewhat surprised that it's at 4,700 ft. The problem with the Owens Valley is the atmospheric turbulence from the Sierras, but Darwin is pretty far east of them. What were the seeing conditions like? The locals seem like an interesting bunch.

Edited by StarWolf57, 20 June 2021 - 12:13 PM.

#52 MarMax


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Posted 20 June 2021 - 12:35 PM

I'm curious - what did you think of Darwin? It would only be about a 3 hour trip for me, so I'm a little intrigued. I was somewhat surprised that it's at 4,700 ft. The problem with the Owens Valley is the atmospheric turbulence from the Sierras, but Darwin is pretty far east of them. What were the seeing conditions like? The locals seem like an interesting bunch.

My wife and I have made two trips now to Darwin. There is an airbnb cabin (Darwin Buck's) that we stay at and we've met many of the locals. I think the actual population is around 35. 


First trip was October and the second was in April. We had some smoke in October and some weather/clouds in April so the conditions were difficult to assess. At the moments of best conditions I'd rate the transparency as very good and the seeing as good.


Being prepared for a remote dark site is really important, especially your viewing plan. Both trips threw me curve balls with timing so my viewing plans were inadequate. I'll be preparing all night viewing plans from here on out. If your only window of opportunity is 3am until daylight you need a plan for it.


The other surprise factor for me (besides the burros) was the amazing naked eye views. Almost overwhelming so I'll need to plan a little better for that as well. I've picked up a pair of 15x70 binos and a monopod to compliment the 7x50's and that should also help.

#53 csa/montana


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Posted 20 June 2021 - 01:46 PM



Is the mention of firearms for personal defense prohibited by Cloudy Night rules?


I looked at the General Observing Forum Guidelines and I see no such prohibition.  Maybe I didn't look in the right place.  I asked this in all sincerity not as a provocation.


My bortle 2 dark sky site is in a clear cut area on a dead end logging road in the Olympic National Forest.  There I see evidence of use by others including empty beer cans and broken bottles.  Many years ago (seems like another lifetime), I was at times a young, drunk troublemaker.  I was never a mean drunk but alcohol brings out the worst in some.  As I am alone on a dark, dead end road where I might encounter a group of young, drunk troublemakers, the need for personal defense occurs to me.  I pray that I will never encounter such a group and that if I do, I will be able to make friends and diffuse the situation.  But I will not be defenseless.

This is from the Guidelines of the OTO forum, in which this topic most likely would come up.  However, it applies to the entire site:


"7) Discussion of the safe, legal and sportsmanlike use of firearms and the technicals aspects of firearms use and maintenance are allowed. Discussing the use of firearms against people (even in self defense) and the posting of images of killed game are not allowed. Firearms are a controversial subject and as such we reserve the right to edit posts for content as circumstances dictate. Remember that CN is first and foremost an astronomy forum - things that conflict with that (when it comes to the point of disturbing other members) will take second seat.


Now, any further discussion of moderating should take place in private, as we do not discuss moderating on the open forums.


Thanks all!

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#54 HellsKitchen



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Posted 21 June 2021 - 04:30 AM

Best thing you can do is thoroughly scout out your intended site during the day. Spend some time there to get a feel for any nearby traffic and/or human movements, and the geography of your immediate area. Look for clues. Does it sit on or near an access road or lane? Do the roads lead to/from anywhere that looks like it might generate human traffic? Are there buildings nearby,  is there fencing, gates?  Look for any signs of activity around your intended spot, such as foot prints, tyre tracks, litter, etc. Examine the integrity of the ground you'll be parking and setting up on. Grass could be hiding soft ground, and you could find yourself bogged. An otherwise dry and solid-appearing ground could be impassable within a few days of rain. This is infact the case at my site.  


First time or few times out, just take some basic gear that is quick and easy to pack away such as a small grab n go scope. Don't eat any spicy food within 24 hours of your trip. Seriously don't.


Then, once you are comfortable that you will be left undisturbed, set up your main gear. 


When I first scouted out my site, I went during the day, and spent a few hours there. I was satisfied that there is little traffic on the nearby dirt road, and the site itself is "out of the way" of any obvious road. It does sit on a small unmade track but it is tucked away physically and visually from any actual access point to the nearby offices of the reservation my site is in. It is all public land so trespass is not an issue. There is nothing except for the odd tyre track, probably a caretaker doing an occasional round in his jeep during the day. In the times I've been there, I've never encountered anyone. There really IS no reason for anyone to come by in the dead of night. 

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#55 DSOGabe



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Posted 21 June 2021 - 11:29 AM

I also feel uncomfortable with the idea of going out to a lonely site by myself. I know I would not be able to enjoy the sky due to being too wired or wary of what may be going on around me


The main recommendation I've read several times is to first scout a location during the day. If there are no signs of people (trash, tire markings) then its very unlikely you will have to deal with people after dark. Second step is to go at dusk and spend sometime there with no gear or just binoculars to get used to being there in the dark and alone. 


If looking at a site in a provincial park first look for a gate- no gate, no fear of getting locked in. Next is talking to park personnel. If they are willing to allow you to go in after dark, you are set. If the park has personnel who patrol after hours, its even better. Now you will know that someone will pass by occasionally. Make sure to get the name of whoever it was that granted you permission and let the patrolling ranger know if asked. If you let them look through the scope and they like it, they may start passing by more often and that can give a better sense of safety. Politely teach them about vehicle lights.


If its on private property, then its all about finding the owner and asking permission. Let them know exactly what you are going doing and emphasize that you will not litter, be destructive or make any messes. If needed, see if the owner will give you a number so you can call in advance and let him know when you plan to come and where you will be, maybe even your planned time of departure as well. If it involves opening and closing a gate, make sure you secure it coming in and out every time to stay in their good graces ( our club has a site on a ranch and securing the gate seems to be the only condition imposed on us that I know of). The worse that can happen is that they will refuse your request.

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#56 airbleeder



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Posted 21 June 2021 - 12:56 PM

   You're uncomfortable going out to a dark site by yourself, but you think a park ranger should be comfortable driving up to someone with his or her lights off? I think I would bypass the polite lesson on vehicle lights. I would rather the ranger see that's not a gun in my hand than to guess.

Edited by airbleeder, 22 June 2021 - 12:41 PM.

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#57 jcj380



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Posted 21 June 2021 - 01:02 PM

If its on private property, then its all about finding the owner and asking permission.

You might want to sweeten the deal by offering them $20 or something for "renting" their land.

Edited by jcj380, 21 June 2021 - 01:03 PM.

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#58 barbarosa



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Posted 21 June 2021 - 01:57 PM

Anxiety as a medical condition is really beyond the scope of an astronomy forum. This is the wrong place to come for advice and this is the wrong place to give it. 


A nervousness about having an interaction with a ranger, police officer or property owner is understandable but the chance of  a bad encounter is vanishingly small. If you are violating some public access rule such as park closing time, you are at most going to be asked to leave. If you are inadvertently on private land that is not posted, you will be asked to leave. AFAIK trespass law in the US treats it as innocent trespass for which you cannot be arrested. If you are shot your estate will collect handsomely.


Wild animal attacks at night or at any time can and do happen but they are very rare (allowing for those caused by people feeding the bears or taking  a selfie with a moose or Bison). 


Assaults by crazed humans are likewise rare. Most murders and rapes are very close to home. Robbery requires us to imagine that a robber is lying in wait or searching for victims in parks and dark site. Again not something you see in the news very often and on the rare occasion when you do the victim is not out with a telescope.


I have seen or heard fearsome animals in the moonless dark, bears, racoons, possums, skunks (kits very cute), turkeys, owls, and coyotes, the deadly scorpion and two teenagers whining disappointment at finding an old fart with a scope in their favorite parking spot. Once at a distance the truly blood curling sound of  music and chanting from the devotees of some philosophical ideal.


But we are by nature afraid of the dark, some say. Really and do you fear heights because our antecedents includes tree dwellers? Humans can see usefully at night. Astronomy takes place on clear nights and on clear nights most of us can see fairly well, even after middle age arrives. Once your eyes are dark adapted you can see that bear contemplating a meal. Not you, the snack you brought.


Have we become a nation of men (mostly) that have not been in the Boy Scouts, the military or sat under the stars after a day of backpacking? Maybe we have, but the cure is a night under the stars and FDR's famous line about fear.


Stand tall, grab your gear and head out. You will live to tell the tale.

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#59 Alan French

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Posted 21 June 2021 - 02:23 PM

The best option is certainly a suitable site you have permission to use. Our club is fortunate to have a good site that we can use, but I've also gotten permission to observe other places and I know several club members have found private land convenient to them and gotten permission. Most people don't seem to mind letting responsible people use their land, but they may well mind people there unannounced. 


Many parks are officially closed dusk to dawn, but it often seems more a way to tell potential trouble-makers - the roving high school beer party, for example - to leave than a firm policy. I know amateurs in one of our town parks have been left alone once their purpose was known. This could always change, of course, and may depend some on who officially happens by. 


In many decades of observing, using both secluded rural sites I knew about and the club's various sites over the years, I've often observed by myself and never had any trouble.


Growing up we spent a lot of time out after dark, playing flashlight tag and such, and being alone in the dark has never been an issue.


Clear skies, Alan

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#60 MSH


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Posted 22 June 2021 - 07:21 AM

If you are shot your estate will collect handsomely.



Well that's reassuring lol.gif

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#61 Springman


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Posted 22 June 2021 - 08:52 AM

For me, as a child, making it from the bed to the light switch involved an existential crisis. It did not help that wolves lived in my closet. Yet here I am an old man having survived these encounters thanks in no small part to my magic blanket.


People are built differently and we need to take that into account, do what makes you comfortable.

Edited by Springman, 22 June 2021 - 08:55 AM.

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#62 csrlice12



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Posted 22 June 2021 - 10:37 AM

Maybe change your persona to "Sleeps with Wolves"...grin.gif

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#63 bunyon


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Posted 22 June 2021 - 11:48 AM

There seem to be several subtopics being discussed:


Fear of the DARK: Not irrational and deeply ingrained in a lot of folks for sound evolutionary reasons. Still, with practice one can overcome this. And, really, in modern society, not terribly relevant. You're likely in more immediate danger in many well lit public places frequented by people, cars, electricity, etc. Still, if you have this fear bad, solo dark site observing might not be in the cards without practice. Take a buddy.


Fear/Worry of being somewhere you aren't supposed to be: Entirely reasonable. Setting up on someone else's property or an area restricted to the public sets you up for an awkward encounter at best and arrest/attack at worst. I've felt this on a few occasions and, for me, it definitely interferes with enjoying the sky. 


Clinical anxiety: Unfortunate but reasonable and outside the bounds of what we in a semi-anonymous forum can help with. But probably exacerbates the first two issues and is exacerbated by them. 

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#64 airbleeder



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Posted 22 June 2021 - 01:15 PM

  If someone is anxious about being on private or public land when they shouldn't be, maybe they shouldn't be there, even if for no other reason than to avoid the anxiety.

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#65 FloridaFocus


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Posted 22 June 2021 - 03:58 PM

I always make it a point to get to my dark site well before sundown. There's something nice about getting all set up (aka, The "work" is done) and experiencing the gradual transition to darkness.

Oftentimes, it doesn't even register that, "hey, it's really dark now".

Invariably, though, I'll reach a point where I need a break from the eyepiece, usually around midnight. That's when my mind, without having something to engage in, starts wandering and all the "oh, what was THAT noise?" or "man, I REALLY am in the middle of nowhere" thoughts start creeping in.

It's never really scared me off from a site, though. I try to just remember how peaceful and relaxed I was just a few short moments ago, and that nothing has really changed in the last 15 minutes.
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#66 Bill Weir

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Posted 22 June 2021 - 10:31 PM

I so love that transition period. Being in the darkness falling is the best. I find taking the time to set up casually gets rid of the rush aspect. 


As I observe from where I know there are predators (bears , cougars and my wife has now played me recordings of wolves in our area) I usually listen to late night talk radio. I know it detracts from the peace and quiet but I also know that most of these predictors want to avoid humans. If all I am is a silent being hunched over the scope I probably look a lot like prey.



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#67 RobbC



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Posted 22 June 2021 - 11:17 PM

For me one of the benefits of pursuing this hobby for 50 years is that I have absolutely lost any fear of the dark. This is because in my probably more than a thousand nights of observing, almost always alone and usually as far from civilization as possible, nothing scary has EVER happened. I have come to trust the night and my ability to discern things in the dark and to find my way. I laugh a little at people that are anxious about being outside at night. I AM NOT MAKING FUN OF PEOPLE WITH ANXIETY DISORDERS - I know that these are very real and problematic for those that suffer them, and I have irrational fears of my own. 


As long as you respect other people's property and use a smidgen of common sense in choosing a site, there's really not much that can happen to you. Your chances of encountering something or someone dangerous are infinitely smaller than if you were in the middle of a city festooned with neon lights. 


My suggestion to the OP would be to heed some of the very good suggestions made in this thread, give yourself time to acclimate, remember to BREATHE, and immerse yourself bit by bit into the nighttime - it can be a magical place. 

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#68 BlueMoon


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Posted 22 June 2021 - 11:41 PM


As long as you respect other people's property and use a smidgen of common sense in choosing a site, there's really not much that can happen to you.

+1 I wholeheartedly agree.


Clear skies.

Edited by BlueMoon, 22 June 2021 - 11:59 PM.

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#69 Kenny1291


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Posted 29 June 2021 - 06:30 PM

Part of me is worried about getting in trouble for trespassing or being in a provincial park after closing, but I'm not sure how much of a concern that is. Last time I was at Richardson's Lookout Point near the Ganaraska forest. No one was really there but the whole time I felt uncomfortable like I wasn't supposed to be there. Maybe I'm just crazy, I don't know... I thought I would be more excited, because I haven't seen dark skies like that in at least 15 years, and never through a telescope, but it still wasn't enough to keep me out there and the whole trip felt like a failure.

Totally understand the anxiety part, for me going out was my escape. I tend to overthink so I called ahead, the wild life refuge I drive to is use to people coming out to observe so its no biggie. If not being sure you're allowed to be there is one of your worries you can probably find a ranger office to call and make sure.

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#70 erick86


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Posted 30 June 2021 - 12:47 AM

Definitely join the RASC! You’ll find so many great places & people to observe with.


#71 kuceraz


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Posted 30 June 2021 - 02:44 AM

I had the same issues when I started observing. After a few weeks it got better. After a year it is completely gone and I am trying to spend most time possible with observing.

Don't worry, it'll definitely get better. wink.gif

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#72 CableGuy


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Posted 30 June 2021 - 07:12 AM

 Move to the country! In fact with everything that is going on I would think the anxiety of living in the city would outweigh the anxiety of GTFO!

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#73 erick86


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Posted 30 June 2021 - 07:52 AM

First trip to a new site is always more anxiety inducing. Return trips will feel better with each visit.

After a while, the place will almost start to feel like it’s yours. You are the gatekeeper. Eventually you’ll be the one asking people “What are you doing here?” if they roll up at 1:30am.

Don’t be discouraged if the first trip out felt terrifying. That’s normal. Just keep going back, and you’ll find that it gets better each time.

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#74 airbleeder



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Posted 30 June 2021 - 01:13 PM

   If you're on public land or private property without permission, you have no business asking anybody what they're doing there. I have a friend who was hunting on his property when a poacher asked who gave him permission to hunt. It didn't work out so well for the poacher.

   I also worked with a man who was shot because he was trespassing. Lucky it was in the shoulder although he never regained full use of that arm.

#75 treadmarks



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Posted 30 June 2021 - 05:10 PM

I've been spooked off from observing more than once due to irrational fears. For me it's usually general fear of the dark and paranoia that gets to me. In forested areas, which is most of New England, there's a constant soundtrack that feeds into this. To make things worse, I've gone to sites that I haven't seen during the daytime, so my comfort level there is low from the start.


I'm careful about choosing public lands so I've never had to worry about angry property owners or anything like that. I've seen a few police patrols and they never even questioned my activities, but they have chased off the "teens up to no good" I was observing alongside.


The most dangerous trips I've done involved snowy mountains. With these I get to worry about car accidents, car troubles, hypothermia, bears, and cell reception. There is a high reward that goes with this since mountains tend to be the darkest areas around here. But for me there's only so much risk and driving I'm going to take to look at stars.


These days I mainly stick to private properties I have permission to be on, usually with friendlies present and a warm house I can retreat to. If my mind isn't at ease, I can't enjoy stargazing.

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