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Thread: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

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    Default Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)



    Hi, I am brand new to the site and the hobby, so please forgive my obvious lack of experience/knowledge.

    My boyfriend recently ordered a Dobsonian telescope and he is very excited to use it (once it is delivered). We have a decent amount of light pollution where we live, so I was looking to plan a road trip for us sometime in July of this month. My possibly misguided research tells me that Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico are full of good spots for amateur astronomers, but I still feel totally lost. We would be driving from the midwest, but I am really open to anywhere in the continental US.

    If anyone has any regions, states, cities, or (even better) specific resorts or national parks to suggest, I would be extremely grateful. We aren't necessarily looking for any guided tours like some resorts and parks seem to offer. Really I am just looking for locations that are affordable and offer dark, clear night skies.

    Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    UT, AZ, and NM all have great spots in them which are far away from urban lights. Low humidity air is also a plus. Just stay away from cities, or have any city lights (and their annoying light domes) away from where you want to look. Many times there are farms fields in vast agricultural areas which are really good (darkness) except for the fact of insects which are particularly bothersome at night.
    You're going to see lots of great stuff on your trip.
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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    Here's a great site that can provide the informtion you seek: Dark Sky Finder

    Many reports and pictures of your trip, please.
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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    Congratulations on the new Dob!

    Check out this 2014 Star Party link for some ideas. I've heard good things about the Nebraska Star Party too. Good luck!
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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    The high deserts in Eastern Oregon are excellent for stargazing. I live in Portland, OR, and was absolutely amazed at what I could see the first time I went out there. From about fifteen miles east of John Day, I could see more things with just my eye than I ever could with a medium-small scope in the city.

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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    Take a look at these 2 sites:

    https://mywebspace.wisc.edu/dlorenz/...rlay/dark.html

    Blue Marble Navigator - Night Lights 2012

    Generally, once you reach well into the dark gray zones on the map in the top link, sky darkness is now mostly dependent on how clear the air actually is-- light pollution at that point is basically minimal. So any location in these zones should result in very dark skies. Just make sure that:

    1. you go at a time when the moon is out of the way.
    2. you avoid local light pollution

    This is where the second link comes in: not only does it show spots of light associated with cities and small towns, it also can show dots or clusters of light associated with things like oil fields and power plants that are away from cities and towns.


    Things to think about:

    1. what kind of lodging do you want? Are you ok with primitive camping? Do you need a public campground (restrooms, showers)? Do you not want to camp and instead want to stay at a place with a comfortable bed?

    2. Do you require that the dark skies be right where you stay? Be aware that many public campgrounds and other places to stay have lights on the property or may be close to light pollution from cities and towns and may not provide the darkest skies in that area. Thus, are you willing to leave where you're staying and observe from some random spot on the side of some random road somewhere?

    Be aware that July is also monsoon season for the SW U.S., which can increase cloudiness. Perhaps other observers here can give their experiences with this. Or maybe some research into that would be a good idea. How far north and east does the monsoon cloud flow extend, for example....

    Let us know what you end up planning, and we can give you some tips of what to look for. If you're going to skies that are potentially that dark, you should really take advantage of that.

    A bit off topic: Where in Illinois are you? Since you're new to the hobby, are you aware of the total eclipse of the sun coming to the southern part of your state on August 21, 2017? See Total Solar Eclipse 2017 - Start Page (not my site) for details.....
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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    Two events which I think should be attempted if you have the chance:

    The one with which I am acquainted is the Glacier Point Star Party in Yosemite National park. Usually 10-20 scopes there from one club or another on dark Friday and Saturday nights from (I think) late June to September. Elevation is around 7,200 feet and the skies are dark - and even on dark nights you can look across Yosemite Valley at things like Half Dome. It is a great event but you should get the permission of the club for that weekend to observe with them - I've done that with several clubs and have never been turned down (although there is one club which would likely tell you that you were not welcome, still good odds overall).

    Grand Canyon Star Party: 2014 Grand Canyon Star Party - Grand Canyon National Park (U.S. National Park Service) This is a big one as I understand it - lots of telescopes under dark skies and surrounded by spectacular scenery. It is my understanding there are likely to be folk there doing video astronomy as well. These folk are very open to people joining them and the feedback I've heard is really encouraging. I want to do this one some day.

    Texas Star Party is reportedly an incredible experience as well: Home - Texas Star Party

    Going the other direction? I'd really, really like to go to the Green Bank Starquest: Green Bank Star Quest 11 - June 25th - 28th, 2014 In some ways just not set up all that well, but you'd have dark skies and some really great learning.

    In any case, the Southwest is likely to have the clearer skies in the summer.

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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    Thanks! That is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for!

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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    In AZ, Utah and New Mexico look for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campgrounds. They are usually quite primitive and don't attract campers who like to string up lights and play card games at night. Some of the big national parks have this problem - light pollution from nearby campers. I've got six recommendations, depending on how far you want to travel. A BLM campground about 40 miles from Moab, UT is situated along the Colorado River and had some of the darkest skies I have ever seen. Another great place was Yellowstone, NP with similar dark skies - in fact we bumped in to John Dobson at the visitor center. Three other great places in CA (maybe too far west for you) are the Eureka Dunes campground in Death Valley along with the Mahogany Flat campground. The former has only four spots for campers and it is very primitive - and free! The latter sits at 8,000 feet elevation and has great views. In Southern California many of my friends in LA like to go to Mt. Pinos, quite dark. Another good out of the way place are the White Mountains which straddle CA and NV border. Not only is it very dark but you can visit the Bristlecone pine groves during the daytime - these are the oldest trees on earth. The lesson in all this is try to avoid the big campgrounds which attract lots of RV's and people who can't live with all sorts of outdoor lights. Anyway, good luck with the astro-trip, it sounds like a lot of fun.
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    Default Re: Good stargazing spots in the continental US? (Novice alert)

    Thanks for all the advice! The light pollution map will help us plan our route, and the events you all suggested look like fantastic prospective stopping points! Can't wait for July!

 

 
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