Vernon Reservoir and Wasatch National Forest Observing Areas
Vernon Reservoir, December 30th, 2011
West Desert of Utah, Sheeprock Mountains, December 30th, 2011
Just thought I would post these two images about today's blog up front to provide a visual to where I spent my day today. There are video links in here to my YouTube account and no, I don't earn money for promoting it. In reading through this I realized I say that a link goes to my YouTube account. I do that so you can know where your going. I apologize if that is bothersome.
This is one of my posts that focuses on local observing, but if your not local, feel free to take a look and see what the Rocky Mountains and the West Desert look like in winter. I apologize up front for the shakiness of the camera, and that it falls every once in a while. I was using a Flip camera to record the video and a digital for the still shots and the Flip had to endure the rocky bumps and ups and downs of the road. I also shut it off from time to time because safety is my number one concern while driving.
Today I got bored, well, no. The truth be told the weather is warm for northern Utah, in the 50's and I needed to get out due to cabin fever. I have wanted to get out and video and take pictures of some possible new observing sites at and near Vernon Reservoir here in Tooele County. So today I took a drive and did just that. I got a couple of hikes in, and did a lot of driving and checking things out. It was good to be frank to just be in nature and to enjoy the views at this time of the year. I'll only be including images from the observing sites I visited and the ones that I think would work. I also took video of these sites and am loading these to YouTube right now and when they are done, I'll put the links here.
To get to the Vernon Reservoir and the Wasatch National Forest in which it is a part of, you have to drive out as if you are going to the Pit n Pole Observing location. That means out to Lehi to UT73 and then out pass 5 Mile Pass and turn left on the Pony Express Road, yes, that is it on the left. Here is that image. Again to view the images, click on them and a menu will appear and you can scroll through them in a larger size.
After turning you will continue for around 4.2 to 4.3 miles and then you'll pass PR 3 on the left hand side of the road. This is the turn if you were going to go to the Pit n Pole site. Pass it and keep going straight down the road.
In about a mile or a little more you'll pass the Pony Express Marker and the Mesonet Weather Station next to it and just keep following the Pony Express Road until it ends. There are a few things to watch out for if you have never been on this road.
First, there are some rough patches as these photos show. In the first photo the road has been repaired, kinda of, at a minimal level and you can tell because the yellow passing lines are gone.
In this photo it shows that the entire road is damaged and has not been repaired. There are signs that warn of this so be careful. An alternative is to go out to Tooele and then come down UT 36 and avoid this road. For those living in Utah Co. or southern Salt Lake Co. this is the best way.
On your drive out you'll pass areas that are also good for observing, but they have shooters and ATV's in them so I tend to avoid them. You'll eventually come to 3 railroad tracks and believe me, you want to stop, look both ways before you cross. Today I actually had a train on the tracks and there are no signals to warn you of this.
After the train tracks you do a S turn and then get back on a straight road that will take you into the small community of Faust, with about 3-4 houses in it. Two from what I can tell are for sale and there is plenty of prime desert land for sale here. I may have to investigate into possibly buying some land and turning it into an observing field for those in northern Utah. We'll see.
Here is an image of Faust. I like how rural it is as I find as I get older, the suburban lifestyle gets old. Then again, one has to work. The house on the left is for sale.
Now you've reached the end of the Pony Express Road (paved) and at the stop sign here, you turn left onto UT 36.
Highway 36 doesn't offer much but the speed limit is either 55 or 65 depending on the area, and watch yourselves because the U.S. Forest Service has a rather large office near Vernon and the Sheriff and Highway Patrol frequent the area and they do give tickets, not warnings. The mountains in the distance are very pretty. You'll pass the dirt/gravel road on the right for the Pony Express Route which you can take sometime if you want. Have plenty of fuel, water and a good spare.
Well, here is Vernon on the right. It has a small school, a LDS Church, and about 30 -40 homes scattered around the area. Not a bad area to call home I would think. It is those buildings up to the right, with some homes on the left.
You'll drive through Vernon and the highway will curve to the southeast (left) but stay on it. As you come around the corner you will see this sign on the left and you'll turn right onto Benmore Rd.
Here is a close up of the sign:
The road you turn on is straight gravel, rock and some dirt. If someone is following you, it is at this time that I would give some distance to the dirt your car, truck or SUV kicks up doesn't obscure their view and cause problems. It has nothing about getting your vehicle dirty, that is going to happen no matter what.
Here are some images of the Benmore Road heading south. Nothing particular but I thought I would include them.
Still heading south, I drove over a cattle guard. If you want (NOT) a thrill, here is the video I took with my Flip Camera as I drove and recorded the drive down this road. Here is the link to it on my YouTube account. Trust me, the pictures are enough of a view.
Now as you drive down the road, you'll come first to a Wastach National Forest sign that is rather small and white. You still have a ways to go (that sign is in the video on YouTube). When you come to this sign you are nearing the end of the Benmore Rd and facing the decision on which road you will take. Will you go left to the Vernon Reservoir or go right to another area?
Now I went left at the sign that is below because I wanted to go to the reservoir and to the area around it (and I did not get to check out all the areas I wanted. There is a ridge several miles back behind the reservoir on public land that I want to see how it looks for summer observing).
Another point to remember here is that some of the forest land is leased and is closed to the public and there is private land that borders the National Forest. So please ensure that you are on public land. Here is the sign at the end of the road.
To the right of this sign is a covered place for information and a map of the Wasatch National Forest in this area. I stopped and looked at the map to ensure I stayed off private land.
After turning left, you will drive for a short ways (remember, short is relative out in this country) and the road will look like this.
At the end of the road is private property so DON'T drive through their gate and on to their property. That would be rude. You'll stay to the right and be on this road heading up to the reservoir. If it is during the day you should have seen the dam by now.
You'll drive up the road and cross over a cattle guard. Right and I mean right after the cattle guard is a road that goes to the east or to the left (I've been driving south and east and then south again since I left the main road . . . follow that!). As you come up on the Vernon Reservoir don't expect a vast reservoir because it isn't large. It is bigger than the Grantsville Reservoir where I frequently go when I observe by myself, and it is laid out in an oval. If you take the first right as you come up the road you'll be in the group campground area. There is a bathroom there, and yep, I used it. I have to state that these bathrooms (probably because it is offseason) are the cleanest bathrooms I have seen at a campground! I was impressed as you can tell in the video since I filmed it. The locking mechanism is a huge bolt, no one is getting in there if your in there!
The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this spot is WOW! A group of 20 or more astronomers could take this over as a place to camp and sleep and set up their scopes for a two day event or more! There are more campgrounds next to this site so it would be easy to make this a dark or red light only area, and have a place for imagers and if people wanted, they could pick an individual campsite and bring their families! I hope someone catches the vision when the see the pictures or here is the video I took of the area which is on YouTube, link. Ignore me, and turn the volume off but take a look at the location and the viewing areas to the N, S, E and W.
The good news, the bathroom for men and women is really close to where I think we could set up!
An overview of the site looking north.
This is looking south:
This is looking southwest I believe.
Again, on this one please check the link to my YouTube account and view the footage there as I think it is better than what I took here. The other thing I like up here is that there are no cement pads so the scope is on the ground. That is a good thing for us dobsonian guys since the heat from the cement won't impact the mirror.
As you go around the reservoir, there are at least 3 other sites around the reservoir that one could observe from. One is currently blocked off and that is on the southern part of the reservoir (see this link to my YouTube to see this southern site) and the other two are on the western side of the reservoir. The key the western view but as a backup they are not bad. My GPS gave me an elevation here of around 6112 feet above sea level. I have video and pictures of the other sites but I'm not going to post them in this entry and probably won't at all unless someone leaves a comment and requests it. My take away from the reservoir is that it is a fantastic site to have a group observing session at because of the public restrooms (yes, they are open year round), the camp sites and the ability to have people bring their families with them. In the summer though I would have my Thermacell and my mosquito spray available as I think a few of them buggers might be around.
This picture provides perhaps the best overall view of the group campsite. I think in terms of observing this just may be one of the best kept secrets I'm sharing but I it will get even better.
Here is the front view of what the various bathrooms look like up there (I counted at least 5 or 6 of them) and what they look like inside. I will assume the women's looks like the men's as I only opened the men's.
After hanging out at the reservoir and watching a group of 6 men ice fish, I drove back down to the cattle guard and turned up the dirt road that from now on I will call the East Road as I didn't get the Forest Service Road number for it.
Going up the East Road after about .4 (4 tenths) of a mile one comes to a small clearing to the side of the road. It is next to the road so if there is traffic at night you will be impacted here. There is also a rather large bump that you have to get over in order to pull your car up here. I'm glad I had my SUV. I'll share this one because a good number of scopes could set up here, but it is my least favorite of the three I'll present. The next two are much better with the best one being the last one I'll present. Elevation for these three are as follows:
1st site: 6222
2nd site: 6312
3rd site: 6288
These sites are anywhere from a half mile to three quarters of a mile from the reservoir. The hill is not steep but if you had to climb it in snow or mud you would want a 4wd. Also, the road looks to be graded by the forest service but it has two very deep ruts in the road. These are easy to avoid and you can drive easily to avoid them. Again, excuse my feeble attempt at making this video but something is better than nothing. This video on my YouTube Account (I keep saying that so you know I'm not taking you someplace weird) shows this site, better than the pictures again.
Here is Site 1 Looking North:
Site 1 Looking east to southeast:
This is site 1 looking south. A point I want to make is that I am showing horizons so that someone can determine if the horizon is to large for them. The lowest I go is in the winter to Eridanus and Fornax and I am sure I would not get into Fornax here though I might be surprised depending on the month. I do think that Messier 6 & 7 may be a struggle here.
Site 2 is actually the farthest down the road because I saw site 3 after I have driven by and I went to this location first. Here is the link to the video of this site on YouTube. This site offers a lower horizon to the east, southeast, south, southwest though the mountains interfere somewhat with the western view. The northern view is still somewhat blocked down low but up over 20 degrees it is fine. There are two entrances and exits to this location which I like and the Wasatch Mountains are viewable to the east. Overall I would use this site. My only compliant is that it is really near the road again. I am assuming all of these areas are used to off load ATV's which use the area frequently but which I would assume are gone by the time night falls usually.
Site 2 Looking North:
Site 2 Looking East
Site 2 Looking east to southeast:
Site 2 Looking southeast to south.
Site 2 Looking South:
Site 2 Looking West
You can tell if you watch and listen to the video that I got a little excited about this site as I began figuring where I would want to set up my dob!
My favorite site though was site 3. Notice in the video how many times I pan it and how many times I look for an area to put my dob! It is farther off the dirt road so it is harder to see. Also the Cyprus trees really help to block the view from the road to the area where people would set up. The area is more than large enough (like Site 2) for visual and imagers to set up and you have a rather good view of the sky from here. There were some Bud Beer bottles (3) that were left and one was busted. When I was done filming before I left I pulled out the garbage sack I had, picked them up and dropped them off at a garbage at the campground at the reservoir. I really dislike when people are rude and don't clean up after themselves.
Here is the turn in for Site 3 and to get there you go pass that grove of Cedar/Cypress trees to get to the viewing area. Yes, to the left of the photo is a large dip that I am sure an ATVer would LOVE to go through when it is wet and muddy!
Site 3 Looking South, and yes, it is the largest of the 3 sites.
Site 3 Looking northwest:
Site 3 Looking West to the Sheeprock Mountains and the reservoir:
Site 3 Looking North (back toward the main dirt road)
Site 3 Looking to the northeast:
Site 3 Looking East:
The next two photos are just to give you a view of the size of the area. I'm in the middle of the observing area facing south.
I'm standing about 15 feet to the north of where I was standing in the above picture, and am now facing north.
Behind the rear of my SUV is an actually nice area to pitch a tent or two in the shade of the trees. The video link that I posted on YouTube shows this site the best. Again, it is the one I'll use by choice because of its size, it has the lowest horizons outside of the group camping area at the reservoir, is off the road so you won't have headlights disturb you and is just the best site of all three. I would rate the ones here east of the reservoir in this order:
Site 3 is #1
Site 2 is #2
Site 1 is #3
When I got done here I drove back down to the reservoir and I then proceeded back down the road to check out the other side of the forest service land. After passing the sign and the road to get back to Vernon and the protected map thing, I proceeded west until I came to Forest Service Road 006. So the next two sites I am going to label as FR 006 Site 1 and Site 2. I went down FR 006 just to see what was there. I was driving and at one point on the video I believe I make the comment that I am going to turn around because there is nothing down here. Then BAM! On the left was a site with a few fire pits, a few former fire pits, a cattle watering trough but no signs of cattle or cow dung. The area where I think people camp or hang out is under the Cypress Trees but over by the water trough if that is what it is, is a wide open space that offers a grand view in all cardinal directions of the horizon. WOW! What a neat replacement for Pit n Pole. People hae been here but no signs of shooting, shells etc. Here are some images.
I never made it to Little Valley but just beyond Little Valley is a ridge that come next summer I want to check out. It seems to offer a great view of the south on a the topographic map. We'll see. I never made it out to Bennion Creek or to Harker Creek either and that will have to wait for my next trip. A local observer, Dale Wilson let me know that the better sites are out west in Bennion Creek and Harker Creek because on a weekend, Friday through Saturday, the reservoir attracts a lot of people while the west areas hardly get any people over there. So I'll be going back on Tuesday, weather permitting to check out those sites. I'm still pretty happy with the sites above the reservoir and the two in the desert off of FR 006.
Here is where I turned left to get on Forest Road 006. Note the sign, 006 on the right.
Here is the open area I am describing with what I think is a water trough but no signs of cows or any animals. No water in it either.
Here is a closer shot of the object. I found a Forest Service map and they do allow grazing on the land and there are troughs and one is located here. So when cattle are present Site 1 may not be an option, but Site 2 is and it is close by.
The next several images will show you what the view is like to the north, west, and south. You can see the eastern view above in the two images. Overall I like this site and feel it is a very nice successor to the Pit n Pole site. It will depend of course if animals use the site but if not, FR006 will also work very nicely. I also don't think that dew will be as much as an issue here as this is open desert and no dried up lake bed is nearby. The elevetion is higher than at Pit n Pole with the Pit being around 5000 and this site being up around 5700 feet above sea level. Here is the YouTube Video Link to FR 006 Site 1. Excuse Free Bird music as I forgot to turn off the radio.
FR006 Site 1 Looking South:
FR006 Site 1 Looking southeast back to the reservoir.
FR006 Site 1 Looking West. You can see the road you drive in on from the main dirt road.
FR006 Site 1 Looking North. I don't think the lights from Vernon would bother anyone from this location.
I like this area a lot and if I need or want a more wide open horizon that allows the dobs to go lower to the horizon, this and Site 2 will be a very excellent choice. After finishing up at Site 1 I then got back on the main road and drove just a little farther down FR 006. I went over a cattle guard and then there was another nice side open space right off of FR 006. So I pulled over and began to check it out. Here is my short YouTube Video (link) of it and again, sorry, the music is still going.
The horizon is nice and clear though a few frees get in the way. Plenty of room to set up scopes and to have a go at observing whatever you want.
Here is the site looking east and you can see the road there. I truly don't believe even on a weekend night your going to get much traffic on this road. If you look in the image the side road here goes down a ways and there is another open spot to observe from if you want to be farther from the road.
FR 006 Site 2 East
FR 006 Site 2 Southeast
FR 006 Site 2 Looking southwest
FR 006 Site 2 Looking South
FR 006 Site 2 Looking West
FR 006 Site 2 Looking Northwest
FR 006 Site 2 Looking North
By now I knew the afternoon was getting on and I didn't want to get stuck in rush hour traffic so I called it a day, and packed up and went home. Here is some information that those in the Great Salt Lake area may want to know. I live in Herriman as most locally know.
From the point where the sign is with the arrows to go to the reservoir and Little Valley or to go right to the other two sites (see above) I drove 62.7 miles to get to that point. The reservoir or other observing sites on the East Dirt Road are a bout 3 more miles up the road. The FR 006 sites are about the same distance.
I left that location on the way home at 2:25p.m. MST and got home at 3:40p.m. MST. I ran into traffic a little bit and I had a 10 minute stop to fix something on my car. So this took just over an hour to get to the location, an hour and fifteen minutes is probably a good guess. The sites are about 25 (24.6 miles to be exact) farther out than Pit n Pole.
If one turns on the East Dirt Road before the reservoir and right after crossing the cattle guard site 1 is .4, four tenths of a mile up that road. Site 2 is .9 or nine tenths of a mile up that road and site 3 is about .7 or seven tenths of a mile up that road.
FR 006 Site 1 is .5 or 1/2 mile from the main road after you turn left onto FR 006. Site 2 here is .4 or four tenths of a mile from Site One on the right side of the road.
I had an enjoyable day, spending time with nature and looking for some new places to observe. I'd love to hear what some think about this, both local or not. Feel free to leave a comment if you want. To close this long entry out, I'll share a picture I took that shows the West Desert of Utah in the winter with the Sheeprock Mountains in the distance. I really like the contrasts here if I do say so myself, though a blue sky would have been better!
Edit: My Observing Sites Google Maps has been updated with these sites and you can find it at this link.