Comparing Some Observing Sites with Directions near Salt Lake City, Utah

Not much is going on with all the clouds and rain right now. 70's and clear on Friday and all weekend though offer a great opportunity to observe Friday, Saturday and then Sunday night! I'll steal the chance since I am dying to get out.  I need to sit down and nail down my objects and my charts for this trip(s) since I'll be in Virgo and then in Ursa Major and Coma Bernices for almost all of my time.

A fellow member of CloudyNights asked where are there places near Salt Lake City about an hour out to observe from?  So I thought I would go through them here.  I've posted pictures and reviews of the sites, so I'll link those at the bottom.  In this post I'll simply talk distance and time and do a quick review of the sites.

Here are directions to Forest Road 006 from Salt Lake City from my Google Maps of my observing sites.  I am going to post it here and hopes it works like I want it to.  It did! Forest Road 006 has several sites on it that are really good.  All are up a little in elevation so your out of the humidity and the SQM says this is the darkest set of sites within an hour and a half of Salt Lake City.  It is darker than Lakeside.  It sits in a gray zone where as Lakeside is blue according to the LP maps and unlike the other sites, it is far enough south that the Salt Lake Co. and Utah Co. light dome are not an impact to the east.  Best views are zenith, southeast, south, southwest and west.  To the north you have some ambient light from the small town of Vernon, Utah, but placing your car between you and that light stops it. The site is nice as it has wild grass that is there and allows for the dirt and dust not to be as bad as other sites.  You could actually set up a tent here in the shade of the junipers and camp here for several days of observing.  Head over to the reservoir during the day to fish (no motorize boats) and/or bring an ATV and go exploring!  Just so you know the Vernon Reservoir has some excellent campsites (first come first serve) and toliets that are really clean in the off season at least.  I haven't run into dew yet but in one trip documented here, it was really, and I mean really muddy.  You can see mud up to 4 to 6 inches on my wheels and though a 4wd handled it, a car or minivan would not.  So watch it here after it snows and the snow melts!  Otherwise the site has been a good one.

It may have some impact come summer by ATVers who use the area and cattle are known to be permitted here on this part of the forest land. However, like Wolf Creek with the sheep and cattle, I don't see a conflict here.  In addition the Vernon reservoir is to the east but blocked by a hill leading up to it.  My favorite local place by far and I think my friend Mat would agree with me.  Here are the directions from Salt Lake City. 

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Salt Lake City, UT

1. Head north on S Main St toward W 300 S/W Broadway

0.1 mi
2. Take the 1st left onto W 300 S/W Broadway

0.2 mi
3. Turn left onto W Temple

0.3 mi
4. Take the 2nd right onto W 500 S/Cesar E. Chavez Blvd

0.6 mi
5. Merge onto I-80 W via the ramp to Reno/S.L. International Airport

20.9 mi
6. Take exit 99 to merge onto UT-36 S/State Hwy 36 S toward Stansbury Tooele

45.8 mi
7. Turn right onto Benmore Rd

5.0 mi
8. Turn right at Greenjacket Rd

0.5 mi
9. Turn left
Destination will be on the left

0.8 mi

Total Distance from Salt Lake City is 74.2 miles. Total drive time is estimated at around 1 hour 35 minutes. 

Here is how I get there from my house:
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3. Turn right onto W 13400 S

2.4 mi
4. Turn right onto UT-154 S

2.5 mi
5. Turn right onto UT-68 S/S Redwood Rd

8.1 mi
6. Turn right onto UT-73

20.9 mi
7. Slight left toward Pony Express Trail Rd

11.1 mi
8. Continue straight onto Pony Express Trail Rd

2.5 mi
9. Turn left onto UT-36 S

6.5 mi
10. Turn right onto Benmore Rd

5.0 mi
11. Turn right at Greenjacket Rd

0.5 mi
12. Turn left
Destination will be on the left

0.8 mi

Total Distance for me is about 60.9 miles or so or 1 hour and 20 minutes.   It is closer and darker for me than Lakeside but for those in Salt Lake City I believe Lakeside is closer.  So here is the information on the Lakeside site.  

Lakeside is a very good site, not quite as good on the SQM as Vernon but still plenty dark. It sites on the LP maps on the border of blue and gray.  You do get ambient light from the I-80 in the distance and your eastern sky is heavily impacted by the light pollution from Davis Co. and Salt Lake Co. to the point that I don't look at objects in the eastern sky.  I wait for them to move up toward zenith.  Weekends bring out some strange people sometimes here driving around in the desert in the middle of the night and I have run into them a several occasions. Like Pit n Pole, never a problem but they do drive up with their high beams on and then sit in their car trying to figure out what your doing.  There is military near by also.  This is my second favorite site local to Salt Lake City, but one that I stay the night at and sleep over because of distance.  Oh, the fine dust here will get into everything and when wet, this place makes Vernon look like dry ground compared with its mud. I won't drive my Pathfinder with its 4wd at Lakeside when it is muddy due to the fine sand/mud that is there.

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5. Merge onto I-80 W via the ramp to Reno/S.L. International Airport

57.9 mi
6. Take exit 62 toward Military Area/Lakeside

0.2 mi
7. Turn right

138 ft
8. Turn left toward Frontage Rd

0.5 mi
9. Slight right onto Frontage Rd

4.8 mi
10. Turn left

0.3 mi

Lakeside Site
Total distance from Salt Lake City is 65 miles.  About 10 miles closer than Vernon and on all Freeway I-80 so it is even quicker as the roads to FR006 are two lane highways.  My total miles from my home to Lakeside is 84.2 miles or 1 hour 39 minutes versus 1 hour 12 minutes for someone driving out from Salt Lake City.

The next location that is used often is the one that is called the Pit n Pole.  It is a nice location in a blue zone that has wonderful southern views and southwestern views.  The north is impacted by some ambient light from the Tooele Weapons Depot and the north eastern and eastern sky is a wash with light pollution from the Salt Lake Co. and Utah Co. light domes.  Form me the Pit n Pole is an easy 45 minute drive and only putting on 39 miles or so on the car.  You can see this in this map.

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From Salt Lake City or that area, it is a little farther than that being 55.7 miles roughly and about an hour drive or so.  The Pit is famous for having a lot of dew! Yep, it can be as dewy as some places east of the Mississippi after it get really dark, especially in the fall, and spring. In the winter, it is just cold, much colder than Lakeside or Vernon.  It is next to an ancient dry lake bed which causes the dew and the low temperature since you are down in the bottom of it.  Bring dew preparations and dress warm here.  Dust is minimal and you can camp here, it is on BLM land as is Lakeside.  Not much to do during the day and in the summer it gets hot here, really hot.  Here is the Salt Lake Co. drive. 

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Those are the three major observing sites and yes, I have about four more tucked away that I share with those in my observing group but not publicly.  Most of the time though you'll find me at one of these sites during the new moon period.  

The last one I'll share is a summer only site because of the amount of snow that falls up there in the winter. It is just under 10,000 feet above sea level and it is called Wolf Creek.  Wolf Creek has a large observing field away from the tree lines that is used for observing.  There is a Forest Service Campground as you enter the road areas but it does cost but has bathrooms.  I find nature usually does the trick for me and its one of the reasons I carry a small shovel with me.  Anyway, it is located out past Kamas Utah.  The site is a wonderful site with as good as if not a better SQM than I have had at FR006 or some in the Salt Lake Astronomical Society have said their SQM at Wolf Creek equal Bryce Canyon.  That would be for the eastern, northern and southern horizons.  You can still see the Salt Lake area light dome to the west, though it is not that bad of an impact.  There are unimproved camping areas in the pines in the area if you want to set up a camp and stay for several days.  No services as mentioned though.  

Here is the map from my house.  From my house it is roughly 79.2 miles if I go they way they have listed here on the map (I can also go the Salt Lake City Way which I believe is shorter but it has a steeper climb up Parley's Canyon on I-80.  It says about 2 hours but I have done it in about 1 hour and 40 minutes to my house in Herriman.

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Here is the Salt Lake City Map to Wolf Creek.  It lists the distance as 73.4 miles and gives a drive time of 2 hours and 19 minutes which I know is WAY off.  I would say form Salt Lake City you could be at the Wolf Creek observing site in 1 hour and 20 to 1 hour and 30 minutes.  

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By far I love observing at Wolf Creek in the summer and with myself being off, I am sure to spend a new moon here camping for a couple of days.  

There are many other sites that are wonderful in the area, Monte Cristo, Curlew Reservoir, Notch Peak, Great Basin, The Wedge Overlook and the list goes on.  There are several wonderful locations in the mountains east of Salt Lake City.  The key is to get out and enjoy them and observe at them.  I'm heading to Vernon this weekend so I hope to see some of you there. I hope this helps someone.  

If you wish to see some images of the Pit n Pole and the drive out, these are several years old but they are in my SLAS gallery of images located at this link

Here are the directions and images of the Lakeside site in this link

These two links will show you the Vernon Forest Road 006 site.  Link 1 and Link 2

This link will show you the Wolf Creek Pass observing location and directions from when you turn off State Hwy 35.  

All links are posts on my blog. 

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