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7/18/2015

Conger Springs, Utah: Dark is Dark



    I haven't talked about, or shared my visit to Conger Springs in the Utah Desert last year. I haven't wanted a lot of people going there. The Google Earth coordinates are: N: 39.189 W: -113.724.   It is rare that I share a truly favorite and dark observing spot with everyone. Well, let me paraphrase that. I share a lot with a lot of people in the hopes that some catch the bug to go dark sky observing. However, I do have a personal site that I don't take people outside of my family to, for good reason, and I have about five sites that are very dear to me and I am protective about. You can find those five out if you look, but most people don't look.   Having said that, I want to share Conger Springs, Utah, a true dark site, perhaps the darkest site I have been too.  I think I can share it because I believe it is too far out for most people to go to since it is a multiple day trip I feel.  I would like to take a person or two there for a couple of nights of observing sometime. I am going to share the following information from Dean over at SummitPost.org LINK.

     "A rarely visited peak in the western Utah desert that isn't all that far from the Great Basin National Park but offers even darker skies than that wonderful National Park. Conger Mountain is the highest point of the northern section of the Confusion Mountain range.
What other reasons besides hiking would take somebody to this area you might ask? Thanks to the lack of light pollution, this is a outstanding area for studying the night skies with a telescope. It is also an area that ATV'ers are fond of but don't visit in overwhelming numbers due to the distance it is from anywhere (see map). It is a superb place to view wildlife if you are of the patient persuasion. What kind of wildlife? Pronghorn antelope call this area their home as do wild horses. ( From Jay/Me: It is actually a study area for wild horses for the BLM and you are required not to chase or go after the horses in any manner. Observe them with binoculars or a camera from a distance. Approaching them will usually cause them to run and older horses and newer horses often get injured see this LINK)  Conger Mountain is home to deer and of course mountain lions and other desert adapted wildlife species.
However, peakbragging (climbing as many peaks as they can) is what attracts people like me and that is why I found this area worth a visit. I did have a pronghorn antelope race me for a half mile or so down one of the dirt roads and to show its superior speed, it cut right in front of my truck and left me in the dust. Oh how I wish I had a video of that exciting encounter!"  

      I have to admit that I really enjoyed my time at Notch Peak a few years ago with my friend Mat. It got me looking at this area in depth. I thought Notch Peak was wonderful, but I have to admit that Conger Springs and that area is a much better place to observe. For two days I had no people (well one car of rock hounders for about 4 hours)  last year when I was there and outside of playing some music or podcasting, I didn't get disturbed at all. It was quiet, harmonious and  delightful.  It was hot, if you go in the summer be prepared for that and I was thankful for portable fans and extra batteries that kept me cool. Pronghorn as Dean mentions in his post are there and plentiful, and I did get a good hour view at the wild horse herd via binoculars.  I should have had my camera and my telephoto lens. Next time.

     My SQM-L readings here were 21.95 to the east, 21.96 to the south, 21.97 to the west. Light pollution doesn't exist out there and yes, the Milky Way does cast a shadow out here.  It is remote, and yes, I mean REMOTE. Bring all the water you need and then some, a spare tire (just in case, and make sure that is fully inflated), plenty of food, a good tent but you can  bring a trailer here for most areas, and your equipment. A scope cover helps during the day.  If your looking for something to do, hiking is always available, and yep, I did some of that and enjoyed myself.  Rock hounding of fossils is very doable here and you can see that from this image:


This page from TNGray's blog about her Rock Hounding and Fossil Collecting visit to the site shares what is there to be had. It is fun and legal to collect some samples for personal use in Utah. As an educator I get to share them with students which is also fun. TNGRAY SITE LINK

     One thing I want to point out is that I would not set up or camp by the watering hole. Wild animals do use the watering hole for water, imagine that and you don't want some of them trampling equipment or a cougar to get an interest in you.  I never saw any animal up close but I set up a good ways off from the watering hole.  In terms of people I had one car come up and do some fossil collecting and we talked on my second day but the left after about four hours. Here is a pic of the site location: 




     There are plenty of good spots here to both camp and set up, and the mountain takes out part of the eastern view as you can see above, but I'll be honest, in Utah I never look that low to the east.  Here are the directions to the site. From Salt Lake City or that general area, go south on Interstate 15 to either SR 6 and follow that to Delta or continue on I-15 to Holden, Utah, and take SR 50 to Delta. Once in Delta, get on State Highway 50 which is also Highway 6 and go west. I recommend stopping in Delta, getting gas or topping off, check the air in your spare to be safe, and buy any last minute items you need. There is nothing after Delta until you get to Nevada and your not going there. From Delta Utah head west for 75 miles on highway 50/6 as it heads for Great Basin National Park and Ely,  Nevada. At the milepost marker 16, take the dirt road that heads north at that point (the Little Valley Road) and continue on it until you reach a signed turnoff for Conger Spring. A passenger type vehicle can drive this road to Conger Spring in good weather with no problem. A 4WD or AWD (my Outback was awesome out here) is great. Park near Conger Spring or that general area and find a location away from the spring. The coordinate from my Google Map for my Observing Locations is listed as  39.18984, -113.72465. 

     Now here is the deal. Give me plenty of heads up and if I know you, I would WELCOME the opportunity to take a few people to the site. You can come to Utah and I'll put you up in my basement, its finished with 3 spare bedrooms (but you have to be gluten free in my house as I suffer from Celiac disease and am extremely sensitive; outside of the house, eat whatever!).   We can then drive down, spend two nights there, and then come back and your on your way. IF you don't want to stay here, then we can meet in Delta, Utah late one morning and then drive out. If you live away from me, I do have an Orion XT10, a 14" and 17.5" dob we can take out but I can't fit the 10" and 14" if I take the 17.5".  You would have to rent a car or better SUV or CRV, Outback etc. and load it up to come out. I have a couple of tents so that shouldn't be a problem as I also have four bags rated to 0 degrees F or down to 50 degrees F and a few sleeping pads. I get my cot! If your local and want to go with me down there (I am thinking early fall is a wonderful time to go) let me know and we can probably arrange something.  Next spring or summer would work also, and would probably be best for me.  

Here are some images for directions.  


This image above shows from Delta, UT your 75 mile drive west on Highway 6/50. Please get a full tank in Delta for gas, there are no other options. 


Here is the turn off for Mile Marker 16. 


So as you drive north, you will come to the first of four forks. Here you want to stay to the right, veering to the east and not take that road to the north-west/west.  You could set up here as I say on the map if you want to be closer to Highway 6/50. 


After the first fork (picture right above this one) you will quickly come to a second fork in the road. This time veer to the left, and keep heading north.  If you do it correctly you will drive under the power lines that I have listed. 


In this image you can see the power lines and the road with them at the bottom. Stay on the main dirt road and keep heading north for a while . . . 


Here is the third fork now.  There is an option I'll share next but if your heading for the springs, do not take the right turn and do not go left or right at that road going horizontal. Stay going north on this road per the arrows. I also marked the coral where the BLM does round ups when the Wild Horse Population gets too big or they need to treat for disease etc. 


Now if you don't want to go to the springs, you can take the road to the right at the third fork and go to the Purple/Pink C on the map and set up there. I wouldn't if the BLM is rounding up though. Excellent site if I remember right. 


After the third fork you have a nice drive straight up the fourth fork which you can see at the top of this image. Keep going! 



Here is the fourth fork.  You want to stay on the dirt road heading north, so at the fork at the bottom, don't go to the right, stay going to the left.  At the cross section don't go left or right, stay going north.  I have marked another option B I believe in Purple/pink and sent an arrow to another possible observing/camping site on the map I haven't labeled as such. If the springs is the target, keep heading north on the dirt road, almost there. 


Here you can see from the last fork you keep going north until you come to the springs. Pick a spot and go. I marked where a watering hold is also and I would not go there. The wild horses and animals go there and so avoid it unless there is no water there. 


Here is the springs! I have listed some possible observing spots and the two I tried.  I did the one down by the corrals also and that worked fine. It is a wonderful site for observing, but you need to bring stuff to do during the day, you can go stir crazy unless you like solitude, conversation with someone (unless your alone like I was). I hiked, gathered up some fossils, talked to the other fossil hunters that showed up, animal watched (there are both golden and bald eagles nearby and plenty of birds so I also bird watched).  I took a nap and read.  Perfect! So may you find the joys of looking up, doing so with the wonderment of a child, and find the enjoyment that comes from the hobby. Really, it is several hobbies when you get right down to it!  Observing at a dark site like this, as remote as this is, is something that sticks with you for a LONG time, if not a life time! 

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