Night Skies at Wolf Creek Pass, Utah

     There is an observing spot in the Unitas Mountains at around 9980 feet called Wolf Creek Pass. If you search my blog, you'll find posts about it, especially when I was using the Orion XX14i.  The western view is impacted by the night glow from the Salt Lake Valley and metro area, but the southern and eastern views are fantastic. The northern view is good, but the tree line impacts it just a touch.  So my friend Erwin who I met at FR006 Site 1 just over a week ago, went up on June 24th, 2015 and took these pictures.  They truly show the magic of this place. I think in July, if I get the time (starting a new job in July) I am going to go up to Wolf Creek Pass for a night or two of observing.  Here are the wonderful pictures, enjoy them!

Above you can see the Milky Way rising above the trees at Wolf Creek Pass. This would be looking south to southeast.  Wonderful dark lanes are shown and other structure. 

Later the Milky Way near Zenith at Wolf Creek Pass. 

Milky Way rising in panorama view from Wolf Creek Pass. 

Star field and meteor streaking at Wolf Creek Pass. Pink is either the sun setting or the light pollution from the Salt Lake Valley.  I want to thank Erwin again for sharing these with me and I hope you each enjoy viewing them. Hope to see some of you there soon! 

Observing the nights of June 16th to June 17th, 2015

Well, I was able to spend 2 days out in the West Desert observing.  I set up camp after arriving at Forest Road 006 Site 1 and after setting up the 17.5 dob, and the table, observing chair etc.  I decided not to set up the tent I had brought as it was really warm and to set up my Cabela's XL Cot and sleep in the open.  Bugs were a little bit of a problem, with gnats and flies buzzing around me, but my Thermacell units kicked in and away they went. No bug bites for the entire time I was there! After collimating, aligning the finder and getting my charts out for the night, I simply laid on the cot with a book I had brought and read.  I had my friend Allan show up who I hadn't seen since last summer and that was a wonderful surprise! I really enjoy observing with him and I have to admit, that from home, he has really gotten me into observing double stars during the moon period. I have caught his excitement of splitting doubles that are hard and find that challenge wonderful.  I usually use the 4 inch AR102 from Explore Scientific, a refractor, and if that won't work, the trust XT10 comes out.  The 10 inch solid tube dob usually will slice open a double if the 4 inch cannot but I like the challenge of doing it with the refractor.
     After Allan, Daniel another long time observing companion and friend showed up. Daniel has reached the point that he uses his binoculars to observe, and I have to admit, there is a freedom to that. He also will use my scope if I am not using it and he got on to Comet Lovejoy and showed a beautiful view in the 17.5" dob with the 30mm Explore Scientific 82 degree eyepiece. Stunning. I need to process that sketch and when I do, I will upload it here.
After Allan, one of my longest old time observing friends Shahid, who has tried to hook up with me for a while arrived with his 12" Zhumall dob.  Shahid and I go back to 2008 on observing together and I always enjoy his company when observing.  I love sharing views of objects and I find that his 12" Zhumall does a really fine job in showing DSO's.
     Later that evening, as dark was settling, a new observing companion showed up, Erwin who is a member of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and lives up near Bountiful, Utah.  Erwin joined me and Allan later that night in camping over, and observing the next night.   So in all we had five people including myself show up for this observing event.  Not bad for a new moon in June when the period of light is at its shortest point for observing for this year.

      One of the things that really struck me this night, is how wonderful and rare this evenings have become for me. The ability to camp over, to observe and then to do that a second night is a rare event due to both schedule and more importantly the weather and clouds.  The last two years have been a killer for weather and even with a lack of moisture, there seems to be few new moon periods where I can get out when there are not an abundance of clouds that block my path. I have decided not to be so picky in my older age, and to take more chances in terms of driving out, loaded up even when there are clouds present as about 70% of the time the clouds will dissipate and the skies will be clear. Clear, yes, perfect no, but those rare nights that come together are usually only found by those who are out and seeking clear skies.

Here are some photos taken from that night of observing.

Above is the 17.5 inch dob set up and ready to go. No, for those new, I don't use a shroud in the desert as I don't have stray light coming in that impacts my view, and it cools the mirror down quicker and leaves it at ambient or near it, which means less heat interference coming off the mirror.  

Another view of the 17.5 with Shahid's setup in the back, including his camera and Allan's set up. 

Sleeping under the stars, blocking the morning sun with Junipers.  I was VERY comfortable that evening in my sleeping bag after I retired around 3:30a.m. though the coyotes did get loud as I was falling asleep. 

Magic Time! Time again to leave the world behind, to enjoy twilight around 9:40p.m. MDT, and to await the approach of dark to begin observing.  I LOVE this time and enjoying it. 

Another shot of that magical time where we transition from our daily routine, to a nightly routine where the wonders of the universe open up for us to explore! 

The shot above is similar to my shot but his is taken by my friend Shahid.  What a wonderful night, and if you look to the right on the horizon, you can see earth's shadow coming into play signifying the end of day, and the beginning of night. 

Shahid took this shot with his camera at the Forest Road 006 site of the rising Milky Way.  It truly is a wonderful observing location for being about an hour and a half to two hours from the urban/suburbia locations of the Salt Lake Valley. 

A few more pics to share in a minute. I started my observing this night chasing spring galaxies in Virgo to work on my Herschel 2500 list. Again, I am doing this manually i.e. I push the scope on target and star hop to it, no computer aided finding though that would increase my observing time I must admit.  Anyway, I spent time observing about 10 galaxies, that I didn't sketch, simply observed, and then I sketched the following ones. 

Just to clarify. When I upload my sketches I guess I am a little lazy as I don't load them anymore in the order I sketched. I will list the times though so you can determine that order if you want. 
1. NGC 5207 Inclined Spiral Galaxy in Virgo. June 17th, 2015 12:35a.m. MDT; FR006 Site 1, Vernon, UT; Antoniadi III; 17.5" Dob; 10mm Pentax XW.  Observation: Faint galaxy with some brightening on the axis, somewhat of a core region though the galaxy is more of a smudge.  Fore ground star 10th magnitude hampers some observations of detail on this galaxy. 

2. NGC 5221 Inclined Spiral Galaxy (upper right), NGC 5222 Elliptical Galaxy (lower), NGC 5230 Face on Spiral (upper left); galaxies in Vrigo;  June 17th, 2015; FR006 Site 1; 1:25a.m. MDT; 17.5" dob; Antoniadi II-III, 10mm Pentax XW;  Observation: NGC 5221 shows some structure, hints of arms and mottling there. Very bright core region.  Averted vision reflects some knotting on the arms. NGC 5222 is an elliptical galaxy, with some modest brightening inwardly. I could not see a neighboring galaxy that is fainter that is touching NGC 5222.  NGC 5230 is a very good face on spiral with arms very in evident. for me, one is, with brightening confirmed by DSS image. Brightest of all 3 galaxies.  Bright core region also here. Very nice trio to observe, and fun to tease out the details. 

3. NGC 4866 Galaxy in Virgo; June 16th, 2015; 11:17p.m. MDT; FR006 Site 1 Vernon, UT; 17.5" Dob, 10mm Pentax XW; Antoniadi II; Observation: At first glance I thought there was a possible supernova but in reality on this galaxy, there is a star super imposed on it that is in truth, a foreground star.  Bright stellar nucleus and the galaxy as a whole is relatively bright.  Nice view. 

4. NGC 5129 (center) & NGC 5132 (top) galaxies in Virgo.  June 16th, 2015; 11:50p.m. MDT; FR006 Site 1; 17.5" Dob, 10mm Pentax XW; Antoniadi III; Observation: NGC 5129 is a bright elliptical galaxy with a bright inner core region and a brightening where a nucleus would be but elliptical's don't have a nucleus so to speak so I'll call it even more brightening. Elongated north to south with very defined edges.  NGC 5132 is on top of the sketch and is elongated W to E, with no real brightening but a uniform brightness, and it is rather faint. 

5. Messier 27, The Dumbbell Nebula:  June 17th, 2015, 02:20a.m., FR006 Site 1, Vernon, UT; 17.5" dob w/ 10mm Pentax XW; Antoniadi II: Observation:  After observing around 16 of my Herschel 2500, I went on a tour to see what the 17.5" could do. The scope is about a year old and I have enough experience with it now that I am really enjoying it.  Easy to use, easy to observe with. It is as natural to me now as the 14" is to observe with.  The short step ladder I use does get a little old but still, over all I am really enjoying this scope. Okay, this night we looked at the Veil Nebula in Cygnus, and I was able to identify six of the different parts but the witches broom in the 30mm Explore Scientific 82 degrees with a OIII filter was simply gorgeous. Conditions had really improved when we looked at it around 2:00a.m. with structure in the filaments and various filaments in evident or bands.  Wonderful! Messier 27 also showed that structure and tonight, the football shape was really in evident.  The Dumbbell was there, but you had to search for it as it was imposed with the football shape part of the nebula.  So here are my notes: One of the best view of M27 I have had. Football shape is easily seen as was the central star.  I sketched it without filters and found that the Thousand Oaks NB Filter did enhance detail so I then added that into the sketch.  Sketch mirrors the eyepiece. 

     Some additional items to note. I used the Catsperch Chair tonight and I am going to put or cut a handle into it as I find that so useful in moving the chair around.  Second, I am using a sketch pad and not individual pieces of paper for sketching and that works SO much better.  Last as mentioned, I am more than comfortable with the 17.5" dob now, which is my main scope though the 14" is also getting used as it is lighter, easier to set up overall and one I can use without a step ladder. So when I don't want the step ladder, the 14" will be the choice! 

Here are some pics from resting up the next day: 

If you stay overnight you can go to the Vernon Reservoir that is filled up to the top and with a valid Utah Fishing License fish for trout or go to the beach on the other side and swim. Boats without a motor are allowed on the lake so you could canoe or kayak if you want. 

It gets quite warm in the summer and the Juniper's do offer much welcome shade. Beautiful day out here, resting, sleeping, reading, talking. 

Not that good but even during the day I can practice sketching.  The SheepRock Mountains with the Juniper's and Sage Brush and grasses.  

There were a lot of clouds on the second day, but eventually they cleared out. 

The Clouds cleared out around 11:00pm but they made for a beautiful sunset. 

17.5 Day Two

17.5 Ready to go 

Another of the 17.5 Ready to Go 

Looking down the barrel so to speak of the 17.5.