Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

On October 15, 2020, we left for a three-night stay in Cathedral Gorge State Park near Panaca, Nevada. We chose this location primarily for the warm daytime temperatures and the clear skies forecasted for astrophotography. The park didn’t disappoint. The daytime temperatures reached 80 degrees, the early morning temperatures were close to 40 degrees, and the night skies were clear and reasonably dark.

We first populated site 16. This site is a nice pull-through that will easily support 35-40 foot long RVs. It is a beautiful site with several shade trees. It was the last appropriately sized site remaining when we arrived. However, no location near the site is suitable for viewing the night sky. The next day we moved to site 6. Site 6 is well distanced from other campers, has a great tent pad, offers great night sky views, but doesn’t have much shade.

All of the campground sites have electrical hookups offering 20, 30, and 50 Ampere circuits. There are also water spigots throughout the park. Like many state parks, there are bathrooms with flush toilets, sinks with running water, and showers. There is a paved bicycle trail that runs from Panaca to Cathedral Gorge State Park. It would be a fun place to bring bicycles and enjoy the ride.

We arrived around noon on the 15th, set up camp, and then went on a 4-mile loop hike. We started the loop an hour before sunset, hoping to catch dusk and wildlife it might bring. We didn’t see any wildlife, but the scenery was interesting and beautiful.

We also enjoyed investigating “the caves” that aren’t really caves at all. They are narrow slot canyons that aren’t very long but quite tall. It’s a little like a cave without a ceiling. There aren’t very many of them, but it’s a fun activity. There are also a few ruins left by the CCC built in the ’30s. They also left a wood and mud sunshade that is now used as a picnic area.

On Friday afternoon, we took a short road trip through Caliente, Nevada to Kershaw-Ryan State Park. We stopped for burgers, fries, and drinks in Caliente and took them to the state park for a picnic. This park is an amazingly beautiful oasis in the middle of a very stark desert. You can see how arid the background of this photo is, but luscious vegetation can be seen in the foreground.

This park was once someone’s farm, and they grew fruit trees and grapes. There is a natural spring that still runs today. While it was beautiful when we were there, I can only imagine the relief from the heat this place yields summer visitors. After lunch, we took a couple of very short hikes around this tiny state park.

After leaving Kershaw-Ryan State Park, we went to Panaca Spring. This is a warm, not hot, spring that is used today to irrigate the nearby farms. However, before it escapes the initial pool, it is a fun place to swim. The water is clear, allowing good views of the numerous small fish. This time of year, the spring is about 4′ deep and about 84 degrees. It is certainly not a soaking kind of hot spring, but it isn’t a cold swimming hole either. It was perfect for a warm and sunny day swim.

One evening, I set up the telescope to show my son and wife some of the planets. We were able to observe Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Uranus was just a dot like the stars, Mars wasn’t as red as they expected, but Jupiter and especially Saturn were very pleasing to observe. We also looked at several galaxies and nebula. It is nice to see the beautiful things that God made for our enjoyment. Later that evening, I connected a camera, computer, and other electronics to enable some astrophotography. I enjoy the combination of the awe-inspiring creation and the technology that enables its capture.

Saturday evening, I captured three deep sky objects: NGC 7293 or the Eye of God, M 45 or Pleiades, and several objects surrounding the Horsehead nebula. These objects are 650, 444, and 1375 light-years from earth, but with modest equipment and some post-processing can be seen in all their glory.

Cathedral Gorge State Park was a fun and relaxing place to spend a few days in the fall. The temperatures were great, the hikes and scenery were awesome, the outings were fun, and the astrophotography was rewarding. There are certainly darker spots for astrophotography, but I think the images are evidence that it is dark enough.

We’ve been to this state park before, but we’ll probably go again. Young children would really like “the caves,” and we can’t resist taking grandchildren to places we think they’ll like. I can’t wait to see and hear them among the rocks and crevices of Cathedral Gorge State Park.

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Wedge Overlook Campground, Utah

On November 2, 2019, we packed quickly and made a mad dash to a nearby BLM campground called Wedge Overlook. We wanted to get away for one night to do some astrophotography under relatively dark skies. The skies at this campground are rated at a Bortle Class 2. We were surprised by the number of other campers this time of year, but we found site #6 available. Unlike most campgrounds, this BLM campground has no amenities other than a plethora of rock fire rings built by previous campers. The best part of these sorts of campgrounds is that the sites are 1/4 of a mile apart. It’s just like camping in complete solitude.

We arrived at the campsite at about 3 pm, set up camp quickly, and got the telescope set up for a night of photography. The sunset was at about 6 pm, and by 7 pm, it was dark enough to begin polar alignment. The moon set about 11 pm, and I used the dark skies to perform some needed telescope maintenance and to get used to my new ASIAir device to control the telescope mount and cameras. At 2 am, I focused my attention on the Horsehead Nebula area in the Orion Constellation. I configured the system to take 200 60 second exposures and went to bed. The image shown here is the result.

At 6 am, I arose to finish up the photography tasks, dismantle the entire system, and pack it carefully away. We joined a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Huntington, Utah, for their worship services. After church, we raced home for other activities. This trip was a quick 24-hour adventure, but it was surprisingly relaxing and pleasant to be under the bright stars.

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Indian Creek Campground, Utah

On August 30th, 2019, we gathered for a large family reunion at the Indian Creek Campground in Utah. This campground consists of seven large group sites. There is water, pit toilets, a tiny stream, quite a bit of shade from Aspen and other trees, a large fire pit, a couple of large tables, and a large dutch oven table. There are a lot of decent tent spots and ample parking for several RVs. The high altitude setting makes this campground reasonably comfortable even in the summer. During our stay, it was warm in the sun, nice in the shade and chilly in the evenings.

It is eleven miles of dirt road to get into this campground from either the north or the south. The road from the north is pretty good but so narrow in a few spots that one of our party had their trailer hit someone else’s trailer going on the road in the opposite direction. It took a lot of effort to get them by one another. Perhaps the road from the south is wider, but we don’t know.

During the weekend family members rode 4-wheelers, side-by-sides, and went fishing at nearby Potters Ponds. In addition, we participated in board games and outside tournaments. I spent a couple of late nights capturing starlight through my telescope that resulted in an image of the Western Veil Nebula.

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Wedge Overlook Campground, Utah

In this post two separate visits to the Wedge Overlook Campground in central Utah are described. Our first visit began on Friday November 2, 2018 and ended on Sunday November 4, 2018. A week later we decided to revisit the same location and take advantage of the dark skies for astrophotography.

While the location is called the Wedge Overlook Campground, there is nothing there but dirt roads and huge cul-de-sacs where RVs and tent campers may stay. There are 10 sites, but there are no restrooms, no water, and no other facilities. The sites are hundreds of feet apart providing ample privacy, each site has one or more rock fire circles, and best of all there is no cost!

The area is part of the San Rafael Swell and has many interesting geological points of interest. The landscape includes red cliffs, yellow formations, interesting hills, bluffs, drainages, and canyons. The most prominent local feature is the Little Grand Canyon of Utah. This deep gorge contains the San Rafael river and an abundance of trees showing their fall colors late into the season.

On our first visit we stayed in site 3 which is on the south side of the main road. The site has a long entrance road and a large area sufficient for several RVs. There are some trees that would provide privacy for tent campers. This site is close to a fork of the main attraction in the area, the Little Grand Canyon of Utah. This fork is fun to explore, and is sufficiently distant to make this site manageable with small children.

On our second excursion to this area, we stayed in site 4 which is across the road from site 3, is smaller, and has a spectacular view to the north. This trip was intended to provide dark skies so I could perform some astrophotography. The skies cooperated and we enjoyed two clear nights that were cold, but most importantly dark with no moon. I have wanted to photograph the Andromeda galaxy (M31) since I was a very young man, I finally got the chance.

The second image captured was from my favorite constellation Orion. The belt of Orion contains the Orion Nebula (M42). It is beautiful, easy to see, and I think the image turned out nicely. Having the chance to capture these two images, spend a couple of days with my dear wife, and enjoy this beautiful part of Utah was amazing. I can’t wait for spring to arrive so we can go camping again.

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