Western US parks or remote areas with clear winter night skies
August 22, 2020 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I wish to see the Geminids meteor shower in December this year. I am in Oregon, notorious for rain and overcast winters. Whats a good area away from light pollution and typically have clear winter skies for star gazing?

I heard of Death Valley and Big Bend National Parks as good places for winter stargazing. Joshua Tree National Park is another possibility but nearby Palm Springs seems to have a lot of winter cloud coverage.

Sub-question: if anyone familiar with the climate of the Oregon High Desert in southeast of the state can speak to whether there are areas that have consistent clear skies for stargazing in winter? My research shows that the cities like Burns Oregon still experience cloud cover the great majority of winter days.

I am willing to car camp or backpack camping if needed.

I know about lightpollutionmap.info
posted by Pantalaimon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I went down to the Massacre Rim Dark Sky Preserve last summer. It's a long day trip from Portland unless you blast down the 5 (which, IMO, makes it an even LONGER day trip, although it takes less time). I'm hoping to go down there again this fall.

There's a hotel with per-room hot springs nearby in Cedarville.
posted by spacewrench at 2:34 PM on August 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

Just go to a Dark Sky Park. Hovenweep, Grand Canyon, Natural Bridges, etc. pretty much anywhere on the Colorado Plateau will be superior to coastal areas for darkness, cold clear air, etc.
posted by chuke at 2:47 PM on August 22, 2020

Best answer: For cloud-free skies in the US in December, Death Valley is one of your best options. Parts of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts in SoCal, southern AZ, and southern NM would also be good. Utah, Nevada, and SE Oregon not so much. Here's Joshua Tree's average cloudiness over the course of the day on December 14th, for example. You can plug in other locations in the search bar at the top of the page.

There are some awesome visualizations put together by NEO (Nasa Earth Observations) showing 'cloud fraction', which is the fraction of an area that was cloudy on average each month over the past 20 years. Drag the slider to see each month. Darker blue indicates less cloudiness. For even more granular views, see here.

This map gives you a sense of average daytime cloud cover in December, compiled from data gathered between 2002-2015 by the same satellites (Nasa's Aqua and Terra). As you can see, SoCal, southern AZ, southern NM, and southwest Texas have the least amount of clouds in the US in December. Southeast Oregon, while great in summertime, isn't looking too good in December. Utah also isn't ideal. Again, this shows average daytime cloudiness, not nighttime, but it should give you a rough idea.
posted by theory at 4:41 PM on August 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Besides cloud cover, elevation can really make a difference. At 10,000 feet, there's a lot less air to look through. Only problem is, at 10,000 feet, the lapse rate means it's fuckin' cold. It's also drier, which means better seeing.

What I'm saying is, go to southern Utah. It's cold as hell in the winter, but if you bundle up, the seeing is *amazing*.
posted by notsnot at 8:43 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

A few years ago, my wife and I visited the observatory at Goldendale, CO. I'm assuming it might be offering something for the Geminids and it's relatively close. But if you're feeling adventurous, for work I once went to Fish Springs Wildlife Refuge in Southern Utah, near Dugway, which was also on record as one of the quietest places in the U.S. It took some driving, and it's pretty remote. But they have a few cabins there and it is breathtakingly beautiful and rugged with a view of the sky that is amazing. At midnight, I went outside and sat on my truck and watched the moon for about 1/2 an hour and all I could hear was my own heartbeat. I'll never forget it and have always wanted to go back. Here's the link - https://www.fws.gov/refuge/fish_springs/
posted by CollectiveMind at 2:17 AM on August 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Seconding Big Bend.
posted by 8603 at 4:15 AM on August 23, 2020

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