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Dark-Sky Sites:

Illinois

 

 

 

Sites:

 

 



Town:  Braidwood
 
Observing Site:  Mazonia/Braidwood Lake Fish and Wildlife Area

Address: P.O. Box 126, Braceville, IL  60407

Phone:  (815) 237-0063

URL:  http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/PARKS/R2/MAZONIA.HTM

Restrictions:  Call before going to make sure parking lot is open and available.  The parking lot is outside of the gate to the lake, and is used by people to park their boat trailers.  The contributor who submitted this site was there when the ranger locked up and he came over to see what he was doing.  When he told the ranger, he was fascinated by it and said there was no problem staying there all night.  The contributor doesn't think you want to camp there, since there is nothing around except a few farms.

Directions:   From Chicago, take I-55 south and get off at exit 233 (Reed Road).  Turn left and cross the highway.  Right on the other side (east side) turn right onto the frontage road (at the Marathon gas station).
Two miles south you will cross two highways with railroad tracks in between. Be careful, both highways are two way roads.  This is not a divided highway, so drive slowly.  Turn left when you see the sign "Braidwood Lake Fish and Wildlife Area".  Go east about half a mile, to a dead end at the gate to the lake.  The gravel driveway and parking lot, which is on the right, is about the size of a football field.   Click here to create a map using Mapquest.

Current weather:   Click for Braidwood, Illinois Forecast

How are the sky conditions?   The site is 55 miles from downtown Chicago as the crow flies, so the sky conditions are remarkably good for being this close to the suburban sprawl.  Chicago is northeast, so there is some sky glow in that direction.  Also the Braidwood nuclear power station is in the north, so it provides some glow too.  That the glow in the north and northeast tapers off at about 40 degrees.  However, all other directions are dark.

 

Typical naked-eye magnitude limit on a clear, moonless night:

     At the zenith:

6

     East:

5.5

     West:

6

     North:

Better than 5th magnitude

     South:

6

Horizons:    This is the best thing about the site.  Completely clear horizons in all directions.  Towards the east, south, and west, the horizon is maybe 5 degrees.  To the north there is a berm around the lake which might go up 10 degrees.

Comments by contributor:   In the summer there are plenty of mosquitoes.  You won't be visited by anyone except an occasional car looking for lover's lane.  When the farmers plow or harvest there might be a distant headlight moving around but he will be at least a half mile away.  Here is where the low horizons actually are a disadvantage.  Passing cars do not interfere at all because of the direction of their travel.  To get there from another direction will require a lot more driving on gravel, and maps don't show the farm roads very well, so even if you are coming from the south, I would recommend going all the way up to exit 233.  I love the site, and have stopped looking for something better in northern Illinois.  It is safe, clear, and reasonably dark.  In the winter there are no mosquitoes, no tractors, and no visitors, so this is the place to be.

Comments from another contributor:  The directions to the site were perfect.  I think the road has been improved, because it was paved the whole way (no washboard), except the actual driveway into the parking lot, which consisted of gravel.  The horizon in the parking lot was very low except for a couple of tall trees that went up maybe 30 degrees. We had the place to ourselves, so I would guess it is too remote for most people.  I would say that the web article describing the site was accurate except for the improved road. Four members of my family visited the site on August 21, 2004 to check out the observing conditions. I talked them into going with me partly for company, but partly because being alone in a dark isolated spot for the first time seemed a little too spooky. The conditions promised to be perfect, with clear skies and a low of 66 degrees F.  However, the high humidity and falling temperature created a lot of fog and haze. As the night progressed and the temperature dropped, this haze washed out the sky in all directions up to an angle of about 40 degrees. It also played havoc with my equipment, which was dripping with condensation, and all my charts and papers were soggy. That's the Midwest for you. On a happier note, everybody had a good time, and wants to go again. We brought reclining chairs and blankets.  When the equipment became too wet to use, we all just laid back and enjoyed the view, talking, and drinking coffee.

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Town: Dixon

Observing site: Green River Conservation Area

Address: 375 Game Road, Harmon, IL 61042

Telephone number: 815-379-2324

Any restrictions: No permit is required. There is a designated camping area as part of the Green River Conservation Area, but this is just a gravel parking lot with a couple of outhouses; the worst aspect of this is that there are a few (shielded) mercury vapor lamps ringing this “camping lot”. No camping is allowed in lot #2 from which we observe, but we’ve never had a problem. (We’re not camping -- we’re observing!) There is no gate or other barrier at the entrance to lot #2.

Directions: Going south from Rockford, pick up Route 39 (an expressway). Take this to Route 30 west, then Route 26 south. Turn off 26 onto Union Road west (it’s a narrow gravel road). A caution: the road signs are very small and difficult to read. Watch for a picnic area on the east side of Route 26; Union Road is .8 mi. south of the picnic area. Take Union Road 2 miles west to Pump Factory Road (the first crossroad). Turn south and go about 500 feet to the entrance to lot #2 on the west side of Pump Factory Road. It’s good to arrive while it’s still light out. There’s a “road” (actually two worn tire tracks) going into lot #2 (really just an open field). We pull up a grassy knoll on the north side of this road. There are signs posted that indicate how far you can drive in.  Click here to create a map using Mapquest.

Current weather:   Click for Dixon, Illinois Forecast

How are the sky conditions?   Very dark and dew seems to be less of a problem here than at other sites. There are no ground lights to be seen anywhere and there are trees along Pump Factory Road to the east, which shields us from headlights. (During a typical night’s observing, there’s usually only about a half dozen cars using this road.)  Lot #2 is about a mile as the crow flies from the illuminated camping area, so those lights can’t be seen and there’s hardly any skyward glare from them.

Typical naked-eye magnitude limit on a clear, moonless night:

 

Typical naked-eye magnitude limit on a clear, moonless night:

     At the zenith:

6.0

     East:

5.5

     West:

5.5

     North:

5  (some glow from Dixon to north and Sterling to northwest)

     South:

5.5 to 6.0

Best horizon (direction and approximate altitude cut-off): South, about 5 degrees

Worst horizon (direction and approximate altitude cut-off):  East, 15 degrees  (But if you don’t mind carrying your equipment an extra 100 feet or so, the cut-off is down to 7 or 8 degrees.

Comments from contributor: Typically, the Milky Way can be easily seen overhead and followed right down to the horizon. I observed several HII regions in M33 with a 10-inch scope from this site.

This is a hunting and dog training area, but only during daylight hours. You may see (and hear) hunters and dog handlers in late afternoon and first thing in the morning, but we’ve always had the night totally to ourselves. There are no sanitary facilities at lot #2. This is a site frequented by members of various astronomy clubs in the Chicago area.

 

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Town: McLeansboro (more accurately, Hamilton County)

Observing site: Hamilton County Conservation Area (Dolan Lake)

Address: R.R. 4, Box 242

Zip Code: 62859

Contact person: Park Superintendent

Telephone number: (618) 773-4340

URL: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/PARKS/R5/HAMILTON.HTM

Restrictions: None. No park entry fee.

Directions: The entrance to the park is between Carmi and McLeansboro on Illinois State Route 14 three miles west of US Route 45.    Click here to create a map using Mapquest.

Current weather:   Click for McLeansboro, Illinois Forecast

 

Typical naked-eye magnitude limit on a clear, moonless night:

     At the zenith:

5.8 (best nights are 6.2+)

     East:

5.6

     West:

5.6

     North:

5.6

     South:

5.6

Best horizon: There are two excellent sites for astronomy on this property.  One is located at the Youth Camp, the other is located in a grassy area at the Bend-in-the-Road along the access road to Kiwanis Point. The Youth Camp Site has a good eastern horizon. The Bend-in-the-Road Site has a good southern horizon. Trees block some of your view in the other directions to from 10-20 degrees.  Seeing and sky transparency are very good on average.

Worst horizon: Varies with each of the two sites. Located in one of the least populated areas of the state. Two small light domes from Carmi and McLeansboro are in the East and West, respectively. The park does have a few pole-mounted lights, but they are in the process of being shielded.  None are visible from the observing areas. When the leaves are off the trees, you might see one in the distance from either site.

Comments from contributor:  A park brochure with a site map may be obtained by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Property Superintendent at the address above.  Our group, the Evansville Astronomical Society, observe from this site 30+ nights each year. 15, 18, 20 and 30-inch Dobsonians are not uncommon on New Moon weekends and on clear week nights. There are pit toilets at the Youth Camp and, elsewhere, a food concession (open April-September) as well as a campground with a bath house. Camping is not permitted at the observing sites and signage says that the park closes at 11 p.m., but if you let them know that you are coming, staying all night will not be a problem. The park staff are friendly to astronomers. Calling ahead to let them know you're going to be there (especially if they don't know you) would be a plus.  And please don't litter. We value our relations with the park.  A motel is located three miles from the park entrance at the intersection of US 45 and Route 14.

 

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