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Dark-Sky Sites:

North Carolina

 

 

 

  Sites:



Town: Creswell

Observing site: Pettigrew State Park

Address: 2252 Lake Shore Rd.

Zip Code: 27928

Telephone number: (252) 797-4475

URL: http://ils.unc.edu/parkproject/pett.html

Restrictions: Camping permit required. Rangers very friendly and helpful.

Directions: Seven Miles south of Creswell off US 64 on State Road 1168.  Click here to create a map using Mapquest.

Current weather:   Click for Creswell, North Carolina Forecast

How are the sky conditions? Superb! I dare to say this site has the darkest site in NC and of the best on the entire east coast.  Seeing is typically good b/c of 16,000+ acre lake and surrounding Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Atlantic Ocean is close as well.

 
Typical naked-eye magnitude limit on a clear, moonless night:
     At the zenith: 7.5+
     East: 7+
     West: 6.5+
     North: 6.5+
     South: 6.5+

Best horizon: EAST - an eerie blank darkness

Worst horizon: WEST & NORTH  light dome only extends a mere 20 degrees (this was under hazy conditions). North has a small dome visible through the trees, which extend to roughly 30 degrees.

Comments from contributor: This is a site that I found using satellite photos of the east coast at night. It looked very good so seven of us from the Raleigh Astronomy Club went down recently to check it out. We were elated at what we found. We set up at the cul-de-sac style boat ramp that overlooked Lake Phelps there in the park. The rangers graciously turned off the only security light that is present at the boat ramp. East has no light pollution whatsoever. SE has a small, fist-sized dome (Cape Hatteras) and SSW has a 10 degree dome (Bellhaven) that would not even be visible if you couldn't see right down to the horizon. West has the largest dome of all at a mere 20 degrees. We also noted a dome to the north but it was barely detectable through and above the 30 degree tree obstruction (and shouldn't even be visible when the leaves are on the trees). Zenith is truly a glorious sight! The winter Milky Way displayed a phenomenal amount of structure and the sky's darkness with naked eye and through the eyepiece was quite impressive. Months of November to April are best for 2 reasons: little haze and little activity on the lake (i.e., boaters). Rangers say that Spring, Summer, and early Fall weekends will probably have boaters at night (a very popular bass lake). If this is the case, the security light will be left on for safety reasons. However, a ranger told us that during the week there are usually no boaters. If no one is on the lake, the light can be turned off for you. A fantastic site for the serious deep sky observer.

Update: July 4, 2000     From Eric Honeycut
Pierre Faucher and I went down yesterday afternoon to observe for a night. The rangers must leave the only security light on at the boat ramp during the summer, which shines into the area where we set up previously.  After a little searching, we found a site on the south side of the lake that proved to be superb! There are several secondary roads, which, though not paved, are well maintained.  They extend for miles in various directions, corresponding to canals that are everywhere in this area.

The spot we selected was about 1.5 miles down one of these roads off of Shore Drive (the road that hugs the lake from the northwest side to the south).  We chose to next to an intersection that has  unobstructed horizons all around down to about 5 to 10 degrees.  Low-growing brush was just tall enough to block out most light pollution from the extremely low domes to the northwest, northeast, and southwest, leaving the site virtually dark for 360 degrees.  The Milky Way displayed structure that beat the skies at Grayson Highlands in southwest Virginia and this area is certainly the least populated area in the state.  The site displays fantastic conditions as the skies are darker than anywhere that I have found in the North Carolina or Virginia mountains.

There is no camping  right at the observing site, but there is a campground directly across the road from where you turn onto this secondary road. We just slept for a few hours in the back of our cars until daylight and we came on back home. This site will prove to be incredible in the cool, transparent nights of fall, winter, and spring when the mountains get too cold.

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Town: Near Elizabethtown

Observing site:  Bladen Lakes State Forest (BLSF)

Address: None- State Forest

Telephone number: (910) 588-4964

URL: http://www.mindspring.com/~pleiades7/darksky.html

Restrictions: Permit required!! Free of charge

Directions:   Take I-95 to Fayetteville. At Exit 49, take 53/210 South. Stay on Route 53 approximately 31 miles until you get to Rt. 242. Take a left (North) onto Rt.242. Go roughly 3 miles to the BLSF Headquarters (on right) which is at the corner of Sweet Home Rd and Rt. 242. Take a right onto Sweet Home Rd. Go exactly 1.7 miles to Fred Poole Tr. (unmarked dirt trail) on the left. Take Fred Poole Tr. and then take your next immediate left just beyond the cemetery. This is Bethel Church Rd (another unmarked dirt trail).  Follow Bethel Church Trail .6 miles to the first trail to the right - Little Bethel Trail (also unmarked). Go right on Little Bethel Tr. for .7 miles to a T-intersection with Pappy Tatum Trail (also unmarked). Go left on Pappy Tatum Tr. a few hundred yards to a dilapidated shed on the right. There is a 12 acre clear cut area behind the shed and across the road. 1 hour and 20 minutes from Angier. Roughly 2 hours from Raleigh.   Click here to create a map using Mapquest.

Current weather:   Click for Elizabethtown, North Carolina Forecast

How are the sky conditions? Excellent! Can get hazy in summer (near sea level). Also, White Lake, a popular recreation resort relatively close by, is active during the summer. Tends to have a little more light pollution in the summer but still very good.

 
Typical naked-eye magnitude limit on a clear, moonless night:
     At the zenith: 6.5 to 6.9 (very transparent nights)
     East: 6.2 to 6.5
     West: 6.2 to 6.5
     North: 6.5
     South: 6.2

Best horizon (direction and approximate altitude cut-off): North - no light pollution visible. A little to the NW from Fayetteville

Worst horizon (direction and approximate altitude cut-off): none listed

Comments from contributor:  This site is a very dark site with only one small light dome from Elizabethtown and an extremely minor glow on the northwestern horizon from Fayetteville that is over 30 miles away. The actual site is a large clear cut area (45 acres I think) with good horizons. No traffic will be coming on these roads at all (I have never experienced traffic in the many times I have been there).  Haze can and should be expected in the summer. Also, White Lake is a popular area attraction and many people come to the area in the summer as well (bringing added light pollution). This usually motivates me to go to the mountains in the summer for extremely serious dark sky observing but if I want local - then serious dark sky observing can be accomplished. However, it really shows its stuff in the winter, fall, and spring when the transparency is high. M33 is a visible naked eye object and stars have been glimpsed down to 6.8 in the Pleiades on a few occasions. In my opinion, it is one of the darker sites in the state. The rangers must be contacted and a permit obtained or you will be fined for trespassing. They are very cooperative and helpful however (more so than most rangers)!

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Town: Near Laurel Springs

Observing site:   Doughton Park

Address:  Mile marker 241 on Blue Ridge Parkway in NC.

Zip Code:  28644

Telephone number: (828) 259-0701 (General information on the Parkway.)
Bluffs Lodge & Coffee Shop-- (336) 372-4499 (Lodge rental at Doughton)

URL:  http://www.nps.gov/blri/doughton.htm

http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/ (Information on parkway activities.)

Restrictions:  No restrictions except park is closed from Oct - April.

Directions:  Doughton Park is located at Blue Ridge Parkway marker 241. There are multiple access points to the Parkway from Asheville, NC to Roanoke, Va.  Choose whatever route is closest to your area.  During autumn the fall colors are spectacular, so you may not mind the 45mph speed limit on most of the parkway.

From Eastern NC
    Take I-40 to Winston-Salem. Exit onto US421W at exit 188. Take 421W from Winston-Salem towards Wilkesboro. After 28 miles exit onto I-77N. After 10 miles there will be a left-hand exit (83) onto US21 Bypass which turns into US21.

From Western Va.
    Take I-77S to Exit 83, US21Byp.

Proceed on US21 for 21mi. To the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Head South from this entry point.  Doughton Park is approx. 15 miles from this access point.  At around the 14 mile mark you will pass the campgrounds unless you will be camping with tent or trailer.  Proceed another 2 miles South.  There will be a Restaurant/Store/Gas station on the right-hand side of the road.  The entrance to the picnic area used for observing is directly across the road.  The entrance Y's, take the right-hand fork which will take you to the picnic area, the left fork goes to a series of lodges that can be rented if desired.  The observing site is approx. ½ mile from the 'Y'.   It is a oblong grassy area surrounded by the access road. For reference see the Parkway map: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/map4.html or click here to create a map using Mapquest.

Current weather:   Click for Laurel Springs, North Carolina Forecast

 

How are the sky conditions? Excellent.  Low humidity and slight breezes normally keep the skies clear year round.  The Milky Way is unbelievably clear and an awesome sight to newcomers not used to seeing it so bright.

 
Typical naked-eye magnitude limit on a clear, moonless night:
     At the zenith: 7
     East: 6.4+
     West: 6.6+
     North: 6.2+
     South: 6.6+

Best horizon: ENE to ESE and W depending on where you setup. Cutoff +/-5 degrees

Worst horizon:  N & S +10 degrees due to high hills.

Comments from contributor:  This is one of the best sites in the NC mountains.  Any new moon weekend will find telescopes ranging from 4.5" to 20+" taking advantage of the skies and usually 2 or more NC astronomy clubs will have members observing here .  Wind can be a problem some days for photography, but overall not a concern.  Humidity is low and relative sky glow is limited to the ENE.

Summer months are comfortable, but a jacket is advisable as mountain weather can be unpredictable, other months it is advisable to have cold gear handy if the weather changes.  The main observing area is closed at the end of October usually through April.  I have yet to check with the Blue Ridge Parkway commission to see if permission can be obtained for observing during closed months.

The Greensboro Astronomy Club (GAC) has a Deep-Sky Observer's Group that makes regular trips to this and other Parkway observing spots. Check their web site at http://www.greensboro.com/astronomy/dsog.html for the latest trip plans.

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Town: Robbinsville

Observing site: Hooper's Bald Trailhead - Cherohala Skyway

Address: Nantahala National Forest

Coordinates: Long: 84 0.056 W, Lat: 35 18.232 N

URL: http://ilovenc.com/cherohala.htm

Restrictions: Public By-Way. Road may close in Winter under snow or ice conditions.

Directions: The trailhead is located highway about halfway between the towns of Robbinsonville, NC, and Tellico Plains, TN.  To get there from Chattanooga or Knoxville (the closest major cities), take Interstate 75 to exit 175B (Rt 64 Bypass).  Continue on Rt 64 to Rt 74 (Old Copper Rd) toward Cleveland, TN.  Turn onto Rt 411 east toward Etowah (about 18 miles).  Once in town, turn right onto Rt 39 east to Tellico Plains, TN.  Turn left onto Rt 68, then right onto Rt 165.  The road designation changes once in NC, but continue approximately 11 miles to the trailhead parking lot.  Click here for a Google Map.

Current weather:   Click for Robbinsville, North Carolina Forecast

 

How are the sky conditions?  With an altitude of nearly 5,000 feet this site was well above the summer haze in the lower valley and offered very clear skies with few obstructions. There may be moderate to high winds at times as the site is fairly exposed on the top of a ridge. The Milky Way, several clusters and nebulas were easily visible with the naked eye. Light pollution map

 
Typical naked-eye magnitude limit on a clear, moonless night:
     At the zenith: 7
     East: 6
     West: 6.5
     North: 6
     South: 6.5

Best horizon:  West, 0 deg cutoff

Worst horizon:  NNE, some light scatter from Knoxville, TN

Comments from contributor:  This site is situated along the Cherohala Skyway scenic by-way, which runs through the Nantahala National Forest between Robbinsville, NC and Telico Plains, TN.  Although the Skyway offers several scenic overlooks for partial views of the night sky, the Hooper Bald Trailhead parking lot (near the NC/TN boarder) is situated slightly above the roadway and is removed from the direct headlights of [rare] passing vehicles. Trees surrounding the parking lot block the lowest portions of the southern sky, but this high ridge is not blocked by any other nearby mountain tops. The site is a parking lot for about 20 cars and offers outhouse facilities. The site is also used by amateur radio operators.

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