Central Oregon Off-Road Astro Adventure
By: Vlad Fedosov
There are a few things that I’m truly passionate about in life. As you might guess one of those things is astronomy! Another passion that I have is exploring the world that the good Lord put us on. Combining these two passions is a total joy! Before I had kids this was in the form of adventure motorcycle riding when I road most any road worth riding in Washington, Oregon, and California. Now that I have a family with two awesome kids this has morphed into exploring in my truck that is outfitted to go more or less anywhere. I really enjoy taking my family to all the great spots that I have explored to on my bikes. I also really enjoy exploring some good backroads when I have an opportunity to take a trip by myself. I started one of the backcountry discovery routed in 2017 but was unable to finish it as my phone got wet and I no longer had a reliable GPS unit. If you are not aware the backcountry discovery routes are guides through some of the most awesome parts of off-road terrain that are mostly put out by adventure riders but can also be done by vehicle. 2018 was my time to complete what I started in 2017, as I still had about 100 miles of awesome off-road terrain to explore in central Oregon!
The first day of the trip was started at the later part of Friday so it just involved the paved portion of getting to where I needed to start the trip. After about a 3 hour drive I arrived at Ochoco Divide Campground which is located on Hwy 26 in central Oregon. This is a campground that I have stayed at last year the night that my phone died on me. It is an awesome campground for camping but lacking in the astronomy department as it does not have a very good view of the sky because of all the trees. It was already late, and I had no choice but to find a campsite that had the best view of the southern horizon as I was primarily interested in observing the planets. This was the first trip where I was breaking in my new compact camping scope setup which consists of the Twilight II mount and an excellent Waget back equipped Meade ETX-125. Having set up camp, I proceeded to set up the scope so that it had a chance to cool down.
Once the scope was cool I was able to get a glimpse of Jupiter and later Saturn through the trees. The little 5” mak produced very sharp images of the planets. Seeing was about average for the northwest, and I was able to observe the gas giants at about 126x. Details on both the planets were sharp at this power. Once dark I sat back in my camping chair and just marveled at the stars that were all around me before lighting a campfire. It was a really good time doing a little observing before turning in for the night. Waking up the next morning at 5 am just as the sun was going up I packed up camp and was ready to get going on the actual off-road portion of the trip. I had about 100 miles of off-road to cover. I was not sure if I was going to do it in one day or two, but starting early in the morning ensured that I had plenty of time if I did not find an awesome campsite along the way. The trek followed Summit Rd. that started as a simple fire service road but soon turned into a relatively technical washed out / rocky treak up to a summit of over 7000 feet according to my Garmin Fenix GPS watch.
If there was a campsite near the summit I would have set up camp there as it would be awesome to do some observing from 7000ft. There was not a site there and the day was still very young so I pushed on. After the initial technical washout and baseball size rock covered road(which made me really think of cutting back onto paved roads for a bit), I made it to a much more manageable and enjoyable section of the road that took me out of the forest into some picture perfect canyon roads. By 2 pm I had finished the off-road section and was at Lone Pine Campground in a beautiful canyon by a creek. It was great to be under an open, unobstructed sky! I was looking forward towards the evening and was very curious to see how the seeing would be in the high desert environment. During the day I took a few dips into the river and caught a few smallmouth bass. When evening finally arrived I caught my first glimpse of Jupiter. It was not good news. The canyon wall that I was looking over was obviously cooling down from the daytime sun and was producing some horrible local seeing. I switched to doing some deep sky observing as the sky was dark even though the partial moon was out. I found the ultraportable Mak setup a perfect match for camping. For this trip, I had the room for a larger instrument, but this setup will be perfect when I go out with my family as space is definitely at a premium. The next morning I packed up and headed home. What an awesome time doing both a bit of observing and exploring!