Astronomy – Wenatchee

In 2012, my wife and I moved from Bremerton on the west side of the Cascades to Wenatchee on the eastern side of the mountains. We hoped to find a less congested town that was good for us retired folks and for me in particular, an area with fewer cloudy/damp days & nights. Wenatchee straddles the Columbia river at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers. To the east of Wenatchee the terrain rises several thousand feet to a bluff then tapers down to the Waterville plateau. It’s a very pretty place with wide open views.

Looking West from the road heading up to the bluff (approx 2000′ here)

Although the eastern side of the mountains is a much drier climate with more clear nights, the light pollution in and around the urban areas is serious and sad. Additionally, the seeing (i.e., wobbly stars) , is typically pretty awful, particularly down in the valley. I think its mainly due to the jet stream, plus the colder air tumbling in from the western slopes of the Cascade mountains.

So, after settling in our new home, I started looking for a darker area where I could routinely go to do astrophotography. I had some previous experience in the general area. As a member of the Olympic Astronomical Society (OAS), I had attended many of the Camp Delany star parties held in the Dry Falls state park complex. The star party is held at an environmental learning center inside the park which is rented for the party. It’s in a nice sheltered location that’s quite dark.

Typical Delany night

The State Park proper is also in a decent location and if you can get away (or hide) from the park’s night lighting, it’s a very nice site with good dark skies. We have also visited Steamboat State park up near Grand Coulee dam and found the skies there nice and dark as well. But again, you have to hide from the park night lighting… and the irrigation sprinklers.

Bottom line is there are many suitably dark areas in this North Central Washington region (NCW), and with some diligent scouting it’s pretty easy to find suitably dark place for portable setups. However, you may find it difficult to find a place close to home. It seems like every little town has extremely bright lights. So often it was a 1 to 2 hour drive for me to get to a good spot. Regardless, there are still lots of areas that are decently dark.

However, the more we looked and thought about my goals and desires, we started looking for a property where I’d be able to have a permanent setup. We looked as far north as Oroville. in the hills north of Chelan and Pateros, east out to Dry Falls and up to Coulee dam, also around Moses Coulee down to Rimrock Meadows. As we looked deeper it seemed there was always a hitch: Horizon limitations, Airfield beacons, Difficult (steep & scary) access and/or long distances from home. It’s a compromise, but we finally bought a parcel up on Badger Mountain. It’s at 4200 feet, but suffers from residual light pollution from Wenatchee to the SW, and Quincy to the SSE. Both about 14 miles away. I’ve detailed building the Observatory in a couple Posts and in a Gallery.

Looking South from the Observatory site