I hate to keep harping on the same theme, but I had another lovely backcountry stargazing session last weekend.
The basic problem with backcountry stargazing in the U.S. Northeast — by which I mean stargazing from spots more than a short walk from a road — is trees. As I've written in another blog, trees are the single biggest obstacle to stargazing in my part of the world. In the western U.S., it's easy to find deserts, prairies, or mountain meadows. In the Northeast, by contrast, there's just a few square miles of mountaintop above treeline, and it's illegal to camp there, to prevent it from being loved to death.
At lower elevations, it's just endless trees. So it's very hard to find a legal wilderness campsite with a decent view of the sky. One of my favorites is a spot called The Bluff a few miles north of Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in the Northeast. It's on the edge of a gorge, steep enough so that you can actually see a little through the tops of the trees. And there's a lovely boulder there from whose top you have quite a decent view. The only downside is that Mount Washington blocks much of the southern sky.
I ended up camping there last weekend. I had intended to walk farther and camp in the woods, so I didn't bother to bring any astronomy equipment. But when I got there and remembered just what a charmed spot it is, I couldn't resist staying. Saturday morning, I woke up at 4 a.m. to watch the zodiacal light from the top of the boulder. It was a very memorable view, with the tall, rightward slanting pyramid of zodiacal light reaching up to cross the left-slanting Milky Way in the foot of Gemini, right about M35. But without my DSLR, I couldn't capture that, so you'll have to settle for the view of Jupiter setting over Sphinx Col that's shown at upper right.
Saturday evening, like the dutiful astronomer that I am, I went back up on the boulder to celebrate International Observe the Moon Night. True, I'd brought no real astronomical instruments, but I never go anywhere without my 6×15 monocular. And you know what? It's amazing how much you can see on the Moon at 6×. The wall of Sinus Iridum jutting out from the terminator was particularly lovely.