I had the good fortune to take a brief vacation to Zion National Park last week. As there were seven of us in the minivan, I packed just my little Astroscan 4.25” reflector. I observed from our accommodations to the east of the park, 4000’ elevation. SQML was 21.43 at 10pm and 21.81 at midnight – the second darkest sky I have observed from yet (Lake San Antonio last fall was a bit darker). There was a bit of glow on the WNW horizon, possibly from St. George and/or Las Vegas. I only had one eyepiece with me, yielding 30x & 1.5° TFOV.
I first attempted M101. I wasn’t even fully dark adapted, yet there it was with direct vision, large and slightly out of round, averted vision revealing some mottling. I proceeded to do a mini Messier survey in the area, and was amazed that all the objects were easy finds with direct vision—which is not the case at this aperture at the routine Bay Area sites. I supposed these were the sort of views Messier & Méchain had. M108 & M97 were in the same FOV, and I could just make out the Owl’s darkening eyes with AV. M64 had a bright core with a slowly fading halo, one side of which was cut off by the dark lane. M100 had a bright core with a large, dim round halo with the barest hints of spiral.
My “sight of the night” was Markarian’s Chain, with M84 & M86, but also IC 4388 as a dim streak above them, and IC 4402 below them, and the other members trailing off (IC 4438, 4435, 4461, 4473…). I used the chain to galaxy hop to M88 and M91. From there I got a bit lost, but I didn’t mind. What a place to be lost in. I stopped my logging and took in the view; this was a vacation, after all.
As dark as the sky was, it is still merely “rural” Bortle 3. We visited Bryce Canyon, I in hope of observing from the rim, but sadly the weather turned partly cloudy. As we had a long drive home the next day, I decided to save it and the other Utah dark sites for another time.
What a difference a dark sky makes.