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Map and directions to the Whipple picnic area.

There are two options if you choose to go to this easily accisible area in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mts. The first is a site that is a purpose built facility created by the Smithsonian's Whipple Observatory for amateurs to use. Concrete observing pads and benches are reached by a short trail from the parking area alongside the access road. Unfortunately this has seen little use or maintenence and as a result I had used the second option in my several uses of this observing area.

The alternative (see photo below) is available a little lower down the road in the parking lot for the Forest Service picnic area directly opposite the observatory base camp/visitor center. This site provides a paved area where a telescope can be setup directly beside a vehicle as well as the luxury of full restrooms. The tradeoff is that any vehicles leaving the observatory basecamp will sweep their headlights across the parking lot. It would also be possible to setup in the picnic area itself which is 30ft below the parking lot with access to picnic tables and the bathrooms, but out of the beams of any passing headlights.

For more information you can go to the Whipple Observatory site at http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/facilities/flwo/visit_center.html

Located at 5000ft (1500m) the site offers clear dark skies. The surrounding mountains shield the site from light pollution but do restrict the horizons substantially in most directions. This a reasonably good site with skies good for deep sky observing or photography. Any vehicles proceeding along the road will present a problem as the site is alongside the road but after dark traffic is very light. About the only ones using this road are astronomers and staff on their way up to the scopes atop Mt. Hopkins and a few others accessing the National Forest in the area resulting in little traffic. The result is that just about anyone you see is likely to be astronomy friendly.

Waiting for sunset at the Forest Service picnic area paking lot