After two years of looking for some dark property in Eastern Washington State I sorta gave up because I just couldn’t find that “right piece”. Of course, the criteria for the right piece was impossible: Reasonably close to home, high elevation, no light pollution, easy access (winter if possible), and at a good price. Impossible.
I ended up with a compromise. The property is 5 acres up at 4200 feet with an unobstructed 360-degree horizon, and is only 35 minutes from home. However,…. there’s no power, no water, and there are visible small town lights/domes about 20 miles to the South, plus there is significant light pollution to the West with a light dome that extends to 20 – 30 deg above the horizon.
Here’s a picture looking South from the property. There were wispy clouds which really accentuated the light domes to the South but still, the Milky Way stands out well:
After buying the property, I needed a driveway through it to access the whole area. I hired a local fellow with a good sized cat who cut some roads across the land in about 4 hours time. Not bad.
So now that I could get to where I thought the best site would be, it was time to dig some holes and pour some concrete.
OH MY WORD!!! I should have checked….. Digging with shovels, pick axe, & iron digging bar, I could only get down about 18 inches before coming hard against large basalt rocks. After trying for a weekend to dig deeper, I decided a reasonable course was to not remove the boulders but instead, to use them. So, at the bottom of the roughly 20″ deep holes, I hammer-drilled 3 holes in each, 10″ deep, and then hammered/epoxied in 3/8″ rebar. This should fully lock and stabilize the pier foundations. However I remain a little worried about how it will behave over successive Winter/Spring freeze/thaw cycles since it may get cold enough up here to drive the frost line pretty deep into the ground. I’m hoping the structures built around the piers will help lower the moisture in the ground under the pier and keep it a little warmer.
So with the holes ready and forms in place, my wife and I mixed concrete and poured the concrete pier and the foundation for the steel pier:
The piers are a little over 12′ apart E-W. The plan is to have the Eastern pier (8″ cement in sonotube) remain exposed with just an 8′ square platform and 3.5′ walls for a windbreak. The Western pier foundation (which accepts a 6″ heavy steel pipe pier) will have a roll-off roof observatory built around it.
I decided to build two little structures each 8′ x 8′ square: 1) A platform with short walls to provide some shelter from the breeze on cool nights and, 2) a small roll-off roof observatory.
The windbreak platform is very basic with simple supports for the sheet metal walls fastened to a platform. The platform is built with 3/4″ plywood on typical 2 x 6 floor framing. The sheet metal came from an old pole barn and was donated to me by a friend who’d been storing it for years.
The roll-off roof building is pretty typical with one exception. On this high open area, when the wind blows hard it can raise a lot of dust and pollen, plus there are also a lot of insects and rodents. With these concerns I decided to try and seal the building as best possible and still have the roof roll. So the roof is designed to be raised and lowered. When not in use it can sit firmly on the top of the stud walls which have weather stripping to help seal the joints. When it’s time to open the building, the roof is lifted about an inch to align with the outside support rails. The roof rolls on 3.5″ DIA wheels that ride along 2″ C-Channel rails. You can see in the pictures below how I executed the plan.
I’m just going to post some pictures of the building progression. I’ll add some notes where appropriate:
Windbreak platform almost done. A buddy gave me the old metal roofing. Good for this job.
The framing will be 60″ high off the platform. This will limit the scope seeing to 10 deg above the horizon.
Siding is on and roof carriage is set on top. Ready for the door install.
A good look at one of the two lifting beams and casters. I used many casters to reduce the rolling resistance. These 2×6 beams have C-channel rails fastened to them. Jacks will be installed under the beams to lift the roof assembly and align it with the outside rails. The beams will lift the roof about 1″.
The jacks lift the beam/roof nicely. Hardly any force needed to turn the screws. I picked up the jacks from a wrecking yard (all from Subaru’s). They’ve now been fastened down, secured top and bottom, limit stops installed, and the resting blocks moved to the ends of the beams.
Now we’re almost done for this year.
The project took most of the Summer. Mainly because of planning on the fly. The next building, a warming hut, will be much easier and faster.
Good luck with yours,