A 360 degree panoramic view from atop
Mount Ellen, Utah. The center of the picture is approximately
east-southeast. The black portions in the sky and ground are due
to missing portions of the image and the somewhat wavy horizons in
the picture are from irregularities in the original
source images. To the left of the center of the image may be seen
an excavation (the darkly-shadowed portion amongst the rocks) that is a
remnant of the 19th and early 20th century heliograph stations.
Click on the image for a full-sized version.
Warning: This image is about 7.7 megabytes in size and
is 15309x3700 pixels in size and may not display properly on all
Top left: The northern
portion of the Henry Mountains, as viewed from the west. Top
right: Gordon (left) and Clint atop Mt.
Ellen. The view in the background is toward the northwest.
left: Clint (left) and Gordon eating lunch in one of
the excavations that are the remains of the heliograph stations. Middle
right: Another excavation on an adjacent
peak. Bottom left: Gordon, descending the mountain
on a sea of broken granite slabs. Bottom right: A
closer view of the summit marker and the mailbox. At 11000+ feet
elevation, the sky really is darker blue than at lower
Click on an image for a larger version.
On 17 September, 1894, the longest-distance known heliograph
took place between a party of the Army Signal Corps atop Mt. Ellen
of Hanksville in southeastern Utah, and another atop
(near present-day Lake City) in
southwestern Colorado - one of the highest points in the San Juan
- spanning a distance of over 183 miles (over 294km)
breaking the previous
125 mile (201km) record.
path was possible because of the high elevations of the two
Mount Ellen is 11522 feet (3513 meters) above sea level while
Uncompahgre peak is somewhat higher - at 14309 feet (4361
Most importantly, the intervening terrain is fairly low - never getting
much above 5000 feet or so, thus preventing the curvature of the Earth
from blocking the path.
A lot has changed since 1894, so I was curious as to whether such an
optical path would still be practical - or even likely to be
possible. One point of concern was that in the general area of
line-of-sight path are several gigawatts of coal-fired electricity
generation plants and it was thought that particulates from these
pollution sources could drastically obscure the optical path.
For many years I've see the Henry Mountains
sticking up out of the
Utah desert and they have always intrigued me - especially since they
were easily accessible with fairly good roads.
Interestingly, a running (and admittedly nerdy) joke was
to call these mountains the "Inductance Range" - the basis of the joke
the name of the mountains was the same as the unit of the electrical
our surprise, it turned out that this was, in fact, true: The
were the last in the continental U.S. to be named - by John
one of his legendary river expeditions - in honor of Joseph Henry
first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and a proponent of
funding for Powell's voyages. Joseph Henry was also a leading
scientist and researcher in the then-new field of electricity and
electromagnetism, work that earned him the honor of the unit of
bearing his name.
On the 28th of September, 2006, I had the opportunity to go to Mount
Ellen. Fortunately, the weather was extremely good for visual
sighting - deep blue
skies, no nearby clouds, and clear air. Only a few weeks earlier,
much of the
western U.S. had been blanketed by a pall of smoke from several
wildfires, but the recently cooler and wet weather had quashed them.
On this day we took a fairly leisurely day hike to the top of Mount
Ellen from the road at Bull Creek pass, starting at an elevation of
about 10500 feet (3230m): This hike is quite easy, gaining only
1000 feet (about 300m) of elevation,
under 3 miles each way. The only (minor) difficulty encountered
has to do
the fact that most of the mountaintop is covered with a sea of
irregularly-shaped rocks, making progress somewhat more awkward than it
would otherwise be. Living at a fairly high elevation (over 4200
feet or 1220m)
and having done plenty of recent hiking above 9000 feet (2700m) the
air wasn't really much of a hardship.
Once atop the highest peak at an elevation of 11522 feet (3513m) we
looking for Uncompahgre peak. Having
Uncompahgre's location into my GPS receiver, I quickly determined that
the true-north bearing
toward Uncompahgre peak was a hair over 89 degrees. Looking into
blue distance and using my transit compass, I could just see, in the
indicated direction, a set of mountain ranges: A pair of
reasonably strong binoculars verified that these vague light-colored
objects were, in fact, snow-capped peaks. Further verification of
the bearing was done by comparing readings obtained with the the
transit compass with other identifiable landmarks that I had also
stored in my GPS receiver.
Having gotten to the peak at about lunch time, we settled down to enjoy
the scenery and to take pictures of our surroundings. After
having been there for about two hours, we noticed that with the
now-western sun, the visible haze toward the east had cleared somewhat
with the more-favorable lighting
and we could see what we thought were vague clouds in the distance,
past the mountain peaks. At this time, I took more pictures -
using a tripod, polarizer, without a polarizer, and combinations of
wide angle and zoom
lenses - hoping to get the sharpest pictures of Uncompahgre Peak
possible. Eventually, we gathered up our gear and wandered back
down to the car and drove to that night's camping spot in the desert.
After getting home several days later, I examined the pictures more
closely on the
them with a synthetic view generated by a program using a
high-resolution (1 arc-second) terrain database. In positively
Uncompahgre Peak on the database (and on the synthetic view) I
immediately noticed that the mountains that we we had thought
had included Uncompahgre Peak were the San Juan mountains - but were
those in the
portion of the range that includes Mt Wilson in the area around
Silverton and were
somewhat closer at "only" about
155 miles (248 km.) What we'd thought were clouds on the
horizon were, in fact, the peaks for which we were looking.
Fortunately, all of my pictures had a wide enough view and contained
enough detail to include these
Various views toward Uncompahgre Peak,
progressing to tighter zooms. The bottom image is a monochrome
and contrast-enhanced image, showing the location of Uncompahgre
Peak. Note that the color and/or contrast of these images has
been exaggerated in order to improve image clarity. (A .JPG
version of the original source image for the bottom
picture is here.)
Click on any image for a larger version.
The sequence of images to the right shows that Uncompahgre Peak is, in
visible from Mount Ellen on a clear day. What is not apparent
from the photographs - but can be seen from the maps - is that there is
a mountain range just in front
(just a few miles to the west)
of Uncompahgre Peak - and only the top several hundred feet of
Uncompahgre protrudes above them. Because the camera that I used
for these pictures (a Sigma
SD-10) uses a raw image format
for image storage, it was possible to go back
and extract all available information from the original image, making
recovery of such details possible.
Other related Heliograph links:
to the KA7OEI Optical Index page.
If you have questions or comments concerning the contents of this
page, feel free to contact me using the information at this URL.
This page and contents copyright
2007-2009 by Clint, KA7OEI. Last update: 20110307