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So. California Dark Sky Sites, Share your opinion?

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#1 AlaskaIsCold

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 03:25 AM

SO im going to be doing some astrophotography later on in the year, around march in a state that I'm not generally used to, Southern California. I was wondering if anybody here could chime in on their opinion of the dark sky sites that I'm looking at. Since what I need most of all is a very low horizon from the south to the west as well as a lack of a light dome in the south and to the west. from where the locations are I think that LA is in the way but I still want to try.

I'm going to be doing film work as well as DSLR work. SO I'm just curious what everyone's opinions is.

Highway 10 East, Exit 201: http://goo.gl/maps/cL9zF
Intersection of 62 and 177: http://goo.gl/maps/UuQoO
Amboy Crater Parking Lot: http://goo.gl/maps/AmY7r

#2 csa/montana

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 10:35 AM

We have many California members, so hopefully they will be familiar with the sites, and offer their opinions.

I'm moving this post to General Observing, in order to get more assistance for you.

#3 bedowinn

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 06:36 PM

I cannot comment on your selections not having tried them.
I can suggest Mt Pinos off the 5 fwy near the Grapevine Frazier park. It is lined with trees which may obstruct your view S to W.

#4 jrbarnett

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 06:45 PM

Amboy Crater is the only one of those three that are truly dark. 10 gets loads of traffic and 29 Palms/Joshua Tree is borderline blue/gray on the dark sky overlay map. There's no camping at Amboy, though, and it's far away from *anything* else.

You could camp in the Mojave National Preserve (north of 40, in the same general region as Amboy. If you can snag the Black Mountain Group Campground, you can get deep south, decent west, *BLEEP* north (Vegas) and a nice slab to set up on.

Here's a trip report:

http://www.cloudynig...hp?item_id=2673

It's not as dark as Amboy, but at least you can actually camp there.

Regards,

Jim

#5 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 09:17 PM

How about Baja California?

I live in San Diego. This is where I would go were I flying in from Alaska in March:

Baja Dark Skies Inn

The desert is likely to be cold (of course not by Alaska Standards), likely to be windy and March is the one of the rainiest months in Southern California. The storm track tends to peter out the further south you go, San Diego is drier than LA which is drier than further north.

Jon

#6 psandelle

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 10:37 PM

Jon - I had not seen Baja Dark Skies Inn before - it is perfect for me, so thanks for mentioning it.

As for Frazier Park - it ain't black skies, but it's good Milky Way, and it's only 90 minutes out of LA (70 for me and my lead foot) and there are a lot of sites, other than the main Mt. Pinos site (like near the Ranger Station, etc.).

Paul

#7 AlaskaIsCold

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 02:19 AM

I have no idea how those places are though. rather Frazier park, Because my friend is the one driving around there is the limitation that it has to be paved, it has to be a max of four hours from Los Angeles and there cant be issues with snow. if I had a choice I would pick frazier park but isnt it still snowed in in march?

#8 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 06:34 AM

I have no idea how those places are though. rather Frazier park, Because my friend is the one driving around there is the limitation that it has to be paved, it has to be a max of four hours from Los Angeles and there cant be issues with snow. if I had a choice I would pick frazier park but isnt it still snowed in in march?


Frazier Park itself is at about 5000 feet. I would think it would not be snowed in permanently. Snow in southern California tends to melt except at the highest elevations.

Jon

#9 CharlesW

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 10:17 AM

Amboy is great but extremely isolated. I would take a look at the "Clark's Pass" area on the Clear Sky chart. It's east of 29 Palms, in a gray area. Also, Desert Center, a gray area.

#10 acochran

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 12:52 PM

The southern part of Joshua Tree National Park - Cottonwood campground, is in a blue area on the Clear Sky Chart and about 2 hours from Los Angeles. East of there on the Clear Sky Chart is a black zone.
Anza Borrego desert is dark.
Big Bear and Arrowhead Lakes are resort areas, but pretty dark skies, plus they are high. The RTMC Astronomy Expo happens there in the Summer at the Boy Scout camp.
I understand Palomar Observatory is very nice, and generally east of San Diego can get quite dark.
Good Luck

#11 iceblaze

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 08:31 PM

Frazier Park itself is at about 5000 feet.


Ah yes.. But Mt. Pinos itself (and the Nordic base parking lot where all the astronomers usually end up) is at 8800 ft and has several snow gates on the way up the mountain. I hiked Mt. Pinos last year in winter (not near the bone chilling cold it has been this year) and it was so windy and cold (and snow on the ground) that my nose and lips were chapped for days. I wouldn't recommend anyone going there to stargaze in the middle of winter. Better to wait until April or so to visit that place safely.

-James

#12 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 08:37 PM


Frazier Park itself is at about 5000 feet.


Ah yes.. But Mt. Pinos itself (and the Nordic base parking lot where all the astronomers usually end up) is at 8800 ft and has several snow gates on the way up the mountain. I hiked Mt. Pinos last year in winter (not near the bone chilling cold it has been this year) and it was so windy and cold (and snow on the ground) that my nose and lips were chapped for days. I wouldn't recommend anyone going there to stargaze in the middle of winter. Better to wait until April or so to visit that place safely.

-James


Christopher is from Alaska... At 8800 feet, does the snow melt or is a snow cap until summer?

Jon

#13 MikeRatcliff

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 10:39 PM

In the desert areas I frequent (Joshua Tree National Park, Landers, and Johnson Valley) the west has a significant light dome from the LA metro area.

One thought might be some of the campgrounds along Highway 101 west of Santa Barbara. You would get ocean to the south and southwest.

Mike

#14 Mike E.

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 06:31 AM

About 4 hours north west of Los angeles is San Antonio Lake. The north shore campground is mostly deserted until May. There'a little store/gas station by the turnoff that has food and camping supplies. Just to the west of the lake is an area called Bryson, probably the darkest skies you will find in California, however, its mostly private land.

About an hour north of San Luis Obispo along Highway 1, is Kirk Creek Campground on the coast; roughly 5 hours from LA. From there you can take the well paved Naciniento-Fergusson road up to about the 2000ft level, within a couple of miles. There are turnouts to park with clear unobstructed views of ocean horizon. There are no houses along the road, and it is usually blocked off about 20 miles inland by the military base, so you should not experience any traffic while observing.

Hope this info is of use to you.

#15 Starman1

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Posted 19 January 2013 - 01:14 AM

SoCal.
Good dark sites (I've tried them all):
--Mt. Laguna (near San Diego) Decent Blue zone site
--Amboy Crater. Decent Blue to Gray zone site.
--Desert Center (slightly north of on the 177), about 35 miles from Blythe, north of the 10 Blue to Gray zone site
--Cottonwood Springs Campground, Joshua Tree, or Smoke Tree Wash north of the campground: good blue zone site
--Mt. Pinos at the Chula Vista parking lot (8350'): best site close to LA. Varies from Green zone to Blue zone during the year and sometimes the night. If it's not snowed in (and it rarely is for more than a month), it's a decent site all winter. You have to be ready to sit outside at 5-10 degrees during the coldest times, but most of the winter the cold temps are in the high teens or low 20s--about the same as the desert. Not too bad if you have the clothes. I've been there nearly every month (for 35 years) it's clear and I've even shoveled snow away to put the scope down.

There are many sites that are OK in a pinch, but are brighter, so not as desirable(mostly geen zones):
--Borrego Springs in Anza-Borrego
--Anza site of the OCA
--Little Blair Valley near San Diego
--Tierra del Sol site of SDAA
--Landers site (GMARS) of the RAS
--Lockwood Valley near Mt. Pinos (home of LAAS)
--Chuckawalla mtns near Desert Center but south of the 10
--Julian
--Mt. Palomar
Most of these are closer to cities, so more popular for easy access, but they are always brighter than the sites first listed.

The darkest I've seen in SoCal (on the SQM scale) is 21.89 at Mt. Pinos during a winter month in which the entirety of SoCal was under 6000' of clouds. And 21.85 at Desert Center when the entire city of LA was covered with clouds all the way to Palm Springs. Normal at those sites is 21.4 and 21.6 respectively.

Mike's site is quite dark, but it'd be considered central California rather than Southern. And if we're going there, there's Grandview Campground on White Mountain (Gray Zone), and the Scotty's Castle area of Death Valley (Gray Zone) as well as his Lake San Antonio on the west side of the state (Gray Zone). And I'd have to add the inland site of the CCAS as well (blue zone).
--

#16 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 19 January 2013 - 06:21 AM

The darkest I've seen in SoCal (on the SQM scale) is 21.89 at Mt. Pinos during a winter month in which the entirety of SoCal was under 6000' of clouds.



Indeed... Our place is on the desert slope of the Lagunas, a few miles from Anza-Borrego, it's a blue zone. Normally there are substantial light domes from Mexicali-El Centro and from San Diego but if the clouds seal them off, it's dark, dark.

In terms of Southern California Dark Skies, one doesn't have to travel far in the Mexico to reach black zones.

Jon

#17 mikewirths

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 07:06 PM

Jon and all,

The black zones in Baja California are very extensive, I'm sure there are dozens of potential great observing spots to be found especially in the Sierra La Gigante south of the small village of Loreto in Baja Sur. The black zones between the light polluted areas of La Paz/Cabo San Lucas and Cuidad Constitucion might offer reasonably low latitude (24-25 degrees N) observing sites for better views of Omega Centuri and Centaurus A. I've never been south of the Catavina desert but one day I'd like to take my 18" and my small pop up camper to explore these areas!

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#18 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 09:48 AM

Jon and all,

The black zones in Baja California are very extensive, I'm sure there are dozens of potential great observing spots to be found especially in the Sierra La Gigante south of the small village of Loreto in Baja Sur. The black zones between the light polluted areas of La Paz/Cabo San Lucas and Cuidad Constitucion might offer reasonably low latitude (24-25 degrees N) observing sites for better views of Omega Centuri and Centaurus A. I've never been south of the Catavina desert but one day I'd like to take my 18" and my small pop up camper to explore these areas!


Mike:

That is a most intriguing map.

So, when are we going? I have Nissan Frontier with a campershell..

My best friend lives in Totos Santos which on the Pacific Coast between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas....

Jon

#19 psandelle

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 10:58 AM

Jon - because of you guys, I'm gonna go to that Baja Astro Inn place this summer. The Baja seems the place to be! Now I just have to rent a four-wheel drive....

Paul

#20 mikewirths

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 03:13 PM

Paul: look forward to meeting you!!

Jon: sure I'd be up for an exploratory trip to scout observing spots! My Wifes uncle is Harry Crosby the authority on Bajas cave paintings (maybe you've seen his books..) I am going to shoot him an e-mail to get his take on where he thinks some good areas might be to explore.

cheers

Mike

#21 csrlice12

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 03:16 PM

Just purchase some astronomy equipment and bring it with you. You won't have to worry about viewing then...... :lol:

#22 Gordon Rayner

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 11:45 PM

I have been an astro tourist in Baja. Reaching a dark site there in four hours from LA is not realistic, especially considering a probable long wait in line at the border when returning .
The transborder region east of Tecate is now plagued by the unshielded , but yellow, lights at the prison at El Hongo, southeast across the border from the SDAA site at Tierra del Sol, and by the growth of Tecate and Mexicali( which is an especially bad light emitter for its size).

Given more time, a durable pickup or other reasonably high clearanced vehicle ( 4WD not needed, but would be useful/almost essential at one place enroute to Laguna Hanson from the north, for example. My 2WD high clearance pickup slipped and slid uphill on granite in two attempts, southbound, at what I recall to be El Zapo), Laguna Hanson NE of Ensenada, some sites east and southeast of Ensenada, enroute to San Felipe, darker fields around Ojos Negros, if fallow ( habla Espanol ? ( with the tilde on the n)) are some possibilities.

I have not explored off the road to San Felipe after leaving Ojos Negros, except briefly in the daytime, but did not return. There are some deserted ranchy looking sideroads, and little traffic on the main road. There is a dark site, Pino Colorado, listed east of Ojos Negros on the Clear Sky Charts website http://cleardarksky.com . Not as high as Laguna Hanson, but closer to Ensenada( whose light pollution is negligible at that distance, and is often covered by marine layer clouds at night).

If visiting Laguna Hanson, there are many camping and observing sites with unimpeded views. But weekends can be well-used by campers from Ensenada, or well-wheeled Tijuanans coming on the rougher road from the north. Weekdays are practically deserted. Once I did not see even a ranger, on a weekday. There are ample sanitary facilities, but no food that I recall. I think that there was water available. Migratory birds and resident birds use the lake, usually a broad, multi-lobed pond . I watched merlin falcons chasing magpies (? I have forgotten)for sport only, for over an hour.

On the road from Ensenada to Tecate, one can leave the road after it climbs out of the Guadalupe valley. At Ejido Ignacio Zaragossa, turn east, climb on a gravelled road, to the summit. Friendly rancher said "no problem". But many cattle odors. One would choose to sleep in or atop a vehicle, as I did after observing at a more cattle-free, but lower site between the summit and the Ejido.

The road to San Pedro Martir Observatory is paved nearly all the way. Camping at Vallecitos, at 8000 or 9000 feet will give skies extremely dark, with big open clearings for nearly unimpeded views to the south, darker than very dark ( except for residual glow low in the NE from Mexicali) Laguna Hanson ( about 5500 feet). But there can be snow remaining in the meadows below San Pedro Martir observatory in late winter . You might see a zoo-raised condor. I saw two, with big mounted binoculars,gliding high to roost and be fed, above the Meling Ranch, which is not far from the astro/horse rancho of Mike Wirths(in this thread) and his wife. The aspens at high altitude in the fall, between Rancho Meling and the Mexican National Observatory, are shimmering gold.

At the southern end of the Peninsula, hotels,etc. are a lighting problem. Todos Santos can be foggy/marine layery.
I was on a bus and/or bicycle, and only briefly, several times. I suspect that good dark views of Crux and Eta Carinae, are available on the hopefully yet undeveloped dirt(?)road near the shoreline between the East Cape region and San Jose del Cabo. In season , all of Crux can be seen with a clear view to the south around San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, or the East Cape , but it is near the horizon.

A topographic problem is the E-W lying transverse ridges in the region south of La Paz. They block the view to the south from otherwise suitable inland telescope/binocular/camping/ rental sleeping places. Alpha and Beta Centauri may be up sufficiently, but the bottom of Crux might be hidden. The best part of Scorpio , the western part of the bottom of the "tail", is well up.

#23 careysub

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 04:40 PM

The most interesting looking area in the Baja map for getting a good southern horizon view appears on Google Maps as El Conejo (24.075697,-111.006289) on the coast.

It is on the coast south of Highway 1 on the way to La Paz, but actually slightly south of La Paz, in the zone that looks black on the satellite light map.

Although the coast at El Conejo itself faces west if you went up or down the coast from there a a mile or so to get away from strictly local lighting you would be on south-facing coast. Going north on this road from El Conejo would put you deeper into the black zone.

Does anyone know anything at all about this area?

About all I find on-line is this:
"El Conejo is located in Mexico's Baja California region. It's not much of a tourist destination, and other travel spots such as Cabo San Lucas may be more interesting to explore in this area of Mexico."

For astronomers this by itself is a good thing, but some site where you can camp at least is necessary.

It is a long drive from LA or even San Diego, but it looks like in April you could see all of Crux, Alpha Centauri, and Eta Carinae above the horizon, and with Omega Centauri and Centaurus A (etc.) high in the sky. Looks a like a good location for week-long trip.

#24 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 09:29 AM

Carey:

I would like to see a light pollution map of the area, do you have a handy link?

My best friend lives in Todos Santos which is somewhat further south between La Paz and Cabo, it's right on the tropic of Cancer. I have never been down there but I will be going sometime soon.

If you haven't driven the road between Tijuana and La Paz, it's a different experience than driving the US two lane roads. Five or six years ago, my friend and his wife were somewhat south of Gruerro Negro and a drunk driver lost control after making a pass and they were hit essentially head on.

I made a rush to rescue them from a Motel room... The roads are narrow, most places there are no shoulders and the road bed is elevated. There are a lot of trucks and their side is just barely wide enough for a truck so you really have to be careful.

As far as camping, I am not sure what it is like now, 40 years ago before drugs were a big thing, you could camp just about anywhere but things have changed.

Jon

#25 mikewirths

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 01:28 PM

Gordon, Jon and Carey,

The trouble with any area between La Paz and Cabo is that the best you are going to find is a grey zone, that said the Laguna moutain biosphere reserve has some good altitude sites by the looks of it in the Baja Almanac (plate 52) there is a ranger station right in the heart of the sierra at 1600M (no idea what the horizons might be like though). El Conejo looks easy to get to but its still in the grey zone and has very little elevation.

There is a fairly large strip of black class skies south of Loreto on the east side of the penninsula located in the sierra La Gigante, although the altitude is nothing like the sierra San Pedro Martir, still the stretch of road that leads SW of Loreto passing through San Javier appears to have many sideroads leading into the mountains. This region looks promising for future exploration.

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