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So. California Dark Sky Sites, Share your opinion?

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#26 careysub

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 02:14 PM

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


I am going by the same satellite data derived map used in an earlier post on this thread. I had previously download the same map (complete) from:

http://www.lightpoll..._northam_Vb.zip

Its colors do not exactly match the "color zones" others use to characterize sites, but it should be a good relative guide at least. I suspect that even the "dead black" areas in the map have their darker regions.

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


Thanks - the road conditions were pretty much what I expected to hear (places get reps for a reason).

Unfortunately astronomy vacations involve bulky, heavy, delicate equipment and it is hard and expensive to travel by air with it - so the motivation to drive if possible is strong.

I'll have to get some Baja camping guides (there are a number that are fairly recent). I note that the State Department does not have a travel advisory Baja California Sur. All the problems (in Baja) are in the inhabited areas along the border.

There is a useful video here:
http://www.bajainsid...road-report.htm
of a drive from La Paz to Loreto that crosses the same stretch just above La Paz to get to El Conejo. This stretch at least looks about the same conditions (2-lane paved, shoulderless) as 395 to China Lake 30 years ago (my wife and I always traveled by the full moon if he had to go at night) or the Ortega Highway today (I avoid it).

I can't possibly be the only amateur astronomer in Southern California who has thought of going there. I'll have to ask around the RAS to see in anyone knows anything.

#27 careysub

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 03:28 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.


Thanks, hearing that the black-map area near the border in "only" gray is what I suspected. Various sources claim that this map matches the Bortle zones, but the match seems approximate comparing Don's descriptions at various sites to the map coloration using Google Earth.

There is only one below the northern counties of California that is black on the map, the Mesquite Springs/Scotty's Castle area in Death Valley. Yet Don describes the area as "grey".

The point of going all the way down to El Conejo, instead of enjoying the dark skies around the Mexico National Observatory much closer to the border, is to see the southern band of sky south of -40, not visible (or not well seen) from home. So getting the absolute blackest skies is less important than getting a view of the southern horizon, and there should be "dark dome" over the ocean. Higher altitude is good, but only if you have a southern horizon view.

The Winter Star Party seems popular even though they view at sea level. El Conejo is about 3.5 degrees farther south. Around El Conejo getting up out of an ocean haze layer at least seems possible if any exists.

#28 Crazyhorse1876

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 08:40 PM

If you are going to be stuck just in the Southern California area around L.A./Orange County or the Inland Empire you may want to try "The Greater Orange County Astronomy Starparty" near Lake Elsinore at what they call the Alder Observatory. Also Mt Palomar Observatory and the campgrounds there are about a 25 minute drive south off the I-15 from the Lake Elsinore area. Not at all the dark sky's you may be looking for but just to give you an option if you can't travel far for a day or two while you are in the So Cal area.

#29 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 08:44 AM

This stretch at least looks about the same conditions (2-lane paved, shoulderless) as 395 to China Lake 30 years ago (my wife and I always traveled by the full moon if he had to go at night) or the Ortega Highway today (I avoid it).



I think the difference is that Baja 1 is the main road so there can be a lot of traffic and there are a lot of trucks. Trucks going the other way can be scary, long lines can buildup behind trucks so a lot of hairy passes by oncoming cars and trucks, you have be ready to drive off the shoulder.

Jon

#30 Starman1

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 06:58 PM

Note:
In SoCal, "marine-layer" clouds often cover the coastal areas at night and suppress light. When that happens, sites to the east get a lot darker.
Under similar optimum conditions, I've seen mag.21.85 at Mt. Pinos, 21.89 at Desert Center and 21.78 at Joshua Tree Nat'l Park (east side)
Those sites are now averaging 21.3, 21.6, and 21.45 respectively.
This seldom happens in Death Valley because the major light polluters are almost never covered by low clouds.

#31 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 10:21 AM

Note:
In SoCal, "marine-layer" clouds often cover the coastal areas at night and suppress light. When that happens, sites to the east get a lot darker.
Under similar optimum conditions, I've seen mag.21.85 at Mt. Pinos, 21.89 at Desert Center and 21.78 at Joshua Tree Nat'l Park (east side)
Those sites are now averaging 21.3, 21.6, and 21.45 respectively.
This seldom happens in Death Valley because the major light polluters are almost never covered by low clouds.


:waytogo:

At our place in eastern San Diego county, when the marine layer covers San Diego and clouds cover El Centro-Mexicali to the east, it can be dark, dark.

Jon

#32 csrlice12

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 11:42 AM

"The trouble with any area between La Paz and Cabo is that the best you are going to find is a grey zone"

Oh, the agony, the best you can do is a grey zone.... :lol:

#33 Whichwayisnorth

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 06:06 PM

I am a member of SDAA and RAS but haven't yet to the SDAA site. I just don't seem to ever have time. For my dark skies I am typically limited to a once a year trip to Mt. Laguna, Borrego Springs for Nightfall (Oct 31-Nov 2nd 2013), and the RAS site at GMARS. I really like Mt. Laguna but it only has restrooms. I don't recall there being showers there. Borrego Springs Palm Canyon Resort for Nightfall is nice in that it is a hotel and camp ground that goes dark for the event even changing out the lights with red lights. Having a nice room with heat/air and hot showers is always a plus. GMARS is nice because there are cement pads available most of the time, there is plenty of room to sleep indoors or camp outdoors. Full kitchen, hot showers and AC power at the telescope. Lots of light domes though.

#34 Starman1

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 06:28 PM

It's been my experience that Astronomy Clubs tend to pick sites that are a little too close to cities to get the darkest skies. The reasons are many, and often involve what facilities can be installed. But the primary reason is that having a site farther out, where the skies are darker, discourages people from driving the distance to get there.
The GMARS site near Landers, the Anza site of the OCA, and the Lockwood Valley site of the LAAS are good examples.
Each of these sites could have been significantly darker with an additional 50 miles.

The Central Coast Astronomical Society has a couple sites; one of which is close to town, and brighter, the other of which is farther out and WAY darker. Guess which site gets all the traffic, even though the distant site is still ridiculously close by SoCal standards.

So it's always a compromise, it seems.

As an individual, though, you have the ability to travel nearly anywhere. But, even there, the desire to drive the extra distance for an over-nighter may be lacking. I go to the East side of JT Nat'l Park because the West side is just too light-polluted. But 35 additional miles east, the skies are darker. Yet, I often avoid the extra 70 miles round trip just because of the extra time I'd spend on the road. So we each draw our lines at different places.

Mt. Laguna is so close to San Diego, I'd go there all the time if I lived in SD.
Mt. Pinos is the closest dark site to LA, and it's at least 90 miles from West LA. And the slow creep of light pollution is killing that site. Future generations will not experience the darkness we took for granted a generation ago. I expect to see a day fairly soon where the nearest dark sites to LA are a 4-5 hour drive. People will still be going to the closer, more light-polluted, sites because of the distance.

To those contemplating getting away from the city to observe, my advice is to get away from the city. Look at the light pollution maps and consider the blue zones to be as poor as you should accept, and if you can, choose a grey zone site (there are no black zones in SoCal). The difference is profound.

#35 Whichwayisnorth

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 06:51 PM

In the case of GMARS it used to be really dark out there. That club has had that sight for a very long time. Very hard to abandon such a developed site. Providence Mountain state preserve and the Mojave National preserve are really dark but those state parks have been closed down so there are no camping locations that I know of.

#36 Starman1

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Posted 12 February 2013 - 01:22 AM

Try Afton Campground and Amboy Crater as two sites with dark skies:
http://cleardarksky....CyCCAkey.html?1
http://cleardarksky....yCtCAkey.html?1
Both are grey zone sites.






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