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Closest dark skies to Orange County CA

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#1 chaoscosmos

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Posted 23 February 2013 - 05:20 AM

Hello all,

I'm wondering if anyone in southern California, particularly Orange County, or those knowledgeable of the area... can suggest a close spot to find reasonably dark skies. I'm in Mission Viejo and my first thought was driving out the Ortega Highway, maybe to the Ronald Caspers park area. If anyone has a general area or specific location that they go to or could suggest, it would be much appreciated. I'm not sure if there's anything with full access to the horizon that's reasonably nearby, but that would be another consideration.

Thanks...

#2 Octans

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Posted 23 February 2013 - 11:53 PM

The best location in the county would probably be Modjeska Peak which can be accessed by taking the Main Divide Road from Ortega Highway north for a while -- not exactly easily accessible, but it does give a near 360-degree clear horizon with dark skies -- especially when there's a marine layer blocking out the light of the cities below.

Caspers is quite dark as well (except to the west) although I don't know if there's anywhere not covered with dry brush with a clear view of the sky.

Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park is also quite dark, based on what I could tell from along Santiago Canyon Road, but it's officially closed at sunset -- not that anyone's going to care if you walk in, but I think the park's parking spaces might be closed. Not quite as good would be a local park in the Foothill Ranch area -- those are always open. Borrego Canyon Overlook park might work, although the western half the sky is super bright.

Another option is O'Neill Regional Park in Rancho Santa Margarita. There's a (normally) dry creek bed that's wide enough (200 ft) for a sizable portion of the sky to be visible. Probably not a good idea to be there after rains (muddy) or during the summer if there are thunderstorms (flooding?).

You might also want to look at the local parks by the 73 toll road. I think there's one near the top of the hills which would be pretty dark when there's low-lying fog present as there almost always is June.

#3 chaoscosmos

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 10:27 PM

Very much appreciated, thanks..

#4 Crazyhorse1876

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Posted 27 February 2013 - 03:05 PM

You might ask these people...http://www.meetup.com/Greater-Orange-County-Astronomy-Starparty/events/calendar/

#5 Jay

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 02:41 AM

Hi Ray,

I live just a few miles East of you near the end of Oso Parkway and we border Caspers Wilderness Park (just a short hike over a single 300' tall ridge). While the skies here are some of the darkest I have found in Orange County it's a stretch to categorize them as "dark". In the summer we can just make out the Milky Way -- something I never saw while growing up in Placentia (North OC).

Attached is a shot I took tonight looking West and toward Rancho Santa Margarita and Mission Viejo. It's an 8 second exposure with a 35mm lens at f/6.3 and ISO 640.

Octans gave you some good tips and I have tried both O'Neil (found it to be surrounded on all sides with light although darkest to the North) and the ridge that leads to Santiago/Modjeska Peaks. I've been trying to time a trip to Blue Jay campground in the Cleveland NF (very near Santiago Peak off of Ortega Hwy) when a heavy marine layer rolls in. If you check the satellite images during May, June and July sometimes you will see all of Orange County and Riverside covered in low clouds with Saddleback Mountain floating right in the middle. I would bet it would be nice and dark on those nights but so far I have yet to time this right.

Right at the entrance to our neighborhood at the end of Oso and just down the road from you is Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park. They do star parties on new moon weekends during the spring and summer.

Jay

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#6 Jay

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 02:45 AM

Here's a shot of Orion taken Feb. 9th from my driveway. It's a slight crop (to straighten) 15 second, 200 mm, f/8, ISO1250 snap. 30 second shots really started to fog from all the light pollution.

Jay

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#7 chaoscosmos

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 03:13 AM

Thanks Jay...

#8 Jeff Phinney

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 10:46 PM

While not as close as the locations mentioned so far, I've always wondered if anyone has looked for an accessible dark sky site between the I-5 and I-15 corridors, North East of Camp Pendleton. I've never explored that area, but every time I drive south at night on the I-5, I'm always struck by how dark it is south of San Onofre.

#9 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 24 April 2013 - 08:29 AM

While not as close as the locations mentioned so far, I've always wondered if anyone has looked for an accessible dark sky site between the I-5 and I-15 corridors, North East of Camp Pendleton. I've never explored that area, but every time I drive south at night on the I-5, I'm always struck by how dark it is south of San Onofre.


That area is quite remote but it according to the light pollution map, it's not that great. Finding a Blue Zone from Orange county is a long drive however you look at it.

This is the light pollution map for the region around Fallbrook CA.

Jon

#10 Jay

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 10:34 PM

May grey and June gloom are already here in Southern California. Attached is a GOES visible light shot from last June:

http://www.cloudynig...9_TuesSMALL.jpg

I drove up Ortega Hwy twice in 2012 to catch Saddleback Mountain floating above a sea of low clouds, like the satellite image shows, but gave up after both efforts failed. After that I headed to the Mojave National Preserve where dark skies are more predictable.

I would bet these same low clouds can give Mt. Laguna in San Diego County nice dark skies too.

Jay

#11 Jeff Phinney

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 04:33 PM

Jay, those clouds resulting from the marine layer do a pretty job of blocking most of the light from urban San Diego, but that "urban" is beginning to creep eastward out from underneath those clouds. Plus there is still the glow emanating from out of the Imperial Valley that's getting worse with time.

The night skies are not the ones I experienced there in my youth 35-40 yrs. ago, but all in all, for the time being, Mt. Laguna is still a very good dark sky sight with a number of easily accessible locations and spots for setting up. Plus it's not that far of a drive for me(1 hr from SD).

#12 Jeff Phinney

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 05:07 PM

Jon, I've always wondered about it and oddly enough in all these years, I've never taken time to explore this part of So. California.

Yeah, there are better dark sky sites closer to us that the both of us have easy access to, but I've often wondered where someone living in Orange County could go to close by if they lived in that neck of the woods. The only spots that seemed reasonable would be those areas I mentioned earlier. Not knowing what accessibility is like in that area or if there are any convenient spots to to set up, it seemed like a decent compromise between distance driven and the resulting quality of the skies. At least better than those sites mentioned by others earlier in this thread.

While I'm at it, has anyone taken the opportunity to view the night skies from Catalina Island(at the high point on the road just South f the airport) or the Channel Islands. It's the views to the South that I think would be worth while with no sky glow or domes in that direction. Such a shame that San Clemente island sits on the edge of a grey zone with nothing to the South but is off limits for obvious reasons.

#13 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 06:53 PM

Yeah, there are better dark sky sites closer to us that the both of us have easy access to, but I've often wondered where someone living in Orange County could go to close by if they lived in that neck of the woods.



I think that region you mentioned, generally north-east of Camp Pendleton, is quite remote, difficult to get to. It's one of those things, a lot of driving and you are still right in the middle of the Socal light dome. I may be wrong but I think driving due east gets you more for your time and money.

Jon

Jon

#14 terraclarke

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 10:36 AM

While I'm at it, has anyone taken the opportunity to view the night skies from Catalina Island(at the high point on the road just South f the airport) or the Channel Islands. It's the views to the South that I think would be worth while with no sky glow or domes in that direction. Such a shame that San Clemente island sits on the edge of a grey zone with nothing to the South but is off limits for obvious reasons.


I don't know if the Navy still conducts exercises actively shelling San Clemente Island but I've heard that its littered with much unexploded ordinance. If that be the case an observer may have more worries than just light pollution.

:dabomb:

#15 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 11:15 AM


While I'm at it, has anyone taken the opportunity to view the night skies from Catalina Island(at the high point on the road just South f the airport) or the Channel Islands. It's the views to the South that I think would be worth while with no sky glow or domes in that direction. Such a shame that San Clemente island sits on the edge of a grey zone with nothing to the South but is off limits for obvious reasons.


I don't know if the Navy still conducts exercises actively shelling San Clemente Island but I've heard that its littered with much unexploded ordinance. If that be the case an observer may have more worries than just light pollution.

:dabomb:


In the mid 1970s I was a commercial fisherman and spent a fair amount of time working out of the south end of San Clemente Island. At that time they were doing quite a bit of gunnery practice.

One year, right before Christmas, the Navy rounded up the unexploded ordinance around Pyramid Cove where we were anchored. We had gotten the word that they were going to begin setting it off at 8am the next morning so we were prepared to pick up anchor and move the "mother boat", we were working Lobsters out of skiffs. I think we were about a half mile off the beach.

Well the first blast went off at 7:00 am and I can still remmeber the sound of the shrapnel as it came winging past, with several splashes in the water between our boat and the next guy over.. We were out there quick.

A few years later, a boat working nets on the west side exploded, the family believed it was the result of unexploded ordinance but there was no one left and not enough evidence to prove one way or the other.

Jon

#16 Jeff Phinney

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 12:52 PM


A few years later, a boat working nets on the west side exploded, the family believed it was the result of unexploded ordinance but there was no one left and not enough evidence to prove one way or the other.

Jon


Yeah, I remember when that happened and it wasn't the first time, either.

Pretty brave of you, I guess everyone has to make a living somehow.
Personally, I wouldn't go dragging nets of any kind or anything else through the waters anywhere near that place.

#17 chaoscosmos

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 10:11 AM

Yesterday I found a spot that appeared to be ideal on a good stretch of public road leading to hiking/biking trails. Black Star Canyon Road is off Silverado Canyon Road within a 100 yards or so of the juncture to Santiago Canyon Road/ El Toro Rd. There is just one minor detail that could be an issue...

#18 chaoscosmos

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 10:15 AM

ooops, here's the issue:

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#19 Tony Flanders

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 10:22 AM

"Your safety cannot be guaranteed" is a great warning -- applicable to every time and place on Earth or off it.

In practice, I bet that rattlesnakes are a bigger risk than cougars. And as always, road accidents are a much bigger risk than either of those.

#20 mountain monk

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 02:55 PM

Chaoscosmos,

Yes, there have been attacks, but they are rare. At present we have 18 cougars in Jackson Hole, some of them in suburban areas. No one has been injured or killed, though they do kill dogs. But then we have more grizzlies and wolves here than cougars, and I just learned we have three two-year-old grizzly cubs near us... so. No rattlesnakes.

Not to worry too much, Carry pepper spray and enjoy the stars.

Dark skies,

Jack

#21 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 03:10 PM

"Your safety cannot be guaranteed" is a great warning -- applicable to every time and place on Earth or off it.

In practice, I bet that rattlesnakes are a bigger risk than cougars. And as always, road accidents are a much bigger risk than either of those.


If I am not mistaken, a mountain biker was killed by a cougar not so long ago riding somewhere in Orange County.

Jon

#22 Jeff Phinney

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 03:45 PM


If I am not mistaken, a mountain biker was killed by a cougar not so long ago riding somewhere in Orange County.

Jon


Yet no recorded mountain attacks on astronomers that I know of. It's my understanding that these the cats can sense when they've come across anything far to stringy and hard to digest.

Need I say more....?

#23 Jay

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 06:00 PM

They're definitely out there. Just be aware of where you are and your surroundings and have fun! The shot on the left was taken on a trail about 200 yards from my house and the shot on the right from Riley Wilderness Park at the entrance to our neighborhood.

In 1986 a five year old girl was mauled by a Cougar in Caspers Wilderness Park. Her parents sued and won $2.1 million dollars because there were wild animals in the wild-erness park. The park was closed to children under 18 for years after that.

Last year at Starr Ranch Sancturary we listened to a research scientist tell us they have collared and are tracking as many as 30 mountain lion in the Santa Ana mountain area.

Jay

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#24 chaoscosmos

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 06:16 PM

Need a buddy system, with scope set up close to the car. While one astronomer looks through the eyepiece, the other keeps watch. Apparently mountain lions find human hearts to be a snacking delicacy. Yikes..

I wonder if having a dog along would attract these big cats.

#25 Jay

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 06:18 PM

Hi Ray,

Did you try the canyon just north of Blackstar? Silverado Canyon ends at a gate that is usually open. With a high clearance vehicle (4 wheel drive helps) you can climb up to the Main Divide road from there. It's a beautiful drive and once at the top you can see all of OC and its coast as well as into Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Just thinking it might be easier than hiking a scope in. Ha!

Regarding bringing a pooch: If it's a big dog and not snack sized it would definitely add to your protection. Healthy cougars, from what I've been told, don't usually attack human adults so I wouldn't think bringing the dog would be absolutely necessary.

Jay






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