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Death Valley Road Trip - Nov 2019

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#1 smartc

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 09:27 AM

Hey folks,

 

Seems I have more vacation time than I knew what to do with this year.  (Or, more accurately, than I could find time to take.)  So I’m planning a solo trip to Death Valley at end of November (New Moon).  I’ve never been out there and looking for any suggestions of favourite observing locations...  I have done the preliminary research and there are the obvious (Mesquitte Flats, Badwater Basin, etc.) but there’s nothing quite like boots-on-the-ground / been-there-done-that advice to narrow things down.

 

Any suggestions for good observing / astro-photo sites.  I’ll be flying into Vegas and driving out so gear will be limited to what I can pack...  Star Adventurer, Canon T4i (modified) and a few lenses ranging from 10mm to 135mm.  Might look into one more lens before I go (WO Red Cat) but prioritizing cash to travel funds.

 

Any suggestions for a first time star-gazing trip to DV?  Or suggestions for good guidebooks that include at least some attention to astro?  (Maybe “bump your trip a week to avoid Thanksgiving” is something I should consider too!)

 

Cheers!

Corey

 

 



#2 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 10:02 AM

Corey:

 

Death Valley during the holiday season and in the cooler months can be quite a zoo.  You might want to divide your time between doing the tourist thing in Death Valley and the astronomy thing at some location not far away but without the people. Bumping the trip a week is probably wise.

 

One possibility is the Mojave Preserve but there's many others.

 

Jon


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#3 smartc

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 10:25 AM

Corey:

 

Death Valley during the holiday season and in the cooler months can be quite a zoo.  You might want to divide your time between doing the tourist thing in Death Valley and the astronomy thing at some location not far away but without the people. Bumping the trip a week is probably wise.

 

One possibility is the Mojave Preserve but there's many others.

 

Jon

 

Thanks, Jon.

 

Being Canadian it took me a little while to figure out why it was so busy there that week when I was booking rooms...  First thought was “surely new moon can’t be *that* popular”.  foreheadslap.gif Reluctant to give up the new moon but should still get a few hours of true dark in first week of December.

 

I will definitely take a look at the Mojave Preserve.  Wasn’t on my radar until now but looks like a good option!

 

Corey



#4 John Tucker

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 11:02 AM

Second the above.  Just a bit south of the Mojave Preserve is the Mojave Trails National Monument, which is about the most isolated place I've ever seen and looks like an excellent spot if you don't mind roughing it. Its at the top of my list of places I want to go with my telescope.

 

There is about a 50 mile stretch along either Amboy Road or Kelbaker Road, I don't remember which, where you just pass dirt road off about every 3 to 5 miles.  Its all public land and you can just drive back there and camp, and there won't be a Winnegabo or lighted restroom for 50 miles in any direction.  

 

This looks pretty forbidding, but there are some obvious places to camp.  And its beautful. 

 

Bring plenty of food and water.  The nearest restaurant is a one hour drive.

 

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Edited by John Tucker, 23 September 2019 - 11:03 AM.

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#5 B 26354

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 11:05 AM

I'll second Jon's sentiments. I lived in Lone Pine CA for three years back in the early '90s, and spent many hundreds of hours hiking, backpacking and mountain-biking Death Valley (which, by the way, is enormous). Unless you know it well, and are prepared to camp in an area that's well away from the valley floor, visiting there during a fall/winter holiday is a nightmare, because everyone from SoCal and the Vegas area goes there to party.

 

Also... because it'll be end-of November / beginning-of-December, don't assume that wherever you end up camping will necessarily be "warm" -- especially at night. Be prepared for cold.


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#6 John Tucker

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 11:19 AM

Will add that I was out that way in Februrary, when Death Valley and the Joshua Tree Nat'l monument were PACKED.  The Trails National Monument is pretty much completely undeveloped, and not much of anyone goes out there, even in winter.  I think I passed campers that were visible from the road twice over the course of driving for an hour or so. 


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#7 Migwan

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 11:30 AM

Cold is relative.  If your from western BC you''ll think its quite cold at night.  If from Ontario, maybe not so bad.  I have visited the Mohave in January the last two years and found that uninsulated boots, fleece lined jeans and a jacket over a hoody was fine.  Not exactly night time winter wear to me.  Now if you go for elevation, bring the artic wear.

 

Doesn't sound like your camping, so if you want avoid the wild herd, be prepared to drive a bit.  Its worth it.  Didn't have any disappointments with the skies there.  Til you've seen Death Valley, you've never seen a real hole.  It awesome.   Enjoy.

 

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#8 smartc

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 06:24 PM

Awesome... Thanks guys!

 

I’ve got a hotel booked at Stovepipe Wells for now, but I think that is going to change.  (I was “iffy” on that anyway but figured I should book something the way things looked.)  Original plan was to camp but with a 20 hour drive, I decided I’ll get more field time if I fly.  Maybe will reconsider that again as the Mojave Preserve looks very tempting and not sure how I’d handle the camping gear if I fly.  [Edit — I see there are a few reasonably priced RV rental agencies in Vegas...  Varying terms relating to Death Valley or “off highway” use, but maybe something that can work...]

 

Cold is definitely relative... I’m originally from Northern Alberta so -40 (C/F doesn’t matter) is baseline.  I’m out of Calgary now so most of my winter imaging nights are in the -15C to -25C at the worst of it.  [Granted I have a permanent observatory setup so I can do most of the work from the house.]  I lived in Mexico for a while so I’m familiar with scorpions and what it feels like at night in the desert.   I’ll be sure to pack a few layers and some thermal socks.

 

Appreciate the insights and advice...  Happy to hear of other suggestions as well if anyone has something.

 

Cheers!

Corey


Edited by smartc, 23 September 2019 - 07:27 PM.

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#9 John Tucker

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:39 PM

Sounds like a great trip. If I still lived in CA I'd offer to meet you and split the RV cost.
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#10 Alex McConahay

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Posted 24 September 2019 - 06:32 PM

For those unfamiliar with Bureau of Land Management, the west (in particular) of the United States is crisscrossed by mining, logging, and other roads. And, unless otherwise posted, you can pull off almost anywhere and stay for a couple of weeks. No campground necessary. Needless to say, that part of the world (Death Valley) is one of the darker places around. Curiously, you cannot pull over just anywhere and camp in Death Valley National Park. But you can pull off in any one of a number of places in the park, set up your equipment, and stay up all night. 

 

Outside of the park, though, you can generally pull a quarter mile off the main road on some mining road, and just do whatever you generally like. 

 

Be sure to catch some nightscapes from Zabriskie Point, and do some light painting of Borax Trains in the foreground with the stars in the background. 

 

Alex


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#11 smartc

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Posted 24 September 2019 - 08:05 PM

Thanks! Haven't actually tried light painting myself (aside from a few night photos of family dogs... Don't ask) but I like the effect so its another on-the-list item. :)

And I definitely need to do some homework before I go. Borax seems like a big deal in the history of the park but I'm clearly uneducated on that part. Always more to learn!

Corey

Edited by smartc, 24 September 2019 - 08:08 PM.


#12 Sam Danigelis

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Posted 24 September 2019 - 08:50 PM

I've spent lots of time in the Mojave, day and night. Wear a pair of ballistic nylon gaiters to protect against snakes. Don't put your hands anywhere you havent looked first. Bring lots of water, food. Give someone a copy of your itinerary and contact phone numbers for local sheriffs or park rangers. If I'm alone, I have arranged times to call home. Cellphone service is surprisingly good in many places.
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#13 smartc

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Posted 24 September 2019 - 09:51 PM

Thanks for the tip... I was wondering about snake protection. Didn't know such things exist but I see they are on Amazon.

I've already got a UV light for scorpions. (Had one crawl out of my shirt collar and try to go down my shirt while I was brushing my teeth one night in Mexico...) I do geocaching with the kids in the rockies here. Same rules apply about hands and dark places even if consequences are likely less severe. I used to work with a bunch of Aussies who were all paranoid about bears and wolves... I told them "at least you can see them coming!"

Was planning to rent a Spot X2 before I go. A few places here that rent them. Mostly focussed on avalanche rescue for back country skiers or skidooers but work just as well in the desert. Good to know there is cell coverage too... Not sure I will let the guys at work know that tho. ;)

Corey

Edited by smartc, 24 September 2019 - 09:52 PM.


#14 Sam Danigelis

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Posted 24 September 2019 - 10:43 PM

A bit more... I usually stop at Walmart and pick up a giant styrofoam cooler, and a couple large bags of ice, and about 5 gallon jugs of drinking water. Be careful of driving dirt roads in the desert. Some sandy washes have deep sand that you can get stuck in. Be prepared for intense heat by day, and temps approaching freezing at night. Wide brim safari hat, long-sleeve cotton t-shirts for daytime.
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#15 Alex McConahay

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Posted 24 September 2019 - 11:14 PM

>>>>>> Be prepared for intense heat by day,
 

Not so much by Thanksgiving season, though.

 

Alex


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#16 DesertScribe

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Posted 03 October 2019 - 08:56 PM

Unless we get early rain, it's likely to be much, much drier than you're used to, so the suggestions to bring plenty of water should be heeded. I live in the southern Mojave area, on the edge of the San Gabriel foothills, and some days I just can't drink enough water. I suggest some nasal saline, tissues (nosebleeds), and lubricating eye drops too. 

 

By November in this area, it can be so dry that the static electricity is a PITA. Dryer sheets or static cling spray can help with that. The static electricity can actually induce asthma, so if you're predisposed, bring meds. A portable humidifier that plugs into a car cigarette lighter or one that converts a plastic water bottle into a mister can help greatly. 

 

So far, this fall is much cooler than last year. And the air quality is considerably better too, which will hopefully still be the case when you arrive. The fire season in 2018 was horrible; the air was literally brown from June until the December rains. Death Valley is pretty much warmer than anywhere else around here, but when the temperature drops at night, it really plummets. The real feel will be colder than the actual temperature, so bring plenty of layers. Hopefully, the cooler weather will make some of the local fauna less of a threat. 

 

One interesting side trip not too far from DV is the Trona Pinnacles. It's on my list this for this fall. If you Google "astronomy Trona Pinnacles," you'll see why astrophotographers love it. 

 

Enjoy your trip! DV is on my list as well, but as a woman, I'm trying to find a buddy or two to go with me for late night viewing. My sister is a photographer/filmmaker, so I'm trying to lure her with the gorgeous scenery. Hoping you will update us here and let us know how it goes. smile.gif


Edited by DesertScribe, 03 October 2019 - 08:58 PM.


#17 39.1N84.5W

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Posted 09 October 2019 - 04:17 PM

There's one really nice restaurant in Tecopa Springs, towards the bottom of death valley. In addition to great food they know a local guy with a large dobsonian. He lives next door and will observe with anyone. Just ask the restaurant people about the guy with the telescope! It's a tiny village.

Edited by 39.1N84.5W, 09 October 2019 - 05:10 PM.

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#18 mountain monk

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Posted 10 October 2019 - 01:46 PM

Don't worry about rattlesnakes; it will be too cold for them at night. If it's sunny and warm during the day you might find one out sunning that time of year--no problem, just watch where you are walking.

 

I always head to the northern part of he park, usually Eureka Dunes--much darker than the southern areas.

 

Rent a SUV and sleep in the back after setting up your scope--then you don't have to worry about campsites. Just pay for an extra duffle on your ticket. Bring warm clothes, very warm, and a sleeping bag good to 15 degrees. Bring some garbage bags and if the wind and dust get really bad, seal your equipment in them.

 

Have fun.

 

Dark skies.

 

Jack 




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