Orion Bear Astronomy usually does their public Deep Sky Parties at the Cottonwood Campground in Joshua Tree National Park. This area of the park is further east, about 30 miles east of Indio, CA.
If you have seen one of our events advertising a Deep Sky Party, then this is the post you should be reading. This should give you all the info on how to attend, what to expect, and how to behave!
So… How Do I Get There?
From Interstate 10, the correct exit number is 168 onto Cottonwood Spring Rd. There are signs all over the place that help direct you towards Joshua Tree National Park, but if you’re unsure, you will be heading up the long straight road before you drive into a mountain pass. If you take the wrong way, you won’t see any signs welcoming you into the park!
Once you enter the park, along the way, you will see a parking lot for the Bajada Nature Trail. Use this stop to send any last messages you need, because as you continue north, once you go through the mountain pass, you will lose cell service!
You will eventually arrive at a (paved) fork, where there is a visitor center. Make a right at the fork, and head down that road until you see a left turn into the campground areas. There’s three possible spots where I like to have my stuff setup: 1. in front of a designated site if I reserved one. 2. As close to the picnic area in the group site parking lot as possible – which are first come first serve and don’t require reservations. 3. at the Cottonwood Spring Trail Parking lot, which in that case you head straight instead of turning left into the campgrounds.
Make sure you touch base with me to see where exactly I plan on being, as there is no cell service!
The site is located in the high desert, about 3,000 feet in elevation, thus has extreme differences in temperature based on the season. During the summer, the temperatures can be nice at night, but during the winter, you can be dealing with below freezing conditions! Always check the weather.
Since you will be traversing the high desert landscape, even during the summer, pants and shoes are highly recommended! Because of some thorny fauna and plenty of critters that like to land on people, I also recommend exposing as little skin as possible. As you can see in the images above, we have encountered the native wildlife, and had to watch out for cholla bushes, which can ruin your night if you’re not careful. Scorpions (which are more warm weather creatures) are actually easy to detect because they glow under UV lights, and kids love searching for them.
How Is The Weather Looking?
Here are several resources that will give you a better idea what the weather can be like out there.
This is cleardarksky’s forecast over Cottonwood. When it comes to clouds, transparency, and seeing conditions, the darker the shade of blue, the better. You can visit the page to learn more what the colors mean. Wind will affect how comfortable you are, and if imaging is possible.
ECMWF – European Center For Medium Range Weather Forecasts – temperatures are listed in Celsius, but do give a good detailed outlook on cloud cover and wind. . Just remember, 0° C is the same as 32° F, and 32° C is the same as about 90° F. To get the temperature in Fahrenheit, you multiply the Celsius temperature by 9/5 (1.8) and then add 32.
Note: If the ECMWF Link doesn’t get you directly to the listed forecast, search “Cottonwood Spring, Riverside” and of the two listings with the same name in the search results, it’s the one with the elevation 912 m.
In the event the party gets cancelled due to bad weather, there will be notices made on our social media pages, and you can always contact us if you haven’t received any news.
What to Expect and How to Behave…
Red Flashlights And Lasers
When we are focusing solely on observing, we will implement a RED LIGHT ONLY rule. The main reason is to help keep your eyes adapted to the dark at night, and white lights will ruin that. If people are doing long exposure imaging, you will get asked not to shine any lights at all, especially near a telescope/camera while the shutters are open. My equipment will have glow tape to help you see the tripod legs, steps, and eyepieces in the dark!
. Unless you are given permission or there is an emergency situation, don’t shine any white lights!
As for lasers, there will be times when we will be using them to present the constellations, and point out where we saw a meteor, but when people are exposing images, then we need to keep them off until you are given the “all clear” to use them. Even though they’re fun to use, please don’t leave them in the hands of children who will get bored and start shining them at targets on the ground – including people!
Arrival and Leaving
You may arrive and leave as you please. We prefer you arrive while there is still light out, it’s just easier to set up that way, but we understand if you can’t come until later. Car headlights will ruin any dark adaptation we have while observing, so if you are arriving after dark, or plan on leaving during the night, then please do your best to keep the bright lights off until absolutely necessary!
Camping and RV Parking
People that absolutely must bring their RV’s can reserve individual spots to RV park through recreation.gov’s website. The same goes with people who want to camp overnight. Sometimes I will have a spot or two reserved, other times I won’t.
Food and Drinks / Amenities
food and drinks will be on a “bring your own” basis – I don’t like to bring a bunch of food all the way out there if the guests aren’t going to eat it! If you choose to bring food to share with people not in your party, that is your choice!
If anything, don’t forget to bring water! The amenities like running water and toilets will be available as long as the campsites are open. Whatever you bring, please make sure we leave the park in the same condition we arrived in!
Whatever it is – cameras, binoculars, telescopes, if you have it then please bring it! If not, you don’t need to! Those with telescopes as part of our group will allow you to let you look through them, but follow their instructions! If telescopes are setup for imaging, then you will need to be extra careful around them, as even the slightest touch will ruin the exposures!
If there are other people around with their own equipment that are not part of our group, do not expect them to let you get near their equipment!
This event is free! However, I do accept donations of any amount to help cover the cost of reserving the sites and providing some amenities. You can donate in person or through this website!
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