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!
Regarding Covid-19 Guidelines
Currently we are in “Plan B…”
Even though California is engaging with more “Stay At Home Orders” due to a rise in reported cases, As of right now, the December 13-14 Meteor Shower Viewing Party will be held in the park as long as it remains open to the public, and if that changes, interested attendees will be notified. If the entire park closes, then most likely, “Plan C” will happen if the weather permits, and that will mean a spot even further remote than Joshua Tree National Park!
Stargazing and Meteor Shower viewing in itself is a social distancing activity, and it’s really easy to practice it on such a large area of available land, even at a populated campsite in an open national park! We have reserved two individual sites next to each other, and will thus have plenty of space to use, setup your equipment or belongings, and watch the shower in peace!
Statistically, you are more likely to catch a common cold from not being prepared for the outside December temperatures than you are of catching this virus! With many cities being a more of a hotbed for viral spread, you’re actually safer when you’re out stargazing in the desert!
But seriously, I understand if you are really worried about catching the virus from someone out in the desert, and I won’t hold it against you if you choose to stay home.
If you are feeling sick, or live with people who are sick, THEN DON’T GO!
If you are afraid of being potentially exposed and spreading it to people back home, THEN DON’T GO!
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!
UPDATE: Even though the Campgrounds Are Officially Closed as of December 7, The Roads Parking Lots in the Park are Not…
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 it ends.
The Cottonwood Spring trail has a large parking lot, which has been used by yours truly many times when I didn’t want to be near the campers. How many people will still brave the desert over the weekend? That remains to be seen. But because I have seen the parking lot populated by day use hikers before the Sun sets, I do recommend getting there and securing a spot as early as possible.
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! 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 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 eyepiece in the dark!
If you bring a white flashlight, we can still cover it with red cellophane. 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 constantly turn them on and shine the beams at things other than the sky!
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
With the Campgrounds closed, the park is discouraging overnight camping and RV parking. However, that won’t stop people from finding spots in the large parking lots as long as they’re available.
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 most liktley not be available as long as the campgrounds are closed, so keep that in mind! 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, we 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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