Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park Night Sky (Arch Rock and Sky's the Limit), August 23-24, 2019

Weekend trip to Joshua Tree last weekend. I drove up on Friday afternoon, and managed to catch enough traffic to not get to the town of Joshua Tree until around 4:30pm. Because it was getting late, I popped into the NPS visitor center there, to confirm that my plan for getting to Arch Rock would work. I knew the White Tanks campground was closed for the season, but I wanted to make sure it was still okay to visit Arch Rock.

After some level of difficulty in conveying my question to the ranger (which, to be honest, seems to happen a lot when they assume you know less than you do), I got confirmation that access was allowed.
I went last year in early June. At the time, White Tanks campground was open. When that's the case, you park in the campground and walk not even 1/4 of a mile to the arch. As I went after "day" parking is allowed, I just parked on the main park road to the south entrance (Pinto Basin Road) and walked in from there. Maybe a 1/2 mile or so walk, each way.
But now I was told to park in the White Tanks backcountry board parking lot, and hike from there. As my Trails Illustrated map for Joshua Tree showed only the California Riding and Hiking trail passing this spot, and no trail from there to Arch Rock, I asked the ranger if there was an actual trail to the arch, or if it was a cross-country route. I swear, she looked at me like I was an idiot and said you had to cross the road. Well, okay, then. So off I went.

I figured, worst case scenario, I walked south on Pinto Basin Road, and enter via the gated (to cars) entry. Well, turns out at the trailhead at the south end of the parking area, there was a brand-spanking new sign for Arch Rock. Didn't give the mileage, but I knew it couldn't be far.
Interestingly enough, the map on the backcountry board did NOT show a trail going to Arch Rock, just as my Trails Illustrated map did not show that trail. But I followed the sign. In about 1/10 of a mile, it hit some wooden fencing and another sign, directing that Arch Rock was across the road.

Across the road was more wooden fencing and more brand-spanking new signs. One of these indicated .37 miles to Arch Rock Nature Trail.
So I made the short walk and confirmed that this would be no problem after dark. Took a few shots, spoke with a couple and their young child who were there (but no other cars were in the White Tank backcountry board lot, so obviously they parked elsewhere), scouted around for angles for later. Eventually decided, no, the same spot as last year was the best. Took a few pictures, before about three other hikers arrived.

Since I was really there for some Milky Way shots, I left when the others arrived, and walked back to my car. Once there, I ate a granola bar, drank some water and Gatorade, and took my evening medication. Still no cars in the lot, so, again, these other guys were also parking elsewhere.
Waited a bit longer, letting it get darker, then walked back to the arch. Still didn't need a headlamp to get back.
I had seen some flashlights in the distance, but obviously they continued further east, so I had the arch to myself. Took many pictures, again. Partly, that's because so many caught planes passing through the field of view, and that was even after waiting when visible planes were spotted.

The early shots were taken with just with the twilight sky providing the arch lighting, but also took some with a white light, bouncing it off the rocks behind me to get a softer light. I liked some of those, too. Took more pictures than I can recall.

I started walking towards the car somewhere around 9:30pm, but stopped to shoot some pictures with rocks or Joshua tree in the foreground. While I did this, I saw many lights and heard many voices coming from the ostensibly closed campground.

After taking another ten shots ore so, I resumed my walk.

Once back at my car, I ruined the dark adapted eyes of several people who appeared to be just waiting in the parking lot, possibly to photograph, or possibly to telescope. I intended to drive out on just my daytime running lights, but goofed. Of course, under these conditions, even the DRL are going to destroy your night vision, at least for a while.
On the way out, I stopped at the Joshua Tree National Park entry sign and took a number of pictures, there. The sign was illuminated by the distant lights of Twentynine Palms. No supplemental lights required or used. That's the picture at the top of this post.

The next day, I took a couple of hikes in the morning (to be blogged soon, I hope), then returned to my motel room. Home for Friday and Saturday nights was the Motel 6, in Twentynine Palms. About the third or fourth time I've stayed there. Very conveniently located if you're going to be at Arch Rock or Sky's the Limit, late at night.
Saturday night was, in fact, a Sky's the Limit night. They have public star parties there most Saturdays. And since 1) it had been a while since I had done any telescope work under a dark sky, and; 2) I was going to volunteer for the Night Sky Festival, in September, I figured it would be a good idea to try to get my bearings under a dark sky.

Set up my 150mm refractor and showed Jupiter, Saturn, M7 (Ptolemy's cluster), M57 (the Ring Nebula), the Double Cluster, M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), M17 (Swan Nebula), and M22 and M13 (globular clusters). Oh, and Albireo, briefly. But the truth is, with a trickling-in set of visitors, I went back to Jupiter and Saturn plenty of times.
Not bad seeing, although 6" is really too small for some of the objects I looked at. Still, it was fun to be under dark skies, again.

The star party started to wind down around 10pm, so I started putting stuff away shortly after that. One of the later ones. By the time I got my telescope back in the car, there were only a few people left, and they were regulars. So I snapped a few quick shots of the dome and sidewalk area, and called it a night.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed reading about and seeing your photos. and i didn't even know there was an observatory up there.