7 of the Best Stargazing Spots in Ventura County

Less than one billion miles from Agoura Hills | Photo: apppyaardvark/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Ah, Ventura County, where the nights are stronger than moonshine, as that song you now have stuck in your head almost says. But even on nights where there's not much moonshine at all, this county just west of L.A. also holds some great places to look at those other heavenly bodies.

1. Mount Pinos, Los Padres National Forest
This peak in Los Padres National Forest in the northeast corner of the county has some of the darkest skies to be found in the Greater Southern California Megalopolis. Near Frazier Park overlooking the south end of the San Joaquin Valley, It's quite a haul from the more populated parts of Ventura County, but on a clear night you won't find better stargazing in the county. There are any number of good stargazing spots in the vicinity of Mount Pinos from campgrounds to wide pullouts. One of the best places to start is at the Chuchupate Ranger Station off Lockwood Valley road just south of Lake Of the Woods. Not only can you find lots of good advice for stargazing campgrounds, but the station itself isn't a bad spot for looking at the sky. You can also buy your $5/daily Adventure Pass there, which you'll need for overnight parking in the national forest -- even on pullouts.

2. Lockwood Valley, Los Padres National Forest
About 15 miles or so farther along Lockwood Valley Road from Lake of the Woods, the eponymous Lockwood Valley has some seriously dark sky by coastal California standards. Between Lake of the Woods and Ojai, nearly 60 miles away, there isn't much in the way of amenities out here, so be sure to stock up on everything you might need, including a full tank of gas. Through Lockwood Valley proper there are a few spots with appealingly wide shoulders, but be sure to pull all the way off the road -- and don't disturb the locals. Or head farther west to the turnoff for the Reyes Creek Campground, where there's a wide dirt pullout available.

3. Maricopa Highway, Los Padres National Forest (Route 33)
The artery has a number of pullouts in Los Padres National Forest that offer the possibility of serene stargazing. This 16-mile stretch north of Ojai has some of the best, though you'll want to be sure to pick pullouts where you aren't in the way of drivers seeking to let other cars pass. Getting there before the sun goes down is a good idea for maximum ease in choosing a suitable pullout.

8 of the Best Places to See the Night Sky in L.A. County

Griffiith Observatory wiith Mooon | Photo: ronslog/Flickr/Creative Commons License

When it comes to reliably clear skies with a minimum of light pollution, it's hard to beat the eastern California desert. But let's face it: those of us who live in urban Southern California can't always just pick up and head for the outback when we want to see a star. Fortunately, there are a few places closer at hand in L.A. County where the night skies are dark enough to make tilting your head upward worthwhile. And some spots aren't so dark, but are worth checking out anyway for the expert stargazing companionship to be found there.

1. Templin Highway, Angeles National Forest
The Templin Highway stargazing area has long been a popular spot among amateur astronomers. It's accessible, only 45 minutes from downtown (assuming nighttime traffic) and less than a mile from Interstate 5 near Castaic. Take Templin Highway .7 miles east from "The 5" until you spy a wide gravel pulloff on the right, sheltered by a ridge from some of the Interstate's headlight glare. (During popular meteor shows and other events, you'll often see a crowd gathered when you arrive: use your lowbeams as you park lest you blind your new stargazing buddies.) All this just a few minutes from the comforts of Castaic.

2. Saddleback Butte State Park, Antelope Valley
Saddleback Butte State Park is an unsung gem in L.A. County's desert, and though its skies are not as dark as they were 20 years ago with Lancaster and Palmdale slowly growing 15 miles west, it's still a great place to reacquaint yourself with the Milky Way and other dark sky wonders. The park closes for day use at sunset, but 50 campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and the campsites offer abundant great spots to set up a scope -- or just to lie back in a reclining chair with a naked pair of eyes.

Weekend Storms Close Park Roads in Joshua Tree, Mojave Preserve

Pinto Basin Road washed out in Joshua Tree National Park | Photo: NPS | Lacy Ditto

Torrential rains that pushed into the California desert over the weekend washed out a number of main roads in Mojave National Preserve, as well as a major thoroughfare connecting the east and west sections of Joshua Tree National Park.

The storms, which dumped as much as 7 or 8 inches of rain in some parts of the desert on Sunday, washed out Pinto Basin Road in Joshua Tree National Park on Sunday. That road is closed for at least two weeks, as are the Cottonwood Campground and nearby visitor center that are accessible only by way of the closed road.

Farther north in the Mojave Preserve, which has been getting hit hard by rain over the last few days, a Sunday thunderstorm badly damaged the roads to the Preserve's formal campgrounds. Essex and Black Canyon roads, which are the only paved routes to the Preserve's popular Hole In The Wall Campground, are both closed.

LAPD Wants to Stop Car Break-ins at Griffith Park [Updated]

A sign advising visitors of best practices at the entrance of a Griffith Park parking lot. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

[Update: Captain Jeffery Bert called to give more details on the break-in numbers. See them below this story.]

It shouldn't surprise anyone, but stealing from vehicles is a big problem in Los Angeles. So big that in the first six months of 2013, there had been over 13,000 reported break-ins. The crime happens everywhere: outside homes, in parking garages, on busy boulevards, and at parks.

For Captain Jeffery Bert, who oversees LAPD's Northeast Division, there's one large park that he estimates makes up to one quarter of his break-in problem: Griffith Park. "There are lot of parking lots, unattended cars when people are at the zoo, out running and hiking," he said, "and a lot of cars get broken into."

Big Bear's New Skyline Trail is a First in Decades

A mountain biker on the Skyline Trail. | Photo: Courtesy Big Bear Lake Resort Association

Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear is a city completely surrounded by national forest, making it quite the recreational hot spot for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding during the summer season. However, for the last 20 or so years, there hasn't been any new trail infrastructure. This week, that changes.

On Saturday, officials will mark the opening of the Skyline Trail, an 8.4-mile one-way trail that begins behind Snow Summit Mountain Resort and follows the southern ridgeline that makes up Big Bear Valley (roundtrip distance is 16.8 miles). It's part of a planned loop that will eventual go 15 miles for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders (and snowshoeing in the winter).

"From my understanding this is the first new trail introduced to Big Bear in over two decades," said Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation Chair Phil Hamilton, whose group looks to make the valley friendly to non-motorized recreation. The single-track trail mainly parallels 2N10, a heavily used Forest Service road. "We thought it would sure be good to get hikers off that road onto the trail," he said. "It sort of started as a joke, and then we thought we could do this."

Fly Around Bodie Ghost Town With This Spectacular Video

Down a long stretch of dirt road off the 395 between Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe is Bodie, a ghost town preserved in a state of arrested decay. It's a fascinating place -- surprisingly large, too -- with history going beyond its Wild West heydey in late 1870s. Now operated as a state park, some 200,000 people visit each year.

Bear Hug! It's Smokey Bear's Birthday and He Has a Request For You

Smokey Bear now gives out bear hugs to those who prevent wildfires. | Photo: Screenshot of Ad Council commercial.

The six or so major wildfires burning in California right now should be a good reminder to always be fire safe when out and about in nature, especially during these extremely dry years. Granted, sometimes these are caused by natural causes like lighting, but a lot of times not.

That's why Smokey Bear on his 69th birthday -- he almost died two years ago -- wants everyone to take his pledge, which is really a set of common sense ways when being outdoors:

Time to Start Planning for California Fall Color

Bright yellow aspens along Rock Creek Road in Mono County, October 2013. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

"Could not believe it on August 1," exclaimed Richard McCutcheon. He had noticed some Indian Ruhbarb along Plumas County's Butt Creek that had already begun to turn color, so he snapped a photo and sent it off to the California Fall Color blog for its first post of the season.

California is not exactly known for fall color, but we're definitely blessed with it. While the East Coast's densely populated areas are already centered in arboreal environments, California's heavy urban centers are focused on the coast, away from the main attractions found in the Sierra Nevadas. It's not that you won't find fall color in our coastal cities, it's just not the spectacular event found out east. East as in the eastern California: Mammoth Lakes, Bishop, June Lake, Virginia Lakes, and so on.

Camping with S'mores: 5 Ways to Make Them

When it comes to camping, nothing is more classic than s'mores, cooked over an open fire while surrounded by family and friends. Popularized by the Girl Scouts in the late 1920s, the simple treat hasn't lost public interest and, in fact, is constantly tinkered with, as evident by all the campfire -- and chef-driven restaurant -- variations out there.

National S'mores Day is annually celebrated on August 10, but let's be honest: Every time you camp should be a day to celebrate and munch on these addictive treats -- that's why you always want "some more," right?

Below is a short, (extremely) simple guide to s'mores at the campfire.

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