[Update, September 17: We went in person to check it out and came back with some great news and photos. Read about it here.]
If you were thinking of doing some autumn hue traveling this year, now is the time to start paying attention. Fall color blogger John Poimiroo has issued the first "Go Now!" alerts of the season. It's few weeks earlier than usual, but we're at the whim of Mother Nature -- or, perhaps, the current drought.
The alerts are for two areas in Bishop Creek Canyon: Sabrina Campground and Surveyors Meadow, both which are around 9,000 feet elevation and are currently 50 to 75 percent of peak, which means there is solid color change. Poimiroo expects Sabrina to peak -- that's when the color is at its best -- during the next week or so.
OK, let's face it: Orange County isn't exactly a stargazers' destination of choice. We haven't done the math, but it's likely the second-brightest county in the state (after San Francisco), with its renowned sprawling development and its position nestled between brightly lit Los Angeles and San Diego. But even in Orange County there are places where you can get out and see more than a few stars, especially on new moon nights, and especially if you get into its less-developed southeast end.
Irvine Regional Park
But let's try the north end of the county first. Irvine Regional Park sits just where the 24/7 glare of the southern L.A. Basin starts to slacken a bit, just at the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. You will generally be able to make out the major constellations here along with perhaps a few other objects. The stargazing window here is brief: The park closes at 9:00 pm in summer and 6:00 pm in winter, but their "summer" starts on April Fool's Day and ends on Halloween. There's also a (somewhat pricey) private campground on Irvine Lake not far away
Crescent Bay, Laguna Beach
The city of Laguna Beach is a trifle darker at night than its neighbors, as it's hemmed in by the undeveloped San Joaquin Hills that block some of the glare from the I-5 corridor. Crescent Bay Beach at the north end of town offers a quarter mile of sheltered cove perfect for horizontal lounging and skywatching, and it's beneath a bluff that serves to block out the headlights on the Pacific Coast Highway. There are houses on the ridge that face the beach, so don't expect pitch black skies. Still the beach is open until midnight, which allows a good amount of time to watch the stars wheel overhead. Beach cautions apply: be careful of the water -- this is not a beach for poor swimmers -- and don't bother the seals.
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.
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.
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.
[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."
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."
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.