5 of the Best Places for Desert Night Sky Viewing

The sky over Joshua Tree transitions from sunset to night sky

[Update: This list has been expanded. Click here to read it.]

If it is a new moon weekend (and yes, the new moon is this Sunday, April 3rd), heading to one of the three deserts in California will treat your eyes to a spectacle not easily seen in urban areas. The combination of low humidity and distance from big-lit cities makes our deserts one of the best places for gazing up into dark skies at a so-called star party (or just on your own). Here are five places to enjoy:

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1. Star Parties in Joshua Tree National Park

Park rangers at this popular destination make sure visitors have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the night sky. One of the darkest places in the park, according to Ranger Pam Tripp of the night sky team, is at the Cottonwood Campground amphitheatre where events, complete with high powered telescopes, will be held weekly in April. A complete list of events can be found on the park website.

The milky way seen from Death Valley2. Tecopa Hot Springs

In Tecopa, you can take a dip in a hot spring bath and step outside to view the stars. Located between Death Valley National Park and the Nevada border, the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort has been hosting star parties for years. And to boot, they have an extremely high powered telescope that captures images projected onto a screen. This weekend is resort is also hosting the Tecopa Music and Arts Festival. Star parties will be held on Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m.

3. Hole-in-the Wall, Mojave National Preserve

David Lamfrom of the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy calls this area one of the darkest areas in the lower 48 states. Once here, you're not only far from big cities and spread out suburbs, but small towns, too: Barstow is some 100 miles to the west and Needles is about 50 to the east. If there ever was virgin night sky, this is it. On April 23rd, his group is hosting a star party at the campsite.

4. Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve

Linda Slater, the park's spokesperson says viewing the night sky from the Kelso Dunes can also be a fun experience. Just beware of scorpions, especially on hotter nights when they tend to come out.

5. Death Valley National Park
Park rangers started throwing star parties this year in the busy Furnace Creek area. No events are scheduled for April yet, but the parking lot at Harmony Borax Works, where the events are held, is a good spot. Park spokesperson Cheryl Chipman also recommends trying out spots a bit off the beaten path in the northern parts of the park near Scotty's Castle and The Racetrack.

This list is just a small sampling of the many amazing places in the desert. If you have a favorite spot, let us know in the comments!

Note: The deserts in California are expansive. Please plan before you go. Do not purely rely no GPS directions and Google Maps to get to your destinations as they have led travelers astray inside National Parks. Consult expert books and rangers at visitor centers.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user jesse?. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCETLink's Editor-in-Chief of Blogs, where he oversees website editorial and advises on projects. When he does write, he mostly covers local government, environment, and the outdoors.
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