Avoid the Golf Courses and Spa!
A group of friends and I were recently in Palm Desert, California, for a work function (overview article to be published soon).
Now, being in Palm Desert you may think, so I guess I’ll golf and enjoy the spa… but there are so many other fun activities to take part in besides the most obvious and cliché!
One such activity is stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park!
How to Prep for Stargazing
My amazing friend, Julia, looked heavily into what we needed in order to have the best stargazing experience. From her research, here are my top 6 steps to follow:
- Choose a location that has minimal light pollution. There are numerous locations within the park you can pull over to stargaze – just ensure you are in a designated pull out, and your car is no more than 20 feet (6 meters) away from you.
- Pack all of the comfort and stargazing necessities. It’s always good to have a comfortable chair to sit in which naturally allows your head to crane up towards the sky. It’s also awesome to come prepared with binoculars and telescopes so that you can truly admire the wonders of space. And, super important, it gets quite cold at night so having multiple layers will aid you greatly once the sun has gone down.
- Pick a place to meet well in advance. Joshua Tree National Park has very limited (if any) cell phone reception. Ensure that you’ve picked a location so that everyone can plug the address into their GPS before they leave a data friendly area. We had zero service at our final destination, and didn’t caravan out together. If you caravan out, I highly recommend ensuring each vehicle has a walkie talkie.
- Ensure that the meetup location legally accommodates your party size. We chose to meet at the Cottonwood Visitor Center because we expected to have a group of around 30 people. When we called to discuss this with the Park Ranger, just to confirm we were complying with all of the park rules, he informed us that the only place we could have that large of a party without permits, etc. was at a visitor center within the park. Although this visitor center was awesome (bathrooms, parking lot, clear spaces to setup our gear, legally allowed to be here), I recommend stargazing from a different location – we had multiple issues with car headlights.
- Setup your stargazing items before the sun sets. Chairs, tripod, telescopes, etc. should all be setup before the sun sets. No one likes stumbling around in the dark trying to setup their equipment – so set it up well in advance so you can enjoy the experience.
- Have appropriate light sources so you don’t stumble into a cactus. It takes roughly 30 minutes for your eyes to chemically adjust to get maximum night vision (source). If you experience any form of light (other than specific red light), you have to start all over! This mean no cell phones, car headlights, portable flashlights, headlamps, or other forms of light should be used once the sun has set.
For more information, visit Joshua Tree National Park’s page about Stargazing.
And scroll to the bottom of this post to see a full list of what we packed in with us to enhance our stargazing experience.
Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park
Before Sunset – Desert Views
We chose to leave our resort in Palm Desert and head to the Cottonwood Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Park around 1600 since sunset was predicted for 1722.
We wanted to ensure we had plenty of time to find the visitor center in the daylight, setup camp, and of course take pictures of the scenery!
Pentax HDR Landscape Photos
And because you all know I nerd out with my camera, I had to shoot some photos in HDR Landscape mode! So pumped on how they turned out!
Nerding out Hard – Our Stargazing Equipment
I cannot recommend legitimate stargazing equipment more! My friend, Henk, brought two telescopes and a set of binoculars.
Seeing the stars with your eyes is still a wonderful experience, and one that shouldn’t be passed up whenever you have the opportunity. But having a telescope is a game changer.
Astrophotography and Constellations!
Watching the sky become progressively darker and darker was unreal.
This was my first time using the astrophotography mode on my Pentax, so bear with me as the photos are of decent quality.
My main falter was with my tripod. I am obsessed with my Gorillapod, but it’s only a little more than a foot (0.3 meters) tall.
Basically, I had no idea what my camera could see because my camera was on the ground, and I didn’t have a table to set it up on so that I could see what the camera could see. There’s definitely room for improvement.
However, you can get an idea of how gorgeous the sky was from the photos I did take!
We even found the Andromeda Galaxy, closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way, with the telescope! It was stunning!
What We Packed In
Comfort & Equipment Setup
If you’re going to be out stargazing you have to have the right equipment to make sure you’re both comfortable and able to capture the moment!
Below are affiliate links to some of my favorite car camping products:
- Zero gravity lounge chairs are a game changer! Sitting under the stars while craning your neck up is no way to go. You need, seriously need, zero gravity chairs so that you can lounge, see the stars, and not get cramps in your neck or elsewhere.
- A bitchin camera for astrophotography is a total must. The photos in this blog post were shot with my Pentax K-70 body mounted with an 18-135mm lens because I’m still a beginner. However, I recommend upping your camera game if you’re progressing to intermediate or advance photography levels with the Sony Alpha.
- The last thing you want to be is cold when you’re out in the desert at night trying to enjoy the stars. My go-to is always a comfortable and cozy Mexican blanket. When I’m looking to sport for fancy I always think of Pendleton (this brand is expensive but oh so worth it). And know your weather – if it’s going to be misty a weatherproof blanket may be the way to go.
- I encourage everyone in your party to have one walkie talkie in their vehicle in the event someone gets lost on the way to the meetup location. When you drive out into the middle of nowhere to get away from light pollution you tend to lose cell service and you’re seriously in the dark. So let’s not lose your party on the way to the meetup spot. (the walkie talkies linked below are reasonably priced and carry a signal over 5 miles – while they aren’t crazy fancy, they certainly provide the necessary safety-communication factor)
- And maybe the most important of all the gear are red lights. Your eyes are super sensitive to light and take roughly 30 minutes to adjust to the dark in order to properly see the constellations and solar systems. These lights provide enough light for you to move around your camp to reach for your beer without disrupting the adjustment your eyes have made.
Reminder to Just Say Yes and Follow Me!
As always, say yes to experiences that present themselves to you! Life is full of fun and wonder – don’t be stuck at home wondering what life could be like, should be like, would be like… drop that nonsense! Get out there, say yes, and never look back!
Click on the links below to follow me on my social media accounts, and definitely subscribe to the blog for more exciting Yescapades!
As a disclaimer, I was not paid by any of the above linked sites. This review is solely mine without any monetary compensation. I will however receive a kickback from the affiliate links if you choose to make a purchase.