Dark Night Skies! Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park

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!

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Final Sunlight Shining on the Distant Mountains in Joshua Tree National Park Just Behind the Visitor’s Center.
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Admiring the Last Rays of Sunlight Dipping Below the Mountains.

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!

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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.

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Stargazing Equipment.

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!

And, even though I can’t prove it with photos, we could clearly make out Orion, Betelgeuse, Cassiopeia, Big Dipper, and Polaris.

We even found the Andromeda Galaxy, closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way, with the telescope! It was stunning!

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Photo Taken when the Sky was Almost at its Darkest – Mountain from Photos Before Sunset is in the Background.
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Hello Beautiful, Dark Skies!

What We Packed In

Comfortable / Equipment Setup

Although we didn’t end up needing Walkie Talkies, I still encourage your party to have one in each vehicle in the event someone gets lost on the way to the meetup location.

And again, my tripod (although totally awesome for all sorts of other photo taking adventures) wasn’t the best for astrophotography. I would recommend a much taller tripod like this Dolica so that you can see what you’re capturing. Recommended tripod by Tripodyssey.

Aly’s Layer Choices

Upper Body Layering (in order)

Lower Body Layering

I should’ve worn my Uggs or Hiking Boots and Darn Tough Vermont Hiking socks, but I underestimated just how cold the desert can get.

I instead wore my Nike running shoes and ankle high Champion socks. Although I survived, I would recommend warmer footwear.

Reminder to Just Say Yes!

And, more importantly 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!

Aly’s Camera Choice

All of the pictures were shot with my Pentax K-70, 18-135mm Lens and edited by me using Adobe Creative Cloud.

I’m in the market for the Prime 15-30mm Pentax Lens so be on the lookout for when I post photos using that bad boy! Landscape and portrait photography are my passion.

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As a disclaimer, I was not paid by any of the above linked sites. This review is solely mine without any monetary compensation.

However, I will receive a small kickback from Amazon if you purchase any of the items linked to Amazon. As always, I only link to items I believe in! I would never lead you astray.

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