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  • Sunset at Mojave Desert in Twentynine Palms, CA

Hi everyone! My name is Jack Fusco, I’m a professional astrophotographer based out of San Diego. So much of my work involves planning out images weeks or months in advance for everything to come together. Some of my images from Southern California have been featured by National Geographic, NASA APOD, BBC and many others. I’m excited to share some of the planning I did to take some of my images around the 29 Palms area.

When it comes to astrophotography, or stargazing in general, you have a lot of things to consider and plan out. Of all the things you need to factor in, dark skies will always be the most important. The further you can get from light pollution the more incredible the night sky will appear. It’s guaranteed to be an experience you won’t forget.

One of the issues that can often come with finding dark skies is the remote location you need to travel to find them. Long drives before or after your stargazing session aren’t always easy or the safest option. Because it’s just a short drive from San Diego, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas and is right in the middle of some amazing stargazing locations, 29 Palms made for the perfect night sky home base for a long weekend of stargazing.

After making the drive from San Diego, I mapped out 3 nights and 3 locations of stargazing. With each location, I’ll share some both tips for photographing and stargazing.

Night 1 – Joshua Tree National Park

Distance from 29 Palms: 5 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 5 minutes

Starting in 29 Palms, I was literally 5 minutes to the North entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, an International Dark Sky Park. If you’re not familiar, an International Dark Sky Park is certification given to land with exceptional and protected views of the night sky.

Jack Fusco Joshua Tree Arch

The North entrance to Joshua Tree is closest to some of the most iconic locations in the park, like Arch Rock at the White Tank Campground, Skull Rock, Barker Dam (closed at night, but worth the day trip!), and the Jumbo Rock area.

I decided to start my night sky weekend by visiting the Skull Rock area to do some exploring of the nearby trails.

Jack Fusco - Joshua Tree Moonlit

For this area, I decided to bring a 14mm wide angle lens as the trail was right next to beautiful rock formations that I wanted capture. The wide angle allows for both the rocks and a large portion of the night sky to be caught in the same frame.

With the wide-angle lens, I was using exposure times of around 10-15 seconds. This will vary a bit from camera to camera, but it allows for a lot of light to be captured while keeping the stars looking pin point sharp!

This area of the park is a fantastic choice for stargazing as well. I recommend bringing along a headlamp with a red light to help preserve your night vision. Skull Rock has roadside parking that’s just a short walk to the trails. Once you’re a bit further from the road, you can protect your vision from any passing headlights. This will help make sure you can see the greatest number of stars possible!

Night 2 – Kelso Sand Dunes, Mojave National Preserve

Distance from 29 Palms: 85 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Jack Fusco - Kelso Dunes Milky Way

Located in Mojave National Preserve, I was very excited to make my first trip out to the Kelso Sand Dunes. Although you can’t possibly be closer than Joshua Tree to 29 Palms, the drive is still very easy to make to the dunes. If you enter “Kelso Dunes Trail” on Google Maps, it will bring you right to the trail head. The last short bit is technically off-road, but is still accessible taking your time with 2wd cars.

As with all locations, I strongly suggest arriving well before dark so you can familiarize yourself with the area and the trails. Because the trail here is across sand, it can be a bit harder to follow on windy days or even in the dark. Using an offline GPS map on your phone (in case you lose service) will help make sure you stay safe.

Jack Fusco Kelso Dunes MW Stargazer

The hike to the dunes isn’t a long one, but can be tiring once you start walking on the areas with soft sand. The dunes rise 650 feet above the desert, so making your way up hill can also be on the strenuous side.  If the idea of climbing up huge sand dunes doesn’t sound appealing to you, there are still absolutely incredible to see without heading up hill! Whether you plan on making your way to the top or just close enough for a great view, be sure to bring plenty of water.

The view of the surrounding Providence Mountains is almost as beautiful as the dunes and they also help block out light pollution. This means not only do you have an incredible view of the stars, but the surrounding area is very dark as well. The dunes can be very tricky to navigate in total darkness, so plan on exploring while the sun is out and keeping closer the trail once it’s dark.

Use an app like StarWalk or Sky Guide to help locate any visible planets or the Milky Way while you’re here! No matter what you’re looking for should be easily visible.

For photographing this area, I mainly stuck with lenses that were 35mm or wider. Depending on your distance to the dunes, a 50 or 85mm lens would capture the curves in the dunes wonderfully.

A wide-angle lens in this location will mean getting really low to the sand to pick up some of that awesome texture and lines created by the wind!

Night 3 – Amboy Crater, Mojave Trails National Monument

Distance from 29 Palms: 50 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 50 minutes

Recently designated as a National Recreation Trail, Amboy Crater offers an easy hike through a lava field straight to the edge, and even in to, an extinct cinder cone volcano. I planned my hike here to be lit by the rising Moon so I could take photos both leading up to the crater and inside and have them well lit. Although it washes out a bit of the stars, the Moon can provide enough light so you can see detail in even dark foregrounds like the lava field surrounding the crater.

Jack Fusco - Amboy Crater Jupiter Saturn Above Mojave Trails National Monument

As with all desert locations, be aware of temperatures and conditions before heading out. Warm conditions can continue in to the night, so be sure to bring enough water. Proving the temperatures are suitable for outdoor activity, the hike to the crate is just over a mile and approachable for all levels. It’s very well defined through most of the trail and easy to keep your way. The approach to the rim or interior of the crate isn’t particularly difficult, but it does get somewhat steep. The lava rocks can be sharp and lose in certain areas. At night, this can make coming down much more difficult than going up. If you’re not comfortable, the view outside of the crate is still spectacular.

One of the highlights of being at the Amboy Crater is the nearly 360 view of the night sky while you’re there. Because the crater sits in the middle of a large lava field, you’ll have an amazing unobstructed view of the night sky from horizon to horizon.

Jack Fusco - Amboy Crater Mojave Trails National Monument

For taking photos, your focal length will likely vary depending on how close to the crater you’re setting up. From further away, a wide-angle lens will make the volcano look small in your frame and capture a huge portion of the sky above and around.

To set up along the trail, try using a lens 35mm or above if you want the crater to appear larger in your photo. As you approach or enter in to the crater, a wide-angle lens will help capture your surrounding area and still show off the incredible landscape.

No matter what location you decide on, you’re sure to come home with a unique and unforgettable stargazing experience. Although I live close enough to make the drive to any one of these locations, I’m happy I chose to stay in 29 Palms to start my adventure. Being able to cut a few hours off my drive each way allowed me the time and energy to explore these incredible areas. These are locations I will 100% be returning to in the near future and can’t wait to share more photos! Follow me over on Instagram (@jackfusco) to see all my new photos from around the 29 Palms area!

If you visit and get a great photo, be sure to tag @visit29palms and #visit29palms for a chance to have your photo featured!

Jack Fusco Visit 29 Palms

Jack Fusco is a landscape astrophotographer / timelapser based out of San Diego, California. What began as a way purely to document his travels as a touring musician, photography has become his mainform of creative expression.

On his often-sleepless journey, he strives to share the wonder of the night sky with as many people as possible. Whether chasing the Milky Way along coast lines or capturing the Northern lights in unforgiving remote locations you’re sure to find him coffee in hand, smiling up at the stars.

Many of Jack’s images are often planned days, weeks, or even months in advance while waiting for weather and celestial objects to align. The resulting work shows a true and complete dedication to his craft. His work has been featured by National Geographic, TEDx, LA Times, NASA APOD, BBC, Forbes and many more. Find his work at www.jackfusco.com |www.instagram.com/jackfusco  

Visitors to Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center’s star party on Saturday, November 16 will be treated to a very special presentation of the cosmos with guest video astronomers and astrophotographers. This free, public event is sponsored by Visit 29 Palms, and will begin around 5:30pm and last approximately two hours.

Jim O’Connor from the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association will be joined by Peter Ilott, a full-time rocket engineer and part-time astronomer; Jed Orme, an amateur photographer venturing into astrophotography; and Jerome and Debbie Womack, amateur astronomers experimenting with a variety of astrophotography equipment.

Often termed Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA) or Near Real Time Video (NRTV), the eyepiece of a telescope is replaced by an integrating video camera that shows celestial objects “live” on some type of monitor or projection device, conveying the imagery in color rather than shades of gray. Guest astronomers will be using this new technology to provide visitors a creative and colorful way to explore the cosmos, and in some cases to process the images captured.

Sky’s The Limit volunteers will also have a variety of telescopes set up for guests to use along the winding sidewalks, and always encourage guests to bring their own binoculars and scopes as well. The presentation is very casual, so come at any time and leave when you wish.

For more information about Sky’s The Limit, and to see photos taken through STL’s 14” Celestron Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope, visit www.skysthelimit29.org.

Book your overnight stay in 29 Palms and choose from a wide variety of hotels, motels, and vacation rentals, plus find lots of fantastic restaurants and shops just minutes away from Sky’s The Limit Observatory!

Moon rises at 8:22 pm (84.5%). Sunset 4:39 pm. NOTE THE TIME CHANGE.
Prominent constellations: Pegasus the Flying Horse, Lyra the Harp, Cygnus the Swan, Aquila the Eagle, and Aquarius the Water Bearer.

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