in Joshua Tree
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The Night Skies in Joshua Tree are Dark - Very Dark.
Joshua Tree is one of the best places for stargazing in the country (and the planet!). The reason it is dark here is because the Park is located in the High Desert (5000 ft above sea level) and it is located far from major cities (which create light pollution).
The East side of the park is best for stargazing. Out East there is very little light pollution from cities, since the closest major city (looking East) is Phoenix, about 300 miles away!
To get the best chance of seeing a zillion stars, you'll need to do a little planning before your trip. Now, you're probably not a werewolf, so you don't live by the light of the moon, but the next time you head to the park, google "moon phase" to see when the moon will rise and set that night. For the best view of the stars - you want to visit when the moon is NOT in the night sky.
Why is the moon important?
Well, if your goal is stargazing, then you'll want to come near the "New Moon Phase" (It occurs once each month - it is the opposite of the Full Moon Phase). The New Moon occurs when the moon disappears for a few days and the night skies are completely dark! It is especially dark out East in the park.
Do not stare at the moon...
or it will follow you through the night
and into your dreams...
Native American Legend
Locating the North Star (Polaris)
When stargazing, you will want to orient yourself to the night sky. To orient yourself, you will need to be able to locate The North Star (Polaris). This star is located in the Northern Sky and has been used for centuries to assist navigators when traveling around the world.
The North Star is useful for navigation because it "appears" stationary in the sky (that is, it stays in one place in the sky for the entire night - and day), while all other stars and constellations revolve around it, counter-clockwise.
To locate the North Star, you'll first need to locate the Big Dipper. The end of the Big Dipper "points" to the North Star (see diagram). For extra credit, stay out all night and watch the Big Dipper travel (revolve) around the North Star (while always pointing at it!). You can also tell what season it is based upon the position of the Big Dipper in relation to Polaris (google it!). It's freaky!
Joshua Tree National Park is a “Dark Sky” Location!
The Milky Way
Best viewing of the Milky Way requires:
1) A “Dark Skies” location - Joshua Tree!!!
(or check out these other Dark Skies Locations.)
2) During the months April thru October
(…in the northern hemisphere.)
3) A clear night
(Summer months are generally clear and temperatures
in the high-desert are perfect (65-85F) at night!)
4) During the “New Moon Phase”
(This is when the moon is not in the sky.)
The Milky Way appears as a band of stars that extend across the sky. Its position and strength changes throughout the night/year. As stated earlier, the Milky Way is most visible when the Moon is NOT in the sky. Come back during different seasons to see how the Milky Way travels thru the night sky and changes brightness and orientation. Just like the Navajo's used to do!
… And, according to Navajo legend, the Coyote created the Milky Way.