Starry Night in Joshua Tree National Park by Chip Morton
22 Jul

Summer Nights in the Desert

by Vickie Waite – 7/20/2018
What do we do on summer nights in the desert? We get a little star crazy. [Get it? Stir crazy, star crazy.] Okay, some of us desert dwellers suffer a bit of cabin fever from being locked up in our air-cooled buildings during the heat of the day, especially when it’s over 100 degrees, and we’ve been known to emerge from our cocoons at night, eternally grateful to breathe some cooler air and experience the explosion of stars in the desert night sky.

Stars, planets, myriad constellations, even satellites and occasional UFOs, all float over our heads in the balmy darkness, seemingly so close you feel like you could reach out and touch them. And in the midst of all this, the ethereal summer Milky Way rises over us like an ever-present guardian of the galaxy. It’s the desert night. Dark. Peaceful. Cosmic.

That’s what we get for living in the Mojave Desert next to Joshua Tree National Park, which was proclaimed an official Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2017. And what else do we have? Right here in 29 Palms, next to the north entrance of our Dark Sky Park, we have our very own Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center. It’s one of our little desert city’s biggest assets for both residents and visitors.

Perched on a 15-acre site next to the national park entrance, Sky’s The Limit offers free star parties for the public every Saturday night (except during a full moon). Volunteer astronomers take visitors on a tour of the night sky through a variety of telescopes set up along a series of observation pads and a 14” Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope inside the observation dome. For visitors from the city who haven’t seen the stars for a while, this is an astoundingly rewarding experience.

Star-viewing events begin after sunset and often go until well after midnight, for those who wish to stay. See our Stargazing page for more information and a current schedule. And watch for news about this year’s Perseid Meteor Shower, which will reach its peak on the nights of August 11-12 and August 12-13. Additional meteor activity will be visible in our desert sky from about July 17 to August 24. Plan to come out and spend a few nights in the desert to experience this fascinating phenomenon.

[Sky’s The Limit Observatory, 9697 Utah Trail, 29 Palms, CA 92277, (760) 365-7897, located next to the north entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. www.skysthelimit29.org.]

Smith's Ranch Drive-In Movies in 29 Palms, CaliforniaFor star watching of a different kind, we also have Smith’s Ranch Drive-In in 29 Palms, one of America’s last drive-in movie theaters. The drive-in shows first-run movies on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, beginning after sunset. Just $5 gets you a double feature under the desert night sky. And they have a great concession stand, too, that offers nachos and pulled-pork sandwiches along with the standard popcorn and sodas. This is a favorite summer night activity for locals and visitors, great for a family outing, an event with friends, or a date night. Baby boomers will especially appreciate the nostalgia of it all. Bring some lawn chairs, or sit in the bed of your truck, and enjoy the star-filled cinema under the stars.

[Smith’s Ranch Drive-In, 4584 Adobe Road, 29 Palms, CA 92277, (760)367-7713. www.29drive-in.com]

Vickie Waite is a freelance writer, author, editor, and marketing specialist, who has been a resident for nearly 29 years in 29 Palms, California. Starry night photograph in Joshua Tree National Park by Chip Morton.

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Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
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