Far Point Station - East Riverside County, CA
I set up at a few different spots in the huge Palen-McCoy wilderness, and all of them are fairly dark. It is on the southeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park. Just over the mountains to the east, General George Patton had a large training area for his tank command. I think this is the darkest area near the major population centers of Socal. On a typical night naked eye limiting magnitude at zenith is 7.4 and seeing is a Pickering 6 or better. There is a 15 degree light dome from Palm Springs/Palm Desert to the west, and a 10 degree light dome from El Centro to the south. If the air is moist or dusty you will see a small light dome from Las Vegas to the northeast. Blythe and a prison cause a 5 degree dome to the east/southeast. This is a prime winter site as daytime temps are in the 70's to 80's and night temps are around 40 degrees. Summers however can be brutally hot with daytime temps ranging from 100 to 115 degrees, the nights are a comfortable 80 degrees. However during the summer the seeing suffers from heat radiating from the ground most of the night. All of these spots require a high clearance 4X4 for access and dont forget the shovel if you get stuck.. This is my favorite spot for a quick observing fix, but watch out for nocturnal sidewinder rattlesnakes that can park themselves under your big dob. This past spring one crawled out from under my scope, coiled up and started rattling away within striking distance of my legs. Yikes!
Mesquite Springs Camp
Death Valley, CA
Mesquite Springs camp is located at the north end of Death Valley at 1800 ft. and sports some of the darkest skies I have ever seen. It is a fairly large campground with running water, toilets and picnic tables. There are no electrical hookups and the fee is $10 per night. You want to be self sufficient when you come to this spot as amenities are few and far. Nearby Scotty's Castle has gas, water, ice and a cafe but otherwise the nearest place to resupply is Stovepipe Wells, 30 miles away, or Furnace Creek over 50 miles away. During the week you will most likely be alone in the camp with only the rodents, coyotes, and snakes for company. On the weekend there may be a couple of other folks around but their lights will probably be out shortly after dark. Winter weekends can be more crowded as will holidays. Naked eye limiting magnitude is typically 8.0 at zenith and the glow of the Milky Way will cast your shadow on the ground and other light colored objects. If clouds move through during your observing session they will look like black holes in the sky as there is no light to reflect off of them. The only light pollution around is a small 5 degree dome from Las Vegas which is insignificant. The zodiacal light is very bright and the Gegenschien is easily visible. Its amazing what a small scope will show in these skies. If you want to do your Herschel 400 in a 4 inch scope this is the place to do it. Likewise, the views of the showpieces in a big scope will knock you right off the ladder. As typical for a low desert site the best time of year is winter. Summer temps will be a scorching 110 degress during the day with little relief as the night temps hover in the mid 80's.
A good way to kill time during the day is to take in the numerous sites in the park. The sunsets are not to be missed as the shadows and alpenglow on the mountains is spectacular. This has become favorite spot regardless of the many rules that come with camping in a National Park.
Grandview Camp, White Mountains
Inyo National Forest, CA
Grandview campground is located at 8600 ft. in the White Mountains just east of the High Sierra. The skies here are as dark as Death Valley with NELM at zenith around mag 8.0. There is a small 8 degree light dome to the west from the town of Bishop 4000 ft. below. The White Mountains see very little moisture being in the rainshadow of the higher Sierras so the site is quite dusty and dew is definately not a problem. Unfortunately, seeing can often be poor here as it is downwind from the 14,000 ft. Sierra Crest.
The campground is primitive with pit toilets, no running water or electricity, but the bonus is that you camp free of charge. One downside is that there are very few good spots to set up due to the large trees. At no campsite will you have a 360 degree unobstructed horizon. At best, your view will only be obstructed either to the north or the south depending on which side of the camp you set up. However, there are many campsites where trees will block most of the sky. To make matters worse the place is a dust bowl but there are few cars driving through to kick up the fine dust. The camp is relatively deserted but nonetheless it is well known to So Cal stargazers so dont be surprised to see other scopes set up. The prime time for this spot is during the summer and it is a great escape from the heat of the desert. Summer daytime temps range from the 70's to 80's with nights cooling to the 30's or 40's. When I was there this June a cold front had passed through resulting in nightime temps in the low 20's so bring some warm clothing and a small stove to make hot tea or coffee. There are plenty of spots to hike, mountain bike, or sight see during the day if you cant sleep. For replentishing supplies, the town of Big Pine is only 15 miles down the hill and has a market, gas and convenience/hardware store. For better amenities the town of Bishop is only 17 miles further away with a large grocery store and a Wal-Mart in addition to many other stores and restaurants.
Tierra Del Sol, CA
[San Diego Astronomy Association Site]