This July, we’ll be traveling to Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark in California for a night of camping and astrophotography. Won’t you join us?
Trona Pinnacles, California is one of my all-time favorite places to photograph. I have visited and re-visited this bizarre landscape many times in the last three years and it always offers something unique. My girlfriend Diana and I will be visiting Trona Pinnacles again on the 30th of July, 2016 for what I hope to be the First Annual Lonely Speck Astrophotography Meetup. It will be a night of star gazing, photography and a unique opportunity to meet other night photography enthusiasts.
- Starts: Saturday, July 30th, 2016, 6pm
- Ends: Sunday July 31st, 2016, 9am
- Where: Trona Pinnacles, California, USA. Meet in the flat open area near the bathroom.
- Bring: WATER! Camera, Tripod, Headlamp, Hiking Boots, Food, Camping Equipment. Did I say WATER?
- Cost: Free
- Who: Anyone can join!
The Date: Saturday to Sunday the 30th-31st of July, 2016
July 30th has a waning crescent moon, only 4 days before the date of the new moon. Skies will be dark for most of the night and so it should prove to be an excellent night for astrophotography. Late July is one of the hottest times of the year at Trona Pinnacles with daytime highs exceeding 113°F (45°C) and still hot at night with temperature lows at about 93°F (34°C). Come prepared for the heat! Bring plenty of water for your group. A minimum of one gallon per person per day. Late July is also the time of lowest precipitation so it’s likely that we’ll have clear skies that night. It’s a perfect time of year because the Milky Way Galactic Center will visible for nearly the entire duration of the night.
We will be arriving to Trona Pinnacles in the afternoon of July 30th, probably around 4pm to 6pm local time for adequate time before dark to set up camp and photograph before the sun sets at 7:56pm. We will be meeting in the flat area near the bathroom.
I suggest trying to arrive at least 2 hour before sunset in order to have adequate time to familiarize yourself with the area before dark. Navigating to Trona Pinnacles in the dark is not suggested. Arriving before sunset will also give us plenty of time to meet you and all the other fellow photographers that will be joining.
We plan to shoot for several hours of the night, nap for the last few hours of darkness then depart for Ridgecrest in the morning.
Rules and Etiquette
If you wish to attend, please respond on our facebook event page.
The Trona Pinnacles is a protected area that deserves our respect. Please practice “Leave No Trace”. The only things that you should take are photos and the only things you should leave are footprints. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and there is likely going to be periodic rounds by a local law enforcement ranger. From the BLM Trona Pinnacles website:
Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces
- Pack It In Pack It Out
- Properly Dispose of What You Can’t Pack Out
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Use and Impact of Fires
This is a group meetup so there will likely be a number of other photographers roaming around. I would encourage you to work together with the other photographers that may join the meetup. These are your new friends. Take portraits of each other, help each other with techniques like camera settings, composition and light painting.
Over the course of the night, you’ll probably inadvertently walk into someone else’s frame or have the same happen to you. It happens to all of us so don’t worry about it too much, just let your fellow photographers and new friends know what you’re doing. Communicate what can be done to help the photograph that you or they may be trying to take. Please openly communicate with the photographers around you and be courteous and conscious about your use of headlamp, flashlight, torch and light painting. Most of all: have fun!
Trona Pinnacles, California is a dry desert environment that features some unique geology: hundreds of some of the largest tufa formations in the world scatter across a large area of the desert. Some of the tufa pinnacles are more than 100 feet tall and come in all shapes and sizes. The area is designated as a protected National Natural Landmark, protected under the US Bureau of Land Management.
Open camping is allowed and campfires are allowed in the area at existing campsites with fire rings. The pinnacles are located in a relatively dark sky area with only minimal light pollution visible on the horizon from the towns of Ridgecrest, Barstow, and Trona. It’s a wonderful place for landscape astrophotography. Please familiarize yourself with the area by reading more about Trona Pinnacles at the Bureau of Land Management website.
Preparation and Camping
You must arrive prepared for this meetup. You are responsible for yourself, your party and your equipment. You should be self-reliant on your own resources to be prepared to spend the night at Trona Pinnacles.
Trona Pinnacles is a harsh desert environment. It will be very hot in the daytime and there are absolutely no sources of water. I recommend bringing 2 gallons of water per person for your stay. Remember to bring drinks, snacks and food that does not require cooking to keep your energy up during the course of the night.
There is only one pit-style vault bathroom in the area. Please keep it clean and do not use it to dispose of trash. Pack out what you bring.
The terrain can be rocky and treacherous. Please bring adequate hiking boots with ankle support. There are scorpions and tarantulas that come out at night. Stepping on a scorpion with open toed shoes is probably a recipe to get stung. Bring and wear boots.
A flashlight, torch or headlamp is essential. Please use one when walking around at night. It’s dark out there.
The Trona Pinnacles are accessible by most 2-wheel drive vehicles. Pinnacles Road is unpaved and a little bit bumpy in areas. Just stay on the road, out of puddles and off the shoulder. Please stay on the designated trails and follow all posted signs and local regulations. At Trona Pinnacles, there are numerous sand washes surrounding the actual pinnacles area. If you do not have 4-wheel drive, do not drive over the sand washes. You will get stuck. I know this from experience. Even though these sandy areas are part of the designated trails, it’s only advisable to drive over them with an off-road capable vehicle.
There is lodging available at hotels and motels in the nearby town of Ridgecrest but the best way to experience the Trona pinnacles is to camp. There is no fee for camping.
Fires are permitted only in pre-existing fire rings. There are several scattered throughout the area. Buy wood in Ridgecrest as there are no sources of firewood at Trona Pinnacles. Do not collect or burn any local brush or plants.
Trona Pinnacles is about 200 miles and a 3.5-4 hours drive from Los Angeles, depending on traffic.
From the BLM Website:
Trona Pinnacles is located approximately 20 miles east of Ridgecrest. Access from a BLM dirt road (RM143) that leaves State Route 178 (SR 178), about 7.7 miles east of the intersection of SR 178 and the Trona-Red Mountain Road. The 5-mile long dirt road from SR 178 to the Pinnacles is usually accessible to 2-wheel drive vehicles, however, the road may be closed during the winter months after a heavy rain.
When navigating from Ridgecrest, California, I highly recommend following this route to enter via the north at the intersection of Pinnacles Road and SR 178 as detailed by the BLM website. Google Maps will sometimes navigate incorrectly via Trona-Red Mountain Road or Randsburg Wash Road. I do not recommend taking these routes.
If you would like to join, please respond via our facebook event page. We greatly look forward to meeting you and hope that you can take the time to join us on July 30th, 2016.
No facebook? RSVP via email:
Astrophotography Post-Processing Workshop after the Meetup: July 31, 2016
Bring your laptop and follow along as Ian Norman reviews the following techniques:
- Astrophotography post-processing techniques in Adobe Lightroom
- Advanced noise reduction with image stacking for astrophotography in Adobe Photoshop
- Ultra-high resolution panorama stitching of a Milky Way landscape in Adobe Photoshop
You’ll connect with fellow astrophotography enthusiasts, share your best photos from the 2016 Lonely Speck Meetup, and wrap up the morning with the opportunity to ask Ian any questions you may have about astrophotography.
Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below, or email us. We’ll post FAQs here as they come in.
Prepare for the Meetup: Learn Astrophotography
Astrophotography 101 is completely free for everyone. All of the lessons are available on the Lonely Speck Astrophotography 101 page for you to access at any time. Enter your email and whenever we post a new lesson you’ll receive it in your inbox. We won’t spam you and your email will stay secure. Furthermore, updates will be sent out only periodically, usually less than once per week.
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Believe it or not, Lonely Speck is a full-time job. It’s been an amazing experience for us to see a community develop around learning astrophotography and we’re so happy to be a small part of it. I have learned that amazing things happen when you ask for help so remember that we are always here for you. If you have any questions about photography or just want to share a story, contact us! If you find the articles here helpful, consider helping us out with a donation.
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Thanks so much for being a part of our astrophotography adventure.