October 19, 2019: Lonely Speck Astrophotography Meetup at Trona Pinnacles, California

This October, we’ll be traveling to Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark in California for a fun and free night of astrophotography.

All levels of experience are welcome! Will you join us?

Introduction

Trona Pinnacles, California is one of our all-time favorite places to photograph the night sky. We have visited and re-visited this bizarre landscape many times in the last 5 years and it always offers something unique. It’s the place where we got engaged, and we’ll be back again on the 19th of October, 2019 for the 2019 Lonely Speck Astrophotography Meetup. It will be a night of star gazing, photography, and a unique opportunity to meet other night photography enthusiasts.

This event is completely free and open to all followers of Lonely Speck. Let us know if you’re coming:

RSVP on Facebook

Quick Information:

  • When: Saturday, October 19th, 2019, 5pm to midnight (please arrive by 6pm)
  • Where: Trona Pinnacles, California, USA. Meet in the flat open area near the bathroom.
  • Bring: Water, snacks, camera, tripod, headlamp, hiking boots
  • Cost: Free
  • Who: Anyone can join! (please RSVP)

The Date: Saturday, October 19th, 2019

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October 19th, 2019 has a waning gibbous moon. The sun sets at 6:09pm and the Milky Way galactic center will be visible right after sunset. Astronomical twilight ends at 7:34pm so we should have around 3 hours of darkness until 10:31pm, when the partial moon will rise, lighting up the landscape and turning the sky a deep blue. Once the moon is high enough, we’ll finish shooting for the night, around 11pm to midnight.

Average temperatures in mid October are around 83°F during the day and 53°F at night. Come prepared for a cool evening! Be sure to bring warm layers, good supportive boots, water and snacks.

The Meetup

We will be arriving to Trona Pinnacles around 5pm for adequate time before dark to set up and photograph sunset. We will be meeting in the flat area near the bathroom.

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We suggest trying to arrive around 1 hour before sunset in order to have adequate time to familiarize yourself with the area before dark. Driving 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 until just after moonrise to depart around midnight.

Rules

The Trona Pinnacles is a protected area that deserves our respect. Please practice “leave no trace” and “leave it better than you found it” principles. Please pack out all trash and take it with you.

The only things that you should take from Trona Pinnacles are photos and the only things you should leave are footprints. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and there will likely be periodic rounds by a local law enforcement BLM ranger.

We’ve notified the BLM of the meetup and they have asked us to adhere to the following practices:

  • Spread out to separate areas while shooting photos, rather than congregating in a single area as a large group.
  • Leave vehicles parked during shooting and don’t drive around at night unless departing.
  • Please carpool if you can, to minimize the number of cars at the site.

Lodging

While Trona Pinnacles is a public, free open camping area, we plan to stay at a hotel in the town of Ridgecrest, only 40 minutes to the west of Trona Pinnacles and we recommend you do the same.

If you do plan to camp at Trona Pinnacles, the Bureau of Land management has a restriction of a 14 days max stay. Campfires must only be made in pre-existing fire rings and you are asked to not collect or burn any local brush or plants.

Night Photography Etiquette

This is a group meetup. There will likely be a large number of photographers roaming around. Many attending may be beginners.

We encourage you all to work together and communicate in a friendly and welcoming manner with all other photographers at the meetup. These are your new friends. Take portraits of each other, help each other with techniques like camera settings and composition.

Trona Pinnacles is very dark at night. We encourage you to use a headlamp for safety while walking around in the dark. Please be patient with the occasional stray light that may show up in your shot. At the same time, please be mindful of others and minimize the use of lights when possible. Keep your headlamps pointed down at your feet. Stick to trails where possible to reduce the chance of walking in front of someone’s camera.

Lenses for Milky Way Photography

The main goal of the meetup is to make friends and enjoy the beauty of the night sky together. Be courteous and have fun!

The Place

Trona Pinnacles, California is a dry desert environment that features some unique geology: hundreds of some of the largest tufa formations in the world scattered 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 National Natural Landmark, protected under the US Bureau of Land Management.

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Please familiarize yourself with the area by reading more about Trona Pinnacles at the Bureau of Land Management website.

Preparation

You must arrive prepared for this meetup. You are responsible for yourself, your party and your equipment. While we will all meet together to say hello at the start of the evening, this is an unguided event. You should be self-reliant on your own resources to be prepared to shoot photos at night at Trona Pinnacles.

Trona Pinnacles is a harsh desert environment. It can get freezing cold at night, and there are no sources of water. Check the weather in advance, so you can dress comfortably. 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 at Trona Pinnacles is rocky and treacherous. Please wear 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, being mindful to keep your light at the ground in front of you. But it’s dark out there, so safety first.

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The main entrance of Trona Pinnacles is accessible by most 2-wheel drive vehicles. Pinnacles Road is unpaved and a little bit bumpy in areas. Stay on designated roadways, out of puddles and off the shoulder. Follow all posted signs and local regulations. At the actual Trona Pinnacles area, there are numerous sand washes. If you do not have 4-wheel drive, do not drive over the sand washes. You will get stuck. We know this from experience. Even though these sandy areas are part of the designated roads, it’s only advisable to drive over them with an off-road capable vehicle.

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Getting There

Trona Pinnacles is about 180 miles and a 3.5-hour drive from Los Angeles in no traffic. We recommend planning extra driving time for a more relaxing drive.

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Trona Pinnacles from LAX

From the BLM Website:

The Trona Pinnacles are located approximately 20.0 miles east of Ridgecrest. Access to the site is from a BLM dirt road (RM143) that leaves SR 178, about 7.7 miles east of the intersection of SR 178 and the Trona-Red Mountain Road. The 5.0-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.

ridgecrest-to-trona-pinnacles
The best route to Trona Pinnacles from Ridgecrest is via the intersection of Pinnacles Road and State Route 178.

When navigating from Ridgecrest, California, we 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. We do not recommend taking these routes.

RSVP on Facebook

Questions?

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below, or email us.

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.

Thanks so much for being a part of our astrophotography adventure. We hope to see you there!

6 Replies to “October 19, 2019: Lonely Speck Astrophotography Meetup at Trona Pinnacles, California”

  1. I really want to attend, but have a planned family event in Big Bear on the 19th, and wouldn’t want to drive in with lights blazing at 8 or 9pm.

    I do have an equipment question, however: I have a Canon 80D with Tamron 16-300mm (I think it’s f4.5); should I invest in a better lens (one of your suggestions), or use what I have and pick up a star-tracker first?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Gary,

      I personally always tend to recommend going for a faster lens (low f/number) and using exposure stacking before investing in a star tracker.

      Trackers are another pieces of gear to purchase, lug around, worry about, set up and maintain.

  2. Hi, We have a ford transit van, so if we go to the Trona Pinnacles we will probably be sleeping in that. In that case, what time and where should we meet up? I am presuming that there will be no cell phone service to co-ordinate.

    1. Hi Loretta. Yes, you’re correct, cell phone service is very limited at Trona Pinnacles. We plan to see people arriving between 5 and 6pm, and we’ll gather as a group at 6 to say hello to each other and kick off the meetup in the large flat area near the vault toilet. This is the same area where we recommend that people park.

      We hope to see you there!

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