The Quintessential “Stargazing In Joshua Tree” Checklist

stargazing in joshua tree starlit sky
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“‘Cause in a sky full of stars, I think I saw you.” — Coldplay.

Joshua Tree National Park is located at the intersection of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. It’s a place flanked by copper dunes and granite monoliths. A wonderland stubbled with cacti, milkweed, and the Yucca brevifolia, otherwise known as the Joshua tree.

At an elevation of 5,800 feet above sea level, the high desert is an ideal destination for the aspiring astronomer.

And on a moonless night, stargazing in Joshua Tree will not only offer you a healthy dose of euphoria. It’s also the respite you’ll need from everything in your life that SUCKS, including fuckloads of work, toxic relationships, and the throes of a global pandemic.

Last winter, the Hubbie and I visited Joshua Tree (with our dog, Vernon) and spent three consecutive nights in a narrow studio space that was converted from an old school bus! (Pictured below.)

school bus BnB joshua tree

Sure, we could’ve done without the occasional stench wafting in the air from the makeshift septic system that the owners of the BnB installed. But despite this minor hiccup, our desert sojourn was a big success!

More importantly, our three-day getaway proved to be an optimal time for stargazing in Joshua Tree.

A) We were far removed from city lights.

B) There was virtually no smog in the air.

And C) The moon was nowhere to be found.

GAZING AT THE STARS

Gazing at a starlit sky for hours requires patience.

So, if you’re the kind of person who can’t survive five minutes in a museum, I can understand why stargazing in Joshua Tree won’t be up your alley.

But from a mental health and wellness perspective, you’ll want to venture outside of your comfort zone and spend a few nights in Joshua Tree.

Why?

Because Joshua Tree is f*cking magical.

Words won’t do it justice.

Joshua Tree has this otherworldly charm this je ne sais quoi that can make manifest, almost on command, whatever it is you wish to see or hear (as long as it’s within the scope of possibilities.)

For example, on one of my walks through the sparse vegetation of Joshua Tree, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see some jackrabbits right about now?”

And then, poof! A family of black-tail jackrabbits darted across the parched terrain right in front of me!

Later that day, I hoped for a killer sunset, and then, voilà! This happened:

pink and coral sunset joshua tree

 

purple sunset boulder joshua tree

Look, I shouldn’t have to convince you that stargazing in Joshua Tree will do wonders for your mental health and personal wellbeing.

But if for no other reason, go for the Insta-worthy shots.

I, myself, am guilty as charged:

writer in desert garden tire planters joshua tree

 

writer grinning joshua tree desert shrubs

 

writer squatting in joshua tree landscape

THE QUINTESSENTIAL “STARGAZING IN JOSHUA TREE” CHECKLIST

  • When to go (on a moonless night)
  • Where to watch (the higher the better)
  • Winter parka (or warm clothes)
  • Binoculars (or stellarscope)
  • Red flashlight
  • Tripod & extra batteries for your camera (if you wish to photograph the night sky)
  • Constellations map or “star chart”
  • Smartphone Apps (for an interactive experience)


The above list of essential items will come in handy when gazing at a canopy of stars. You’ll definitely want to consider them while planning your stargazing-in-Joshua-Tree adventure!

Now, let’s go over the list:

Depending on what you’d like to scope out in the starlit sky, consider when to go to Joshua Tree. 

For example, if you’d like to catch sight of the Milky Way’s pink and blue iridescence, plan your trip between April and September when the moon isn’t in the sky.

On the other hand, if you wish to view the Perseid Meteor Shower that happens every year, plan your visit to Joshua Tree in Mid-August (just be sure to keep up with the news and find out exactly when the light show is scheduled to take place!)

meteor shower shooting stars joshua tree

You may also want to consider where to watch the stars.

According to the National Parks website, Cottonwood Campground (within Joshua Tree National Park) has the darkest skies, and the east side of the park has the least air pollution (the nearest metropolis, Phoenix, is 300 miles away!)

If you’re visiting Joshua Tree during the fall and winter, keep in mind that nightly temperatures average in the 30- to 40-degree range (Fahrenheit), which is why a parka or a warm winter coat will come in handy.

Next, let’s check some gadgets and gizmos off the list.

Binoculars will narrow the gap between your depth of vision and the stars themselves, but a stellarscope will do you one better: it comes with a fully integrated visual map of the sky!

You’ll just need to set the dials on the outside of the stellarscope to the time and date you’re viewing, and presto! You can now match up the stars in the sky with the star map on the viewfinder. (How ’bout dem apples?)

Also, while stargazing in Joshua Tree, you might be tempted to photograph the starlit sky. If that’s the case, you’ll want to invest in a red flashlight.

Why? 

Well, have you ever stared directly at the sun, or at an intensely bright light, and then looked elsewhere? If so, have you noticed an annoying glare clouding your line of vision?

That’s right, dear reader, “vision glare” is the cockblocker of the stars. It sucks especially when you’re trying to locate Orion’s Belt among the crowded constellations in the night sky.

By contrast, red light is nifty because it maintains dark adaption for nighttime viewing, meaning no glares to keep you from taking that perfect interstellar shot on your camera. (By the way, don’t forget to bring a tripod and extra camera batteries; a chilly night may drain your batteries quicker than you think!)

If you want to get real technical, channel your inner Copernicus by locating Ursa Major, Andromeda and the rest of the 88 constellations in our solar system using a star chart (like this one.)

silhouette gazing at pink and blue milky way

Otherwise, you can enhance your stargazing-in-Joshua-Tree experience with Apps like “Star Walk” or “Google Sky Map.”

And finally, if you see a shooting star (like we did), make a wish, dear reader.

No request is too extreme 😉 

(To read more travel articles from QWERTYdelight, click here!)

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