This is my report of a trip to Pinnacles National Park. I have been interested in exploring this park as a potential site that club members could visit for dark sky viewing and imaging. My friend Nhan Nguyen had told me about the location since he has been there a few times for imaging.
On Sun 11/24 Nhan, Bill & Susan O’Neil and I met at the Pinnacles to explore the location and do some imaging and viewing. The Pinnacles is location in a fairly remote location south of Paicines on Hwy 25. From my place in the south bay, the drive was pleasant no remote or off road excursions needed and no excessive winding mountain roads. It took me 1 hour to get there. From the club’s home base at Houge Park, it should take about 1.5 to 1.7 hours to get there depending on traffic. The city of Hollister is about halfway and has gas and other stores if need to get food or other stuff on your way down.
As, I drove around the park, I noticed there are a lot of mountains and trees so the horizons are somewhat limited. On my way to the visitor’s center to meet the others, I noticed an somewhat open area with pretty good horizons. After meeting the others, we talked with the Rangers about having access to that location which is a overflow camping area which also includes an flushable toilet.
As we were setting up, I noticed there were some cars leaving the park on a road next to the campground. Nhan had said once it got dark, that really would not be a problem and it was not. Once it got dark there were no cars after we were set up. I was amazed at how quickly it got dark once the sun had gone down. I had my mount polar aligned and ready to go by 6pm.
This was my first time to a true dark site and it was a new experience. Venus was so bright in the night sky in the west, it was almost seemed like the moon was up on that side of the sky!! But, as Venus went down it did get dark, really dark. I was able to see the Milky Way in detail naked like I had never seen before from RCDO or Coyote Lake. I could easily see all the stars in the little dipper naked eye. The Andromeda Galaxy, Double Cluster, M33 Pinwheel galaxy visible naked eye. The view of the Double Cluster in my 20×80 binoculars were spectacular!!! so much more detail and contrast.
For those into imaging, I was imaging IC342 with a F7 scope. I was able to shoot 12min. sub frames at ISO1600 with no light pollution filter with no skyglow.
I did take some measurements of the location. Most of the horizon are between 15-18 degrees high except for the north which is slightly lower. I took some SQM meter readings with my iPhone app and the readings taken several times through the night were 21.6-21.8 and the highest rating. For comparison RCDO is 20.5. I’ve been told by TAC observers Lake San Antonio is about 21.5. Granted, my iPhone app most likely is not as accurate as a dedicated meter but, it does give a rough reference point.
I enjoyed my time at the Pinnacles with Nhan, Bill and Susan. I think there is a possibility for this location for club members who want to view at a dark site within 2 hours of home base. I’m planning to go back again when I have the opportunity.