The Mount Pinos parking lot in July 2001 on a beautiful
Saturday morning after a long night of observing.
Welcome to legendary Mount Pinos, CA. I, along with anywhere between 75-100 other amateur astronomers, visit Mount Pinos every month in the summer and fall to do our dark-sky observing. There is plenty of paved, flat area to set up even the largest of dobs and outhouses for those who don't like going in bushes. The lot is actually the nordic base camp for x-country skiing and several surrounding campgrounds. It is in dire need of repaving as you can easily see in the photo above, but it could be worse. The pavement does keep dust to a minimum but it does radiate heat until late night. Mount Pinos is arguably one of the best sites for amateur astronomy in Southern California besides the desert areas. Only major problem with the site is the trees. No way you could complete a Messier Marathon from here. Yet, the trees are a helpful presence. Those trees block most of the wind that sometimes picks up, keeping dust down, scopes steady, and fingers warm. It still can pick up quite a bit though.
The weather during the summer is usually excellent. It's high altitude, 8300 ft. (2500 meters), puts the site above most of the worst clouds and pollution making for a naked-eye limit (for me at least) of about 6.0 depending on the humidity and other factors, but the transparency has noticably degraded over the past few years due to new housing developements just to the southeast. When the marine layer creeps in over the L.A. basin and the cities of Ventura and Santa Barbara the skies get noticeably darker. Average nighttime temperature during the Summer is around 45-50 but has gone down to around 25-30. Many times it is coldest around 10:00 to 11:00, but warms up a few degrees around midnight. Bring as much warm clothing as possible, even if you feel you might not need it. The very first time I visited Mount Pinos in April '96, the temperature was 17 degrees at sunset, I didn't stay very long. The lowest I've heard from other astronomers is around 0, with a nasty windchill in late winter of '96. Due to weather, the astronomy "season" on Mount Pinos ranges from the months of May to October, but others tough it out during the rest of the year When it snows, the forest service may close down the road to the lot, or require 4-wheel drive and/or chains.
The regulars are familiar with most everyone else. Almost all the astrophotographers park on the far end of the lot to minimize interference by headlights and people at night. They can be a little on the grouchy side, believe me, I'm one of them. If you're a newcomer, try to avoid that area until you've become familiar with the place and people. If you want to see some really nice objects, stop by one of the large dobsonians scattered around, they're more than happy to oblige. If you see a white Ford Focus, that's me, come and say hi.
Visit these sites to get weather information for the area.
Directions to Mount Pinos from the Los Angeles area
For a picture of the area with route outlined, go here.
- Take Interstate 5 north about 34 miles past the Castaic Junction (Magic Mountain).
- Exit at Frazier Park Road (First red dot on picture, far right).
- Turn left from the offramp and drive about 7 or 8 miles. You will go trough a stop sign in the community of Frazier Park and mile or two later, a sign that says "Ranger Station/Lockwood Valley" with an arrow pointing left (second red dot on picture). Don't turn here, keep going straight another 3-4 miles.
- You will eventually come to a "Y" intersection (Third red dot on picture) with a sign sign with directions to Pine Mountain Club (right) and Mount Pinos (straight), you want to keep going straight. The road to the summit has no markings so if you get past this point and there is a double-yellow line in the road, you're heading towards Pine Mountain Club, not Mount Pinos.
- Follow this windy road about 8 miles past two yellow snow gates. One gate is at about 1 mile in or so, the other about 5-6 miles in.
- Near the end there will be a roadsign with the words "pavement ends" on it. The parking lot is just around the corner so slow down a bit.
- When you see a whole bunch of scopes and RV's, you're there.
Some suggestions for visitors
- Plan to arrive well before dark. I usually arrive latest around 2:30 or 3:00 to make sure I get a good spot in the middle and I like to eat and visit with others before dark. After dusk, there's no time to talk.
- Don't forget plenty of warm clothing.
- Adventure parking passes are required. They can be obtained at the ranger station in Lockwood Valley or any BIG 5 Sporting Goods store; $5 for a day pass, $30 for a year pass.
- BACK your car into it's parking spot. Even reverse lights are extremely bright when your eyes are fully dark adapted. Also, turn the dome light in your car to the OFF position.
- Use a RED-FILTERED flashlight at night. Violators are libel to be shot, hehe.
- If you leave during nighttime, turn only your parking lights on and use the brakes as little as possible. If you have a GM car with daytime headlights, pull your emergency brake up ONE click to shut them off until you get a little down the road, it will not harm your brakes.
- There are porta potties there, don't worry, but they can get smelly.
- If you get there early, you can hike up to the peak of Mount Pinos. It's about 1.4 miles total walking distance. If it's a good clear day, you can get a very nice view of the San Juaquin Valley and surrounding mountains.
- HAVE FUN!
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