Visitor's View – Night Sky
Last updated 7/18/2023 at 11:48am
Shhh...don't tell anyone, it's one of those best kept secrets.
Summer in Borrego Springs can be a spectacular time for visitors looking to explore the heavenly show of clear night skies, escape vacation crowds or encounter unique creatures that call the desert home.
While thousands flock here for spring wildflowers, the lure of the desert in the summertime is a special attraction not widely known.
For those connected to our natural world, the summer desert offers an incredible blend of beauty, discovery, spiritual connection and relaxation.
Borrego Springs and the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are internationally recognized as dark sky locations.
The absence of light pollution and clear views of celestial objects make this a prime destination for those interested in watching meteor showers, photographing dim astronomical wonders, stargazing with a telescope, or simply contemplating the immensity of the universe.
Many of the desert's most iconic creatures are also active at night, giving nature lovers a chance to visit with a variety of reptiles, rodents and interesting arachnids.
First, let's set some ground rules.
It's hot in the summer. It's not a time for a strenuous daytime hike or traveling alone to remote parts of the park.
It's also a time to sleep late, lounge by the pool during the day, enjoy a more leisurely activity level and save your adventures for sunset or nighttime.
One of the biggest draws to Borrego Springs for summer visitors is the spectacular night sky.
Summer is a time when the Milky Way hangs brightly in the night sky, and August is when the annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks, lighting up the night sky with as many as 130 meteors an hour at its peak.
This year, there will be a new moon during the shower, offering sky watchers a particularly prime situation for viewing.
The key to good viewing is to get away from lights. That's easy in Borrego Springs, by simply driving a few miles in any direction. Be careful about going off road in summer sand. It's easy to get stuck.
A reclining chair will let you sit back and enjoy the show, which typically is better after midnight as the earth rotates into the celestial dust cloud that produces the meteors.
Digital cameras equipped with a fast, wide-angle lens can capture beautiful images of fiery meteors. Point your camera to the southeast and start with a time exposure of 30 seconds at f2.8 with an IS0 setting of 1600 to 3200.
The rising or setting crescent moon can also add soft light to the desert landscape, creating unique landscape photo opportunities for night sky photographers equipped with the right vehicle to reach some of the iconic places in the park.
If you do plan to do this, make sure to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.
For the bug and critter crowd, many desert creatures are active at night, such as reptiles, kit foxes, tarantulas and scorpions.
Inexpensive ultraviolet "black" lights can be purchased online that will help you discover scorpions that glow in iridescent green under the glow of an ultraviolet flashlight.
Summer is also a good time to get a close-up view of iconic desert bighorn sheep. Summer heat means many sources of water have dried up, so sheep congregate around the few waterholes that remain.
Places like the pupfish pond at the Palm Canyon Campground often attract herds of the magnificent animals, and they can also be seen frequently from the comfort of your vehicle on the rocky slopes adjacent to Montezuma Grade.
Bring a good pair of binoculars and take some time to drive up or down the grade, using the wide turnouts to pull over and glass the slopes. Sheep are often bedded down during the heat of the day and not moving around.
If you are an early riser, a round of golf before the peak of daytime heat, or a short bicycle ride is a nice way to start the day.
While the desert is special anytime, it's even more so in the summer. There are no crowds, there is excellent dining at many of the local restaurants, some lodging offers attractive summer rates, and the pace of life seems to slow down as temperatures rise.
Like I said, don't tell anyone.
You can reach the author at Ernie at Packtrain.com.