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A Dark Desert Skies Campout Is Raising Awareness for the Eastern Sierra

The Milky Way Galaxy stretches across the night sky behind a dimly lit Joshua Tree.
(Photo by Ron Stormo)
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When was the last time you had a complete view of the night sky, free of light pollution? Most urban dwellers only see a handful of constellations. They have never seen the Milky Way or the thousands of other stars and celestial objects observed by generations of humans across time.

The importance of the stars is sometimes forgotten. The night sky not only helped people navigate the earth and track the seasons, but also gave humans a guide for understanding nature and their place in the universe.

Fortunately, spectacular stargazing and hiking is not far from Los Angeles and Southern California. You can enjoy a weekend immersed in nature at Dark Desert Skies, a free campout event happening May 20 – 22 in Lone Pine and Conglomerate Mesa.

The event is organized by Friends of the Inyo, a nonprofit conservation group whose mission is to protect and care for the public lands of the Eastern Sierra. FOI’s service area stretches from the eastern slopes of Yosemite to Death Valley. For over 10,000 years, these lands have been – and still are – inhabited by the Paiute (Nuumu), Shoshone (Newe) and Timbisha peoples.

“What makes Conglomerate Mesa so special is its unique position in the landscape,” said FOI Desert Lands Organizer Kayla Brown, who will be co-leading the outing together with FOI Executive Director Wendy Schneider.

“It is where the Mojave Desert meets the Great Basin, creating a perfect environment for rare plants,” Browne said, “and its proximity to Death Valley National Park makes it one of the best places to view dark skies. Participants can expect to see the beauty of some of the darkest night skies in the region in a lush Joshua Tree forest.”

A Weekend of Activities

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The Dark Desert Skies weekend begins on Friday evening, May 20 in Lone Pine, with a film viewing at the Lone Pine Museum of Western Film History followed by dinner at the museum.

Saturday’s activities begin with a hike and guided botany tour of Conglomerate Mesa. These 22,500 acres of roadless Bureau of Land Management terrain are unconfined, rugged, and brimming with rich desert life and cultural history.

Conglomerate Mesa has been a special area of focus for preservation by Friends of the Inyo. The group voiced its opposition to plans for an industrial mining project and an open pit cyanide gold mine. On March 17, 2022, the Canadian company exploring the area announced it was suspending plans for the proposed mining project.

Following the hike, on Saturday evening the group will travel to the campsite. A roundtable talk will discuss the nighttime wildlife, preservation efforts, dark sky photography, and astronomy with telescopes on site.

On Sunday, May 22, the weekend wraps up with a morning hike to Centennial Flat before heading back to Lone Pine.

Friends of the Inyo welcomes everyone to experience the natural beauty of Conglomerate Mesa and the wonder of dark desert skies.

Learn more about Dark Desert Skies, happening May 20 – 22, and RSVP here.

Equipment Required

Participants will need to bring their own camping gear, food, plenty of warm clothes and water. You will be able to reach the Saturday night campsite in a common sedan with good tires, but not the trailhead for the Conglomerate Mesa hike. A high-clearance vehicle with strong, well-inflated tires (and a spare) like 4-Runner, Tacoma, or F150 is highly recommended. This will also help with carpooling for the Sunday hike. Friends of the Inyo will bring some additional supplies in the event something is forgotten.

Event Details:

Tentative Schedule
Friday, May 20

5:00 pm: Films at the Lone Pine Museum of Western Film History

7:30 pm: Dinner at the museum

Saturday, May 21

8:30 am: Meet at Lone Pine Interagency Visitor Center

12:00 Begin hike on Conglomerate Mesa; botany discussed by botanist Maria Jesus

4:00 pm: Leave Conglomerate Mesa

6:00 pm: Arrive at campsite

6:00 – 7:30 pm: Settle in, set up camp, and make dinner

7:30 – 8:30 pm: Roundtable talk featuring Dan and Cindy Duriscoe, Ron Stormo, Kayla Browne, and Wendy Schneider

• CM Wildlife at night

• Update on threats to Conglomerate Mesa

• Dark sky photography

• Astronomy

8:30 – 9:30 pm: Free roaming among the telescopes

Sunday, May 22

8:30 am: Leave Santa Rosa campsite

10:00 am: Meet again at the parking area to hike on Centennial Flat

2:00 pm: Head back to Lone Pine

Conglomerate Mesa.png
(Ken Etzel)