Trona Pinnacles is not located on another planet, but at first glance, you may come to that conclusion if your imagination was so inclined. Located just to the south of Death Valley National Park, Trona Pinnacles is an easy introduction to extreme desert conditions with out the full commitment of Death Valley. Not far from the town of Ridgecrest, off the 395, this other worldly location is a short drive from any starting point in Southern California.
This was our first time to Trona Pinnacles and a real world stress test of “La Van”, a 1991 Econoline 350 7.3 diesel, Coach House conversion with a custom 6″ long travel lift by Weld Tech Designs. To emphasize “stress test” would be an accurate statement as day time temperatures were well above 100 degrees that day, not to mention the following day we did the 4000 ft climb to Kennedy Meadows in the Sierra Mountains, a notorious road filled with switchbacks and an incrediblly steep grade.
The “plan” for this trip was to experience some of the darkest skies that one could find within a short drive of the city. June 31st was well within the peak Milky Way season and also the peak of the desert heat. A late start from San Diego put our arrival time just after sunset and with the blue hour slowly fading, our goal was to find a place to “camp” as quickly as possible before the night fell.
Are there stars in the city? Maybe in Hollywood but I talking about looking up, how many stars do you see? short answer is, not many. Light pollution is a real thing and what we get from well lit streets and the eye candy of a colorfull city scape is the tradeoff off witnessing the universe first hand. How many stars are there in Trona Pinnacles, another short answer is all of them!
The crescent moon was on it’s exit for the evening and made for a wonderful transition to the full experience of a truly dark sky. We were able to roam around in the fading moon light, exploring our area, preparing for the night’s activity ahead. As the moon dropped well below the horizon, we were treated to hours of complete amazement: The slow but steady drift of the Milky Way, the multitude of faceless cheers erupting from the darkness at every shooting star that raced across the sky – each and every colorful one, a self sacrifice for the enjoyment of the lucky few.
The sun was rising and it was time to grab a few hours of sleep, the perfect night temperatures were slowly on the rise, giving us a small window of comfort until the heat of the day would push us away from the desert. On the way out we stopped at the small information area, with well placed and informative signs describing exactly why this other worldly place exists…our next destination was the high Sierras, a welcome relief to the heat.