Stargazing in Cuyama Valley

One of my favorite things about LA is how easy it is to get out of LA. A quick google search of “best places to camp in/outside of LA”, “best stargazing near LA”, “best day trips from LA”, “best hiking around LA”, “best swimming holes in Southern California”, “where to go to get the fuck out of LA”, etc will turn up such an overwhelming amount of options that picking one almost feels as hard as finding one in cities where there are relatively few options. 

Unfortunately, every time I search I end up narrowing it down by 1.) how hot it will be that weekend, and 2.) how physically uncomfortable I’m willing to be. The weekend I got these night shots is a perfect example of why my progress in knocking some of the hikes I’m looking forward to off my list is going painfully slow this summer: it was over 100 degrees every day. This was God-cursing weather. This was, “can tires melt?” paranoia weather.  This was stay-inside-at-all-costs weather akin to my old Nor'easter or tropical storm days. But lo, this was also the only Fourth of July weekend I was going to get this year, so I charged forth. This particular weekend I also had a few extra criteria: I needed a spot that was secluded enough for my photo project so other camper’s lights wouldn’t intrude on my scene (and so mine wouldn’t be a bother), and I needed to be able to park nearby so I could use my car as a prop. 

Luckily I found the perfect campground, Songdog Ranch, only two hours north of home in the Cuyama Valley area (using HipCamp, a new discovery for me), and since I arrived at night and left before the sun got too high in the morning, the air felt cool. I took Templin Highway which is gorgeous within itself, and made me brainstorm ways I might mount my camera up to the window next time, to try and get shots in areas where there’s nowhere to pull over….probably not safe. Towards the end of the drive I came to the red dunes you see below on Maricopa Highway, and then you end up high in the hills on CA-166 for the last stretch. At night I could see lights stretching far into the distance over the whole horizon, and the next morning on the way back I realized how pretty the hills were all by themselves. I felt like I was in a different country. The campsite was exactly what I needed - remote enough for dark skies, distance from neighboring campers, and also equipped with lots of amenities, like a picnic area, a grill, a water spigot, and outhouses. You climb up a mesa to the campsites, which aren’t visable from the road. You’d never know they were there. 

I had a blast setting up these pictures, and laughing at myself every time I had to stop an exposure early so I could turn on my flashlight and check what was rustling in the bushes, only to find tiny cute rodents of some kind (this?). Can you believe it, not one cougar? I was glad to have brought my Bugout Bag (everything is in there packed and ready for the Apocalypse at a moment’s notice - tent, first aid kit, portable stove, all of The Things) because my new flashlight failed me almost immediately, but I had a headlamp in my bag which gave me some pretty cool effects.  

It’s crazy how many different environments we have within California; I found lakes, hills, desert, dunes, and city all within a two hour radius of one portion of Southern California. I’ve got so much more to see. 


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