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Bishop Visitor's Center

Ancient Bristlecone Pine & Milky Way. Photo: Tony Rowell

Intro

The night sky has captured the human imagination from time immemorial. Here in the Eastern Sierra the clear air and lack of light pollution make way for unimpeded visibility of the stars.

On a night when the moon is new the ribbon of the Milky Way is as obvious here today as it was when Galileo first focused his rudimentary telescope at this phenomenon in 1610 and discovered that it was made up of stars.

Today a state-of-the-art radio telescope array, affectionately known as “Big Ears,” is situated just east of Big Pine, 15 miles south of Bishop. The Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), run by the California Institute of Technology, is one of the largest university-operated observatories in the world and hosts numerous projects in radio astronomy and cosmology.

Big Ears & Milky Way. Photo: Bert Dennison

What Makes It Great

A night out under the stars can be incredibly wonderful to behold. Whether you spend only a few hours after dark or all night under the canopy of stars watching the Milky Way arc across the sky it will be a memory you will treasure forever.

On a moonless night the stars are brilliant from just about any vantage point within the town, but a drive to some of the outlying locations will get you away from the town’s glow and give you a wide and awe-inspiring view of the sky. Full moon nights are equally spectacular, especially in winter when white snow-capped mountains reflect the moon’s glow.

This is also an awesome place to witness astronomical events like meteor showers and comets.

Who Is Going to Love It

In so many parts of the world where the spectacle of the Milky Way can no longer be seen there are countless children and adults who have never set eyes on it. This is something that all people should witness and contemplate. It is our history and our future.

What makes this all the more special is that the many places in the Eastern Sierra for night sky watching are settings with spectacular natural beauty of their own. Outdoor enthusiasts, astronomers and photographers will be enthralled and engaged by a night out in the Eastern Sierra.

At OVRO tours are given year-round on the first Monday of every month, unless it is a holiday then the tour is on the second Monday. Getting a different ‘view’ of the skies at this facility will definitely broaden your horizons. Tours start at 1 p.m. and last about an hour. Reservations are not required and there is no cost.

OVRO TOURS

Best Season

Geminid Meteor Reflection over Eastern Sierra. Photo: Tony Rowell

Cold, clear winter nights do present optimal conditions for night sky viewing. There are two factors that contribute to this. One is the nights are longer in the northern hemisphere. The other is that cold air holds less moisture, which means more transparency and greater clarity.

Night sky viewing is, however, a year-round activity in the Eastern Sierra and should be coordinated primarily with moon phases, timing of astronomical events, and the weather.

Some destinations for super dark skies are not accessible during winter and the summer months offer warm, dry nights that make this a perfect time for teaching kids about the cosmos.

Best Places

Along US Highway 395 from Lone Pine, 60 miles south of Bishop, to Mono Lake, 66 miles north of Bishop, there are innumerable places to stop, hike, bivvy for a few hours, or camp overnight for stargazing.

A few miles west of Lone Pine is the Alabama Hills recreation area where a view of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous USA, can be seen through a natural rock arch named the Mobius Arch. A glittering night sky with the sinuous path of the Milky Way as the backdrop is a sight to behold on a moonless night. During a full moon in winter the skyline of the Sierra Nevada and Mt Whitney will be starkly white in an azure sky with a sprinkling of twinkling stars.

High above Bishop is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. These trees, the Great Basin bristlecone pine, are the oldest living non-clonal organisms on earth and, if trees could speak, they might tell us of a slightly different sky than the one we see now. The oldest tree, Prometheus, is a little over 5,000 years old and was just a sapling when the star Thuban was the pole star at the time when the Egyptian pyramids were being built.

Close to Bishop and presenting a magnificent view of Mt. Tom and Wheeler Ridge is Buttermilk Country. Take a 10-minute drive west from town on W. Line St. – SR 168 to Buttermilk Road and turn right. Head out into Buttermilk Country as far you wish or can (after about 10 miles on this road you may need 4×4 and high clearance) and find a turnout or clearing to spread a blanket or pitch a tent. A summer night out here is a great place for a romantic date or a late night picnic with kids under a canopy of sparkling stars.

Full Moon Rising over Mono Lake. Photo: Bert Dennison

Near the junction of Highway 120 west, the Tioga pass road into Yosemite National Park, sits a most magnificent lake – Mono Lake. (Pronounced Moh-No.) This lake is a large, shallow, saline soda lake that lies in a closed basin. The ‘tufa towers’, calcium-carbonate spires and knobs are the unique feature of this lake, which is a protected California State Park. A nighttime visit here has an eerie, alien look from the terrestrial to the extraterrestrial.

Directions. Parking. Regulations.

Each of these areas, and the many more you may discover for yourself, will have different regulations depending on the authorities that have oversight of these places.

Begin your stargazing journey in Bishop with a visit, or phone call, to the Bishop Visitors Bureau at 690 N. Main St., (760) 873-8406, and speak with the knowledgeable staff there. Tell them what the objective is for your nighttime adventure, for example: astrophotography, cosmos for kids, or romance under the stars. We have maps, info sheets, and connections that will get you out in our backyard day or night, summer or winter for the best possible Eastern Sierra experience.

Resources & Links

Moon Phases 2017

2017 Meteor Shower list

Meteor Showers and Shooting Stars: Formation, Facts and Discovery

How to photograph meteors with DSLR

Milky Way no longer visible to one third of humanity

Light pollution map image of North America

Tony Rowell photography & workshops

Check out the Digital Bishop Visitor Guide!

Archived Stories

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19 hours ago

Don’t forget to visit the Bishop Mule Days Celebration official souvenir shop located on the fairgrounds for 50th anniversary commemorative t-shirts, belt buckles, coffee mugs and more! Open now through Sunday, May 26th. ... See MoreSee Less

Don’t forget to visit the Bishop Mule Days Celebration official souvenir shop located on the fairgrounds for 50th anniversary commemorative t-shirts, belt buckles, coffee mugs and more! Open now through Sunday, May 26th.

 

Comment on Facebook

Can we purchase items online when we can’t attend in person??

Teresa Nunez

Are you online?

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3 days ago

Mule Days is open to the public; no charge to enter the fairgrounds and there is a lot to see and do all weekend! Bring the kids and enjoy all the fun activities Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Junior Packer Corral. Happening this coming weekend, Friday May 24 - Sunday May 26th. ... See MoreSee Less

Mule Days is open to the public; no charge to enter the fairgrounds and there is a lot to see and do all weekend! Bring the kids and enjoy all the fun activities Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Junior Packer Corral. Happening this coming weekend, Friday May 24 - Sunday May 26th.

 

Comment on Facebook

Gary Dutter

Silly Question I guess... But What Month???

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4 days ago

Winter just doesn’t want to leave!The winter that wouldn’t end! ... See MoreSee Less

Winter just doesn’t want to leave!

 

Comment on Facebook

What's with the snow??

Still wintery here right now in May!!

Down here at the very beginning of the PCT we are very wet and cold and wondering how all those PCT hikers in just tennis shoes are doing right now. Some of them look so ill prepared when they finish the first 22 miles and stop here at our Malt Shop for a pizza and hot breakfast before starting up into the Laguna Mts.

Great place to stay

I guess it must be the Sierra answer to that surfing movie, "The Endless Summer." And even here in Berkeley, CA on this side we turned on our heater today. Well, we needed to dry out the interior of the house. Pretty pictures, though. Thanks.

We had snow in Mc Cloud last night.

No snow but rainy and chilly on the Central Coast . We feel the same....😁

I like cardinal village

Geeeezzz!!! R-2 conditions over Donner Pass today, which is my home territory.

Oh no!❄️☃️

Can't wait to go up in August.....back in the early 1970's, there would be patches of snow on the mountain across from Camp Sabrina around Memorial day!

Well WE are raining, cold with thunder and lightning here in the Sonoma County area.

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1 week ago

Fishing and conditions report from Lake Sabrina Boat Landing: Mother Nature definitely didn’t want us to forget her this week – lots of fun weather. Beautiful sunny days, then rain, slush, snowball snow, lightening, thunder, big flake snow and lots of it and then back to beautiful sunny days. And it looks like we’ve got the same instore for us this coming week. We woke to 14” to 16” of snow on Friday, it was a pretty quiet Friday. We stayed hunkered down by the woodstove that day. Pretty much by Sunday that snow was gone.

The Lake was icing off fairly well prior to last week’s storm. The manmade part of the Lake is totally ice-free, but may have some skim ice in the early morning. We’ve got open water behind the Island in the first natural Lake. There’s open water showing in the back natural Lake over by Little George Inlet, but is still iced-over where the Lake narrows down by Cookie’s Point. With the cooler temps, the run-off has shut down a bit and the Lake is not rising. We’re hoping that will change and we’ll have boats on the Lake by Memorial Weekend – just need 6’.

If you’re fishing, might want to try back behind what is normally the Island – can’t really tell you what’s working cuz haven’t had many fisherpeople out there yet.
... See MoreSee Less

Fishing and conditions report from Lake Sabrina Boat Landing: Mother Nature definitely didn’t want us to forget her this week – lots of fun weather. Beautiful sunny days, then rain, slush, snowball snow, lightening, thunder, big flake snow and lots of it and then back to beautiful sunny days. And it looks like we’ve got the same instore for us this coming week. We woke to 14” to 16” of snow on Friday, it was a pretty quiet Friday. We stayed hunkered down by the woodstove that day. Pretty much by Sunday that snow was gone.

The Lake was icing off fairly well prior to last week’s storm. The manmade part of the Lake is totally ice-free, but may have some skim ice in the early morning. We’ve got open water behind the Island in the first natural Lake. There’s open water showing in the back natural Lake over by Little George Inlet, but is still iced-over where the Lake narrows down by Cookie’s Point. With the cooler temps, the run-off has shut down a bit and the Lake is not rising. We’re hoping that will change and we’ll have boats on the Lake by Memorial Weekend – just need 6’.

If you’re fishing, might want to try back behind what is normally the Island – can’t really tell you what’s working cuz haven’t had many fisherpeople out there yet.

 

Comment on Facebook

Would really like to go up there and fish.

Jessica Caballero Yolanda Wren Joseph Caballero

We are coming up early June! Staying in Lone Pine but plan on driving up to visit. Hope we can see Sabrina

Luv it there caught my share

Filling up, can’t wait

JJ Garcia

Joe Powell

Scott L Barnes

Jo Nathan let’s goooo!

Roberto Villegas look familiar?

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