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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

Coronavirus Special Message

Check out the Digital Bishop Visitor Guide!

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2 weeks ago

We are buried in smoke again today, so we thought it would be fun to share a little about how the names of some of the towns in the Eastern Sierra came about. Thank you, California High Sierra for the article!
californiahighsierra.com/trips/california-high-sierra-towns-the-origin-of-their-names/
Photo by Amy Leist
... See MoreSee Less

We are buried in smoke again today, so we thought it would be fun to share a little about how the names of some of the towns in the Eastern Sierra came about. Thank you, California High Sierra for the article!
https://californiahighsierra.com/trips/california-high-sierra-towns-the-origin-of-their-names/
Photo by Amy Leist

Comment on Facebook

Wow... been a good long while since I’ve been to Bishop. Their high school team was in our league (I went to Tehachapi High) and we traveled there for some football games — something like a 5-6 hour drive each way if I recall correctly. A tough team to beat also. I’m betting it hasn’t changed all that much over all these years (circa late ‘60s).

I'm so sorry the smoke is bad there still. I missed my annual visit this year. It's on my to do list for next year.

We can see it over the Spring Mountains to the West/NW here in Las Vegas. Fortunately, not much of it made it into the LV valley.

Would LOVE to move there if my hubby can find a job nearby!

We left this morning. Not only is it very smokey the smell of smoke is incredible. I don't smoke and I was ready to light up.

Nice photo. That's the real West.

Miss Bishop, Lone Pine, Big Pine, Tinnamaha campground!!!!

No, that is where the theater and Joseph’s used to be. Joseph’s has been gone for some time now. Penny’s is now Dollar General. Unfortunately a lot of vacant stores. Hi Kent!❤️

Hello and good morning. I am planning to drive up to Bishop from Southern California. The main purpose is to see fall colors. May I know if the fall colors are still at peak this coming next two weeks or is it past peak? Thank you for your advice/suggestions.

We were just there.😔

We have to leave too, I almost threw up it was so bad, got to Lee Vining and blue fresh air..take care of yourselves

so sorry for the smoke crazy time for all this year.

I spent a week here and didn't get to see the beauty through the smoke 😏

When was this picture taken, Sunday at 6 am ? never seen it this quiet.

Awesome pic! I wish a Main Street business had a rooftop deck so you can eat with that exact same view!

No smoke in the photo. ??

Is this an old photo? Joseph’s market was the only market back when we lived in Bishop in 1969.

It’s still Smokey? Where is the smoke coming from ?

Beautiful town

I always love to go threw Bishop.

Went thru Bishop yesterday, it was terribly Smokey 😪💚

I wish it was still small !

Does bishop still have a jack in the box

My favorite place ❤️

Isnt that the Old JC Penney store?

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2 weeks ago

Wonder if this little sheep was as grateful as we were for a view of the mountains this morning??!! Happy Friday! From Bishop, with love ❤️
#keepbishopsafe #mttom
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Wonder if this little sheep was as grateful as we were for a view of the mountains this morning??!! Happy Friday! From Bishop, with love ❤️
#keepbishopsafe #mttom

Comment on Facebook

Wonderful vacation destination

And a free thinker! This is Good!

🙏praying that it stays like this 💖

I miss Bishop so much and living there too 😢😉❤️

This is one of my favorite places to take pictures when I lived in Bishop. There’s many more.

Sigh. Bishop. Love it.

See you next week little sheep

We loved our visit to Bishop

Miss bishop fun times there

Nice!!!

Oh how I love that view

It was beautiful

Love Bishop

👍

Need snow on them things!

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2 weeks ago

In case you are wondering what roads and campgrounds are open, here is the latest, as of yesterday, October 14th:
www.sierrawave.net/state-of-inyo-roads-and-campgrounds-whats-open-closed-oct-14
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In case you are wondering what roads and campgrounds are open, here is the latest, as of yesterday, October 14th:
https://www.sierrawave.net/state-of-inyo-roads-and-campgrounds-whats-open-closed-oct-14

Comment on Facebook

I've been on that same road every year at this time...

It sure was smoky today.

Still hazy there.😥

I love the West.

Beautiful picture thanks for sharing 🙂🙂❤❤

We always used to stay at Brown’s Millpond Campground just north of Bishop. Very nice private campground with a stream running through it. So many wonderful memories from Mule Days!

Up her for 4 day little smoke but really nice trees turning colors

It's the hunting and fishing Road 🏞️🎣🏕️🌌🤠🥰

Love Bishop and the surrounding mountains !!!

Hwy 168 going to Lake Sabrina, North and South lakes?

With I was there.

maybe next weekend any hotel suggestions?

Johanna Atwell

GOD HOW I WISH I WAS ON THAT ROAD... CAREFREE HIWAY...

Lots of nice smoke.....

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2 weeks ago

The Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance is hosting a virtual 5K walk and fun run this year!!! Going on NOW!! You can do it from WHEREVER you are!!!Hello Friends!☺️
💥 ESCA 20th Annual 5K Walk & Fun Run! 💥October 11-17th! Virtual Edition!
Please LIKE and SHARE this flyer with your friends and family!
Thank you for your continued support! ☺️
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The Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance is hosting a virtual 5K walk and fun run this year!!! Going on NOW!! You can do it from WHEREVER you are!!!

2 weeks ago

Dog days of summer or fall??!!
Last weekend we had warm temps and blue skies again. Fingers crossed we get some more blue skies this weekend!

Photo by Amanda Zhang
#NorthLake #fallcolors #keepbishopsafe
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Dog days of summer or fall??!! 
Last weekend we had warm temps and blue skies again. Fingers crossed we get some more blue skies this weekend!

Photo by Amanda Zhang
#NorthLake #fallcolors #keepbishopsafe

Comment on Facebook

I heard the colors have peaked in this area. Is it still worth visiting or are there other good spots to hit up?

Beautiful picture.

Wonderful vacation destination

Beautiful

Beautiful picture! Cute dog!

North Lake?

Looking good

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