I must first explain that I have only attended 2 different star parties in my lifetime, Golden State Star Party (GSSP) and CalStar. I have attended both many times over the last 10 years. You can read my August 2016 review of GSSP in the blog archives. Today, I will discuss CalStar since I just returned from another successful and enjoyable event just two weeks ago.
Calstar is a very informal star party which is held at the Lake San Antonio campgrounds in southern Monterey County. What does that mean? It means that there is no registration, no scheduled star party events, no speakers, no vendors, no hospitality tent, no on-site food, etc. But, there are dark skies and great people to share them with. CalStar is sponsored by the San Jose Astronomical Association and the Left Coast Observers (the people who put on GSSP). They decide on a date, post it on the CalStar web site (calstar.observers.org/ ) and people just show up. It's not free, you do have to pay the park camping fee which is around ~ $32/day for dry camping ($27/day for seniors). The star party is held during the new moon, of course, in Sept or early Oct. When the park was closed due to drought recently, the star party was moved to a nearby religious retreat but it is now back at Lake San Antonio. And, starting this year, a spring CalStar was added in April.
I would estimate that Calstar attracts 100 people tops, sometimes less. Set up is in the "Overflow" campground which is a nice name for what once used to be a ball field but is now a dry, dusty open area. This is where most people set up. This is the strict light enforcement area with most visual observers setting up here. The open area provides a clear view of the skies in all directions with nearby hills and trees limiting views only at very low altitudes. The ground is dirt which is typically dust in the fall given the fact that no rain will have fallen for 5 months. There is a band of trees off to the west which provide shade during the day but do not interfere much with sky views.
There is an section just to the east of the ball field which is about twice as large interspersed with open areas, trees and bushes. This is the late arrival, early departure section with less strict light enforcement so the people set up here are fewer and further in between.
There are porta potties and some old beat up but serviceable picnic tables in the overflow campground. There are also spigots with water which must be boiled before use. No open fires are permitted due to the fire danger, but camping on propane stoves set off the ground is ok. The nearby Redondo Vista campground has bathrooms and shower houses. There are also RV pads with power hookups. This time of year the park is not too densely populated so one can use the power outlet at an empty RV site to recharge their batteries during the day. The park also has some cabins for rent down by the lake. Most people dry camp in tents, cars, trucks or RVs in the overflow campground.
There is a gas station and a small store down by the lake. The store has water, ice, propane and a very limited selection of groceries due to the star party being held at the end of the camping season. There is a full service grocery store just 20 minutes west of the park at a shopping plaza called Heritage Park. It also has a gas station, pizza parlor and coffee shop. The pizza parlor is a great place to visit in the afternoon to cool off when it gets hot, have a salad, burger, sandwich or pizza and watch some sports on the TV, sit and talk with friends, work on your image processing or surf the internet. Paso Robles is 34 miles to the southwest of the park which takes about 40 to 45 minutes to get to. It has a Walmart, Target, several supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and a nice library, a park and a movie theater.
The weather is typically very hot during the day, in the 90s and even reaching 100 degrees. Night time temperatures are usually in the low 50s or 40s, but I have been there when the temperature dropped into the 30s. It has never rained while I have been at CalStar.
You will see jack rabbits, deer and the occasional rattle snake or wild pig in the park. The park has lots of hiking trails and, when the lake is full there is a beach where you can swim in the lake.
The skies are very dark, I measured 19.74 to 20.11 with my SQM over many different trips. There are some small light domes in the direction of Paso Robles and King City, but these are very low in the sky and not much of a problem. The seeing is usually very good with steady skies being that the park is not far from the ocean as the crow flies.
Now that there are two Calstars every year I look forward to the opportunity to have dark skies and good seeing conditions for the different deep sky objects visible in the spring and early fall.