If you live in California, Oregon or Nevada and have not already attended the Golden State Star Party, I highly recommend it. Why? Simply put dark skies, lots of other like minded astronomers and interesting side trips to keep one busy during the days.
GSSP is held every summer between mid-June and mid-July to overlap the closest new moon. It runs for 5 days and 4 nights on Wed. through Sun. or Sun. through Wed. In 2017 it will be held Wed. June 21 through Sun. June 25, with the new moon on Fri. night. GSSP is held in northeast California in the town of Adin, population 272 at Latitude 41deg 8’ 7.35”N, Longitude 120deg 58’ 42.95” W at an altitude of 4310ft. The star party takes place on the Frosty Acres Ranch, a cattle ranch with a dirt surface broken by tufts of range grass and the occasional dried cow patty.
GSSP is 226 miles north-east of Redding, Ca, 102 miles south-east of Klamath Falls, Ore and 153 miles north-west of Reno, Nv. This puts it more than 100 miles from the nearest large light dome which makes for very dark skies with SQM readings typically 21.64 to 21.83. The Milky Way glows brightly and is an awesome sight away from city lights. In addition to dark skies, this site has clear vistas in all directions, including a nice view of Mt. Shasta covered in snow to the north-west.
In addition to the dark skies GSSP is home to between 300 and 400 astronomers and their families, along with telescopes of every kind. There are experts who are willing to share their knowledge to beginners and other experts alike. It seems like they bring every type of telescope, mount, camera and accessories known to the industry. This makes for a great opportunity to see and even try out equipment before you buy. This star party is family friendly - my son started attending at age 9 and looks forward to going back when he can.
There are some important things you need to know if you plan to attend. Registration for the 2017 start party will begin in January 2017 on-line at www.goldenstatestarparty.org/. The fee for 2016 was $75 for the 5 days and 4 nights which includes the on-site shower truck with showers and sinks, porta potties, a hospitality tent, a battery charging station and the final morning pancake breakfast. There are usually two evening barbeques and t-shirts which require additional charges. Activities include guest speakers, a raffle, a swap meet, a telescope walk about which included 2 home-made bino telescopes this year, and 4-5 telescope dealers.
You should also know that day-time temperatures are typically in the high 90s and there is no shade. Make sure that you have plenty of water and bring some form of shade such as an EZ-Up or Aluminet to stay "cool" during the day. And bring a cover for your scope and strong stakes for your tent or EZ-Up since it typically gets windy in the afternoon. Nights are pleasant with lows in the low 50s or 40s. In the 6 years I have attended, I think we were rained out 4 nights total. The skies are usually very clear, but as with any place, it all depends upon the weather. Since this star party is held in the summer, it doesn't really get dark until around 10PM and then the sun comes up around 5:30AM. Seems short, but I have never felt I did not have enough time under the stars, especially since there are 4 nights to view.
You have to bring your own sleeping accommodations as this is a camping star party. You will see lots of tents, campers of every size and shape, along with small and very large motor homes. I have camped in a tent, slept in my van and stayed at a nearby hotel. As for the hotels, there's one in Adin and one in the other nearby town of Bieber but both are annually booked and having waiting lists so don't count on them. Be prepared for the early sun rise and note that it starts to get hot inside a tent or car by 8AM which can make it hard to sleep in. It's a good idea to have sun shade material like Aluminet to help keep your accommodations as cool as possible.
You may cook your own food, but no open fires are allowed. You can also sign up for the barbeque nights or drive to one of the nearby towns for dinner. The town of Adin is 10min from the site and has a small general store and one hamburger/ice cream shop. The general store will have typical grocery items, bags of ice, water and even wine. They also have a deli counter which is great for lunch. The Oney serves hamburgers/hot dogs and ice cream, and also has barbeque chicken and ribs on Fri. and Sat. There is also a gas station/convenience store in Adin.
The nearest restaurants and full service grocery store are about 30min west of Adin. The nearest big city, Susanville, is 67miles to the south east where you will find a Walmart, pharmacies, Radio Shack, full service groceries, restaurants and two movie theaters. The movie theater is a nice place to cool of and catch an afternoon nap.
Plan day trip or two to get out of the direct sun. There is a community pool in the town of Bieber, 15min to the west. In recent years, either the town of Bieber or Adin has held a community fund-raising festival with food and music during the star party. I think they time it when there are 300 - 400 more folks in town. There are some great day trips to nearby outdoor adventures. Lassen National Vulcanic Park is 82 miles away and offers Manzenata Lake and lots of hiking trails, as well as, Mt. Lassen. 50 miles due west near the town of Burney is Burney Falls, one of the prettiest waterfalls in California. It also has some nice hiking trails. If you go, you can plan to have lunch or dinner in the town of Burney or pick up some groceries as it is only 10min away. On the way to Lassen is the Hat Creek Observatory home to an array of Radio Telescopes. To the north is Lava Beds National Monument with lava tube tunnels you can walk through. And, the entire area around Adin is nestled next to the Modoc National Forest. So, there is lots to do during the day if you just want to get away.
If you haven't been to the Golden State Star Party, I strongly suggest you give it a try in you live within driving distance. I don't think you will be disappointed.