Geminid Meteors in Pointy Land

Availability: Mid December (12-14th) Annually when the Moon does not interfere
Location: Varies, usually Alabama Hills (near Lone Pine) or Trona Pinnacles (near Ridgecrest)

Dawn in Pointy Land [C_066201]

From sunset to sunrise (photo above) the annual Geminid meteor shower is the most energetic and often the most spectacular.  From a dark location as many as 120 meteors per hour can be seen.

For this event we will be bringing our photography gear, reclining cots, warm clothing and hot beverages to a remote location where we can pair the meteors with a phenomenal foreground in a clear, dry location.  Clear and dry, of course are subject to the vicissitudes of the weather.  If you’ve never made an effort to watch a meteor shower, you really should. Students at the last Alabama Hills Workshop were amazed at how many meteors we saw as part of the Perseid shower!


We will be providing an opportunity to track the sky for long exposures similar to the one shown in this timelapse.

This time of year the cool air is often clearer. Alas the dense part of the Milky Way will be hiding behind the sun, so not like this though this is what the foreground may look like.

Baying at the Milky Way [C_061214]

Provided are:

  • Instruction, including all the content I cover in Astrophotography 201
  • equatorial mounts (3), and
  • tips and pointers on shooting and post processing.

The participant is responsible for bringing:

  1. Camera equipment with extra batteries and memory cards. High performing cameras are preferred, but not necessary.
    Lens: Bring a fast, wide lens (e.g. f/2.8 17mm)
    Lens: Bring a moderate (100-200mm telephoto, too)
    Bring a second (or third camera)
    And bring a tripod and Intervalometer for each camera.
  2. Intervalometer (Steven has some loaners)
  3. Sleeping bag/warm blankets, pillow
  4. Fully reclining cot or chair (highly recommended)
  5. Equatorial Mounts (optional – bring one if you have it already) with necessary hardware to mount your camera.
  6. Snacks and Hot Beverages!
  7. Layers of clothing in the event of wind, rain, or blowing dust.


For maximum benefit, you will want to be able to sleep days and remain awake at night – much of it anyway!  Consider this in your plans for driving.

Also, if it is at all possible, you may find it more convenient to meet me in Lone Pine or Ridgecrest (depending where we choose) at about 4:00 PM.


Meals and accommodations are up to you. You CAN do primitive camping at the location (it’s allowed), or and I recommend this, sleep days in a nice (or cheap) hotel in town.

In Ridgecrest I liked this. If you want something swankier – that’s possible, of course, but there is no Ritz Carlton.  I’ve stayed in the Budget Inn and Suites and found it quite acceptable.  There is a similarly named place that is not so acceptable.

In Lone Pine, the Dow Villa is my hands down favorite, but there are cheaper accommodations in town, too.


Our base of operation will be either Lone Pine, California (for Alabama Hills) or Ridgecrest, California for Trona and we will spend nights out in Alabama Hills or Trona Pinnacles.

Bask-a-lisks [C_0600706-14de_st]


Questions and Answers

  • How long a drive is it?
    From San José, it’s about 6 hours mostly freeway and depending on the weight of your foot 😉
  • Why There?
    With the desert climate, dark skies, and interesting formations both places are great spots to observe dark skies and meteors AND have fantastic foregrounds. Camping is allowed, in both Alabama Hills and Pinnacles – both are BLM land.There is a vault toilet on site at Pinnacles – but only one for a large area.  Ridgecrest is 20 minutes away.  There is no toilet in Alabama Hills, but Lone Pine is only about 10 minutes away.
  • Please note that a AWD/4WD is recommended, but not necessary.
  • What about Death Valley
    Accommodations are more expensive and difficult to get in DV and frankly getting an interesting foreground is a bit harder.  DV is a backup location in case of weather.
  • What should I worry about?
    Worry about being tired. You can go, set up your camera and go back to bed in town if you like, but watching the event is more spectacular.  It might also get cold and windy.
  • Why else might I consider going?
    Steven will tell you what he knows about capturing meteors, about meteor showers, and Trona and Alabama Hills themselves – trust me we know some great spots that aren’t easy to find.  Plus you’ll get a chance to use equatorial mounts and learn a bit about the night sky (basically what I cover in the Astrophotography 201 course with an emphasis on meteors).
  • Why is attendance limited?
    I want to be able to provide equipment for everyone, and it will help if we can fit into one or two cars.
  • I’d Like to Bring A Friend, is that OK?
    If your friend is not a photographer, no problem. In fact, it’s a good idea to bring along another driver. Photographers will be charged at the regular rate.  In
  • What about the day(s) before and the day(s) after?
    We are offering a discount if you sign up for multiple days, however we are only available during the listed days.
  • But I have to work, can we do it another night?
    Alas, I do not have power to reschedule the meteor shower! You can try to find a dark location near your home to watch.
  • Can I carpool with someone?
    It’s actually a great idea. Understand that SCA members come from all over, and arranging a carpool is on you.
  • Can I carpool with you, Steven?
    No, unfortunately the quantity of equipment that I am transporting plus my co-instructor use up all the space I have.
  • How will I know where to meet you?
    I’ll send detailed instructions via email to the confirmed participants.
  • What if the weather is really icky?
    Icky happens.  I have some contingency plans for icky including travel… but of course there is only so far it makes sense to go.
    Contingency plans include:
    Going elsewhere
    Experiments in Light Painting
    Painting with Fire
  • I think I’d like to spend the night in Trona Pinnacles/Alabama Hills. What should I bring?
    A fancy RV, a butler and your satellite TV, of course.  Seriously, I wouldn’t pick this as the first time to venture into the semi-wilderness.  Those of you who are veterans at the out-of-doors will already know what to bring.  There is a vault toilet in Trona Pinnacles.
  • What do I need to attach my camera to an equatorial mount?
    Be sure the regular tripod screw in your camera body or lens collar is accessible. If you have a quick release plate attached, be sure you have the tool(s) you need to remove and reinstall the quick release plate.
  • What do I need to attach my camera to your telescope?
    I am bringing my telescope, but I don’t plan to use it. For astrophotography it is more convenient (and more instructive) for you to use your own moderate telephoto lens that you bring with you. However I do have adapters for Canon and Nikon and 4/3rds lens mounts that will allow what is called “prime focus astrophotography”.  If you don’t understand what that means, that’s quite alright here is a translation: bring your Canon or Nikon camera with a wide-angle fast lens and a telephoto lens.  If you don’t have a telephoto lens, don’t worry. Be happy.  Not a Canon or Nikon? Bring the lenses you own except anything over 300 mm as that won’t be practical.

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