Riverside Astronomical Society—Outreach, star parties, dark sky site, and you!

GMARS: Goat Mountain Astronomical Research Station

An Introduction

Since 2002, the RAS has called GMARS home. It is the dark sky site for our club, which means it hosts our monthly star parties. Over the years it has been developed into a full-fledged star party mecca, for both members and non-members alike.

Site map of GMARS
Site map of GMARS. Click the image for a larger version. Click here for the PDF version.

The Property
GMARS consists of two adjacent lots that are 5 acres each. Each lot has a house with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, plumbing, electricity—all the comforts of home. Each bedroom has several beds available to visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. On the west property, there's also a garage that serves as the clubs workshop and storage facility. It's even served as an impromptu movie theater!

There are currently 15 observatory buildings and 24 concrete pads (25, if you include the dedicated Capella pad). There are designated tent camping areas and lots of room for car, truck, and RV parking.

The GMARS property is WSW of Goat Mountain, the site's namesake. The ground consists of mostly level and soft desert sand that has been compacted in high-traffic areas such as roads and walkways. Joshua trees, varieties of desert sagebrush, and other desert plants punctuate the landscape.

The telescope field at GMARS
Main telescope field with concrete pads.

Geography
The site is within the borders of the town of Landers, which is about 15-20 minutes north of Yucca Valley. The property is situated between Knox-Niman Lane (which is to the north) and Botkin Road (which is to the south). What's the address, you ask? That's a trickier question than it sounds, given the remote and unincorporated nature of Landers. All of the utility companies show a different address for the property. Our best guess is: 58619 Knox-Niman Lane, Landers, CA 92885.

Row of observatories at GMARS
Row of observatories at GMARS.

There are no roads on the immediate east and west borders of the property. The first road west (about 250 yards) is Gibralter Avenue, although most maps and GPS devices have it marked as Becker Road, which is actually further west. All of the roads in the immediate vicinity are hard packed sand/dirt. The nearest paved roads are Reche Road (about 1.8 miles to the south) and Landers Lane (the paved portion is about 1.5 miles from GMARS).

Surroundings
Landers is very sparsely populated with homes, trailers, and horse ranches. Our closest neighbors are the 3 properties to the north, across Knox-Ni-Man Lane. Most of the other inhabited surrounding homes are several hundred yards away. Some of the surrounding homes do use rather bright outdoor lighting at night. With one exception, none of them are terribly intrusive.

Desert thunderstorm approaching GMARS in July 2011
GMARS lightning in 2011.

Weather and the Sky
California's high desert experiences a wide range of weather—the weather at GMARS is no exception. It can reach a sweltering 115°F at the height of summer, and snow may fall in the dead of winter. Wind is somewhat common but it often subsides shortly after sundown. There are many days and nights with no wind to speak of. In the summer, it's not unheard of to have a healthy thunderstorm or two... or three.

The skies above GMARS are quite nice. There is definitely some light pollution from the south (Yucca Valley and the Coachella Valley cities) and the west.

Fisheye view of the Milky Way over GMARS—North is to the left
Fisheye sky view from GMARS

The U.S. Marine Corps maintains a training facility (MAGTFTC) to the east in Twentynine Palms, and it creates a small amount of light pollution too. Don't be alarmed if you occasionally hear a low bang or rumble, see a flash of light, or witness dark and mysterious aircraft in the area—it's just the Marines. Their impact on the observing and imaging pleasure at GMARS is negligible. The skies to the north are very dark with only a barely visible glow from Las Vegas.

The California desert isn't known for it's steady seeing conditions, but GMARS can have some very steady nights. Seeing conditions on typical nights are in the range of 3" FWHM. Transparency can be very good on any given night.