Stargazing in the Anza-Borrego desert. Photo by Andy Shaver
Stargazing in the Anza-Borrego desert. Photo by Andy Shaver

The dark skies of the sprawling Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are a mecca for amateur astronomers during the winter, with two meteor showers among the December highlights.

The Geminids shower peaks on the night of Dec. 13 and morning of Dec. 14 with up to 120 meteors per hour. The Ursid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of Dec. 21 and early morning of Dec. 22.

Thanks to the size of the park, skies are uniquely protected from light pollution that makes observing astronomical objects difficult in urban areas.

“Since 1967, the Anza-Borrego Foundation has acquired more than 54,000 acres of land to add to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park,” said Paige Rogowski, executive director of the foundation. “In 2009, Borrego Springs, the town surrounded by the Park, was designated as California’s first — and only — International Dark Sky Community, demonstrating its commitment to protecting the haven of dark skies around it. These combined efforts have made the area one of the world’s prime stargazing locations.”

The following are considered optimal viewing locations in the 600,000-acre park:

  • Culp Valley and Culp Valley Primitive Campground
  • Blair Valley/Little Blair Valley and Blair Valley Primitive Campground
  • Fish Creek Primitive Campground (high clearance, 4WD vehicles recommended)
  • Mountain Palm Springs Primitive Campground

The park will host three free astronomy programs in December. At 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 14 and 16, a moon watching program at the park’s visitor center will teach attendees about the features and phases of moon. On Dec. 31, a special New Year’s Eve stargazing program begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground amphitheater.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.