A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
Night Skies
The night skies on the desert are some of the clearest and most beautiful I have ever seen.

      It is a time of coolness, quiet and of solemnity.  TThe moon looks larger then it really is and the stars are so focused that you can pick them out of the crowded sky with ease.  Large expanses of the milky way and the moonshine so bright you can see well enough to walk about unaided by flashligts or lanterns.  IIf you are familiar with them you can pick out all the western sky constellations with ease.  The big dipper, the little dipper and jacob's coffin are there.

  
IIf you walk in the desert on these clear nights you can hear the rustlings and moving about of small animals hunting for food or startled by your passing or running to evade being a predators prey.  What is most noticeable at these times is that one thing we don't hear  much anymore . . . . . . . .
 

The sound of silence. . 
  One of the things you always hear people say about living in the desert; you either love it or hate it.   But I have come to the conclusion that if you spend enough time here, there will come a time when you will realize that it has grown on you.  And when you leave, wherever you go, there will be things that you will miss about it.  One of those things is the night skies.

  My earliest memories of growing up in the desert involved the evenings when we would sit on my grandparents' patio and look at the stars.  My grandparents home was on base on Hornet Street.  There was a clear view of B Mountain and we had the best front row seats for the 4th of July fireworks in those days when they did them over the dry lake.  But even as spectacular as those fireworks were, nothing was ever as awe inspiring as the rise of a full moon over that ol' B Mountain or the ranges, depending on the time of year.   And when the moon wasn't full, the stars were more than could possibly be counted and it seemed there was a parade of pictures you could make out no matter which direction you looked.  The Milky Way and Venus were my first known identifiers of the sky, followed by the Big Dipper, Orion and Hydra. 

  The Crest Drive-In was also another place where I remember enjoying the desert nights and the night skies.  When I think of those days of the drive in movie, the image most prevalent in my mind is the movie screen with that impressive backdrop....and overdrop ...and behind drop...of stars.  I can see it even now, a giant screen yet dwarfed by the spectacular surroundings of endless night sky.  And the way it was on those summer nights to sit outside in the balmy desert air enjoying the entire experience of balmy breeze, the smell of popcorn and pizza, a movie and the endless expanse of star studded horizons.  And from the early days even to now, I still get immense joy sitting outside on mild evenings and taking it all in.

  The other side of the night skies is those desert thunder and lightening storms.  It seems to me there used to be more of those in the late summer than we have experienced in recent years.  But to have that wonderful view of the lightening streaking across the skies all around you and the feel of the static in warm air, was always a show all its own.  If we are lucky enough to have it followed by rain, the wonderful wet and steady kind that cools the warm air immediately, it is an extra bonus.  The smell of the desert after a good rain is an invigorating thing.

  My next favorite desert night sky is when the moon is full but there are clouds as well.  And one can sit and watch the sky as the moon drifts in and out of banks of clouds, alternatively drenching you with moonlight, then leaving you in mysterious shadow with an everchanging panorama of a sky that is alive and vibrant even in the nighttime.  And where I live now, near the Sierra range, the full moon lights up those mountains in wonderful detail.  And the mountains on a moonless night, much like the old drivein movie screen, are a silhouette of themselves against the stars. 

  I would be willing to bet  that any who have lived here even for a short time, will remember what it is like to sit under the desert night sky.  And whether they are among those who say they would never return, or those who long for their days in the desert, the nights are one thing they always will remember with a smile.

       Cathy Schmeer
"A full moon emerges from the shadow of the Earth during the wee hours of August 28, 2007. Taken from the front yard of a Ridgecrest home, the photo illustrates how wonderful the city's views of the night sky can be compared to the many areas that suffer from light and air pollution.

Photo by Adam Summers and Trea Gill."