RBA's Astrophotography

Locations: Montebello OSP

Elevation: 2200 feet (670 meters)
Location: West of Palo Alto, California
Darkness: Orange zone. Can get to green (blue?) quality when fogs rolls in. Average SQM readings are in the high 20's. I can't recall the highest reading I've got.
Best sky: West and South are often ok.
Worst: East and North are pretty bad unless there's fog.

The Montebello OSP (Open Space Preserve) location is a parking lot at 2200 feet elevation, in the ridge of the Santa Cruz mountains, coming off the town of Los Altos or the cities of Palo Alto and Mountain View. It is the closest location from home (less than 30 minutes drive).

On "regular" days, Montebello offers ok southern and western skies (just the opposite of Coe, which offers good northern and eastern skies), and poor to extremely poor northern and eastern skies. This is because the S and W point to the pacific ocean, while N and E point to the Silicon Valley which lays just a few miles behind a hill.

One "problem" with Montebello is that it sits on top of the mountain that separates the Silicon Valley and the pacific ocean, so when the marine layer does its attempt to move inland at night, it's hard to tell in advance whether Montebello will stay on top of the fog (good), below the fog (ok, you can go home now) or even in the fog. But as it happen with many of the other sites around the Bay Area, if the fog makes it inland and stays below our setting area, you might get the "black cloud" effect, and all the lights from the Silicon Valley would magically disappear, suddenly lighting up the sky, making of Montebello a great great site to do visual and astrophoto.

The other problem with Montebello is that to stay on the lot after hours you either need a permit, or must go only when someone with a group permit is also at the site. I have a "solo" permit, which means that I can go anytime I want to as long as I call the rangers ahead of time. Regardless, one must not stay after 2am. In winter that's usually ok, but in summer when it starts to get dark only around 9:30pm or later, that leaves you with a very limited number of hours.

Western view from the Montebello location. Behind those hills is the pacific ocean - that is, miles and miles of darkness!

Aerial views