Take a look at these photos from five Dark Sky Sites.
My best memories of childhood deer hunts don’t come from the blind. They come from the caleche pad where we would go at night to look at stars through my dad’s Nikon 12×50 binoculars.
But in the 20 years since then, the view has gotten a lot dimmer. Light pollution is a large and growing problem. Even an otherwise pristine campsite often doesn’t escape the nighttime glow of nearby civilization.
In recent years though, there’s been a growing movement to preserve and appreciate spaces where the night sky shines like it did 100 years ago. It’s called dark sky camping, or sometimes clear sky camping.
There are rules of etiquette you should observe if you visit one of these sites. Use as little artificial light as possible; make sure the light you do use comes from a soft, red source. Be sure to keep flashlights pointed down.
For some people this may seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But don’t judge until you’ve had a look at these five breathtaking parks for dark sky camping!
Big Bend National Park, TX
Dark sky camping sites are often located near large observatories. Others are on empty land deep in the western United States. Big Bend National Park benefits from both. It’s nested in the far end of West Texas, and the University of Texas’ nearby McDonald Observatory has done a lot of work in the last few years trying to raise awareness of dark sky initiatives.
Northern Arizona is full of highly rated dark sky camping. The area’s largest city, Flagstaff, has taken an active role in keeping the night skies clear. There are lots of public campgrounds in nearby Grand Canyon National Park, and the lauded dark skies of Grand Canyon-Perishant National Monument are right next door to that.
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Mayland Community College Blue Ridge Observatory and State Park, NC
This site is significant for being the first dark sky site in the southeastern United States. For that reason, a lot of readers may find it one of the more convenient spots on this list.
Cherry Springs State Park, PA
Here’s another great park closer to the heavily urbanized and light polluted eastern half of the country. This makes it a rare treasure, as well as a convenient distance from northeastern locales. The park has also gotten creative to cut down on the impact of local light sources. The roads are lined with high berms to block the headlights of passing cars, and there’s a designated astronomy area where flashlights are heavily restricted.
Natural Bridges National Monument, UT
Natural Bridges National Monument can be recognized in a large number of classic westerns. Deep in the heart of nowhere, the area’s come to be known for its clean, clear night sky. This photo comes from Canyonland National Park, which is just a few miles north.
Darksky.org has a whole list of sites all over the country where you can go dark sky camping. You should also take a look at ClearDarkSky.com, which is dedicated to tracking stargazing conditions at campgrounds all over the country.
I think all outdoorsmen and women would love to give dark sky campsites a try. Let us know if you’ve been to one, or plan to go, in the comments below.