Growing up in rural Maine, I was very spoiled with some of my experiences with nature as a child. One of those was enjoying the stars of the night sky. On a cool autumn night I could walk outside and have perfect views of the entire Milky Way, and more stars and constellations than I could ever identify. It wasn’t until moving to Los Angeles that I realized I would miss the stars when deprived of their nightly arrival overhead. The light pollution of the sprawling city stole that nightly treat I had taken for granted, and I immediately learned to appreciate them again once returning to the dark skies of the wild.
Now, as I drive my passengers around the states, and our wonderfully wild parks, I have found three spots to be my personal favorite for some star gazing. On clear nights, I never miss a chance to show off our night sky to people not as fortunate as myself to grow up with the blanket of diamonds overhead every night.
My third favorite spot to view the stars is in Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation.
The location of the park is over 20 miles from any real source of light pollution, and with the help of the moon the towering sandstone formations catch just enough light to remind us of the magical place we’re spending the night. Here the stars have a special meaning to the native people. They are a reminder to them to be kind to your fellow beings. They tell an ancient story about a beautiful sand painting created by all the animals of the land. The only animal that did not participate in the creation was the coyote, because he was too busy planning a joke on all the others. As soon as they had finished the sand painting, the coyote snuck in, grabbed the blanket the drawing was on and threw it at the sky. The sand scattered across the sky and left us with the stars we see today. A beautiful, and meaningful story, like so many of their tribal stories, that explain the phenomenal star-scape we still see today.
The second best spot I have found to view the stars is the mighty Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is within a national park with very little light pollution, and a horizon broken up by 277 miles of extreme canyon depths, lying underneath infinite stars and the darkness of space. The Grand Canyon is a sight that needs to be seen during the day to fully understand is vastness and beauty, but I never fail to feel a great contrast at night when stargazing from the rim. The depth of the canyon below; seemingly bottomless, and the furthest reaches of the universe above give the feeling that you’re sitting on the edge of two infinite expanses, and for me it is always a humbling experience. The feeling of being so small, and insignificant to the universe around me, leaves me with the feeling of being a tiny part of something much larger than I could ever imagine.
The last, and absolute best spot I’ve found to stare into space is in Death Valley National Park.
There is zero light pollution for over a hundred miles in every direction. The air here is clear and crisp, and when in the vast expanses of the valley, the sky seems to come all the way down next to your feet, and often the entire span of the Milky Way can be seen. Shooting stars are common every night of the year, as well as comfortable temperatures. When I’ve been here on camping trips (during the winter months) the air is a perfect temperature to lay out in just a sleeping bag and gaze away until that feeling of complete amazement slowly turns into tiredness. During lodging tours, I always offer a special trip to either the Mesquite Dunes, to enjoy the silence of Death Valley, or on very special occasions when the full moon is out I will take passengers to Bad Water Basin. It is the lowest point below sea level in North America, and in the center of a salt flat over 10 miles long and 7 miles wide. Under the moonlight the salt glows and eerie blue-green colors appear and the feeling of being on an alien planet is inevitable. I once had a passenger who was enjoying one of these special moments with me tell me she expected to look up from this martian landscape to see earth far off in space. That was a feeling and a moment that will stay with both of us forever.
Time and time again, I have heard the “oohs” and “aaahs” as the brilliant night skies are revealed to passengers from all over the world. Their appreciation for the skies seldom seen with so many stars, and so much clarity is a reminder to me to appreciate these moments as well! And for that I am grateful!
To experience all three of these wonderful places make sure you take a look at our 12 day Western Explorer tour.