Many of us may remember a time when we would drive to the country and gaze up into the heavens, viewing thousands of stars, the thick band of the Milky Way and possibly a meteor or two. Urban sprawl has replaced many of those stargazing spots, bringing with them illumination from street lights, residences and buildings lit up to avoid crime.
Lighting up the night sky may seem like a great idea, but it has negative consequences for nocturnal animals — even humans. In addition to artificial light messing with our biochemical rhythms, we’ve lost touch with the amazing night sky.
But many are working to combat light pollution, organizations such as the nonprofit International Dark-Sky Association. With this month’s Perseid’s Meteor Shower —peaking Aug. 12-13, — here are a few dark places to view the night sky in all its glory. But you don’t have to stop at August; these are awesome stargazing locations all year long.
It’s quite the drive to visit West Texas — about 14 hours from New Orleans, — but the remote stretch of the U.S. includes the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve, one of the country’s darkest spots. The reserve covers 15,000 square miles of rural area and includes the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis and Marfa, Big Bend National Park and three regions of Mexico, the first IDA-certified reserve in the world to cross an international boundary. And if you don’t feel like driving, Amtrak runs from New Orleans to Alpine and Marfa.
Big Cypress National Preserve is known for its biodiversity. Visitors may spot black bears, unique orchids and trees, colorful birds and the Florida panther. Along with Everglades National Park, Big Cypress presents a Dark Sky in South Florida, earning the IDS designation. It’s one of two in Florida, the other being the 54,000-acre Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Central Florida, the largest remaining tract of Florida dry prairie.
Mammoth Cave wasn’t named lightly. The national park is the longest known cave system in the world, comprising 412 miles. But new sections of cave keep being discovered! This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also working to combat light pollution and offer visitors a chance to view stars in this rural section of Kentucky. The park has achieved a bronze tier designation through the IDS.
Wilderness and the undeveloped Monongahela National Forest surround Watoga State Park. It joins Calvin Price State Forest and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park as certified Dark Sky Parks. For those who want guidance, Watoga offers stargazing programs and activities for all three areas. Visitors may also spend the night in one of Watoga’s cabins to enjoy the view.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge of southeastern Georgia is one of the most protected wetlands in the country, which is why it’s a great place to view night skies. The
Stephen C. Foster State Park within the refuge, with its Dark Sky Park designation, offers numerous stargazing activities.
We love the Buffalo National River for its exciting water sports and incredible natural beauty as it winds through the Ozark Mountains. And this year marks its 50th anniversary for being America’s first “National River.” Paddle the river and camp out but be sure to look up for the Buffalo is also a designated Dark Sky within the National Park Service.
Want more places to visit?
Visit the International Dark-Sky Association website (www.darksky.org) for a complete list of Dark Sky locations.