There are a only a few places left in this country that we are still able to view the stars and other celestial bodies in their full majesty.  World Meteorological Day is March 23rd this year and an awesome excuse to get out and see what is all around us.

The night sky is way too often faded by the proliferous artificial lights of the big city.  Even those living out in the suburbs or out in the country are affected by light pollution.  That is why the National and State parks listed below are so important.  Their detachment from the rest of society and vast open fields allow us to reach the Heavens (or get as close as we can).

 

NOTE:  Please contact the parks listed below to learn more about the different Astronomical events that they hold.

 

 

1) NATURAL BRIDGES NATIONAL MONUMENT –Utah

A view of the night sky at Natural Bridges National Monument.

A view of the night sky at Natural Bridges National Monument. photo credit: davep763

The first park in the United States to be classified as a Dark Sky Park, the park rangers of Natural Bridges have dedicated themselves to the preservation of the night sky.  Their work has paid off.  The park has obtained a Bortle Class 2 rating.  (Class 1 being the best)  The parks deep canyons provide the perfect location for the stargazer that wants to leave modern civilization behind and, simply, be one with the Cosmos.

 

2) JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK – California

Just some of the stars able to be seen at Joshua Tree.

Just some of the stars able to be seen at Joshua Tree. photo credit: eleephotography

Just a couple hours east of L.A. is Joshua Tree National Park.  Many people inadvertently drive pass this hiker’s oasis assuming it’s nothing more than barren desert but venture deeper in and you will discover the vast array of plants and animals that call this desolate, arid land home.  Those who spend the night camping at the park will be treated to a nighttime show unlike anything else.  The city lights are kept at bay and the planets and stars can be scene on a moonless night.

 

3) BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK – Utah

The sun setting over the desert of Bryce Canyon.

The sun setting over the desert of Bryce Canyon. photo credit: quinn.anya

The Mecca of professional and amateur astronomers alike, Bryce Canyon takes it night’s sky very seriously.  A dedicated team of park rangers (known as the Dark Rangers – it’s a pun) are there not only to protect the sky from light pollution but to educate the public about the stars around them.  Several different seminars are held throughout the year along with multimedia presentations and free use of the park’s forty telescopes.

 

4) CHERRY SPRINGS STATE PARK – Pennsylvania

The Milky Way Galaxy as seen in Cherry Hill.

The Milky Way Galaxy as seen in Cherry Hill. photo credit: Nicholas_T

Cherry Springs is protected on all sides by 262,000 acres of the Susquehanna State Forest, causing it to be known as the darkest spot east of the Mississippi.  The park offers a 360-degree view without the faintest hint of glow from light pollution.  Sky watchers flock to Cherry Hill in droves every August for the Perseids Meteor Shower.

 

5) HEADLANDS INTERNATIONAL DARK SKY PARK – Michigan

Venus as seen in Headlands International Dark Sky Park.

Venus as seen in Headlands International Dark Sky Park. photo credit: Arvind Govindaraj

The newest park in the US to receive the prestigious Dark Sky designation, Headlands Park is not taking that honor lightly.  The park has recently opened a new trail highlighting man’s relationship with the Heavens over the centuries.  (It is a paved trail so there is no need to worry about tripping in the dark.)  In addition to providing a beautiful venue for the galaxy, the park’s officials have made it their goal to educate the public about light pollution.

 

 

 

Honorable Mention) DEVILS TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT – Wyoming

Sunset at the Devils Tower National Monument.

Sunset at the Devils Tower National Monument. photo credit: Madeleine_H

The setting for the awe-inspiring climax to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Devils Tower juts up boldly in the middle of the barren Wyoming landscape.  Stop playing with your mashed potatoes and make your way to this massive rock and enjoy the stars around you.