American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Appreciation for Starry, Starry Skies
My husband, Dan, and I are currently barreling across Interstate 10, between New Orleans and Los Angeles, en route to our seventh annual Beverly Hills Shorts Festival. Today, as I watched daytime in New Mexico gradually become nighttime in Southern California, I periodically peered up into the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars. Unfortunately, save for a few spaces between SoCal's desert towns, it hasn't been easy to observe individual stars tonight, much less whole constellations.
Beyond modern problems like smog, airborne pesticides, and smokestack emissions, the main reason that stargazing proves to be so difficult in urban areas – particularly in well-populated cities such as Los Angeles – is, of course, light pollution, which can collectively create a “skyglow” that often obstructs our view of the night sky. Traditionally, such light pollution has been caused by the prevalence of poorly designed and/or improperly aimed headlights, porch lights, yard lights, and street lamps.
When reporting on this issue for the now-defunct Ecotourism Observer more than a decade ago, I was particularly curious about how such light pollution affects amateur stargazers and professional astronomers in more remote places, such as Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where the light from nearby communities and the park's inhabited areas has often caused an enhanced “skyglow” in the normally clear desert sky. At the time, I spoke to Dave Simon, who was then the Southwest Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. According to him, “Dark night skies are as fundamental and vital a park resource as clean air and water. It's a crime of incredible magnitude to rob people's ability to see the stars... Whether you're eight or 80, there's a basic sense of awe, looking up at the stars and contemplating man's place in the universe.”
Reflecting upon the summers that Dan and I spend in northern Michigan, where, on a clear night, you can spy oodles of stars, I know that Dave was right. There's something truly awe-inspiring about gazing up at the starry night sky – and it's definitely an aspect of living in a somewhat remote part of the Great Lakes State that we truly appreciate. While Dan and I both relish the marbled, reddish night skies that are common in 24-hour places like the French Quarter, it's reassuring to know that more remote areas still exist, where it's usually possible to survey the constellations, note falling stars, and meditate on the vastness of the cosmos.
It's also reassuring to know that legislative measures have been taken to curb some of this unsightly light pollution. In New Mexico, for instance, the Night Sky Protection Act requires that all outdoor lights, except those used to illuminate airports, federal lands, or sporting events, be shielded by “full-cutoff” fixtures or extinguished between 11 p.m. and sunrise. While some might balk at such measures, I appreciate the fact that small steps like these help to protect light-sensitive wildlife, conserve electricity, and clear the way for future stargazers and astronomers to contemplate worlds beyond our own.
So, what's your favorite place in America (or elsewhere) to gaze up at the starry night skies?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Michigan's night sky © 2012 Daniel Martone / Text © 2012 Laura Martone