In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

August 14, 2015Liz GustafsonNPF Blog

Everyone secretly likes to think of themselves as an explorer of sorts, someone who has a taste for adventure. The scenic national parks have always attracted visitors for this very reason. The thrill of discovering a new trail, seeing flora and fauna in its natural habit, and summiting a mountain top to take in soaring views above and below all keep us coming back for more.

That firsthand experience with the enormity of our natural world – mountains, sea, and sky – gives us a clearer perspective of our place in this world, a feeling of smallness and vastness wrapped into one. And with this feeling comes a slow, melting away of troubles and creation of space to dream.

“… Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map …”  Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

We spend a lot of time talking about what's beneath our feet when it comes to parks. This post, however, is dedicated to what’s above us, specifically, the sky above our national parks, some of which have the best views of stars and constellations in the world.

Truly spectacular views like this one of Mount Rainier National Park. How can such a dazzling sight not make you forget your worries and inspire you to dream?

Mount Rainier under starry night sky

Now viewed as a critical resource with natural, historic, and cultural value, the National Park Service has made it a priority to protect night skies and to make them accessible to park visitors. There are now several national parks that have night sky programs dedicated to educating us on how to view stars, the science of light, nocturnal habitat protection, and what we can do as individuals to be better night sky stewards.

What you might find surprising is that some of the most visited scenic national parks have weekly night sky viewings, appreciation events, and/or festivals, such as Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. While others that may be lesser known, like Chaco Culture National Historical Park, have spectacular views of the stars as well.

Two men with telescope at Bryce Canyon National Park Astronomy night

One of our longtime corporate partners, Celestron, provides generous support to many national park night sky festivals, such as the one recently held at Bryce Canyon National Park pictured above. They’ll also be participating in three upcoming festivals that you should try to check out – everyone involved has contagious enthusiasm and a passion for night skies!

And finally, for you amateur photographers out there, if you end up capturing an amazing night sky view from one of these festivals or night sky programs, we encourage you to submit your photo at Share the Experience, the official federal recreation lands photo contest, now through December 31, 2015. There is even a Night Skies category!

Participation in this contest is a fun way to remember your national park visit, enter for a chance to win more than $25,000 in cash and prizes, and share a glimpse into your experience for those who won’t have the opportunity to visit one of these stellar destinations this year.

Happy stargazing!

Photo credits: 2014 Night Skies Category Winner Share the Experience, by Stephen Byrne at Mount Rainier National Park; Bryce Canyon Annual Astronomy Festival by Bryan Cogdell, Astronomy Product Manager at Celestron 

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