by Jimmy Ruffler
Hikers, campers – even hunters – will speak about the passion they have for the star-filled skies. No, this is not about romance (although some on a relaxing vacation with their significant other may disagree.) Stargazing is actually a hobby for people who love the Great Outdoors. There are even two sciences based on the stars – astronomy and astrology, which have become more popular subjects to study over time.
The clear skies and the stars shining down on the campfire add to any adventure. The deer-filled woods are quiet, yet animals can be seen popping out in order to enjoy the awesome night right alongside the humans. Because of all these facts, a star-studded sky has become a major activity for many.
But there is a flipside to this coin. Not only because of environmental devastation, but also because of suburbia ruining the timberlands and basically taking over the nature we wish to keep, it’s becoming harder and harder every year to even see the stars. A great many RV camps are located in the middle of towns now, or just outside cities, where the lights of the metropolitan areas basically erase any hope of seeing natural light from up above.
Remote is the only way to go when searching for the stars anymore. Thankfully, the National Park System of the U.S. is still working faithfully, as well as private landowners, to preserve stunning remote campsites so that everyone can still have somewhere to go when they want to gaze.
When looking for stars, the Badlands in South Dakota will certainly provide all that you can handle as a camper, hiker, etcetera. This is the only place on the map where desolation is a good thing. The history is so unique; you set up camp and stare up at a huge sky with stars everywhere while being smack dab in the middle of a place proven to have housed the most amazing creatures of all time. This is not an overstatement; scientists have been finding fossils in the Badlands forever; including some from the saber-toothed cat which prowled the area far before the bison ever saw it.
Rugged, a bit frightening at times, yet the Badlands will allow all visitors to not only see the Milky Way but enjoy it as long as they stay.
The Badlands definitely has a close relative when it comes to remote and rugged. Joshua Tree National Park has been said by many to offer the darkest skies ever seen; which means the stars are vibrant and brilliant as they hover over the gnarled plants in a world that still looks as if it’s not even a part of the country. Yes, it is located in Southern California which is rich with people, lights and smog. But Joshua Tree stands alone, as if it is somehow protected by Mother Nature for all time.
A real vacation that will not only give you stunning stars, but also extremely lovely drinks with umbrellas in them, coconuts, and the sound of clear, fresh water coming up on shore is Hawaii. The Haleakalā National Park (in Maui) has literally every topographical scene an outdoor lover could possibly want. Jet black volcanic landscapes, subtropical rain forests, a wilderness that provides not only beauty but history, and a summit that’s actually considered by travelers to be the number one place in the world to view the stars.
Avid stargazers who can not make it to Hawaii have a strong love for the State of New Mexico. You are talking about a huge state with very little people throughout, which means the sky is huge and brightly lit 99% of the time. Clayton Lake in New Mexico is a Certified International Dark Sky Park, a title that is given to very few out there that offer extra-extra- extra-ordinary views of the stars.
So while you are sitting in the sun, or out on the boat wrangling that next huge catch, or waiting in the woods in order to spot that mighty buck that’s escaped you all these years – remember to enjoy the night. The stars are still out there, and if this country has its way, these remote locales will never be destroyed.