Features and Occasionals

Outside: Where to Sleep Under the Stars

By catalyst

Last month Katherine Pioli wrote about light pollution and the ‘dark skies’ movement. Here we give you some tips on where to have a good night of star-gazing.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its astronomy and night sky programs. The park has its own “Dark Rangers”—volunteer astronomers protecting this last sanctuary of the night sky. On a dark night in Bryce Canyon, you can see approximately 7500 stars. The Dark Rangers also offer an educating and entertaining celebration of this unrivaled darkness. If you are looking for the most reputable, acclaimed and educational night’s sleep, Bryce Canyon is your bedroom. If you are someone who wants to be alone in your thoughts as you contemplate the universe and your place in it—this may not be the place for you. Bryce Canyon’s reputation, although honest, is a big draw for star enthusiasts as well as campers and hikers. There are a number of backcountry campsites with excellent viewpoints less than a mile away (Yovimpa Pass, Swamp Canyon, Right Fork Swamp) that could provide the view and the isolation you are looking for if you are willing to do the walking. Again, it is all about what kind of experience you are looking for. http://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

Devils Garden

Devils Garden campground in Arches National Park is more deserted than most. Campsites do fill up quickly, but you can drive right to them and the landscape affords a decent amount of privacy. The campground’s quiet hours ensure that you will be able to enjoy the night skies without light or noise pollution. If you choose to visit this campground, show up early to ensure that you get a campsite (walk-up sites are filled on a first come first serve basis), spend the day hiking in Utah’s trademark park and end the day by laying yourself down under the stars. There is no shortage of wonders in this park, geographical and cosmological. http://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/camping.htm

Goblin Valley

During the day this landscape may seem a bit infernal. But when the sun goes down and the clear skies open up, the hellish goblin lumps become childhood sandcastles, silhouetted against a fairy dust sky. The park’s isolation guarantees minimal noise and light pollution, but its popularity, relatively small size, and proximity to the town of Hanksville mean you may end up sharing your retreat with others. If you can play in this sandy playground with others, you will be fine. Alternatively—if you would choose the inferno over unwanted company —you can visit during midsummer heat. http://www.utah.com/stateparks/goblin_valley.htm

Bonneville Salt Flats (aka Wendover)

Were you one of those kids who dreamed of being an astronaut and walking on the moon only to discover later in life that you were legally blind, too short, or a victim of extreme motion sickness? I was one of those kids. If you are longing to have a cosmic experience in the safety of the Earth’s gravitational field, you could not come closer than stargazing on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Just far enough from the city to avoid light and air pollution and the long flat terrain offers both a soft white glow and the largest expanse of sky you could hope to find outside of the desert.

Unfortunately, this ethereal landscape does not allow overnight camping, so you may need to plan to sleep in Wendover (only 10 miles away), which offers an array of campgrounds…and two casinos. For those who are space sailors at heart, this location may be well worth the price. http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/salt_lake/recreation/bonneville_salt_flats.html

Albion Basin

If you are a person who wants to get closer to the stars, this campground located far up Little Cottonwood canyon is perfect. On a clear night the basin will allow for a reasonably expansive night sky bordered by majestic mountain ridges. This campground kisses the night sky, nestled high above the canyon’s ski resorts, cradled by rocky crags. If you would trade the expanse of a desert sky for fresh mountain air, wildflowers, and an altitude that will make you feel like you are brushing up against heaven—this is the stargazing locale for you. Albion Basin

Hannah Korevaar is CATALYST’s intern this summer. She will be a sophomore this fall at Wesleyan University.

This article was originally published on June 29, 2012.