When was the last time you looked up and really saw the stars? Outside your window every night Orion, the Big Dipper, and the Milky Way are hanging out in the sky. All you have to do is look up! Better yet, plan a star party in your backyard. Turn off the TV, grab a blanket, and follow these stargazing tips to see the universe and beyond!
• Choose a cloudless night around the new moon and a spot far away from artificial light.
• Cover your flashlight with red cellophane or cloth to lessen the effect of light on your eyes. After 20 minutes of uninterrupted darkness, you’ll be amazed at the stars you’ll see.
• Bring a pair of good binoculars (7x50) for even better viewing.
• Use a star chart to help you pick out constellations. You can also get apps for your smart phone to help you identify stars and planets.
• Connect with local astronomy clubs, like Back Bay Amateur Astronomers, and attend stargazing events. Or check out your local planetarium or science museum and find out what’s new in the night sky.
Ready for more stars? Check out these travel destinations where the stars star.
Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station
Get in touch with your inner astronomer on Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain, where twinkling stars stretch across the vast sky. At the visitor’s center (9,300 feet), a stargazing program kicks off at 6 p.m. four nights a week with a film about Mauna Kea. Afterwards look through telescopes at planets like Jupiter and Uranus outside on the lanai. Next blast off on a cosmic tour of the universe with an astronomer and his trusty green laser beam, who’ll point out stars and constellations, all blinking a friendly hello. If you’re brave enough and have a 4WD, cruise on up to the summit (13,796 feet), home of the world’s largest telescopes—eerie white orbs that spy on the cosmos 24-7. Way up above the clouds, you’ll feel like you’re in outer space. www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis Admission: free.
• Dress warmly on your visit; it can get chilly at high altitudes.
• Make sure you have a full tank before heading up the mountain since you won’t find any gas stations on Mauna Kea.
• Arrive early to view a sunset you’ll never forget.
• After you come down the mountain, head to nearby Waimea for Hawaiian regional cuisine at Merriman’s, about an hour’s drive. Merriman’s sources much of its produce and seafood from local farms and fisheries. Try the Island Fish Taco with avocado, aioli, and cilantro ($16). www.merrimanshawaii.com
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, Utah
They say 7500 stars are visible in the night sky at Bryce Canyon National Park—wonder who counted them? After sunset, the park’s famous orange and pink rock formations become a surreal backdrop for crystal-clear night skies that will blow you away. Thanks to its optimum viewing conditions, Bryce Canyon is a member of the Global StarPark Network. Still having trouble finding the Big Dipper? Just ask one of Bryce Canyon’s Dark Rangers, a special force of expert volunteers and staff who help visitors navigate the celestial sphere. www.nps.gov/brca Admission: $30 per car for a week-long pass.
• Just after sunset, keep your eyes pointed east to see the earth’s penumbra, or shadow, a purple band above the horizon.
• You’ll find more elbow room at Bryce Canyon in spring and fall when crowds are fewer.
• If you like crusty pizza with zesty sauce, you’ll definitely want to stop in the Pizza Place in Tropic, Utah, a locals’ favorite with cozy wood-paneling and a cheery vibe. Dine on the outdoor patio where you’ll be wowed by views of Aquarius Plateau. Try the large BBQ Chicken Pizza ($16.99). www.brycecanyoninn.com
On top of Mars Hill at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, you can see planets up close with the historic Clark Telescope. Every year 85,000 visitors flock to this private research institution to learn how our solar system formed and what makes the stars shine. But the fun doesn’t stop at Mars Hill. All across the region, you can see amazing views of constellations and galaxies wherever you are. That’s because Flagstaff takes its night skies seriously with ordinances to reduce the glare of artificial light. In 2001 the International Dark-Sky Association named Flagstaff the first International Dark Sky City in the world! You’ll feel like you can reach out and touch the sky from just about anywhere. www.lowell.edu. Admission: $15 adults; $8 kids.
• Check out the solar eclipse program held nightly (except Sun.), and learn about the upcoming total solar eclipse occurring coast to coast in the U.S. on August 21, 2017. You’ll discover the history, mythology, and science of eclipses, as well as learn safe home eclipse-viewing techniques.
• Pretend you’re an astronaut exploring the galaxy as you stroll along Pluto Walk, a scaled-down version of our solar system.
• Stop in Bigfoot BBQ, a funky dive—think neon lights and gas station decor —in the center of historic downtown Flagstaff. Try their award-winning BBQ or dive into a Smokin’ Bulldawg: smoked andouille sausage topped with shredded brisket, Bigfoot sauce, onions, and shredded cheese. It’s smoky goodness on a roll. ($12) www.bigfootbbq.com
The Headlands, an Emmet County Park
Mackinaw City, Michigan
In Sweden it’s “Winter Street.” The Irish call it “The Fair Cow’s Path.” In Korea it’s “The Silver River.” Here in the USA, we call it the Milky Way, and high above Headlands Park in Northwest Michigan, it spreads across the sky like a veil of shimmering sequins. You can view the Milky Way and much more from the Headlands, one of 49 International Dark Sky Parks around the globe. Here beside Lake Michigan, artificial light is practically non-existent, and the stars seem to go on forever. Resident star expert Mary Stewart Adams welcomes visitors to listen to “star tale adventures” around a campfire, watch the Perseid meteor showers in August, and get in touch with their celestial rhythms during special seasonal programs. www.emmetcounty.org/headlands/ Admission: free.
• Celebrate the stars on June 22, 2017, at the grand of opening the Waterfront Event Center and Observatory, with music, fine art, great food, and special guests!
• Stay in the Guest House at the Headlands—a fully equipped rental home accommodating around 20 guests—and have a star party with your favorite peeps.
• In nearby Mackinaw City, sample scrumptious whitefish, the region’s specialty, in the Chippewa Room at Audie’s Restaurant. Delivered fresh daily from Big Stone Bay Fishery, it’s available broiled, planked, stuffed, encrusted, Cajun, or Asian. ($22) www.audies.com
Geauga Park District Observatory Park
This 1,100-acre park about 40 miles east of Cleveland promises to deliver way more than a starry, starry night. Arrive before dark and hike through diverse habitats—think wetlands and old-growth forest—at the headwaters of the Cuyahoga River. Next get up close and personal with the planets on the planetary walk, and then see what time it is using the human sundial. When night rolls in, this Dark Sky Park has next to no light pollution and promises terrific views of the night sky. Bring your telescope and hunt for star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and supernova remnants. www.geaugaparkdistrict.org/parks/observatorypark.shtml Admission: free.
• During special events, visitors can peer through the Oberle telescope for stellar views of the night sky.
• While hiking the trails, be on the look out for the endangered red swamp currant or the rare five-lined skink.
• Stroll though the Night Garden to see native plants that bloom at night.
• Grand River Cellars Winery & Restaurant in nearby Madison has outdoor seating, yummy sandwiches, and local wine. Try the creamy artichoke and asiago dip served in a Romano-Swiss parsley bread bowl with tortilla chips. ($8) www.grandrivercellars.com
Cherry Springs State Park
Where can you go on the East Coast to find a stunning view of the Milky Way? Head for Cherry Springs State Park, a 48-acre park in north-central Pennsylvania surrounded by state forest. Folks here are serious about stargazing, but everyone is welcome. If you’re a newbie, head to the Night Sky Viewing area, where you’ll find a backlit summer sky map to help you find your favorite constellation. Across the street is the Astronomy Observation Field, where you get a 360° view of the night sky. No lights allowed! Here astronomers often stay up all night to watch the stars wheel across the sky. If you’re lucky, you might see a falling star. During meteorite showers, you can see as many as 60 or more an hour. But guess what? They’re not really stars, just specks of dust burning up as they enter our atmosphere. Make a wish anyway and maybe it will come true! www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/cherrysprings/index.htm Admission: free for Night Sky Viewing area; fee for Astronomy Observation Field.
• On select evenings, observe the constellations through a laser-guided Night Sky Tour and learn about the legends and myths surrounding these mysterious patterns in the sky. Then get an up close look at celestial objects through telescopes.
• Meet experts at the park’s annual Star Parties: June 22-24 and Sept. 22-24. Registration required.
• Brickhouse Café & Deli in nearby Galeton is a mom-and-pop establishment offering burgers, wraps, and stuffed sandwiches. Try the mesquite honey-roasted turkey panini ($6.95) with a cup of homemade soup ($3.95). On historic Rt. 6. Ph. 814-435-2444
Did you hear? Black is the new green. The town of Harmony, Central Florida’s largest certified green community, has not only embraced energy-saving initiatives, developers have also ensured that the night sky isn’t polluted by unnecessary lighting. The result so impressed the International Dark-Sky Association that they recognized Harmony as a Dark Sky Development of Distinction in 2009, one of only three communities to receive this designation. To celebrate, Harmony holds an annual Dark Sky Festival every spring to share the wonders of the stars with residents and visitors. NASA exhibitors, mobile Star Lab planetarium, kid-zones, astronomy presentations, and of course telescopes pointing skyward are all part of the fun. Nearby Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, one of the largest remaining stretches of Florida dry prairie, is another favorite spot for Florida stargazers. You can even sleep under the stars at one of the park’s campgrounds! www.harmonyfl.com
• Bring insect repellant for bug-free stargazing pleasure.
• Local grouper is king at Champions Grill, the restaurant at Harmony Golf Preserve. You can get it grilled, fried, or blackened served with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and avocado mayonnaise. ($10). www.harmonygolfpreserve.com/restaurant/
For more family travel ideas, visit www.tidewaterfamily.com/articles/travel.