Stars and Travel: North America

night sky trees forest

Stars. Wherever you travel they are a constant in your night sky — perhaps hard to see because city lights (or house lights, or highway lights) are bright, perhaps hard to see in the brightness of a full moon. Still, stars are present. Travelers ancient and modern have relied on star positions to navigate. Poets, writers, artists, musicians ancient and modern have relied on the stars to inspire and tell stories. Families, ancient and modern, have enjoyed looking up at the stars at night, and wondering, and telling their own stories.

Many parts of the world are lit up at night, more than you may realize until you start looking for stars. People have begun realizing, though, that peace and connection to be found from looking up at dark skies is worth keeping, and celebrating. There are discoveries science is still making about stars and connections to human history that are still being found across the world and are still being explored, too.

To that end, parks, reserves, wilderness areas and communities across the world are making commitments to honor, celebrate, and preserve dark sky areas.

dark sky stars night sky

Consider these places in North America which will well reward visit to explore the stars:

North Frontenac in southern Ontario, Canada. Just a few hours away from Ottawa and from the border with New York State, North Frontenac has the darkest skies in southern Ontario. Near the township of Plevna there’s a dark sky observation area where you can set up telescopes, and amateur astronomers often conduct activities.

The Stephen C. Foster State Park near Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Georgia, in the United States. Because the surrounding refuge area is mostly protected swamp land there’s little development in the area, leading to some of the darkest skies in the eastern United States.

The town of Bon Accord in Alberta, Canada. This town near Edmonton has chosen dark sky preservation to enhance the lives of its own residents and to attract visitors to the area. In applying for recognition by the International Dark Sky Association “The Town wants to affirm permanently its commitment to preserving the night sky for generations of children and stargazers to come,” town representatives said.

stars, steeple, fog

Many parks in the western US, including Arches, the Grand Canyon, and Chaco, are recognized by the IDA. Many which do not as yet have that designation are good places to seek dark skies also. A number of parks in western Canada are recognized as dark sky reserves or parks. In the US and in Canada, national and regional parks which don’t hold the dark sky designation still make good places to stargaze.

One such place is Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia, where mountain and forest meet sea. There are towns in this part of Nova Scotia, but there are acres of forest as well, leading to dark skies above. In the prairies near the Saskatchewan-Montana border Grasslands is a Parks Canada site known for its dark skies. In Saint John’s, Newfoundland, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has recognized Irving Park as an urban sky park for its reduction of light which allows observation of the sky in the city.

Mont-Mégantic, the world’s first International Dark Sky Reserve,. is in Quebec, about one hundred twenty miles east of Montreal, near the town of Sherbrooke. Sherbrooke and the reserve’s thirty four other communities have worked out outdoor lighting regulations to help control and restrict the increase of light pollution in the area. In doing this, the reserve offers ideas for other areas seeking ways for urban and rural co operation to recognize and preserve dark skies.

night sky stars camping

It’s true that many of the places named as dark sky areas are in or nearby wilderness where there’s little incentive for development and light bearing activities. The Everglades in Florida is one such area. There are dark skies to be seen in the Great Smoky Mountains and along the Blue Ridge in the eastern US, and in Indiana along the shores of Lake Michigan, as well as high in the Rockies and the Sangre de Cristos in the west.

There are places to experience dark skies and the beauty of stars in the dark of night the world over. In coming weeks I’ll be telling you a bit about several places to go star gazing in Scotland and in Ireland, and in other places across the world.

You do not have to travel far to see the stars, though. Turn off the lights, or find a dark hill, or the water’s edge, or if you are in the midst of the town or city, hold your hands up to shade the light, and give your eyes a few moments to adjust. You will see the stars. Perhaps, at this time of year (I am writing this in December) you will also think of those scholars and travelers centuries ago who saw a star in the east, and followed it.

Music to go along: Straw Against the Chill, sung by Kathy Mattea. She has recorded this on her album Joy for Christmas Day.

Photographs by Jakub Gorajek, Jeremy Thomas, P Eshtiagi, and Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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