How and Where to Find Dark Sky Camping Locations

As RVers, one of the things we look for is dark sky camping locations far away from the light pollution of cities. While these locations are getting harder to find, there are still plenty of places where you can visit to experience the darkest skies and the wonder they hold.

I’m still fascinated by the dark sky just as when I stood mid-watches (12:00-4:00 a.m.) or the four-to-eights (4:00-8:00 a.m.) as a ship’s navigator over three decades ago.

I would plot our Coast Guard Cutter’s courses using the stars, moon and sun to mark our ship’s position. Using this navigation method is known as celestial navigation. Today, professional mariners all over the world navigate via global positioning systems.

The art and science of celestial navigation has mostly gone by the wayside.

Or, has it?

Always On Liberty - Dark Sky Camping

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In 2018, we met a couple of RVers who are on their own journey. We asked them, as amateur astronomers, if they would like to explain how and where RVers can enjoy dark sky camping.

So pull up a seat and enjoy what they share. The only way to get a good view of it is camping in a dark sky location or dark sky community. They’ll show you how and where to find those dark sky camping locations.

How and Where to Enjoy Dark Sky Camping

By John and Brenda Nejedlo of GeoAstroRV

Since the beginning of time, humans have looked up towards the stars. The bright pinpoints of light have been used as navigation tools, helped farmers determine when to plant and harvest crops, and are at the center of stories and myths from every culture.

Just one hundred years ago, anyone, no matter where they lived, could look up at night and easily see the Milky Way and its thousands of stars.

Today, over 80 percent of the world’s population lives under the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light – known as light pollution. This light pollution, or skyglow, interferes with millions of people’s ability to see the brightest stars in the sky.

Many people have never seen our own Milky Way, the galaxy they call home. This image shows the dramatic effect that light has on viewing our night sky.

Dark Sky Camping

The Bortle Dark-Sky Scale measures the night sky’s brightness at a particular location. Class 1 is the darkest sky on Earth and Class 9 shows what the sky looks like from the inner city. Courtesy of the International Dark-Sky Association.

Finding dark sky camping locations

Light pollution is something that affects us all. The website Light Pollution Map shows an interactive map of the skyglow of the United States. It is easy to see why most observatories are located in the west and southwest where darker skies are easier to find.

Image from LightPollutionMap.Info showing the United States light pollution.

As RVers, we are able to travel wherever we want. However, if you are searching for dark skies then the western half of the United States is where you’ll want to go.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) works to protect the night skies for present and future generations. Their mission is to preserve and protect the nighttime environment as well as our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.

They are the recognized authority on light pollution and is the leading organization combating light pollution worldwide.

McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, TX launched its Dark Sky Initiative, working with neighbors in the region to help protect our dark night skies. They help promote awareness of light pollution and its simple solutions. A growing body of evidence ties our brightening night sky to measurable negative impacts such as:

As RVers, what can we do to lessen the impact our lights have on skyglow?

Most RVers are conscious of the impact they have on their environment. For the most part, RVs don’t emit as much light as say a traditional home and yard.

Instead of using the bright unshielded lights on our rigs, consider installing covered directional lights and motion sensors to your RV. Turn off your outside lights at night and draw window shades.

Here are just a few RV parks and campgrounds who cater to amateur astronomers and those who love dark skies:

Free or inexpensive stargazing apps

You can download a free mobile app to help you locate stars in your night sky. We recommend Sky Portal by CelestronSkySafariSkyview Lite or Star Walk. All are free, some have inexpensive ad-free options, and are available for iPhone and Android users.

There are two good mobile apps to help you locate dark skies. Light Pollution Map (free, available for iPhone and Android) and Dark Sky Finder ($2.99, only iPhone). Light Pollution Map allows you to easily locate dark sky locations where the sky will not be affected by light pollution, allowing the best observance, star gazing, and photography of the night sky.

Screenshot of Dunbar Technology’s Light Pollution Map app.

Dark Sky Finder helps you locate nearby dark skies and also allows you to make a contribution by adding a dark site for others to enjoy.

Dark Sky Finder
The Dark Sky Finder app gives details of dark sky locations.

You can even become a Citizen Scientist with GLOBE at Night or the Dark Sky Rangers and document light pollution in your neighborhood and share the results. Doing so contributes to a global database of light pollution measurements.

Star Parties

April is Global Astronomy Month. Go find a star party near you.

We encourage you to talk to amateur astronomers and look through their telescopes. Search for local astronomy groups and clubs.

Many star parties are often held at or near a National Park; many of which boast dark skies. Help support your National Parks, Monuments, and Historic Sites by attending talks, star parties, and other astronomy-related events.

There is nothing more awe-inspiring than to look up into a sky filled with stars. It makes us feel connected to each other and to the greater universe.

We do have to offer a word of caution, though. Going outside to view the stars, planets and other celestial objects may cause one to purchase a telescope. Or several. You have been warned!

Stargazing and identification tools

 

National Geographich Night Sky of North America
A basic guide to the solar system, distant galaxies, exoplanets and deep space, satellites and spacecraft, the big bang, meteor showers, and moon phases. This book also features scores of sky and constellation charts for stargazers:

 

The Night Sky
This is the full-sized version of The Night Sky suitable for the 40°-50° latitude zone (northern United States and parts of Europe). There are also pocket-sized versions available for the same latitude zones.

 

Stellarscope
The Stellarscope displays all the main stars and constellations of both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Just find the right latitude adapter and microfiche star map, rotate the tubes to align the date and time, take aim, and start calling the stars by name. It works anywhere between latitudes 20 degrees and 60 degrees North or South.

 

Red Lens Flashlight
Red lens flashlights makes it easier for your eyes to adjust quickly to the darkness. This is what you’ll need to light your path or read your stargazing guides.

About our guest bloggers:

John and Brenda 

John and Brenda Nejedlo from   GeoAstroRV.com want to primarily see the geology of the National Parks while seeking dark sky astronomy locations across North America.

They came up with the idea of following in the footsteps of John Dobson by sharing astronomy presentations for free along their journey. The Nejedlo’s goal has been to cultivate relationships with different National Parks.

Their first park was Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota where John and Brenda will be returning again this year.  In addition, they will be spending most of May 2019 at Homestead National Monument of America, located in Beatrice, Nebraska.

GeoAstro RV Setup
Preparing for a night presentation at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Make the clouds go away!

They enjoy giving free presentations to FMCA, Escapees, Xscapers, and Full-time RV Families.

While their first love has been presenting at National Parks, they also enjoy giving presentations at State and private parks, schools, churches, and businesses. They really enjoy meeting other RVers along their route and sharing a dark sky location. 

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