I’m still fascinated by the dark sky just as when I stood mid-watches (12:00-4:00 am) or the 4-to-8’s (4:00-8:00 am) as a ship’s navigator some four decades ago.
Back in the early 1980’s, I would plot our Coast Guard Cutter’s courses using the primitive navigation method is known as celestial navigation.
The location of the stars, moon and sun relative to our our ship’s position would be logged with date and time for ship’s records. But today, professional mariners all over the world navigate using electronic global positioning systems (GPS). But, has the art and science of celestial navigation mostly gone by the wayside by most mariners?
And now as a civilian who’s enjoying our RV travels and camping, I still look to the sky with gazing wonder.
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 the stars is in a dark sky location or dark sky community. Our guest bloggers and friends will share with you how and where to find those dark sky camping locations.
This article contains affiliate links. By clicking on them, it doesn’t cost you anything extra. Full disclosure here.
Dark Sky Camping
By Guest Bloggers – John & 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.
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.
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:
- Increasing energy consumption.
- Artificial light has been shown to disrupt the natural cycles of many different species, including birds and sea turtles.
- Humans natural circadian rhythms are disrupted, causing dramatic health consequences.
- Reduction in dark skies negatively affects astronomers and their science.
- Correct lighting makes us feel safer and bad lighting can aid criminals.
Certified IDA International Dark Sky Communities in the U.S.
Certified IDA International Dark Sky Communities are legally organized towns and cities that adopt quality outdoor lighting ordinances and undertake efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies.
- Beverly Shores, IN
- Big Park / Village of Oak Creek, AZ
- Blanco, TX
- Borrego Springs, CA
- Camp Verde, AZ
- Cottonwood, AZ
- Crestone, CO
- Dripping Springs, TX
- Flagstaff, AZ
- Fountain Hills, AZ
- Fredericksburg, TX
- Hawthorn Woods, IL
- Helper, UT
- Homer Glen, IL
- Horseshoe Bay, TX
- Julian, CA
- Ketchum, ID
- Lakewood Village, TX
- Norwood, CO
- Nucla and Naturita, CO
- Ridgway, CO
- Sedona, AZ
- Thunder Mountain Pootsee Nightsky
- Torrey, UT
- Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, CO
- Wimberley Valley, TX
Certified IDA International Dark Sky Parks in the U.S.
Certified IDA International Dark Sky Parks are publicly or privately owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.
As of January 2022, there are 195 listed certified International Dark Sky Parks (IDSP) in the world. Of those, there are over 86 Dark Sky Parks in the U.S. See where they are located on an interactive map.
Certified IDA International Dark Sky Reserves in the U.S.
Certified IDA International Dark Sky Reserves consist of a dark “core” zone surrounded by a populated periphery where policy controls are enacted to protect the darkness of the core.
As of January 2022, there is only 1 Certified IDA International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States; located in Central Idaho.
Certified IDA International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the U.S.
Certified IDA International Dark Sky Sanctuaries are often the darkest and most remote places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile.
As of January 2022, there are 9 Certified IDA International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the U.S.
- Black Gap Wildlife Management Area
- Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
- Cosmic Campground
- Devils River State Natural Area – Del Norte Unit
- Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
- Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge
- Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area
- Medicine Rocks State Park
- Rainbow Bridge National Monument
More Dark Sky and Stargazing Resources
What can we do to lessen the impact our lights have on skyglow?
Most RV travelers and campers 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 RVs and campers, consider installing covered directional lights and motion sensors to your RV. Turn off your outside lights at night and draw window shades.
National Parks, State Parks, RV parks and campgrounds who cater to amateur astronomers and those who love dark skies:
- Antelope Island State Park – Great Salt Lake, UT
- Arches National Park – Moab, UT
- Joshua Tree National Park – Twenty-Nine Palms, CA
- James River State Park – Gladstone, VA
- Stephen C. Foster State Park – Fargo, GA
- Grand Canyon National Park – Grand Canyon, AZ
- Big Cypress National Preserve – East Ochopee, FL
- Cherry Springs State Park – Coudersport, PA
- Big Bend National Park – Big Bend, TX
- Staunton River State Park – Scottsburg, VA
- Apache RV Park – Reserve, NM
- Casini Ranch Family Campground – Duncans Mills, CA
- Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing Campground – Bayard, NE
- Fort Griffin State Historic Site – Albany, TX
- Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park – Okeechobee, FL
- Likely Place RV & Golf Resort – Likely, CA
- Maverick Ranch RV Park – Lajitas, TX
- Pony Soldier RV Park – Lingle, WY
- Rusty’s RV Ranch – Rodeo, NM
- Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park – Montana & Alberta, Canada
♦ PRO TIP: Planning to visit our National Parks? Before you go, make sure you get the right pass to get you into the parks! Which National Park Pass Should I Get?
You can download a free mobile app to help you locate stars in your night sky.
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 (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.
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.
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.
Go find a star party near you. We also 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. Anyone can help support your National Parks, Monuments, and Historic Sites by attending talks, star parties, and other astronomy-related events. And, April is Global Astronomy Month. So, check out the many star parties in your area!
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 even purchase a telescope.
♦ PRO TIP: Want to know more about making the most of your National Park visit? Read 32 Tips for an Amazing National Park Experience.
Stargazing & Constellation Identification Tools
A red lens flashlight helps to make it easier for your eyes to adjust quickly to the darkness. This important stargazing tool is what you’ll need to light your path or read your stargazing guides.
- About Our Guest Bloggers:
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 dark sky 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. They enjoy offering 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 RV travelers along their route and sharing a dark sky camping locations.
While that’s a lot of information to process, now you know where to look to enjoy dark sky camping in the U.S. And when you do, look up! You may find your own star to make a thousand wishes.
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