Deep Death Valley, Velvety Night Shining Bright

The powerful telescopes are returning in February.

A NATIONAL PARK... couldn't and shouldn't be summed up by one pursuit or activity or theme or landmark. It's for lovers of flora, it's for enthusiasts of fauna, it's for people who like to hike, bike, and be physical. History mavens have found much to delve into, too, as have visitors who dig the science behind tree rings and the ages of rocks and why the hills erode. But a fairly recent reason for being in a national park has been flirting with the forefront, even if it involves something humans have been doing since visiting forests and deserts and beaches: looking up at the night sky.

TRUE... we've always enjoyed the stars while communing with nature, but the movement away fro city light sources and into darkness, the kind of darkness that existed hundreds of years ago, has been gaining steam. (We're picturing steam from a fumarole and not an electrical source, of course.) Both Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks and Lassen Volcanic National Park have fairly recently introduced Dark Sky Festivals, and both summertime events were well-attended. Death Valley National Park has also been trading lamps for low light, or no light, via Star Parties. The low 'n hot expanse is recognized as "the world's largest International Dark Sky Park," and a telescope-laden gathering there insures some serious one-on-one-ing with the Milky Way. Game to get away from our human-made glow and into some true nightfallian dimness? Then mark Feb. 20-21, 2015 on your calendar, and make a heart around those dates, because you're going to love on the sky.

FURNACE CREEK RESORT, in partnership with the Las Vegas Astronomical Society, is the host of the two-dayer, which is all about searching out "constellations, planets, deep-sky objects, celestial events" and more without bright bulbs or screens muscling their way in (there's a solar component, too, with daytime viewing hours). If you can't make the February Star Party, ranger-led happenings around Death Valley frequently gaze up into the cosmos, with an eye to the moon's surface, meteors, and other wonders that don't need our electrically produced illumination competing with their beauty.

WANT TO ADD... Sequoia's Dark Sky Festival to your list? The September 2015 dates are live.

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