Lights Off, Stars On: Summer Dark Sky Fests

Savor an ancient sight while standing near the big trees and old volcanoes.

COSMIC ILLUMINATION: We might reside under the brightest of night skies. Our block might be flooded with streetlight action and lots of lit-up windows come sundown, as well as the constant streaming headlights from passing cars. Our own apartment or home may often have several lamps on at once when evening arrives. And yet... an old longing inside us, very old, compels us to step into the yard, now and then, or out to the curb, to see if we can spy the evening's first star or Venus or any of the constellations. We know they may be faint, if detectable at all, but we still yearn and we still try, even in our overly illuminated modern world. But there are places that are dark in an ancient way, or nearly, remote corners where nature and mountains and trees and a general lack of humanmade wattage prevail. Those are the deep-in-the-wild destinations that lovers of the dark sky are drawn to, each year, during the Dark Sky Festivals that have begun popping up with regularity around the world. These are the gatherings that ask us to celebrate one of the planet's greatest gifts: the universe, in all of its twinkly, body-beautiful glory, sans the streetlights and headlights. On board, night maven? There are two after-hours happenings ahead.

LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK: A three-day look-up party is on the schedule over the first weekend in August at this northeastern spread of bubbling mud pots and fumaroles and hot springs. The national park just marked an important centennial, the observance of the peak eruption of 1915, and the stargazing gathering from Aug. 7 to 9 will be another feather in its summer cap. Hiking, talks, and lots of gazing up with both astronomers and planetary geologists is on the dark sky dance card.

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK: The nighttime revelries among the big trees happen about a month after that, from Sept. 11 through 13, and the dark sky docket brims with late-into-the-evening activities: telescope viewings, constellation tours, talks on the robotic Mars missions, the building of model rockets, and more, including a subterranean visit to Crystal Cave, will delight dark-sky-ists.

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