It’s rumored that during a city wide power outage in the 1990s, mystified Angelenos called 911 and Griffith Observatory to report huge white clouds looming over the city. They were actually seeing the Milky Way for the first time. Meanwhile, the national parks provide some of the darkest skies left in America and often become battlegrounds in the fight against the harmful impacts of light pollution from encroaching development.
March 1, 2016 marked the Centennial of the creation of America’s National Parks Service which was from the outset an effort to preserve pristine lands and skies that would serve as respite, renewal, and recreation for the health of the American spirit. Renew your spirit this spring and seek that gateway to adventure, not only in the national parks, but in the nearby communities and even in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.
Dark sky destinations
Plan your next excursion around a new Moon and reconnect to the night sky amidst the dreamy desert trails and campgrounds of Joshua Tree National Park. The eastern half of the park boasts some of the darkest skies in the region while the western portion of the park and surrounding areas provide attractions that suit any tastes.
Drop in on star parties hosted by Sky’s The Limit Observatory near the northern entrance from Twenty-nine Palms. The observatory’s main dome houses a Celestron 14” SCT telescope where visitors can soak in views of planets, distant galaxies, and stellar nurseries first hand while swapping stories and science with the interpretive rangers and fellow space enthusiasts.
Northwest of the park check out the Goat Mountain Astronomical Research Station (GMARS) managed by the Riverside Astronomical Society and designed perfectly for astroimaging! Come early for the BBQ potluck and stay for the night time views with amateur astronomers and astroimagers who set up shop among the multiple roll top shed observatories and cement pads. Share food, stories, and stellar views, but be sure to observe star party etiquette and kick ‘em down a few bucks while you’re at it.
During the day get cleansed in the healing sound baths at the acoustically resonant, geodesic domed Integratron in Landers, CA. “The structure is based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla, and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials.” Get on their level.
After your aural centers are aligned, drop down to Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum for a dose of psychedelic Americana. Traipse around the hoarded junk space and admire the artistic vision behind the dangling bowling ball towers, dusty denim tableau shacks, rusted bike sculptures, and myriad other installations accompanied by tumble weeds and the occasional turkey vulture.
Need more national parks near L.A.?
Bridging the gap between the dark skies of Joshua Tree and the bright light of the city are multiple observatories that all play significant roles in the scientific and natural histories of the greater L.A. area.
Camp out at Mt. Palomar Observatory where astronomers first conceived of Dark Matter.
Grind your own telescope mirror at Garvey Ranch Observatory.
Visit Mount Wilson Observatory where Edwin Hubble (yes, that Hubble) discovered that the Andromeda “nebula” was actually a galaxy residing outside our own Milky Way.
Party at Griffith Observatory amongst the stars above Hollywood.
And check out local telescope manufacturer Celestron’s events list and meet up with them this fall in national parks across the country, or check out their line of officially licensed National Park Foundation telescopes, binoculars, and outdoor adventure accessories and camp out in your own backyard.
No such thing as ‘stuck in the city’
Now that you’ve had your grand American adventure in the parks, it’s time to bring it on home in order to see the wilderness in your own backyard and in your day to day.
Celebrate 100 years of national parks at the California Science Center’s IMAX experience National Parks Adventure 3D and hear Robert Redford croon over John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt and the history of the Parks Service.
Recall the feel of picnics in the parks at Cliff’s Edge Café in Silver Lake as you munch rustic, elegant cuisine and local produce amidst the “spreading arms of a huge ancient tree and abundant greenery.” And in downtown you can eat right next to a giant redwood at Clifton’s Cafeteria, an establishment “dedicated to conservation, preservation and education” of a funky mishmash of L.A. culture and Southern California natural history.
Get some dust on your boots with adventures in L.A.’s numerous urban “pocket” parks, while still making it to your appointments across town on time.
This is just the beginning. The national parks represent conservation and the exploring American spirit, so take a few Saturdays in 2016 to rediscover your public lands and celebrate 100 years of America’s best idea. You may discover 100 other little gems along the way and begin to understand just how much impact the wilderness has in your own backyard.
And the next time the power goes out in Los Angeles, you will find yourself staring up at a dark sky in the middle of the city and feel that the Milky Way is your neighborhood too.