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Jonathan Stull | 07.09.2017

We’ve passed the halfway point in our #52WeekAdventureChallenge, and thus far we’ve celebrated the scenic places that make the outdoors unique and extraordinary. For this installment, however, we celebrate not a place but an infinite beyond. There are few things as compelling as the night sky at midnight. In the company of a friend or even alone, the innumerable stars pecked out of the darkness of space provoke awe and introspection and, from time to time, the click of a shutter release.

But forget about worldly things.

At sunset the curtain drops. Veiled by the daylight is a dome theater of distant starlight. If you’re far enough north, neon green bands might undulate on an invisible platform. Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing—if it’s up to us, you’re camping somewhere far away from artificial light—it’s a show that you have to experience to understand. For this installment of the #52WeekAdventureChallenge, we invite you to visit some of the best places on earth to watch the sky.

The experience on its own is enough to entertain in the backcountry, just sleep out in the dark. Sounds and silence are magnified by your sense of vulnerability, but the night sky is like a security blanket that quiets your fear. It rotates; meteors streak through the atmosphere, satellites lurch from horizon to horizon, and the Milky Way frames the night sky in a ring.

That said, there are also tools to engage with what you’re seeing. One of the simplest is a star navigation app on your smartphone, many of which are free, like Star Chart, SkyView, or Star Walk. The premium apps include a plugin for the phone’s gyroscope, which allows you to pan around the sky, and the phone will show you exactly what you’re looking at. In combination with a telescope or binoculars, you will gain an intimate knowledge of the night skies. And, of course, bring along your camera and shoot the stars.

But you must find the dark skies to begin with. That’s where we come in. We’ve compiled a list of the best places to look up, all within a day’s drive from the big city.

Denver

Salt Lake City

Los Angeles

San Francisco

Portland

Seattle

Phoenix

Northeast U.S. and East Coast

  • Cherry Springs State Park (Pennsylvania)
  • Staunton River State Park (Virginia)
  • Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park (North Carolina)
  • Pickett Civilian Conservation Corps Memorial State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area (Tennessee)

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