Not only do the desert southwest states offer incredible views of geology and nature during the day, they also offer stunning views of the heavens at night. While near Arches National Park in Utah we had the perfect opportunity for a night of stargazing. The moon was new, there were hardly any clouds in the sky, the light pollution in the area was low, and temperature a delightful 74 Fahrenheit.
We decided to set out two hours after sundown to ensure maximum darkness yet have time to linger before growing tired for the night. Arches was only about 10 minutes away and as we arrived there were a handful of other stargazers and night walkers driving into or out of the park. Trail had planned for this. Using her knowledge of the park she chose a spot that was accessible directly by car, but on a short spur, and with minimal visual obstructions on the horizon. Most of the iconic viewpoint pull out we passed had other cars in them, but sure enough, Trail’s pick gave us a place all to ourselves and with a glorious view of the night sky.
We set up our camp chairs, Trails camera tripod, and some iced tea and then turned off the truck’s lights and let our eyes adjust to the darkness. As the stars above came into brilliant focus the awe of looking into the night sky and contemplating its vastness set in. In silence, we marveled at the wonder of the universe. Trail is the star hustler of the two of us and pointed out Mars and Jupiter which were both brighter than their surrounding stars and shone with just a little color, setting them clearly apart. Saturn was also visible, though dimmer and while pluto was in the sky, we could not see it clearly.
Perhaps best of all, the bright band of the milky way was visible to us as an arcing cloud of light stretching nearly across the breadth of the sky. Trail had brought along a pair of binoculars and focusing on the milky way revealed the innumerable points of light it is composed of, at least the ones closest to us within it. After a time we saw shooting stars streak to earth, satellites wander overhead, and the occasional blinking plane on its way in the dead of night to destinations unknown to us. In silence we watched the heavens turn, the stars slowly moving against the background horizon of stone arches and spires.
The temperature of the air was perfect such that it felt neither cold nor hot and the air was perfectly still. I walked around in a world lit only by starlight. It struck me that it seemed not so much the night, but a world of subtle gray and black shapes. I’m used to the night being a world of harsh lights and contrasting darkness but here all was darkness and the starlight only showed the outlines of things and subtle contrasts of shape for nearby objects. It was a true twilight world where only the subtlest sounds, vision, temperature, and touch were discernable and the feeling was quite magical.
Sometime after midnight, we decided to head back home to sleep, both filled with a great sense of peace and wonder after the magical night beneath the shimmering heavens at Arches National Park.