We had been to Arches National Park several times [see our suggested itinerary for a trip to the Southwest], but this time, I made it a destination. I did not want to be there for a full moon. I’m sure a full moon would look cool through an arch, but I wanted to see stars.
On a 2000 trip, we camped high in the Rocky Mountains. When I looked up, at first I thought I was seeing a strange band of clouds. Then I realized I was seeing the Milky Way. I had never seen so many stars before. We live on the light-polluted East Coast.
During subsequent trips to the dry air of the West, there were still clouds or a bright moon interfering with my quest to see those stars again. This year I heard about International Dark Sky Parks, places where light pollution does not keep one from seeing the stars. Canyonlands National Park was rated a 2 on a scale of 1 to 9, nine being Manhattan. But we were not prepared to camp, and Canyonlands has no other lodging. Arches is rated a 3 because there is some reflection from Grand Junction, Colorado 70 miles away. The sliver of moon would set before nightfall. Three was good enough.
On our first night in Moab, we drove into the park. We took a ride on the Colorado River the second day and were too tired to go back to Arches. On our third day, we went back to Arches after a long day driving the spectacular roads in the area. At the end of a long day of driving and walking around the arches, I was too tired to stay late again.
On that first day, we entered the park in the late afternoon. There was still a surprising amount of traffic. I think some people were coming because the park is open all night, and there is no fee late in the day. Others were coming to see the stars.
We drove to Panorama Point where we had a three hundred and sixty degree view. We were early. No one else was there. As the evening wore on, a few more cars pulled in. The sun set and a few more cars pulled in.
I was a little crazy. I swore every time somebody came in with their headlights on. I swore when someone else lit the light inside their car or used flashlights. I swore every time someone drove down the nearby road heading back to the campgrounds.
But I was crazy — their little lights didn’t matter. The sky was still darker than any experience we have ever had except during the 2000 trip.
Orion’s Belt has some of the brightest stars where we live in Florida. At Arches, Orion’s Belt was almost obscured by all the other stars around it.
I took no night photos. Just believe me. It was wonderful.
Click on photos to enlarge.
P.S., I have added the U.S. Dark Sky Parks to the “Interesting Lists” page at the top.