Star Trails Photography Locations?
July 1, 2009 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Where can we see the brightest stars against the darkest sky?

Hey all. We are traveling to the west coast in early August, and will be selecting destinations based upon our photography interests.

We are extremely interested in star trail photography, and also urban exploration/abandoned places.

Near Boston, we can get to abandoned places with a little homework, but the star trails opportunities are much more difficult to obtain. It seems only under the perfect circumstances are we able to find a starry night, and then drive to a location with minimal light pollution. The month-o-rain we've had doesn't help with finding stars to shoot.

We will likely be flying into Las Vegas and driving. We might fly out of LV into other areas (if the flights are cheap), but probably not TOO far.

With heavy emphasis on star trails opportunities (very little rain, no light pollution, sparsely populated), where can we shoot? We have tentatively planned to go to Bodie, CA for abandoned ruins, but I fear there will be a lot of people there, and car headlights could pollute a multiple-hour project.

Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by santaliqueur to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I saw the most amazing stars of my life in the Grand Tetons in WY.
posted by Miko at 6:02 PM on July 1, 2009

Driving up to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff at night. Never saw so many stars.
posted by orme at 6:08 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Camping in Death Valley at night is great for star watching.
posted by jessamyn at 6:12 PM on July 1, 2009

There was an article in the New Yorker a while back about stargazing and darkness as we know it today, and the author visited Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah - one of the first dark-sky parks in the world!
posted by mdonley at 6:13 PM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Generally you want to be up in the mountains. You also want clear skies, and for that Death Valley is probably unparalleled, but it means you're looking through more of the atmosphere. When you're in the mountains, then if the sky is clear you have a better view of it, less obstructed by haze.

My best view of the sky in my life was near Grand Junction, Colorado. It took my breath away. It is, in fact, the only time in my life I've ever really seen the Milky Way.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:15 PM on July 1, 2009

The Mojave National Preserve is 1 -2 hours from Las Vegas and some of the most amazing stars I have ever seen.

i actually live within the boundaries of the preserve and know some great spots - feel free to pm me for some local insider info!
posted by a22lamia at 6:20 PM on July 1, 2009

This Google search might be useful. has promise.

In general, you want to be 50 miles from any city and 20 miles from any town.

In early August, you may have a full moon to contend with.

On August 1st at Las Vegas, sunset is around 7:45 pm. Allow 1.5 to 2 hours after that for darkness. Sunset is later as you go north or west.
posted by neuron at 6:21 PM on July 1, 2009

Joshua Tree National Park might be a good place to try. I took some really incredible photos of the moon while I was there a couple months ago, but was still a little too new to my DSLR to get good star photos at the time.
posted by so_gracefully at 6:22 PM on July 1, 2009

The best stars I've ever seen were just North of Tonopah, NV, which is ~220 miles north of las vegas. Basically the entirety of US-95 from Vegas to Reno is a string of failing towns, meaning 1) little light and 2) urban exploration opportunities (if you're willing to play fast and loose with the definition of "urban"). I've been up and down that stretch of highway countless times, mostly as a kid sitting in the back seat while my parents drove a brother or sister up to college at UNR. The first time I drove it alone I was coming back from a weekend trip to visit family. It was probably early May, and I was midway between Hawthorne and Tonopah when I stopped the car on the edge of the road, got out and had a cigarette, and realized I absolutely had to get the fuck out of Nevada.

posted by logicpunk at 6:51 PM on July 1, 2009

The state maps at may be helpful.
posted by buzzv at 7:01 PM on July 1, 2009

yeah, Joshua Tree & Death Valley. Check moon- rise & set times to make sure it's moonless on the nights you plan to be there.
posted by Lukenlogs at 7:04 PM on July 1, 2009

I dont' know where you are coming from, but Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah has the darkest skies in the lower 48. Before the Internet told me this, I experienced it myself - the stars are so fucking bright on a moonless night that you have to lay on your side to fall asleep. I'm not kidding.

Unfortunately, its darkness is partially due to its remoteness. The nearest town is Mexican Hat (near Monument Valley), an hour away.
posted by notsnot at 7:23 PM on July 1, 2009

Here in the Methow Valley in Washington, we can see the milky way on every moonless, clear night. Probably farther north than you were planning though.
posted by in the methow at 7:52 PM on July 1, 2009

Nevada is still mostly empty. And it is very dry. Get away from the towns in Nevada, and you will see stars. More than enough stars. The Milky Way will be right in your face.
posted by bricoleur at 8:29 PM on July 1, 2009

The north rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty spectacular.
posted by spilon at 8:36 PM on July 1, 2009

We we're camping in the bottom of the Grand Canyon as part of a rafting trip down the Colorado and experienced the Perseides meteor shower. Unbelievable stars against a jet black sky ... all letterboxed by the top of the canyon walls. Pretty spectacular stuff.
posted by lpsguy at 6:27 AM on July 2, 2009

The best place I've ever been to see star trails was in Big Bend in west Texas. A little out of your way, but when we were there in May the Milky Way rose right over the Chisos Mountains. It was astounding.
posted by sanka at 6:40 AM on July 2, 2009

The best place I've ever been to see stars is high up in the Rocky Mountains on a clear late fall night.
posted by 6550 at 7:54 AM on July 2, 2009

Camping on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at Toroweap.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:59 AM on July 2, 2009

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