Looking for good dark sky parks; difficulty level: mixed-race couple.
May 17, 2015 4:33 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I would love to visit a dark sky park in the U.S. (doesn't matter if there's an observatory attached to it).

Two elements to this question...
  1. Generally--which parks have you had a good experience with, particularly as a newcomer to stargazing? What, if anything, should we look for in a park? (We live in DC's Maryland suburbs and frequently travel to the Seattle area, so parks in those general regions would be preferable, but we're open to traveling elsewhere.)
  2. As indicated in the question title: my wife and I are an interracial couple (I'm white, she is black). We'd really prefer not to travel to a part of the country where we'll be subject to any nastiness (or danger) on account of that fact. For example, I've been to Bruneau Dunes State Park in Southern Idaho, and had a good experience there, but I was 7 years old at the time and wasn't really tracking on race relations at that tender age.
I'd appreciate input on either or both questions, but please note that we're looking for feedback based on lived experience.
posted by duffell to Travel & Transportation around United States (13 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
The only place I've gone to on this list is Sky Meadows State Park off 66 near Delaplane. It was nice, and far enough from DC to feel dark. (It's been a while since I've been there, so I can't guarantee, but it's also close enough to you that it's probably worth checking out.)
posted by instamatic at 5:12 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Places I have gone and had great night sky experiences:

Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley

Arches National Park in Utah.

Camping outside of Pitkin, CO

I would suggest planning with a Lunar calendar at hand to make sure the Moon doesn't interrupt your watching.
posted by nickggully at 5:17 PM on May 17, 2015

You could come up to Keji in Nova Scotia
posted by exois at 6:26 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The only place that I have been similar to this was up in Michigan. The Headlands is an International Dark Sky Park which is somehow different? Completely amazing location and while I didn't camp there I did spend some time there at night and was very blown away by the beauty and the proximity to the lake was incredible. Rural US but not in a location I'd think you would be likely to encounter trouble.
posted by jessamyn at 7:26 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

The night skies in Joshua Tree National Park (California) are unlike anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. My girlfriend and I are an interracial couple with an ethnic composition identical to yours, and we have found the locals there to be totally unphased by it.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:27 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh hey, I noticed that for a reason, someone else can explain, the stars are much brighter close to the equinoxes. I was out in the night going toward Delta, Utah. The stars were all the way to the ground and bright all around me. There had been a car steadily following me for miles, so I pulled over behind a big gravel pile off the road to hide, and let it pass. Th sky was breathtaking and so bright. Then I went back onto the highway and the car was still there in the rear view mirror. It turned out to be Jupiter on the East horizon, behind me on a long, stretch of dark, straight road. The equinoxes yes.
posted by Oyéah at 7:29 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've heard good things about Cherry Springs State Park in Northern PA, but haven't been myself (hoping to go later this summer).
posted by taltalim at 7:59 PM on May 17, 2015

I haven't been there, but I've heard good things about the observatory in Goldendale, WA.

While I can't speak to the observatory experience, I'd say that the interracial couple aspect would probably be a non-issue in the Gorge. There are many. And while individual parents might have issues with individual couples, it's not something that the community at large considers objectionable... or, honestly, even worthy of notice.

In general, OR and WA tend to be pretty live and let live... so long as you're not harming anyone or anything, or doing anything dangerous and/or (seriously) illegal, you're probably going to be befriended or ignored.
posted by stormyteal at 8:37 PM on May 17, 2015

It's a ferry-ride from the US, but consider Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia, Canada.
posted by Prunesquallor at 6:44 AM on May 18, 2015

Goldendale Observatory State Park is a great dark sky park that's a reasonable distance from Seattle. It's a 3 hour drive or so and down near the Washington/Oregon border -- eastside. Wonderful clear skies and the Observatory itself was quite fascinating. We were able to see an iridium flare and the ISS go by. The park demographic was largely 'white suburban families', but we saw mixed race couples and children too. It did get pretty busy at the Observatory itself, but there's plenty of more remote stargazing opportunities within the vicinity.

If you're up to a much further drive, Death Valley National Park would be my suggestion. It is one of my favorite parks, so I'm bias. My partner and I visited it as part of the first half of our road trip (where we spent most of our time at national parks) along the coast from Seattle to La Paz, Mexico. Death Valley is on the east side of California/west side of Nevada -- north of Joshua Tree (another great, but in our experience -- busier, option).

It was fairly empty when we visited and I've yet to find a dark sky that matches it -- vast, crystal clear skies and a comfortable nighttime temperature. Part of the appeal is that you can go on night-hikes and enjoy the beautiful sky in solitude. My partner and I hiked to a pretty remote spot and spent hours stargazing -- we didn't see another person the entire time. It was incredibly peaceful.

As far as acceptance is concerned, I don't think you'll have any issues there. Everyone we met was polite and chatty. And there were so many different nationalities and mixed race couples that I can't imagine you'd run into problems. No one seemed to give a second thought to my partner and I (a gay couple) -- we only got some ribbing from the RV-oldies in the camp spot next to us for our city-slicker ways (we both look younger than we are, started setting up our tent and cooking after dark and made a fragrant Indian dish).
posted by stubbehtail at 7:43 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The skies don't get much darker than Southern Utah, especially around Escalante. But, Arches and Zion are a little more friendly for first time visitors. I don't think you'll have any issues with the locals. They get a lot of tourists of all stripes in the National Parks.
posted by trbrts at 8:09 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Oregon Star Party is in August. The people I know who attend are non-racist and very friendly.
posted by at at 8:15 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Parasite Unseen. You shouldn't run into any problems at Joshua Tree. Plus there's a lot of other things to do in the area if you're so inclined.*

Just be careful not to wander off too much. About once a month, somebody who goes hiking alone in Joshua Tree ends up lost in the desert. Most of the time when they find them, they're dead due to dehydration and/or exposure. Take lots of water.

*Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Pioneer Town, and there's lots of art in the town of Joshua Tree. If you go at the right time of year, you can also hit Coachella. If you want more info about any of this, feel free to Memail me, my ex has lived in the area for something like 12 years.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:46 AM on May 18, 2015

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