10 great places to get some stars in your eyes

Look up! Stargazing is one of humankind's oldest pastimes, and this month's show is a blockbuster as meteor showers light up the sky and Mars comes closer to Earth than at any time in recorded history. Jeff Kanipe, author of A Skywatcher's Year (Cambridge University Press, $21) and a former editor at Astronomy magazine, recommends getting away from urban areas to more remote places "where you can still drink in the stars." He shares favorite gazing places with USA TODAY's Shawn Sell.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park


"With over 600,000 acres and 500 miles of dirt roads, Anza-Borrego, located two hours east of San Diego, has long been a favorite of amateur astronomers, and particularly astro-photographers. Dark skies and low humidity combine to make this a stargazer's paradise." 760-767-4684; www.anzaborrego.statepark.org.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

Near Nageezi, N.M.

This 1,000-year-old Pueblo (Anasazi) settlement, one of the most important archaeological sites in North America, "is also a great place to stargaze. The park provides several large telescopes, including a 25-inch-diameter reflector. Skies are dark and transparent. Looking at the same stars the Anasazi looked upon a millennium ago is spooky fun." 505-786-7014; www.nps.gov/chcu/nsindex.htm.

Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Park

Central Texas

"This is a beautiful find in the granite-laden Texas Hill Country, a little over an hour's drive northwest of Austin. Canyon of the Eagles is home to the Eagle Eye Observatory, operated by the capable Austin Astronomical Society. Skies are dark and the viewing easy, but don't forget the bug spray." 800-977-0081; www.canyonofthe eagles.com/observatory.htm.

Sky Meadows State Park


In the Blue Ridge Mountains, an hour's drive from Washington, D.C., "Sky Meadows offers a bucolic stargazing experience. Public sky watches are held April through October on the Saturday evening closest to the first-quarter moon, but you can take yourself and your telescope out here anytime." 540-592-3556; www.dcr.state.va.us/ parks/skymeado.htm.

Cherry Springs State Park


"Dark skies in Pennsylvania? It's true. The park is only 48 acres, but it's surrounded by the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest. When clear, the skies are dark, and the stars are bright. Check out the Black Forest Star Party, Aug. 29-31." 888-727-2757; www.UpStateAstro.org/stars/cssp.html.

Bryce Canyon National Park


"This park probably has the darkest skies in the continental U.S.; in fact, its remote location in southern Utah almost guarantees it. Stars fainter than naked-eye thresholds have been seen here. The park also hosts astronomy programs around new moons." 435-834-5322; www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm.

The Keys


"In late May and early June, the Southern Cross is easily visible from the lower Florida Keys after sunset (or in the predawn sky in early January). Dark skies may be found at Long Key State Recreation Area and Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key. In February the 'Winter Star Party' is held at Camp Wesumkee on West Summerland Key." 800-352-5397; fla-keys.com.

Mauna Kea


The summit of Mauna Kea holds several of the world's foremost astronomical research facilities. "Each evening, Mauna Kea's Information Station conducts sky-watching programs. At 9,300 feet, the skies are clear and dark, and you won't believe the stars." 808-961-2180; www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis/stargazing.html.

Lowell Observatory

Flagstaff, Ariz.

Lowell Observatory was founded in 1895 by Percival Lowell, "whose main interest was observing what he thought were canals on Mars. As it happens, the Red Planet is closer to Earth now than it has been in nearly 60,000 years. The observatory is celebrating with 'Mars Observing Fest' Sept. 28. They also hold nightly sky viewings." 928-774-3358; www.lowell.edu/Public.

Eagle Harbor

Lake Superior, Mich.

"The Keweenaw Peninsula is a mere finger of land pointing across Lake Superior towards Canada. The north flank looks out over miles of water, with no visible lights except an occasional passing freighter. This is a great place for looking at auroras and stars." 906-289-4215; www.exploringthe north.com.

Posted 7/31/2003 9:54 PM     Updated 8/21/2003 1:52 PM