Explore the Dark Skies of Nevada!
Anyone who has traveled through Nevada knows our state is one of wide open spaces. And because the American public owns so much of this wide open landscape, you won’t find “No Trespassing” signs or miles of fence. And you won’t find a lot of lights.
There are very few places left in the country, and in the world for that matter, where there is so little artificial light that you can literally see right through the Milky Way to the next galaxy with the naked eye. But you can right here in Nevada. Read on to learn more about the magic of Nevada’s dark skies…
Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area Dark Sky Sanctuary
On March 18, 2019, Massacre Rim became just the 7th designated Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world! This Wilderness Study Area is publicly-owned land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to maintain its wilderness qualities.
Located in far northern Washoe County near the borders with California and Oregon, Massacre Rim is so remote that it has “exceptional quality of starry nights” and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its natural values, criteria necessary to meet the International Dark-Sky Association’s strict standards for a Dark Sky Sanctuary.
Because so much of our world is flooded with artificial light, most of us have no idea what we can actually see if we’re in a place as dark as Massacre Rim. So it’s hard to describe. Stunningly beautiful. Definitely awe-inspiring. So many stars on a moonless night that they actually cast a shadow. You really have to see it for yourselves. Here’s how to get there, stay a bit, and explore one of the darkest skies on the planet.
Getting to the Massacre Rim WSA Dark Sky Sanctuary
The Massacre Rim Area is accessible by car or truck, but the final approach from any direction to the perimeter of the Sanctuary will be on a maintained gravel roads. These roads may be impassible when wet or during the winter. The Sanctuary itself is a landscape administered to protect wilderness values. Vehicle travel inside the Sanctuary is limited to a few designated routes that require a high-clearance, 4-wheel
drive vehicle. The entire Sanctuary is accessible for hiking, backpacking, and horsebackriding.
The Sanctuary is about 230 road miles north of Reno, NV; about 170 road miles west of Winnemucca, NV; and about 200 road miles east of Redding, CA.
Please keep in mind that, although the Dark Sky Sanctuary is the core of the dark sky region, the entire region, from Cedarville CA to Gerlach NV to the Oregon border offer outstanding opportunities for viewing the phenomenal dark skies of northern Washoe county (see below for where to stay and eat in the area).
The best times to visit
The following are the best dates for viewing the Dark Sky at Massacre Rim:
2019 Massacre Rim Dark Sky Viewing Opportunities
The following are the best dates for viewing the Dark Sky at Massacre Rim*:
June 21 (Moon rise at 11:48 PM PDST- good viewing from dusk until moon rise)
through July 4 (Moon set at 10:40 PDST PM- good viewing after moon set until dawn).
July 21 (Moon rise at 11:12 PM- good viewing from dusk until moon rise)
through August 2 (Moon Set at 9:53 PM PDST - good viewing after moon set until dawn).
August 21 (Moon rise at 11:12 PM PDST - good viewing from dusk until moon rise)
through September 2 (Moon Set at 9:27 PM PDST - good viewing after moon set until dawn).
September 16 (Moon rise at 11:00 PM PDST - good viewing from dusk until moon rise)
through September 30 (Moon Set at 8:30 PM PDST - good viewing after moon set until dawn).
**October 18 (Moon rise at 10:12 PM PDST - good viewing from dusk until moon rise)
through October 30 (Moon Set at 8:01 PM PST - good viewing after moon set until dawn).
**November 16 (Moon rise at 8:05 PM PST - good viewing from dusk until moon rise)
through November 28 (Moon Set at 6:39 PM PST - good viewing after moon set until dawn).
**December 17 (Moon rise at 7:00 PM PST - good viewing from dusk until moon rise)
through December 28 (Moon Set at 6:18 PM PST - good viewing after moon set until dawn).
*[These viewing opportunities are based on the absence of moon light in the sky. Typically, the viewing windows start during the waning moon period (following the full moon) and provides time to view the dark sky before the waning moon rises. Each successive night the viewing options will last about 50 minutes longer as the waning moon sets later over the course of the month. The best dark sky viewing is during the new moon, a 3 to 4 day period when there is no moon in the night sky. Following the new moon, an addition period of dark sky viewing is available after the waxing moon sets. This opportunity grows smaller as the waxing moon sets later each successive night until the full moon dominates the sky all night long.]
** CAUTION: All roads in the area may be impassible and prone to washouts during rain events. Roads are not maintained in the winter and are dangerous and impassable in snow conditions.
Camping inside the Sanctuary
As mentioned, the interior of the Sanctuary/Wilderness Study Area can be accessed via existing tracks (so-called cherry stems roads that technically lie outside the boundary of the WSA) that require a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Road conditions vary considerably depending on weather conditions. Know this! Even though this country is considered “high desert,” significant snowfall can occur fall through spring. Roads can be impassable due to snow, mud, and washouts.
Be prepared! Back country camping requires special planning, equipment and supplies. Here is a checklist to help guide you, but please know that travel of this nature is at your own risk. See a list of campgrounds below.
General Safety Information
- Bring what you need to survive. Self-sufficiency is as important today as it was for the Native Americans, emigrants and early pioneers.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.
- Pack all necessary water (one gallon of water per day), food and supplies. Surface water is unreliable and must be treated.
- Pack extra supplies in case you get stranded. Use good judgement if you do get stranded. It’s often best to stay at your vehicle.
- Be prepared for changing conditions. Daytime temps can reach over 100 degrees in the summer. Year-round temperatures can fluctuate more than 50 degrees in a single day. Even in summer nights can dip into the 30’s and 40’s. Dust storms are not uncommon in dry months.
- High clearance vehicles with off-road tires (at least 6-ply) are recommended, as is a second spare if you plan to travel on remote roads.
- There is very limited cell service in northern Washoe County.
- DO NOT drive on playas and lake beds when it is wet. Know what to look for, as it can often be wet just under the surface. If you get stuck, you may be there for a long time.
Interested in Astrophotography? Check out this helpful guide from our friends at Nemo.
Other things to know
- Rattlesnakes, scorpions, mountain lions and coyotes are in the area. Be wildlife aware.
- Respect private property. Leave gates as you find them.
- Protect Archaeological sites. Sites are protected on federal land by public law. Removing or vandalizing artifacts is not only illegal, it limits their scientific value and the experience of future visitors
- Leave No Trace – Pack it in. Pack it out. Leave the area cleaner than you found it.
Where to Stay and Eat
62271 CA-299, Cedarville
Surprise Valley Hot Springs
67254 CA-299, Cedarville
JK Metzker House B and B
520 Main St., Cedarville
Cockrell's High Desert Lodging
811 County Road 31, Cedarville
Fort Bidwell Hotel & Restaurant
55015 Main Street, Fort Bidwell
Bruno's Country Club & Motel
445 Main Street
Modoc National Forest (near Cedarville, CA)
Modoc National Forest (near Eagleville, CA)
BLM (east of Fort Bidwell)
BLM (a couple miles south of the Massacre Rim WSA)
BLM (about 20 minutes south of the Massacre Rim WSA)
For more information contact:
Bureau of Land Management
602 Cressler St.
Cedarville, CA 96104
Modoc National Forest
225 W. 8th St.
Alturas, CA 96101
551 Main St., Cedarville
*Diner food, fresh-baked bread and pastries
501 Main Street, Cedarville
Sat 9am to 2pm
*Lunch & Espresso
Whalen's Public House
540 Main St., Cedarville
* Pizza & beer & wine
415 Main St., Cedarville
* BBQ & Diner
Newell's Fort Bidwell BBQ & Cafe
55015 Main Street, Fort Bidwell
* BBQ & diner
Bruno's Country Club & Motel
445 Main Steet