Anyone who has traveled through Nevada knows that our state is one of wide open spaces, quiet solitude, and miles upon miles of uninterrupted views. Because the American public owns so much of this wide open landscape, you won’t find “No Trespassing” signs or private developments, and you certainly 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. From Great Basin National Park to Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area to the most remote stretches of Highway 6, Nevada is home to some of the most spectacular night skies in the world.
On March 18, 2019, Massacre Rim WSA was certified as the 7th International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world!
Photo by Richie Bednarski
Why are dark skies important?
Before the Industrial Revolution, celestial navigation ruled and nearly everyone could look up at night and see the bright expanse of the Milky Way. Now, only 150 years later, nearly 80% of the world lives under some type of light pollution. Our children are growing up having never seen a truly dark sky and even some adults have never seen the Milky Way. Although this plea appeals to our emotional and nostalgic sensibilities, there is more to it than just the feeling of awe we get when we look at a dark night sky teeming with stars. It’s science. Light pollution affects our environment, our safety, our energy consumption and pocketbooks, and ultimately, our health.
Plants and animals have evolved to depend on the Earth’s natural day/night cycle and any disruption in that pattern can affect migration patterns, predator prey relationships, nutrition and reproduction.
Nearly 30% of the artificial light that we use shines when and where it is not needed. According to the International Dark Sky Association, that’s the equivalent $3.3 billion and 21 million tons of carbon dioxide inadvertently wasted each year.
Keeping Nevada's night skies protected and visible is more relevant than ever as development sprawls and our urban centers grow. Your support will keep us working hard to protect Wilderness Study Areas like Massacre Rim, continue our light monitoring work there, and can help us expand our efforts to other areas, like the recently protected Gold Butte National Monument! Protecting the public lands under and around these skies will keep them dark, open, and accessible for Nevadans and wildlife to enjoy. We are so proud to have protected the dark sky above Massacre Rim, but we can't stop there! More support means that we can build upon that success and protect more pieces of Nevada's starry skies.
Places to Enjoy Nevada’s Starry Skies
Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area/Dark Sky Sanctuary
Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area was certified as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary on March 18, 2019. Located in northern Washoe county, the Sanctuary sits in the middle of one of the darkest regions in the United States.
Tonopah Star Trails and Star Park
Options abound to see the stars around Tonopah, which was rated the #1 Stargazing Destination in America by USA Today. In town you can visit the Clair Blackburn Memorial Stargazing Park with its cement pads designed for telescopes. Or download the Tonopah Star Trails Map at www.tonopahnevada.com so you can explore the extensive paved and unpaved options to see central Nevada’s night skies.
Ely’s Great Basin Star Train
Hop on a steam-powered locomotive in Ely for an educational and inspiring program featuring the National Park Service’s “Dark Rangers” and eastern Nevada’s breathtaking Dark Skies. Great Basin Star Train runs Spring/Summer. For details and schedule, visit the Nevada Northern Railway site at NNRY.com.
Visit America’s Darkest Town, as named by FiveThirtyEight in 2017. Enjoy a Picon Punch Cocktail at local watering hole Bruno’s Country Club & Motel. If the Black Rock Playa is dry, you can walk onto one of the largest, flattest surfaces in the world to get an expansive view of northern Nevada’s starry skies. Don’t forget to stop by the Empire Store on the way.
Desert Overlook Trail
See the stars over a sweeping view of southern Nevada’s Sheep Range Proposed Wilderness from this trail in the Spring Mountains. This half-mile, paved trail is accessible and has a parking area, making it an ideal star-watching spot for all Nevadans.
Great Basin National Park
“Half the park is after dark!” As a designated Dark Sky Park, Great Basin’s Night Sky Program highlights include guided full moon hikes, seasonal ranger-led astronomy talks, and telescope viewings at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. The Park also hosts an annual astronomy festival every autumn.
Astronomy Festival - September 9 - 11, 2021. (Check for current updates on the event times and safety precautions)
Great Basin National Park will be hosting its annual Astronomy Festival. Enjoy three days and nights of astronomy-themed events, including the famous ranger talent show and stargazing through over 20 different telescopes! September 9 - 11, 2021. Check times with Lehman Visitor Center.
Join Rangers to use powerful telescopes to view the stars at this free event hosted at Lehman Caves Visitor Center evenings from May - October. Check times with Lehman Visitor Center or visit https://www.nps.gov/grba/planyourvisit/calendar.htm.
Great Basin NPS Moon Hikes
Check availability with Lehman Caves Visitor Center - registration required.
Additional Resources for Enjoying Nevada’s Starry Skies
Is the sky clear tonight? Check here! https://www.cleardarksky.com/c/VegaNVkey.html
Interested in Astrophotography? Check out this helpful guide from our friends at Nemo.