by Patressa Kearns
Night skies have always been a source of wonder, art, poetry and romantic pop songs. Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” still has the world gazing upon it in awe 133 years after it was painted. There’s just something about the night sky that charms everyone. Whether you’re an expert on constellations, planets, and the moon, or you know nothing beyond the fact that the stars are up there, glittering and twinkling, Shenandoah National Park is the place to be to do your stargazing.
In the past few years, Shenandoah National Park has taken measures to reduce light pollution within its boundaries. Even before those measures were taken, there were few places on the East Coast better than Shenandoah to view the night skies. There are several excellent spots in the Park to stargaze, but Big Meadows, at mile 51 on Skyline Drive, is one of the best places to view the heavens. There’s plenty of parking at Byrd Visitor Center and at the head of Rapidan Road, across the Drive from the visitor center. In recent years, the Park has had on staff a night skies ranger to give talks and answer questions about astronomy.
Delaware North, the Park’s authorized concessions provider, presents various programs and talks about night skies, too. Check their schedule for night sky events presented at Big Meadows and Skyland lodges.
In 2022, you can expect to catch some…well, stellar night sky events. Spring alone promises the conjunction of Mars and Saturn, a late-April-into-early-May comet you might be able to see with the naked eye, a late-April Jupiter-Venus summit meeting in the sky, and more. Some of these events will happen in the wee small hours of the morning, some will happen in the middle of the night, but as you can enter and exit Shenandoah National Park via Skyline Drive at any hour of the day or night, it’s the perfect place to look to the heavens and take in the celestial view.
Bring your telescope, your binoculars, or just a blanket and a Thermos of coffee and enjoy the stars shining bright above you in Shenandoah National Park.
“Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper ‘I love you’
Birds singing in the sycamore tree
Dream a little dream of me”
– Gus Kahn, “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” 1931