7 Parks : 9 Days
What do you do if you are a family with young kids, but not little kids, just old enough that they enjoy being outside, can hike right alongside you. They love the outdoors and you want to show them United State's #1 asset ; their public lands and preserves. Problem is you both you and your partner work all the time and you are very can only take off one week during the summer. You yourself are into the night sky and see it as part of out human heritage to be able to experience a true night sky unaltered by light pollution. this is just as valuable as experiencing these sites during the day.
The Answer: plan a driving trip that maximizes the places you can visit in true dark skies that intersect with the parks and preserves that we collectively are supporting to preserve for future generations. this trip was one of my attempts to do just this; a family road trip to our national parks , national monuments and quite a few state,BLM, and regional sites as well.
Think of Dark Sky Islands as locations where the Best Night Skies can Exist
Yosemite: New Moon; July 13 2018
Day 1: Tues. July/ 10 /2018
Bay Area to Yosemite
1st come 1st serve can only be done in middle of the week and it's a race, as others are there doing the same as you. One reasons we had never been to Yosemite before is the crowds. National Parks don't seem to have the capacity to house everyone that wants to visit.
There was a couple that camped just below my Telescope. I offered to let them look through my scope. They were amazed almost in disbelief. They were from the east coast and had only seen a sky like this at the coast one before when they were kids.
Day 2: Wed. July/ 11 /2018
We headed into the Valley and stopped along the way before we got to our trailhead. Insane crowds of people everywhere especially in the base camp area. We did see a resident bear with a collar on, lines of cars stopped. Even though this was the first California bear I'd seen, with the crowds, cameras and collar on the bear it felt like a carnival character that had wandered afar from its booth. Although I'm not sure I'd want to see a bear alone in a remote spot at least not as close I we could get to this one.
Day 3: Thurs. July/ 12 /2018
Yosemite - MonoLake - BristleCone Forest - Alabama Hills
Driving out of Yosemite was just as amazing, we stopped at a few spots that are now regular Astrophotography bucket list sites thanks to the amazing work of other astrophotographers like RBA>. We are moving at such a pace we are not really able to stop and fully get to know these places but just driving through them instead of flying , stopping at the communities nearby gives us a better appreciation for how one can live around such nature. the weather changes as soon as we descending to Mono Lake and marked the last time we were without thunderstorms on out trip.
Day 4: Fri. July/ 13 /2018
Alabama Hills - Death Valley - Los Vegas - Zion NP
In the morning it was beautiful and clear ,the thunderstorms clinged to the Sierras. We headed toward Death Valley and Vegas where I had to pick up my partner Piper by 3pm and then shoot out to Zion NP. It was 115f at the bottom of Death Valley but what we remembered most was how different it felt crossing into Nevada and seeing the difference in liquor stores, gambling locals,and strip clubs. It felt more appropriate somehow, closer to a modern wild west. The transition made me wonder if freedom and the west is still all about survival as it was for our Paleolithic predecessors.
We settled in at a hotel right near the entrance to Zion. I snuck out to the parking lot to look at the night sky after midnight. It was clear and I thought about shooting. Tragic how light polluted the area was, still you could get a great shot using composite techniques.
Day 5: Sat. July/ 14 /2018
Zion NP - Grand StairCase- Lake Powell Marina
This Drive heading east out of Zion NP is unreal. I could have spent weeks in that area exploring the rock formations and canyons. you truly get a sense that the entire region is filled with amazing sites some on private land, some in regional parks or BLM preserves. I had tried to find a way to make it work to be able to see the Wave area popularized by screensavers globally but limitations on visitors have been put in place and it has become nearly impossible to visit the location unless you have unlimited time to do so and literary win the lotto.
Lake Powell Maria is a unique experience. Many of the people employed there are young and from other countries doing seasonal work for the park. We stay in the lodge and is wasn't luxurious but it was very nice and the dinning hall was amazing with its view and cocktails. It made understand more deeply the conflict over this place.
I spent one evening trying using the public campground laundry and getting to know an Romanian Man that was there with two generations of his family traveling by RV. He said America was still the greatest country in the world but it was clear they didn't have the same family values that he had. There were hoards of attractive young people lined up taking showers there as we chatted waiting on our clothes to be cleaned.
Day 6: Sun. July/ 15 /2018
Lake Powell Marina --Arch---Back
You have to get out on the water at Lake Powell to really experience this place. It feel glamorous in the same way the lodge did, not fancy but glutinous a bit of guilt was there too being a white man from a middle class family. We went to the Arch by boat which tool a couple hours to get to but well worth it. you wind your way back into a canyon to find the dick then hike to the Arch. Later we had a friend tell us that when she was a kids you could motor your boat right up to it. I guess the lake is drying up and faster than expected, similar to this new generations patience with the the older way of doing things.
Day 7: Mon. July/ 16 /2018
Lake Powell Marina - Grand Canyon NP South Rim - Flagstaff - Monument Valley
We Left Lake Powell and hustled to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. I so wished we had another day to do the Antelope Slot Canyon. It's another photo bucket list site but tourist heavy and only organized by local tribes so timewise it did not work. Piper had to catch a plane in Flagstaff back to the bay area in the early evening.
We were able to jump out and see the views of the grand canyon but no one had eaten. So we had a small lunch with what they had there ; typically junk food supplied by some corporation I assume. After dropping Piper at the airport we raised to restock at the grocery store and then out of town to Monument Valley. I booked us a room at the View Hotel knowing it was going to be a late night arrival. It downpoured all the way there. The Hotels namesake was well worth it. Balcony and a new camera kept me up late shooting thunderstorms in the area
Day 8: Tues. July/ 17 /2018
Monument Valley - Valley of the Gods - Arches - Hite Marina
Monument Valley was other worldly, the Navajo Nation does feel like another country. Light pollution was a problem. Everyone's power seemed connected by one line that came down from a single street light by each home. tan the home had huge amounts of land so the light scattered around the desert evenly in that area.
I was excited now we were headed to a truly remote and truly dark site at the north end of lake Powell. I had heard the they outlawed light painting at Arches but I kept seeing new pictures on instagram from that site. I could have spent weeks here as well, not just at arches but every part of the leg of the road trip seemed worth exploring. This region is truly incredible and the drive through it necessary for those interested in experiencing remote untouched spots that are still in relatively easy reach.
unfortunately although I could tell that this was truly a Class # 1 sky we were surrounded by thunderstorms. it was 105f at 11pm at night and we kept waiting for the rain to come in but it never did. I tried shooting with my new sony a7iii- and blew it . I wasn't used to how dark the night could be especially with no moon, and thunderstorms covering the stars.
Day 9: Wed. July/ 18 /2018
Hite Marina--Capitol Reef--Cosmic Ray Center--Great Basin NP
There was a alien feeling around Hite marina, not just because the water was low and the site felt long abandoned but that we felt like we were trespassing on someone else's land, but this was not human owned. the remoteness and the terrain was so foreign to me I wasn't sure if I was welcome . this passed as we continued on the Capitol reef . The park was filled and it was hot and muggy with rain coming in going. The Cosmic ray center but it was closed but we saw their instruments scattered along the freeway as we drove to Great Basin.
Day 10: Thurs. July/ 19 /2018
Great Basin NP--Leamans cave-MonoLake--Yosemite Gateway
Great Basin was beautiful but cloudy as well.we arrived in an off-time but still only got one of the last campgrounds available. Leman Cave it definitely worth going even if you don't have reservation they keep a few slots available to walk ins. the drive out of Nevada into California was incredible very remote. I hope to go back to the BLM land around Mono Lake to stay soon.
Day 11: Fri. July/ 20 /2018
Yosemite Gateway--Bay Area
I would do this again. Camping right out side of Yosemite was beautiful but definitely felt like grizzly bear territory. we camped right next to a stream and saw berries on bushes. I expected we might see a bear but unfortunately or fortunately we did not.
My kids still say this was the best trip we've taken.