Capitalizing on this year’s 50th anniversary of America’s spectacular Apollo 11 landing of humans on the moon, tour companies are offering Astrotourism: skyward-themed trips to remote stargazer locales worldwide — one of which is in Texas.
We can usually see some stars in any location. But we can’t see the wondrous majesty of massed constellations of stars because artificial light pollution on Earth limits full view.
Texas’ Big Bend National Park made an astrotourism list as a certified International Dark Sky Park. I just returned from a West Texas trip near Big Bend, to tiny Marathon, Texas, where at night, seated in a wooden rocker on the porch of the Gage Hotel, you can marvel at the real, actual sky full of stars.
I go there just to stay in the famous Gage, owned by philanthropist J. P. Bryan, founder of the five-year old Bryan Museum on 21st Street in Galveston. Rooms in the old section with “bath down the hall” remain my favorite, although a new “modern” section is available.
Free, public “Star Party” programs, with telescopes, are regularly offered at McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis.
“Under the Kenyan Skies” a group astrotourism offered on a recent Top 10 list, features wildlife regions Laikipia and Masai Mara in the East African country where I first saw a real night sky. Although it was 1970, I still recall my astonishment when I opened a tent flap and saw a sky packed with a blizzard of stars.
The core feeling I got then and since is how relatively insignificant we humans are, and how small our Earth is rotating in the vastness of space.
Several astrotourism lists name Northern Chile’s remote, austere Atacama desert as the world’s best place to see the night sky as it truly is. I have explored there too, including cooking breakfast eggs in the hot springs of Tatio Geyser, walking in Valley of the Moon, and enjoying outdoor dinner in the charming town of San Pedro de Atacama.
Other locations for stargazers include dormant volcano Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, Death Valley California, Trysil Norway, parts of Alaska for the Northern Lights phenomenon, and New Zealand’s Aoraki MacKenzie Dark Sky Reserve.
So, even though we can’t yet climb into the capsules with astronaut explorers, we can, from Earth, share some of the jaw-dropping wonder of their experience.