With the majority of the world’s people now dazzled by the urban glare, an age-old pursuit has again come into the spotlight: stargazing.
At Australia’s Royal National Park south of Sydney, the full moon brings out a stream of hikers draped in glow sticks. As well as helping with head counts, the plastic beacons stoke the party spirit of the group, gleeful to stay up just to see in the dark.
Dubbed “moonwalks” by outfitter Understand Down Under, the treks begin with a sunset meal and a nocturnal photography lesson on Wattamolla beach and end at sunrise after a night under a sky that guide Andy Richards calls “surreal.”
In Chile’s Atacama Desert, stargazing is always otherworldly, but it got even more intense in 2013 with the completion of ALMA, the world’s most complex telescope. (Nearby, San Pedro de Atacama has star tours and a public observatory.)
That same wonder for the cosmos has spurred the International Dark-Sky Association, an anti-light-pollution group in Arizona, to begin recognizing places that showcase “natural nightscapes” at their clearest.
Among the premier picks: Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah and Galloway Forest Park in Scotland. “People are delighted to be in true darkness,” says Keith Muir, Galloway’s tourism director. “They’ve never seen it before.”
This piece, written by Elaine Glusac, appeared in the June/July 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler.