Part One of a two-part series on light pollution and dark sky conservation and tourism.
Few experiences instill more wonder than sitting outside on a summer night and looking up at the stars. Locating constellations, spying satellites and hoping for the flash of a falling meteor are pastimes sure to fill you with a sense of awe. But finding a place for serious stargazing can be a challenge. Until you’ve seen a truly dark sky, you don’t even know what you’re missing. Part One of this two-part series explores the need to protect and promote our natural starscapes. Stay tuned for Part Two, to find the best places to view the night sky.
I knew I had a problem with my Facebook addiction when I kept thinking of last weekend’s camping trip as a series of status reports:
Wendy Worrall Redal
… swore she would not camp in a tent in the rain again, and here she is.
… can’t believe she spent the last two hours trying to get flames out of a smoking fire made with wet wood.
… thinks the finest aroma in the world is the scent of alpine firs.
… is amazed at the lush profusion of wildflowers in the meadow next to Long Lake.
Actually, by the time I went hiking to Long Lake, I had been away from digital technology altogether for 24 hours, and I wasn’t thinking in terms of my Facebook status by that point. But all those moments offered a telling realization: My daily life — my very psyche — is tethered to mobile digital technology.
Road Trip Queen: That’s me. Give me a car, a map, a debit card and some new discoveries to satiate my quest for novelty and you’ve got the makings of a happy traveler here. I’ve logged over 150,000 miles on road trips across North America, so I think one could safely say I’ve learned a thing or two about how to do it right.
If these remaining weeks of summer are tempting you to hit the highway in pursuit of some relatively cheap freedom, here are my top “road rules” to make your trip the best it can be.
As Julio hauled the net into our skiff, we spied a green sea turtle ensnared in the mesh. In this case, we were happy to see our captive: Julio is the Magadalena Baykeeper on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and part of his job is working with Grupo Tortuguero — the world’s foremost sea turtle conservation group — to capture, study and release endangered turtles in order to help ensure their future.
When it’s time to leave home, consider the planet as you make your plans. These simple practices take little effort but can make a big impact on the environment — not just for Earth Day, but every day.
1. Start before you go
Unplug your electronic appliances when you leave home for an extended time, especially those with digital or LCD displays such as TVs or microwaves — these suck a lot of power whether they are switched on or not. The Department of Energy estimates that so-called “vampire” or “phantom” energy waste accounts for 5 percent of total electronic energy consumption in the United States. You should also make sure your thermostat is turned down or off, and reduce the setting on your water heater.
While I welcome winter along with all the other skiers and outdoor aficionados here in Colorado, by the end of February I’m ready for a surf and sand break. But cramming onto a crowded beach towel-by-cooler with hundreds of other sunseekers is not my vision of restoring my winter-weary spirit.
When you’re a beach lover and a nature lover, the quest becomes to find those pristine stretches of sand that make you feel you’ve discovered a place where time stops; where the rhythm of sea on shore is the primary sound; where the sun’s slow slide behind the horizon is the only marker of day melding into night. A place like, say, Bai Kem Beach on Phu Quoc, one of 105 islands that comprise this idyllic Vietnamese archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand. Picture a soft, white sugar-sand beach, fringed with slender palms. Phuket, half a century ago. No people. Just total, unspoiled beauty.
Anyone who has ever watched a brown bear fish, or an elephant wallow in a water hole, or a curious sea lion come face to face with a snorkeler, knows that one of the highlights of eco-travel is close encounters with wildlife in natural settings.
I spent part of the holidays in Los Angeles this year, surrounded by a sea of asphalt and traffic sprawling for hundreds of square miles. Shuttling between relatives and friends on the maze of 14-lane freeways, I soon felt spiritually exhausted by the visual din of billboards, power lines, parking lots, storefronts, neon signs and cars blowing past at 80 mph.
‘Tis the season when many cultures and traditions herald the return of the light into the dark winter world — and this year’s winter solstice promises to do that in a big way, with a full moon on Dec. 21.
Since 1793, when The Old Farmer’s Almanac began tracking heavenly events and seasonal changes, the moon has been full on the first day of winter just nine times.
“Over the river and through the woods …”
Chances are, you’ll be traveling this holiday season, whether it’s a road trip to Grandma’s house or a cross-country flight to join relatives around the table for a seasonal feast. Though we all know that travel contributes to a warming climate, none of us is likely to call off the family gathering as a means of reducing C02 emissions.