7 Otherworldly Stargazing Spots
Remote areas of Oregon offer some of the darkest skies in North America
As a kid in the sprawling urban world of New Jersey, Ben Canales rarely thought about the stars. That’s because he could hardly see them, and he wasn’t the only one.
For eons, humanity looked up at an unadulterated blanket of stars — glowing as a nightlight, as a navigating aid and as a reminder of the immensity of the universe. But in the last few generations, growing cities have increased light pollution and deprived millions of that view. Those living in many urban areas may only make out a few hundred pinpricks of light, if any at all, not the thousands upon thousands of stars that their ancestors saw. Today experiencing that kind of display requires seeking out clearer skies.
A sleepless Canales discovered this during a backpacking trip in rural Australia. Still awake long after the last strains of the setting sun faded into darkness, he stepped out of his tent and was shocked to see, hovering above him, a band of light specks laced with glitter. Struck with awe, he wondered what he was looking at.
“I saw this glowing cloud, and I had no idea what it was,” he says. After a few minutes, he realized it was the Milky Way arching across the sky. “That just blew my mind, and it set me off on this journey to find these star-filled moments in travel.”
He soon circled the globe in search of darker skies, from the Fiji islands to isolated areas in Brazil to the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. But it was in Oregon, where he now lives and works as a photographer, that he once again experienced an unsullied view of the Milky Way. Here, his passion turned into an obsession, and he planned trips throughout the state — tweaking the knobs on his camera as a way of increasing the number of stars he could see, then sharing the photos with family and friends who didn’t have the opportunity to go with him.
Once distanced from Portland, Eugene and Bend, Canales found that nearly every corner of the state offers unmatched opportunities for stargazing. “We truly have world-class night-sky viewing,” he says. “You’d have to go to Mongolia to find the views we have just in Eastern Oregon.”
From camping in the Alvord Desert to a fire lookout on Dixie Butte, here he shares a few of his favorite stargazing destinations. But choosing a spot in Oregon for a celestial trip isn’t rocket science — look for open spaces, check the weather for clear skies (most commonly found east of the Cascade Mountains in Central and Eastern Oregon) and target areas outside of cities, where light pollution corrupts the view. Also, keep an eye on the moon’s phases; plan a trip within three to four days around a new-moon weekend, when stars become most visible to the naked eye. Those seeking a more guided experience can attend the annual Oregon Star Party, which welcomes hundreds of amateur astronomers from around the country.
“From a dark-skies perspective, we essentially have a gold mine in our backyard,” he says, “and so much of it remains undiscovered. We just need to free ourselves from our glowing screens and get out of the city to see it.”
Scroll through the photo slideshow for the full story.
about author Jon Shadel
Jon Shadel spends his waking hours daydreaming about road trips — thank goodness that’s his job. As editor of Travel Oregon’s features and annual visitor guide, he rambles around the state for inspiration, eating and drinking a bit too much along the way.
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