I have always been aware of the fact that Joshua Tree National Park is a great place to see the stars. Even before its designation as an International Dark Sky Park in 2017, it was evident to even the most novice stargazer that the night skies there offered a special glimpse of the cosmos. In a desert nearly devoid of light pollution, the universe leapt into sharp focus, the Milky Way elicited gasps of awe and wonder (and an occasional “what is that!?”), the shape of the constellations slowly became apparent to the naked eye. A recent transplant to the desert from Shanghai remarked to me last week that he didn’t even know so many stars existed before coming here.
My children grew up with these skies. On summer nights we would take blankets out to our driveway in Yucca Valley and lay on them in our driveway for hours, pointing out not only stars and constellations, but the occasional meteor, satellite, and yes, UFO! At least we thought we saw them… It was a given that if the night was clear, the stars were ours. When we moved down to the Coachella Valley recently, one of the first things the kids noticed was that our stars were “gone.” Yes, we can still drive “up the hill” to stargaze, but it’s just not the same.
Unwittingly, when we moved to a more populated area, we joined the millions of people around the world who have NEVER SEEN STARS in abundance. Like my friend from Shanghai, they may not even be aware of their existence, or being aware, just cannot fathom how majestic a sky full of stars can be. Our “night sky reality” is something others can only hope for.
I recently encountered a fellow dark sky acolyte, Pavlo Pakhomenko, via an article in the International Dark Sky magazine. Pavlo is one of those who I’m sure would love to view the stars over Joshua Tree. In fact, seeing the night sky in all its glory has been a dream of his since he was a child. Unfortunately, Pavlo grew up in an area where the stars were not always visible – and his family did not have the means to travel frequently to the countryside. As an adult, he is now able to travel to see the stars and is able to photograph them as well – as long as his armed escort is available. You see, Pavlo lives in Ukraine. He is able to photograph the night skies above his hometown because there is no power, due to the war. The darkness afforded him the opportunity to see the universe in ways he always dreamed of – but at an unimaginable cost.