by Stefanie Payne
Texas may be the Lone Star State, but there are 2,000 more stars visible in the sky on any given night in Big Bend National Park than there are in most mid-sized cities around the country. This is dark sky country. I don’t know about you, but I feel that seeing stars shine brilliantly in the night sky is a gift that I never want to take for granted. An effect, I suppose, of a lifetime of living in the city.
Big Bend is one of the largest, most remote and least visited parks in the lower 48 states with a low level of light pollution, resulting in remarkably brilliant stargazing that has earned it a designation by The International Dark-Sky Association. Now, we all know that I could moon about the stars for eons, but I’ll stop after just saying that they were so mesmerizing that we could barely even hold up our cameras. We just gazed.
Leading into those dark starry nights are long desert days. Ours were spent exploring off road on far flung stretches of land that felt as if in the middle of nowhere—in this case, west Texas—where wilderness encompasses its viewer as far as the eye can see. After a full day bouncing along River Road, a primitive roadway sidling the north side of the Rio Grande river (the natural border between the United States and Mexico), we stopped to take it all in. It was the perfect place to pitch a tent. There is something about the combo of off-roading and hiking in intense heat that completely wipes a person out… we slept for 10 hours that night.