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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When is the last time you saw the milky way?

Most security lamps as well as general lighting in campgrounds throw too much light out in all directions, including skyward, effectively canceling out the night sky and the carpet of glittering milky way stars and the imaginative constellations scattered about the universe.

That is one reason why I have boondocked as much as I have. I can use a flashlight if I have to. I don't need--or want--nighttime security lights. And even in some boondocking locations, like LTVAs that are more crowded than the open desert, I'm dismayed when I look out my motorhome's window or step outside at night to see the stars and all I can see is what is illuminated by my neighbors' porch lights.

It's not just me acting curmudgeonly that feels disrupted. Nocturnal animals are frequently disoriented by city lights, such as when migratory birds lose their way without the ability to see the stars, and leatherback sea turtles emerge from the Gulf to lay their eggs on sandy beaches and are then disoriented by lights from beachside developments.

Not only does light pollution affect nocturnal critters but it is also "threatening astronomical facilities, ecologically sensitive habitats, our energy consumption, and our human heritage," according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

"Of all the pollutions we face, light pollution is perhaps the most easily remedied," writes Verlyn Klinkenborg in Our Vanishing Night in the November 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine. "Recent calculations suggest that two-thirds of humanity lives under skies polluted with light, and one-fifth can no longer see the Milky Way."

If you are lucky enough to be able to snowbird for the winter in the southwestern deserts, you will be able to find many boondocking locations--and some BLM campgrounds--with few lights and bright star-sprinkled, non-polluted, clear skies. And after your eyes adjust to the darkness you will be amazed at how well you can see--not only a sky full of stars, but you just might spot a nocturnal kangaroo rat, kit fox, or a wily coyote on the hunt.

Oh, and turn off your porch light.

Check out Bob Difley's Snowbird Guide and Boondocking eBooks at


  1. Two nights ago! We've been dry camping in Reno for a month now, but I stole away to the forest for a few nights this weekend. The night sky is spectacular!

  2. Agree 100%. I never understand the big need some people have for all that light (even AFTER they go to bed)! Unfortunately the same happens in rural home areas. Outdoor mercury lamps, high wattage porch, deck and driveway lights light up the night ALL night. I, fortunately, live in a rural mountain area where MOST of my neighbors appreciate the night. But some feel they need to make night into day to feel more secure. Grand solution that I have adopted to "protect" my little area -motion detectors.
    Frank S, Kelseyville, CA

  3. My wife and I went to Joshua Tree NP from 4 Oct thru 9 Oct. We saw the Milky Way every night we were there, it was like you could reach out and touch the stars.