A recommended dose of stargazing

A couple weeks back, I packed up some gear and headed into central Washington for some camping. I ended up seeing something I’ve never seen before – the Milky Way. Of course, I’ve seen it in pictures and on TV shows but this was my first time seeing it in person.

Living in the city, we don’t often think about the stars. Even in the dead of night, Seattle and Bellevue wash from view all but the brightest stars from the sky. A few pinpricks of light is all that can be seen, and although it’s hard to discount the sheer scale of what a star in the sky is, our attention is generally drawn to phones or friends, not directed upwards at the grandest cosmic ballet. It could be worse, I have heard tales of New Yorkers who never have seen the stars.

The trip was a pretty impulsive event. We showed up to the campground around 10 p.m. After the requisite stretching and unpacking, my gaze wandered upwards and I was staggered by the number of stars out there. I didn’t have to think of masses of incandescent plasma, a constantly-exploding fusion bomb kept in check only though its absurd size, nor did I have to try and conceive of the distances involved. The very sight of the stars transfixed me and I couldn’t do much more than gape.

It certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve seen a brilliant night sky, but definitely the only time in recent memory. I found myself contemplative even well into the next day, remembering not only what I saw but what I felt.

I’m firmly convinced that more city-dwellers need to get out into the middle of nowhere and stare at the stars for a couple hours. Especially for those who don’t like camping, who don’t often get out into the wilderness, they could benefit from being surrounded by vast tranquility, to think of something other than the minutiae of professional life and petty dramas. For them, plenty of campgrounds have cabins that will provide a more significant shield between the camper and the outdoors.

There are places everywhere to do some high-quality stargazing. One of the best ways to find a location is to look up a light pollution map on the Internet. Find some place with as little light pollution as possible, make sure the weather isn’t cloudy, and head out.

To go on an adventure – to break routine and strike out for parts unknown for who knows what – is energizing. A regimented life may be great for predictability, but what is man without nature?
It’s a little surreal that mountains, lakes and stars can hold the attention of an avid media consumer like myself better than most media out there. Being a lover of background noise and light, I always have some movie or show streaming to my TV in an unending random loop, but something about the wilderness is profoundly calming.

The occasional reminder that there is an incredible world just a stone’s throw from civilization is enough to put anybody’s life in perspective. People spend hundreds of dollars on drugs, virtual reality rigs, gaming computers, super high definition TVs and other assorted toys just to provide the illusion of escaping their life while remaining firmly entrenched in it. Actually going out for about $50 and experiencing nature in its fullest is peanuts next to the latest and greatest smartphone.

And for those who need a recommendation, head south on I-5 until a little past Centralia, head east on US-12 and prepare for one of the most scenic drives in the state. Be sure and check out the numerous scenic pull-offs, which offer views of waterfalls, geological formations and stunning views of Mt. Rainier. Rimrock Lake is a huge lake, you can’t miss it. Find a campground and prepare for a crystal clear night sky.