4 min read

Postcards from the night sky

Of cold winter nights in the hot tub, watching satellites swim through the ink, winking to Earth. Of finding inspiration in the ether. The night sky is with us, if not above us.
Postcards from the night sky
The Milky Way, as scene from Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.

MY FASCINATION WITH the night sky was likely born by dreams of flying. As a young boy, I could fly like Superman. Later I found myself sailing the clouds when my family hopped a plane to Florida for spring break. I sat in the window seat of the non-smoking section of a 747 as we kissed the atmos from Detroit to Miami.

After enjoying a snack and playing a game of cards with my dad, the cabin lights dimmed. The passengers around me nodded off and economy class turned into a spooky haze of cigarette smoke and poorly lit exit signs. I gazed out the window and saw a cluster of stars, and it turned my imagination into an emotional pretzel.

When we landed, the pilot gave me a tour of the cockpit and a set of plastic wings that I could pin on my shirt. I was officially a pilot. Now I could fly. Those wings are still with me, tucked into my football jewelry box that plays the Notre Dame fight song when you open the lid.

The ’70s really did have everything.

This was the waning era of the Apollo missions, and the dawn of the space shuttle. Being a child of the ’70s was otherworldly. You could be inspired by an astronaut or a soldier – many of our fathers fought in the jungles of Vietnam. You could be a protestor, gunned down on a university campus. Or a rock group who sang about it. You could be the tin soldiers of a president, or the journalists who took down a crook. Inspiration was everywhere.

And through it all, the night sky stood with me, if not above me.

Fast forward the cassette tapes of my ’80s life (mullet) and into the early ’90s (flannel). I enrolled in two of the “auditorium” classes in college. One was oceanography, because I love the ocean. The other was astronomy, because there I could see the stars like I never had. But I didn't become Jacques Cousteau or Neil Armstrong.

I became a journalist.

Life moved on, and I was occasionally reconnected with the night sky on camping trips in Colorado. Then winter nights in Truckee, Calif., sitting in the hot tub on our deck watching satellites swim through the ink, winking to Earth.

Springsteen says the night belongs to lovers, but it also belongs to “dark sky” communities, where the universe reveals an expansive orchestra of light. Stars are pin drops in the sky. They are distant beacons, twinkling with the energy of another world, the passage of time and the history that unfolded in their journey from their origins to ours.

It’s always exciting to see what your eyes reveal. And through photography, what they cannot. Here, postcards from the night sky.

Wupatki National Monument

Wildfires rage along the horizon as the Milky Way creates a show in Northern Arizona.

Death Valley

It's just stars after stars after stars in Death Valley National Park.

Joshua Tree

Light polution from Palm Springs creeps into the Milky Way's dive.

Grand Canyon

Clouds above the pines at Ten X campground, Grand Canyon National Park.

Sequoia National Park

A camp fire illuminates the trees in Sequoia National Park.

Flagstaff, Ariz.

A car approaches as the Milky Way dances on the horizon.

The Barrel

We'll go with San Tan (Arizona) Brewing Company's Moon Juice Galactic IPA. Easy drinking and smooth for an American-style IPA, it has some tropical fruit undertones.

The Bomb

It's hard to go wrong with a national park at night. Joshua Tree offers some unparalled views of the night sky, and the town itself is a dark sky community, which makes looking for the turn into your motel tricky after the sun sets.

Austin, Texas-based Explosions in the Sky is probably best known for its powerful instrumentals on the "Friday Night Lights" soundtrack. But this post-rock group performs inspired, heavy cinematic soundscapes to complement your stargazing. Start at the beginning with their first album from 2000, "How Strange, Innocence."