The parks of Arkansas have something to offer to every stargazer
The night sky represents a world full of wonders, an infinite expanse of possibilities as countless as the stars themselves. However, many places in the United States, especially those in and around large cities or suburban areas no longer have the luxury of such brilliant nocturnal views as the luminescence of artificial light has so polluted the dark skies that it has rendered most of these views invisible.
Fear not, though, for the stars, constellations and all sundry astral formations are still there. Locating them is simply a matter of finding a place away from the lights of towns and cities where you can get a decent view. Luckily, there are just about as many such sites scattered about the country. But few can compare with the sights visible in Arkansas.
Arkansas is a great place to get outdoors
With a moniker like The Natural State, Arkansas has a lot to live up to in terms of preservation and natural splendor. Suffice it to say, it exceeds expectations. Arkansas takes great pride in its majestic hills, extensive forests, rolling rivers, and most interestingly, its nighttime views, leading state administration to go to great lengths to see all aspects of this sprawling woodland world are preserved. It is no wonder that, with all of the effort put into the conservation of their resources, the parks of Arkansas have something to offer to every stargazer, be they expert, novice or amateur.
The reason for this is the excellent collection of “dark sky spots” in the state. For those unfamiliar with this term, it is exactly what it sounds like: a spot where one can look up at the night sky and be met with natural darkness. To paint an adequate picture of approximately how dark the upcoming areas are, references will be made to what is known as the Bortle Scale, which is a nine-unit measure of how bright the night sky is in a given area. The lower the number on the scale, the darker an area will be. With that out of the way, all that is left is to introduce the best stargazing spots in Arkansas.
Hobbs State Park has excellent hiking
For starters, measuring around a five (moderate darkness) on the Bortle Scale is Hobbs State Park in the town of Rogers. As the largest state park in Arkansas, it offers plenty of activities for those looking for an extended stay to embark upon in the daytime, including excellent hiking and biking trails. At night, the park, in cooperation with the Sugar Creek Astronomical Society, hosts star parties and stargazing lectures at least six times a year. These events offer attendees a great opportunity to view the skies through both the naked eye and telescopes alike.
For similar experiences, consider making the trip to Withrow Springs State Park in Huntsville. Measuring around a four on the scale, the nights here tend to be a bit more on the darker side, making the hills and fields the park encircles great for a nighttime view. Thanks to the Astronomical Society of Northwest Arkansas and the park’s staff, Withrow Springs hosts star parties year-round, granting guests a fantastic opportunity to view the sky through provided telescopes or ones brought by the guests themselves.
While enjoying a peaceful night with some guidance might be preferable for some, others may be looking for a more independent experience. For those daring to navigate the starry skies on their own, Arkansas has some lesser known and thus more secluded spots to spend a night under the cosmos. Lake Fort Smith State Park in Mountainburg, for instance, is tucked into a quaint wooded area that, despite its serene tree coverage, offers some great nocturnal views. It sits at a solid four on the Bortle Scale, meaning that the skies at night over Lake Fort Smith are just dark enough to see with the naked eye. Another option, Pea Ridge National Military Park, sits at four-and-a-half on the scale. And though the site itself offers no overnight lodging, the fields of the park are empty and mostly void of artificial light, making them perfect for a starry view.
Perfect places to see the stars in Arkansas
The last two spots to be mentioned here are special as they are places that are designed for astronomical observation. With that in mind, it should not be much of a surprise that the first of these is an observatory. River Ridge Observatory in Bigelow is run by the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society for use by its registered members. Those with registration have access to a wide variety of telescopes and other instruments that could not otherwise be found in an amateur setting. But if this seems too professional or the membership seems like a bit of a hassle, the last site on this list beholds wonders that all can see. With a Bortle Scale rating of 2-3 depending on where in its perimeter you go, Buffalo National River in St. Joe, Arkansas is a site to behold. Not only is the setting of the river against the Ozarks a gorgeous sight, but the park is so naturally dark that it has been dubbed an official Dark Sky Park, one of only a select number in the world. As public areas go, this is one, of if not the best, places to go for a view of what lies beyond.
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By Ryan Elspas