Have you ever seen stars like this in person? If you live in or near a city and don’t get out of it much, then there is a good chance you haven’t. With an increasing percentage of people moving to cities every year, fewer and fewer have seen in person what I consider to be one of the most beautiful and amazing sights in the world — a night sky filled by the Milky Way.
As I grew up in the suburbs, I was probably legally an adult before I realized that pictures of the Milky Way were not just illustrations or photos taken from fancy telescopes. When I looked up at the night sky as a kid, all I saw was the Big Dipper, the north star, and a few other points of light. It wasn’t until my dad and older brother relayed stories of their trip through the empty American West that I realized older people weren’t lying about being able to see the Milky Way from the country when they were young.
Now one of my favorite things to do any time I am out in the middle of nowhere is to sit outside late at night with my binoculars, my camera and tripod, or just my low-tech eyeballs and admire the vast clouds of stars, planets, and galaxies littering my entire field of view. Camping happens to be a great way for me to indulge in this activity. We are usually decently far away from the light pollution of cities with no reason to be indoors at night. I can stay up late and capture the Milky Way high above the horizon or get an up close view of the gorgeous blue Pleiades.
The trick is finding a good location for this is combining a dark sky area with a good campsite. I used the following site for a map of light pollution:
Then I cross-reference the parks visible in the darker areas of the map with a list of parks with camping such as this site for Missouri:
For example, Sam Baker State Park in south-eastern Missouri sits far enough from any source of light pollution to be a good place to camp and see a lot of stars.
Lake Wappapello State Park is further south and offers a great view of the sky but the light from nearby Poplar Bluff is quite visible on the horizon.