Mount Laguna's Northern Sky

The northern night sky in Mt. Laguna

Southern California gets a lot of clear, cloudless skies. It's wonderful for vacations, tanning, hiking... lots of activities. It's less interesting for the landscape photographer. I want interesting clouds, a storm, dappled light. On the flip side, many of those clear days translate to clear nights. 

This past weekend, I traded the ocean for the mountains for a glimpse of our galaxy, The Milky Way. An hour or so outside of San Diego is Mount Laguna. At an elevation of 5000ft or so, it rises above much of the dust pollution, haze, and fog that drapes over the urban areas. And it's dark enough to see the stars.

I like the stars. I miss them. I don't see them as often. As a kid, the stars were something I saw in the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan. That changed with my first visit to The Grand Canyon in the late 1990s. It was a cold, crisp November night. The starry sky was brilliant. I stopped in my tracks, laid down on the ground, and just looked. I saw satellites moving across the sky. I pretended to pick out constellations. I dreamed. It was more stars than I'd ever seen, before or since.

A few months ago, I watched the documentary The City Dark. The premise is there is less and less dark sky on the planet. The stars have all but become invisible to a growing segment of the world population. As a species, we are losing our connection with the stars.

An observation in the film that resonates with me has to do with air travel. When flying, we look down at the lights on the land to navigate. I do this all the time, recognizing bridges or lit freeways, telling me how much longer it is until I'm home. Conversely, our ancestors looked up, to the stars, to navigate. And it wasn't all that distant ancestors either.

It's easy to forget there is a vast solar system beyond our blue dot. That we are infinitesimal in relation to the universe. It was good to get out and look up.