Most families — 80 percent of the world’s population, according to a 2016 study — live under night skies obscured by light pollution. They have to leave the city to see the Milky Way or hunt for constellations.
Luckily, several national parks, especially in the less populated areas of the Southwest, are designated International Dark Sky Parks, which not only have dark skies but also astronomy programs designed to introduce urban dwellers to celestial wonders.
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Grand Canyon National Park doesn’t lose any of its grandeur when the sun goes down. At night, visitors can see countless stars in the Arizona sky with their naked eye as well as double stars, star clusters, nebulae, distant galaxies and planets with a telescope.
Don’t have a telescope? Visit June 13–20, for the annual Grand Canyon Star Party. Evening programming includes telescope viewing, ranger-led constellation tours, slideshows and night sky photography workshops. Admission to star party is free with park admission.
Man has been watching the sky in Chaco Culture National Historical Park (as it’s known today) for thousands of years. Experience what the ancestral Puebloans did when the ruins of their buildings align with the sunrise during the solstices and equinoxes, or come after dark to see New Mexico’s celestial wonders.
Nighttime observations take place every clear Friday and Saturday, April–October, at the Chaco Observatory. In September, the park hosts its annual Astronomy Festival, where families can hear guest speakers, attend programs at several of the ruins and view the sun through solar telescopes in addition to the regular astronomy program activities.
In Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park sets up telescopes at the Visitor Center at 10 p.m. every night, Thursday–Saturday, Memorial Day–Labor Day, and on some Saturday nights the rest of the year.
The real draw for astronomy lovers, though, is the annual Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival. Scheduled June 17–20, the festival includes model rocket building and launching, junior ranger astronomy programs, solar scope viewings and star gazing. There are also several talks, including one with a NASA astrophysicist.
Boasting the darkest sky of any national park in the lower 48 states, Big Bend National Park in western Texas holds organized stargazing programs throughout the year. Activities include night hikes, sky talks and telescope viewing. When nothing is scheduled, you can see more than 2,500 stars with your naked eye and even more with your own telescope or binoculars.
For a complete list of dark sky parks, reserves and sanctuaries, visit the International Dark Sky Association’s website.
Wearing sunscreen at the beach is a given, especially for little ones running in and out of the water — and anyone who forgets that usually regrets it with a vengeance the next day. One aspect of sunscreen I admittedly didn’t think about until just a few years ago is how detrimental its impact is on marine life and reefs. Oxybenzone is a chemical found in most mainstream sunscreens — it works to prevent sun damage, but is also carcinogenic and harmful to coral. The chemical makes coral more susceptible to bleaching and damages its DNA, interfering with reproduction and killing dependent marine life in the process.
IMAGINE SETTING SAIL IN AN EXOTIC, far-flung destination, just you and your family or group of friends aboard a private yacht. The sun warms the deck, a soft breeze dances off the water, and an über-attentive crew caters to your every whim while the personal chef whips up the finest of the local cuisine with all of your culinary preferences top of mind. All the while, the captain navigates the yacht into secluded coves; to pristine, seemingly undiscovered beaches; or even to the hottest spots along the coast for a night out on the town.
An interesting and accidental beneficial side effect of recent travel bans is that large swaths of the world affected by over-tourism are beginning to heal themselves. Major cities from Los Angeles to London and Beijing are reporting their best air quality in years with less nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide emitted by cars and industry. The canals in Venice are so clear, schools of fish and even a dolphin were easily spotted by locals — all of this and more taking place before Earth Day’s 50th anniversary in April.
This summer, family travel at The Peninsula receives an upgrade with the debut of Camp Peninsula, a children’s experience that recreates the spirit of camping right in the heart of Beverly Hills. The journey begins with a special welcome from Peter Bear, the hotel’s lovable mascot, at check-in. After taking a picture with the life-sized teddy bear, kids will be whisked away by a Peninsula Camp Counselor to a luxurious guestroom where a charming teepee awaits. An afternoon of camp-themed games and activities, including a hotel-wide scavenger hunt, rounds off the family-friendly experience, fun for children of all ages. Whether it’s a luxe staycation or an extended holiday, Camp Peninsula is an ideal way to ensure the little ones are happy campers.
When you want to get away without getting behind the wheel, Amtrak has news for you — and budget-friendly news, at that. Enjoy the ride this summer to your next destinations from the comfort of a private Roomette room on Amtrak with a two-for-one deal on select one-way routes.