Poe readies a telescope for a night of desert stargazing.
During the day, Kevin Poe is a khaki-clad educator at Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park. Come nightfall, the 37-year-old selfschooled astronomer is the park’s head “Dark Ranger.” With a half-dozen telescopes, a brain full of facts, and a boyish enthusiasm, Poe takes visitors on earthly tours of galaxies far, far away. (435) 834-5322, nps.gov/brca.
Q What’s special about stargazing at Bryce?A We have exceptionally dark skies. You can see 7,500 stars here. But set out just one streetlight in one of our darkest places and you’d see only 2,500.
Q The best time of year for viewing?
A Probably February. The humidity is very low and you don’t have to worry about dust—but do dress very warmly.
Q What can you see here that you can’t see in, say, Yosemite National Park?
A The Andromeda Galaxy is 2.6 million light-years away. Most anywhere else, you need a good telescope to pick it up. Here, you don’t need so much as a pair of binoculars.
Q What’s the payoff?
A The more we look into outer space, the more it appears that Earth is all we are ever going to have, that we can’t just go to Mars and set up shop.
Q A favorite sighting?
A The Whirlpool Galaxy has a companion. If you use a little imagination, the galaxies look like ice-skaters seen from above, skating arm in arm through the vastness of the universe.
Q Does stargazing ever weird you out?
A You can almost feel you’re imploding and becoming infinitesimally small. That’s a fun and humbling experience. It never ceases to thrill.
Photography courtesy of National Park Service
This article was first published in May 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.