Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Ely, Nevada's Star Train

The only ranger programs from Great Basin National Park this summer take place on the Star Train run by the Nevada Northern Railway. Every Friday evening, two "Dark Rangers" head over to Ely and board the train, which leaves at sunset. It heads up Steptoe Valley to watch the beautiful evening light. Then it heads back and stops at a special spot to look at the night sky.
I wanted to get photos of the Star Train with the Milky Way, so I talked with one of the Dark Rangers and he told me where to go and told the train staff I was coming. Unfortunately the smoke from California fires created lots of haze, but I decided to go give it a try anyway.
I went out to the spot and found that it had been set up with red lights to preserve night sky viewing. There were a few chairs set out, distanced from each other. I could see the train light miles away.

Gradually the train got closer and closer.

And then it was there! The train stopped and the passengers and rangers got off on a concrete sidewalk and moved to the viewing area. Dark Ranger Charlie had a microphone to help amplify his voice so all could easily hear him. He started off pointing out some of the great features of the night sky with his laser pointer.

I didn't want to interrupt, so I stayed on the other side of the train and did some long exposures. I was a little surprised just how much light was coming from Ely. Ely does have great night skies, but out at Great Basin National Park, they are quite a bit darker.

If you're not familiar with the Milky Way, it's the cloudy looking part above the train. When we look south in summer, we're seeing the Galactic Core, or the center of our galaxy. There are so many stars there that it makes the sky look cloudy.

The Star Trains are immensely popular, often selling out a year in advance. It boggles my mind that some people have never seen the Milky Way and really dark night skies in their whole lives. They are missing out! The dark skies are truly amazing. Nevada Northern Railway and the Dark Rangers of Great Basin National Park have certainly been able to show off a great part of Nevada.

Here's more info on the Star Trains.

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