Many people marvel at the sunsets that dance across the Grand Canyon. Then they walk back to the parking lot and head home. But those in the know realize that nature’s real show at the Grand Canyon is just beginning. With its lack of human intrusion for hundreds of miles the Grand Canyon is considered one of the best spots in America to study the celestial sky.
Make sure you come ready with a flashlight and bundle up since it gets cold at night, even int he summer. In fact, to truly be a night time explorer at the Grand Canyon do not use a regular flashlight since white light contributes to light pollution and fouls the natural lightscape. Create a red flashlight with red cellophane or by painting the lens with an erasable magic marker or red nail polish. Many flashlights on smartphones feature filters that can generate non-offending red light.
If it is the time of the month for a full, or nearly full moon, a moon rise above the canyon walls is not to be missed. The fabled Red Planet, Mars, can also be seen during certain times of the year. When the moon is absent the stars blaze above the canyon. You can pick up a star map at any park visitor center or download an app onto your phone and head out to any observation point along the South Rim to see the Milky Way and hunt for other constellations.
Ranger-led Evening Programs
The park staff has certainly not called it a day when night falls at the Grand Canyon. The rangers have a variety of Evening Programs through the years that can include star walks, campfire talks, ghost storytelling and even cemetery tours.
June is a highlight for sky watchers at the Grand Canyon. For eight days astronomers and rangers host a Star Party to make sense of the impossible dark skies above. The Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association handles observation duties on the South Rim and the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix holds sway on the North Rim. Amateur astronomers from across the country chip in their knowledge of the skies during the Star Party.
On the South Rim, in addition to constellation tours on the half-hour there is a slide show to kick off each evening’s program during Star Party at 8:00 p.m. at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. Telescopes are set up and ready for viewing Saturn, Venus, Mercury and more beginning just after sundown. At the North Rim telescopes are positioned on the lodge porch and star talks take place in the Grand Canyon Lodge auditorium.
The Star Party is free with park admission and the shuttle buses on the South Rim run until 10:30 p.m. Most of the telescopes are packed up by 11:00 p.m. but some astronomers, especially on warm nights, will linger for much longer and go on sharing their views. After all, you don’t get a chance to enjoy a Grand Canyon night every day.