Story by Jay Lowry, Photo by Kimberly Rapson
As fall rolls around in Michigan you may be tempted to cozy up and start the Halloween movie marathons, but this year Scenic Michigan challenges you to try something new. In these last couple of weeks, our atmosphere has been visited by the Orion meteor showers, and if you’re anything like us, you were soundly asleep as they swiftly appeared and disappeared just after midnight. However, we don’t have to worry about missing those events! There are still plenty of fascinating astronomical events predicted to happen before the end of 2022.
One of the best places to observe some of these phenomena are dark skies parks. There are several of them here in Michigan, some located as far north as the Keweenaw Peninsula. These dark sky parks are large areas of rather uninhabited land, where the use of artificial light is restricted, and rules are put into place to protect the nocturnal wildlife there. So, no matter what park you choose, be sure to keep your eyes open! You never know what fascinating creatures you might bump into there any given night.
One prominent dark sky facility in Michigan is The Headlands International Dark Sky Park located in Mackinaw City, near the Mackinac Bridge. It is at this park that many people set out in hopes of getting a glimpse of the Northern lights! Although this location is a bit further south than other sites to view Aurora Borealis, there’s a reason that many people make an annual drive to the Headlands park specifically. This particular park is two miles wide, and because of the absence of nearly all artificial light for miles, the stunning show of Michigan’s Northern Lights at Headlands rivals even that of more northern cities, and since this park encompasses part of the Lake Michigan shoreline where you can listen to the waves during the day and watch the Northern Lights reflect off of them during the night.
However, as a note for travelers, camping is not allowed within the park. But fortunately the park is open to the public 24/7 hours, seven days a week! There is also a five mile-long path throughout the park that allows for a scenic journey where visitors can bear witness to the beautiful colors of Michigan’s changing trees and the satisfying crunch of fallen leaves beneath their feet.
Depending on where you live, the drive to a dark sky park near the Upper Peninsula can be difficult to fit in with everyday responsibilities. One other dark skies park is located in Jones, MI; the Dr. T.K. Lawless International Dark Sky Park. This park is located in Cass County, and includes an 820 acre nature preserve with over 7 miles of trails for cross-country skiing, biking, and more!
If traveling to an official dark skies park fails, remember that you live in gorgeous Michigan, surrounded by our massive Great Lakes, which naturally keep light pollution to a lower degree than the majority of the United States. On a particularly clear night, just walk outside and try to see how many shooting stars you can count and what planets are visibly twinkling. If you’re new to stargazing and you’re feeling overwhelmed, start first with the coming Leonids, roughly taking place on November 16th through the 17th this year. The Leonids, known for their quick pace and their long trails, can be seen with your bare eyes so no telescope is required.
Overall, Michigan is full of sights to see before and after the chill begins to set in every Autumn. I challenge you to look towards the sky tonight, and thank the lucky stars that we all get to experience the beauty Michigan has to offer, all year round.