I love to photograph the night sky! It's a peaceful and beautiful time to enjoy my favorite beaches and hilltops in northern Michigan. I wrote an article for Pure Michigan that describes five reasons to linger outdoors up north after the sun dips below the horizon.
Very few places on earth are as beautiful and melodic as northern Michigan after sunset. The night sky beckons us with a million, twinkling reasons to stay up late. And, the wild creatures call us as well. Coyotes cry out from distant hilltops, their voices joined by cicadas, frogs, and songbirds. Unlike many parts of the U.S., where city lights outshine the stars and traffic noises drown out the sounds of wildlife, the night is naturally dark and alive in northern Michigan.
For the most vivid night skies, visit a park or rural area near one of the Great Lakes, such as Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, or Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Spritz on some bug spray, pack a blanket and snacks, pop a headlamp on your head (the kind with a red-light setting), and try these ideas for experiencing the night sky ...
1. Stay and Enjoy the Twilight Glow
Many people watch the sunset and leave, missing the beauty and peace of twilight. If you can, stay for the encore! That's when the sky catches fire, glowing red, orange and pink, the embers burning to charcoal, and deepening to blue until the stars emerge and night falls. Listen to the music of the night, the chorus of wildlife, and the whisper of wind and waves.
2. Take a Walk in the Moonlight
The sight of a full moon rising, casting a silver path across the water is mesmerizing. In open areas, such as beaches or dunes, even a waning moon shines quite brightly. Wander at will, but bring along your red-light headlamp to preserve your night vision in case you need extra light.
3. Catch the Northern Lights
What can be more memorable than seeing the northern lights sweep across the sky? To increase your chances of catching them, spend time in a dark, open area with a clear view to the north. If you notice the northern horizon brightening just after nightfall, stick around! It just might be the northern lights. Many websites and phone apps provide northern lights forecasts. I use www.softservenews.com and www.swpc.noaa.gov.
4. Look for Ghosts in a Ghost Town
Michigan has a surprising number of ghost towns that are spooky-fun to stroll at night (unless prohibited). The past always seems much closer after dark! My favorite ghost towns are at Glen Haven and South Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I’ve not met any ghosts there (yet). But, I have seen beautiful night skies above each. (Glen Haven is a great place to watch the northern lights.) For lists of ghost towns, check out www.ghosttowns.com/states/mi or www.exploringthenorth.com/ghost/towns.
5. Make a Wish Upon a Falling Star
You won’t need a telescope on a clear, moonless night in northern Michigan to see the stars. But you will need lots of wishes: falling stars happen all the time! Sometimes, as in this scene, shooting stars and the Milky Way appear simultaneously. This year, the best nights for wishing will be August 9-13 (during the Perseid Meteor Showers). Visit www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/meteor-shower/perseid.html for more info.