On clear nights when the moon is new, astrophotography enthusiasts and keen Instagrammers flock to HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse to capture otherworldly images of an expansive sky flooded with stars. In winter months, the stargazers are treated to views of Orion in all his glory in the west, the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux right above him, the Big Dipper in the constellation Ursa Major pointing to Polaris the North Star, the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor, plus a host of unnamed stars twinkling many light years away.
“My favorite quote lately is that one-third of humanity and 80% of Americans have never seen the Milky Way Galaxy, the galaxy our planet is in, before,” says hostel General Manager Jeff Parry, referring to a scientific article he read. “So when I took away the bright bulbs it removed the light pollution by a significant amount and people were astonished by all the stars they couldn’t see before.”
When you visit HI Pigeon Point, you’ll notice that all the outdoor lights face the ground so no light shines above the horizon line, and all the bulbs inside and out are amber or yellow or red. This is part of Jeff’s effort to make the hostel a light pollution-free zone and a recognized dark sky location, not only for the benefit of those who want to experience the magic of the Milky Way in the night sky, but also to protect the local wildlife, which depend on the darkness in various ways. As a bonus, Jeff’s lighting system reduces the hostel’s carbon footprint, and gives guests a good night’s sleep unmarred by bright light.
Jeff is also an amateur astronomer, and on some nights lucky guests can join him trying to spy the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn through a telescope. For most people who’ve only seen the intergalactic phenomena in books or on T.V., it’s a transformative experience to see the planets with their own eyes and really feel the connection to the earth and the rest of the universe. Together with the Santa Cruz Astronomy Club, the hostel holds stargazing events regularly for guests and locals, and Jeff suggests that guests who want to come and explore the sky on their own should bring flashlights covered with red film or red nail polish to reduce the glare and protect their night vision.
The winter and spring are excellent times for stargazing at Pigeon Point, although, as Jeff points out, you can see different stars in different seasons, so the show will be good almost any time of year you visit. Either way, you’re likely to leave with a greater sense of perspective or a newfound appreciation for the wonder of the world, which is, after all, what traveling is all about.
HI USA Tip: Take a look at these images to make you fall in love with HI Pigeon Point, and find out a little more about the hostel’s multi-talented GM Jeff Parry. Got some night sky pictures of your own to share? Tag the hostel on Instagram and on Facebook.