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National Parks want darkness; RV makers say, “Let there be light”

By Chuck Woodbury
One of my greatest joys as an RVer has always been stepping outside my motorhome on a moonless night and peering high into the heavens. The sky would often be ablaze with a million pinpoints of light including the Milky Way, which lived up to its billing – a milky “cloud” stretching from the horizon to high above. Oh, it is so incredibly magnificent!

The National Park Service says that such star-gazing is one of the fastest growing visitor activities in its parks.

“Night sky viewing is incredibly popular, and America’s national parks offer some of the best views of night skies,” says Karen Trevino, the NPS’ chief steward of natural sounds and night skies. “Staring at the night sky with the Milky Way streaking overhead is a quintessential experience for many national park visitors. Even national parks near urban centers often serve as night sky sanctuaries for those who live in our most populated cities.”

Scientists say that cloudy skies over cities at night are now up to 1,000 times brighter than two centuries ago – and the sky glow spills out way beyond city limits including campgrounds miles around.

Just recently, the park service teamed with the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) to develop night sky-friendly lighting to improve outdoor lighting in national parks without affecting visitors’ ability to view the stars and Milky Way.

The partnership pleases me greatly. I can recall many nights when a bright light over a comfort station washed out most of the stars, with not even a hint of the Milky Way.

WHAT RUBS ME WRONG
And then you have the RV industry which is hell-bent on illuminating its trailers and motorhomes with outdoor lighting that, with the push of a button, can wash out the heavens above. It’s worse in RV parks and public campgrounds with electric hookups. Remember the movie “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, about the ballpark he built in a cornfield. “If you build it, they will come,” meaning the crowds. The RVers’ equivalent of this regarding outdoor lighting is “If they install it, I will use it.” Which further translates into “If the manufacturer installs outdoor lighting on my RV and I don’t have to pay extra for electricity, then I will use it.”

RV porch lights have been around for years, but now thanks to LED technology, lights are strung along awnings and even embedded in the body of the RV – in front, in back, beneath. And if that isn’t enough, some RVers purchase additional lighting to string along the ground to further light up their campsite – and those around them. Sometimes the lights change colors or even blink. If you’re the neighbor of such a light freak, it can feel like taking a trip back in time to the era of Mom-and-Pop motels when colored lights flashed outside your window all night long.

So, thank you National Park Service for trying to keep our National Parks dark for those of us who love dark skies and star-watching. If you are interested in learning more about this subject, check out the International Dark-Sky Association.

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Nick
6 months ago

Lol….the comments are more entertaining than any article! Just go to any post and say “I just got these new LEDs installed on my RV and can’t wait to leave them on all night” – and step back and enjoy the banter! Lol.

C.Lee
6 months ago

Frankly, if one is looking to go to a campground to see a dark night sky, they aren’t all that serious about seeing a dark night sky. Campgrounds are basically small towns full of people who are there for various reasons…not all of them aligning with yours or mine. Campfires, lanterns, flashlights, vehicle headlights, floodlights around restrooms and other buildings etc. are all going to contribute to what some folks might call light pollution, while others might call them safety devices. Campgrounds are where people congregate..there’s going to be partying, there’s going to be music, there’s going to be engines, talking, singing, heck I’ve heard a fellow playing bagpipes in the morning and it was beautiful. It all depends on your point of view. If you want things entirely your way when camping, don’t go to a small town full of people expecting everyone to behave as you wish, get out there away from people where you can truly enjoy things the way you want them to be.

Jed Smith
6 months ago
Reply to  C.Lee

I have to agree with C.Lee. When you have 100 people gathered together you have 100 different ideas on how everyone should behave. To truly see the sky at night you need to be away from anyone who isn’t there to see the sky. Rather then expecting others to do what I want I find places where neighbors aren’t a problem. Granted that is harder and it often means passing up great RV parks that are crowded but there are other options.

Luke
6 months ago

I agree 100%. I have never understood why some RV’ers have to have those obnoxious outside lights turned on all night long. It’s like they are afraid of the dark. As for my RV, we NEVER leave outside lights on, never. We recently stayed at Crater of Diamonds state park in Arkansas and the folks across from us had those LED rope lights all over and a {bleeped} lit up 8-foot palm tree that burned all night long. The glow filled our bedroom…..

Don N
6 months ago

The manufactures made it so you have a choice for the light. It’s called a switch. You DON’T have to push the switch if you don’t want as much light. A night fire will also give most enough light to see around the campsite.

Dennis
6 months ago
Reply to  Don N

So tell that to the obnoxious neighbor. Too many ruin the night time by their inconsideration.

Bob Cross
6 months ago

I agree with the Park Service. Way too much unneeded light. We have been in several CGs with hardly any lighting other then a hand held flash light and the night sky was wonderful to look at. Our Home CG in early spring or early winter with few campers is very nice at night to star watch. Summer time, you are lucky to see the full moon!

Joe Balaz
6 months ago

I say light them up. I always appreciate someone lighting up their site to attract all the insects instead of mine. thankyou.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe Balaz

Well, that’s one way to look at it. 😆 Thanks, Joe. Have a great day. 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Michaelevan Hammond
6 months ago

I am night blind but still go RV’ing and camping. While I appreciate that you want as much visibility in the sky as you can get, it’s pretty one sided as far as consideration is concerned. I’m stuck near my camper unless I use a flashlight. I’m Native American and we have shared a whole country, so putting up with a few lights shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Joe
6 months ago

Then use a flashlight as you said? No need though to light up your campsite for the whole night disregarding and disrespecting your neighbors. If you need WiFi and bright lights why drive to the middle of the woods?

David Hagen
6 months ago

Thank you Chuck. I for one appreciate your comments on outside lights. As an amateur astronomer the worst thing that can happen is that an RV with those ‘boogie’ lights pulls up next to you and sets up camp. And they leave those lights on after going to bed?!? Keep letting the RV world know about dark skies.

Thomas D
6 months ago

If you’re wanting dark sky’s ( and I do) check the calendar before leaving home. Last year ( march 5 I believe) my wife and I loaded up the camper and drove to Death Valley. We were told the sky is beautiful. 1100 mile round trip to see FULL MOON. So bright you couldn’t see one star.😢

Linda
6 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

Did the same at Great Basin. So disappointing.
Also, fell down my own stairs going out to star gaze one night because I didn’t want to use the flashlight and ruin my ‘night vision’. Husband loves to tell that story. 😁🙄

wanderer
6 months ago
Reply to  Linda

If you love stargazing then you should round up a red-lens flashlight. You can buy them made that way or cobble together your own with a lens from the auto parts store.

Bruce McDonald
6 months ago

One of the main reason we go camping / RVing is to find dark sky. So bright lights, heck, any lights are unwanted after dark. I find it interesting that almost everyone seems to think that they need a bright flash light to navigate at night. In fact, they can only see a very small area in the beam of their light. With dark adapted sight and no flash light, you can see everything around you. A small red flash light can provide assistance as needed (and won’t blind you neighbor). On a clear, moonless night, in a true dark location, with dark adapted sight, star light alone can provide enough light to get around your camp site! I have experienced that, but it is extremely rare.

Burns R
6 months ago

Waiting for the “But the packrats will eat my wiring if I don’t have lights on!” argument.
In desert campgrounds most people leave the hood open on their vehicles to discourage vermin nesting. But there is always someone who has to light up the whole campsite under the pretense that it scares away the critters.
I’d love to see Fed and State parks initiate and enforce a No Lights policy after 10pm or so but I don’t have much hope of this actually happening because it might “offend” someone.

Mike M.
6 months ago
Reply to  Burns R

Excellent idea. Screw the “offended”.

Jim G
6 months ago

Thanks Chuck. It has become almost impossible to stargaze in any campground, public or private, due to the park-owned lighting, the gaudy RV lighting, the campers who feel the need for 5 foot tall flames on their campfires and the blinding lanterns. I think it’ll always be this way because too many campers either have no interest in stargazing, are afraid of the dark (ie need lighting for “safety”) or are unaware of how their lights impact us that want to get away from city lights. Hopefully your article helps bring this concern to “light” and raises awareness. Most lighting needs can be accomplished with temporarily using external lights or a simple flashlight.

Mike Sherman
6 months ago

Manufacturers should give the option. Our new 5th wheel has the long strip rope light (LED) under the awning. Like aircraft landing lights! No other option, like the small orange porch light from years past. They should have one on each rig. If you are going to carry something outside, and can’t carry a flashlight, one is forced to activate the stadium lighting. So, I use one of the small battery operated lanterns that slide up and down for the brightness level. Adjust to low, leave it on for the evening entry/exits then turn it off when headed to bed.

Leroy
6 months ago

I have found that there are a lot of people that don’t even realize they activated their outside lights. The undirected glare of “Scare” lights are particularly onerous and can sometimes make it dangerous to negotiate towards them in the dark. RV manufacturers could solve this problem if every bright light on the inside came on (and stayed on) and the TV shut off every time the outside lights are activated

Bob
6 months ago

Having some lights on are one thing. Turn them on only when when needed.
People will notice your fancy rig during during daytime. There is no reason to light up your entire campsite all night. No one cares about how many lights have. Front nose lights and rope lights around the entire site are the worst.
A light shining on the steps is all that’s needed. Most rv’s now come with dimmable lights under the awnings. Set them at the lowest level.
If you are worried about prowlers at night, use motion sensing lights!
If you are afraid of the dark, STAY HOME.
Camping is all about enjoying the outdoors, not looking Like the Griswold house at Christmas.

David Morse
6 months ago

One point many people don’t know is that national parks are full of double standards. They tell the public one thing but those who live in the parks do another. I could give many examples like talking about Snowmobile regulations in yellowstone to the IPIOF club to the wolves, to many other things. The fact remains that until people start understanding what respect is and start practicing Respect there will be issues like this. Want to talk about generator use ? What about those who are handicapped and need lighting or generators ? Or do we tell those people they can’t go camping ? Still looking at the stars is a magical experience, the wonder and beauty from the hand of our creator, but you need Darkness to totally enjoy it.

Iack
6 months ago

What about the illuminated flag poles?

Bob M
6 months ago
Reply to  Iack

Law says flags are to be illuminated at night outdoors.

wanderer
6 months ago
Reply to  Iack

{bleeped}. These are special villains. Middle of the night (3 a.m.) I looked outside, flawless moonless night out on open BLM land, Milky Way bright. Coulda seen very seldom seen stars and constellations. Stepped outside, some pig had arrived that evening and put up a giant light pole flashing multiple colors and patterns you could see a mile away. Ruining other people’s experience while they sleep inside. And the jerks who make and SELL these stupid things!

Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  Iack

It depends on what type of flag it is. An American flag it is to be illuminated at night. Better yet, take the flag down at night.
The rest of the gaudy ornamental flags do not need to be lit up.

Mike M.
6 months ago
Reply to  Bob

BINGO!

Dennis
6 months ago
Reply to  Bob

There is no law that says one must fly the flag at night. Like you say, just take it down. Nothing like a dark night with no lights around except the stars. Love it.

David Morse
6 months ago

It’s amazing how some people believe everything has to be one way. This is America and it’s about freedoms not more restrictions and laws. Nothing wrong with lighting up trailers it helps discourage thieves, and keeping people safe, still watching the stars is a great thing that only darkness can improve. There’s room for both if only people would learn more about Respect .

Ron T.
6 months ago
Reply to  David Morse

The theory that dusk-to-dawn lights discourage thieves is less than convincing. If you’re in a rural area or boondocking and are away for the evening they just provide convenient lighting for the loading of your goods by the bad folks. If the NPS wants to encourage sky watching, they can, as mentioned elsewhere, set the rules foe campground lighting. Most people probably seldom spend enough time (at least 30 min.) in the dark to allow their eyes to adapt to it. You’d be surprised at how well you can see when that happens.

Dennis
6 months ago
Reply to  David Morse

I’m sure the statistics will back up that thieves don’t come to camping trailers enough to warrant 360 degrees of lighting on a trailer. If worried about thieves then stay in a gated campground like Thousand Trails. Stay away from the great outdoors. Respect would be leaving lights off for others to enjoy the outdoors the way it should be.

Juxtaposition
6 months ago
Reply to  David Morse

Respect? Your “freedom” doesn’t trump other people’s rights to enjoy nature. This toxic mentality- If I ever camp beside you I’d love to exercise my freedom to blast loud music and bright lights directly into your sleeping space 24/7. Because, freedom.

Joe Goomba
6 months ago

Dear rude campers, turn off all your ridiculous outdoor lighting at night, especially all that crap on your 5th wheel nosecap. Don’t be jerks, you’re not impressing anyone with it, you’re just being annoying.

Mike M.
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe Goomba

Thank you.

Dennis
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe Goomba

Preaching to the choir. But if only we could get the word out.

Jerry Plante
6 months ago

If you don’t like the dark, stay home. I am still seeking out the campground where I can see the Milky Way as shown in the pic in this article. I was pretty sure I’d finally scored a couple of years ago when clear skies were predicted for a night we spent at Lewis & Clark SP in western North Dakota. Miles from any city, surely there would be a Milky Way tonight. Alas, the orange glow from the oil well burn-offs on the surrounding hills prevented me from seeing anything in the sky, but happily I didn’t need to turn on my orange porch light.