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Nevada’s Train to Nowhere Promises Out-of-This-World Stargazing

Great Basin National Park Nevada
Great Basin National Park, Nevada Elizabeth M. Ruggiero/Getty Images

These days, many of us are looking to downsize the role of technology in our lives, to get back to nature a little more, to do a digital detox wherever we can. Nothing combines all three of these like losing yourself on a remote patch of land in the middle of nowhere amid a veritable sea of stars. One purpose-built Nevada train promises just that, taking visitors far from Sin City to an area of the country few have ever seen.

Far beyond the neon glow of Las Vegas — four hours north to be exact — lies the pint-sized city of Ely, Nevada (population: 3,968). It’s here that sky-loving travelers board the Nevada Railway Museum’s Great Basin Star Train at sunset to watch the sun dip behind the Steptoe Valley. Pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive, this “train to nowhere” travels east toward Great Basin National Park to an ultra-dark spot ideal for stargazing.

Here, the National Park Service Dark Rangers set up alongside amateur astronomers with special, high-powered telescopes to share the views with anyone interested. The stargazing typically lasts more than two hours, during which time visitors can expect to spot a number of constellations and planets, including Saturn and Jupiter. Afterward, the train returns to Ely where guests can opt to overnight at the station’s bunkhouse or even in a working caboose.

Because of its densely-populated coasts, the United States is home to some of the worst light pollution in the world. Recently, however, it has also proven to be among the best places on the planet for stargazing. New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians need only drive a few hours west to Cherry Springs State Park to experience some of the darkest skies in the entire world. Beyond lesser-known state parks, some of America’s most iconic national parks and reserves have also been recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA) as having the darkest skies in the world. In the last two years alone, the association granted Joshua Tree National Park, Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and Grand Canyon National Park official Dark Sky Park designations.

Nevada’s Great Basin Star Train departs on select Fridays from May through September every year. Due to its popularity, the 2019 season is already sold out, but tickets for 2020 will go on sale this fall.

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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