When you visit HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse hostel you’ll notice that it’s quite dark. That is, all of the outdoor lights face the ground, and all the bulbs inside and out are either amber, yellow, or red.
That’s because the hostel manager, Jeff Parry, is working on making the area a light pollution-free zone and a recognized dark sky location. Why? To protect local wildlife and nocturnal animals that depend on the darkness for survival, and to help humans regain the simple pleasure of looking up and seeing the Milky Way in the night sky.
“Many people have never seen the Milky Way, the galaxy our planet is in, before,” says Jeff. But with the reduced light pollution at HI Pigeon Point, visitors have a better chance. On clear nights, when the moon is new, photographers, astronomers, and Instagrammers flock to the lighthouse to capture the awe-inspiring images of the blanket of stars twinkling above the Pacific Ocean.
On some nights, Jeff, who is an amateur astronomer himself, invites guests to join him for stargazing with a telescope, offering the chance to experience how surreal it is to actually see the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn. “When people see that for the first time, it’s transformative and it connects you,” Jeff says.
The planets and the stars you can see in the sky from this corner of California vary from season to season: in the winter months you can see Orion arching across the sky with the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux right above him, the Big Dipper in the constellation Ursa Major pointing to the North Star, and a host of unnamed stars and supernovas shining from many light years away. If you want to do some gazing yourself, Jeff recommends you bring a flashlight covered with red film or nail polish in order to reduce the glare and protect your night vision. Otherwise, keep an eye out for stargazing events hosted at HI Pigeon Point together with the Santa Cruz Astronomy Club for guests and locals.
“It’s a real win-win situation, and there aren’t many losers when you tackle light pollution,” Jeff says, adding that another bonus is guests get to have a good night’s sleep unmarred by bright lights, and the hostel’s carbon footprint is reduced thanks to the considerate lighting system. After a night or two spent in the serenity of natural darkness and surrounded by nothing but sea and stars, you’ll leave with a clear mind and a heart full of appreciation and perspective, which is, after all, what travelling is all about.