The Dark Night

Shenandoah by moonlight.

Samantha Cronk

Imagine: It’s nighttime, and you are standing blindfolded amid a wide expanse of low-lying mountain laurel in a high meadow, surrounded on all sides by the bowl of the Blue Ridge. Scared? No need for alarm—it’s all part of the twilight hiking program at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park.

This summer, SNP rangers will lead groups of up to 20 people into the park around sunset to observe the constellations. “People are amazed by how clear the stars are and how beautiful the night sky is—sometimes people aren’t aware of the beauty they have around them,” says ranger Woody Searles. Hikes last between one and two hours and are free to visitors. Hikes led by non-park service guides, which are also available, are not free.

And the blindfold mentioned above? You’ll be without sight for just a few minutes, long enough to appreciate the importance of other senses at night. You’ll learn to identify the call of the whippoorwill, the twittering of the woodcock and the rustle of an opossum in the undergrowth.

Safety precautions are important (indeed, even more so than during the day), so be sure to bring appropriate attire, water, and flashlights or headlamps. The night may be dark, but it doesn’t have to be scary—it’s simply a new world to explore. NPS.gov/Shen, GoShenandoah.com

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