Star Gazing In Surprise Valley
Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary
The Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary, a designated Dark Sky Place, is located in the northern Great Basin, approximately 25 miles northeast of Surprise Valley, California. In this remote part of the nation, the dark sky is phenomenal and on a moonless night, the sheer number of visible stars makes it difficult to identify common constellations. The western boundary of the Sanctuary is defined by the Massacre Rim, a dramatic 1,200 foot tall fault escarpment descending into Long Valley, Nevada. The topography allows for fantastic stargazing opportunities: the Sanctuary encompasses two volcanic plateaus surrounded by wide valley floors. Elevations range from 5,600 feet to almost 7,000 feet, with night sky becoming clearer at higher elevations. The area is home to a variety of animals including mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, greater-sage grouse, and golden eagles.
Star Gazing Opportunites
Located more than 150 miles north of Reno and surrounded by only a few small communities, the Massacre Rim suffers little from light pollution. Light pollution is the illumination of the night sky caused by artificial light and air pollution. Many lights installed in homes, businesses, street lights, and billboards use lighting fixtures that are too bright and aimed upwards or sideways. The light then scatters through the atmosphere and creates “sky-glow,” which diminishes the view of the night sky. It is estimated that twothirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyard due to sky-glow. The Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary representes one of the darkest places in the nation. The best star gazing happens in July when the Sagittarius and Scorpio constellations are highest in the sky. The Perseid’s Meteor Shower also peaks in early August and the Sanctuary is the ideal location to view shooting stars.
Plan Your Visit
The Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary is located in a remote part of northwestern Nevada. While opportunites for stargazing are available throughout the year in nearby towns, the roads in the Sanctuary are not maintained in the winter. Here are some safety tips for an enjoyable trip:
• Before leaving town, check your gas level, air pressure in your spare tire, and tire-changing equipment. The nearest gas stations are in Cedarville, California and Gerlach, Nevada.
• Before leaving, check weather and road conditions. Many of the roads within the Sanctuary are rocky, dirt roads and some cross seasonally wet lakes.
• Bring plenty of water.
• Prepare for the extremely variable weather in the high desert.
• If you are planning on travelling on the roads within the Sanctuary, 4-wheel drive and high clearance are recommended.
• Stay on existing, designated routes.
• Let someone know where you are and when you will be back - there this is typically no cell phone service east of the California-Nevada line.
Nearby campgrounds, Massacre Ranch and Steven’s Camp, are free and open to the public. Both campgrounds have camping spots and a cabin where you can stay for up to 14 days. Contact the Bureau of Land Management’s field offices in either Cedarville, California or Gerlach, Nevada for more information. Travel safe and always carry a full-size spare and extra water. And of course, you can stay at one of our lodges here at Cockrell's High Dessert Ranch.
Beyond the Stars
Light pollution is a serious problem to animals and plants. Nocturnal animals found throughout the Massacre Rim area are sensitive to the glow of artificial light. Whereas bats, owls, badgers, foxes, and mountain lions all rely on the cover of darkness for hunting, cottontail rabbits, pika, and kangaroo rats all rely on the cover of dark for protection while foraging. Plants also are affected by light; some plants, such as evening primrose (Oenothera spp.), coyote tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) & blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis), bloom in the dark. Artificial light can affect how long plants keep their leaves and prevent them from going into winter dormancy at the right time.
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