There’s nothing as magical as the fully lit night sky. Not everyone has had the chance to view it properly because of light pollution. Compare the visual quality of watching a movie on your phone in broad daylight versus a darkly lit movie theater. Yes, the contrast is that dramatic. To see the night sky as intended, it’s best to go out in nature where there are no street lights or anything else to distract from the magnificence. And if you’re not the camping type, don’t worry. This star train could take you to an amazing stargazing spot during a fun getaway with family or friends.
All Aboard the Star Train
The Nevada Star Gazing Train leaves Ely during certain summer evenings for this tour, accompanied by the Dark Rangers of Great Basin National Park. “These rangers love the night sky as much as we all do, but they probably know a whole lot more about stars than all of us put together. They will guide us on our journey to find interesting things up in the Heavens on this journey,” reads the Nevada Northern Railway website.
When the train is far away from civilization, it will stop letting the passengers take in the night sky in the perfect darkness. Meanwhile, the National Park Service Rangers will give a tour of the celestial constellations through telescopes. As a bonus, as the train departs, the passengers get treated to a stunning sunset over the Steptoe Valley. As an extra-special bonus, the train station is home to the adorable “Dirth the Cat” that some lucky visitors might see.
You might be wondering where Ely, Nevada is, as many do. It’s actually about a three and half hour drive from Las Vegas, approximately 244 miles away. That’s two drastically different “lights” experiences fairly close together. Ely is also one hour away from the Great Basin National Park if you’d like to tour it during the daytime as well.
The train has snacks and drinks to be purchased, restrooms, and wheelchair accessibility. As far as prices go, adults pay $56, children ages four to 12 are $25, and infants under four ride for free. There are group discounts for groups with 12 or more members. Unfortunately, these tickets get sold out, sometimes a year in advance, so book quickly if you’re interested. 
A Ride on the Train
CBS correspondent Lee Cowan embarked on this star train tour. When the train stops in the park, the passengers go outside where it’s dimly lit with red lanterns. “Then, they see it,” Cowan writes, “the view of our universe the way most have never experienced it.”
In the words of park ranger Charlie Reed, “You just kinda let the sky do the talking for ya. You don’t have to do much for it because once you see it, you see it. The first time I came here… the first night I was outside my house and I looked up and I go, ‘Uh oh! … I can’t find my marker stars, I can’t find any of the stars I use to navigate throughout the sky, because there were so many!”
Other passengers were equally spellbound. After all, how could they not be?
“This is incredible! I’ve never seen the Milky Way in my life.“
“I couldn’t believe my eyes, I’ve only seen things like that in pictures!”
“It’s just beautiful. It really is. It just makes you feel so small.”
A century ago, a view like this wasn’t so rare, but now the world’s light pollution is increasing. A third of the planet can’t see the Milky Way with the naked eye. Imagine when that used to be an ordinary sight. “The more darkness we lose, we’re going to lose the universe, quite literally, and all the secrets that that universe holds,” Reed said. 
Safe-Guarding the Dark Sky Parks
Incidentally, Great Basin Park is one of the darkest regions in the lower states. Perfect for stargazing. That’s why it was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016.
According to DarSky.org, “An IDA International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” And this is definitely the case for this stunning park. 
Other designated dark skies are all over the world like the Mercantour National Park in France, the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in New Zealand, the Exmoor National Park in the United Kingdom, the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia, among many others.  Seeing the night sky in its full glory is definitely a “must-see at least once in your lifetime” for everyone.
- “Great Basin Star Train.” NNRY.
- “Historic train takes passengers stargazing in the Great Basin Desert.” CBS. Lee Cowan. August 7, 2019
- “International Dark Sky Parks.” Dark Sky.
- “16 amazing dark sky preserves around the world that protect the night sky.” Space. Elizabeth Howell. August 15, 2020
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