This past week we experienced the ‘Wolf Moon’, a jaw-dropping, supermoon illuminating the skies around the world. It was particularly impressive where we were, in Anza Borrego State Park in California. The flat desert and distant mountain ridges, gave this full moon center stage to dazzle its onlookers.
My husband, Bryce, and I spent New Years Eve with a group of full-time Rvers. And what a party it was! With barbecued meats, fireside chats, and music, we swayed under the moon like happy dancing desert wolves. It’s possible we howled once or twice.
Camping during a full moon is a magical experience. It brings out the wild, instinctive sides of people–at least it does for me. But as awesome as it is, there’s an equally magical form of camping to consider: dark skies camping.
Which is better for RV Camping: Full Moon or Dark Skies?
The easy out on this question of which is better is…it depends. I used to work for a company that prided itself on decision-making through discussion, which meant the answer to many questions was, “It depends.” This eventually turned into a running joke.
To be fair though, the question of which is better: full moon vs. dark skies camping, does depend on what kind of camping experience you want to have. There are a few considerations to lead you to the best answer.
These considerations can actually impact where and when you travel. So let’s explore the aspects of each.
Considerations for Full Moon Camping
The following is not an exhaustive list, of course, for why you should consider full moon camping. These are some of the benefits that are worth sharing.
Moongazing – One of the top reasons for camping during a full moon is to simply moongaze. Perhaps you’ve never moongazed before and are wondering what the heck that is. Let me give you the steps.
Step one: gaze at moon. Step two: continue gazing at moon. Step three: seriously, you want me to keep going?
If you were hoping for something more complicated, then bring a telescope. A telescope can get you right up on the moon. I’ve looked at the moon through a telescope on a handful of occasions, and it is a fantastic sight! Curious craters emerge and make you wonder, what is really going on up there?
Night Hiking – another benefit of camping during the full moon is night hiking. Sure, you can hike on any night of the year, but a full moon hike is something special. We hiked during a full moon at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah and didn’t even need headlamps.
The moon provided all the light we needed to see our path. It also lit up the surrounding peaks, creating night shadows on the landscape. I wasn’t sure if I was looking at rocks or giant mystical faces.
Moon Photography – another benefit of full moon camping is moon photography. Now, I’m not a professional photographer and still on a learning curve, but I do have some interesting photos shooting the moon using manual settings. I enjoy this photography and plan to practice more this year.
I’m told that getting a good full moon photo isn’t the easiest thing to do. It takes some practice, and specific lenses to get something truly magnificent. But it’s still fun to try, and if you’re really serious there are many resources to help you learn.
In addition to full moon photos, moonlight photography is another option. Some people say that dark sky photography is the way to go, but others really enjoy the possibilities that light from the moon offers.
Wild Animals – many people think that animals become more active during a full moon. That’s mostly a myth and not true for many animals. Some actually decrease their activity during full moons, or change their habits, but a full moon doesn’t usually cause an increase in their activity levels.
So If you were afraid of animals coming to get you during a full moon, you can rest easy now. At best, you can just see them better, on the off chance a wolf runs through your camp. How cool would that be!
Full moon camping sounds pretty cool, right? Well, suspend your decision for a moment and check out what you can expect from dark skies camping.
Considerations for Dark Skies Camping
Full moon camping is awesome, but dark sky camping might win the bet. There are dark skies, and then there are internationally recognized dark skies. If you want to see a star-filled sky spectacle, check out International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) camping.
The International Dark-Sky Association states, “An IDA International Dark Sky Park 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.”
Bryce and I have been lucky enough to camp in a handful of IDSP’s and here are a few of the perks.
Stargazing – You know the drill, step one: gaze at stars…
Laying flat on the ground observing the entirety of a clear night sky is awe-inspiring. Unlike moongazing, there is an incredible diversity of things to look at. It’s even better if you have a telescope. You’ll see more planets, nebulae (gas and dust clouds), and hundreds more stars and galaxies.
Looking at stars in an IDSP is on a whole different level. What makes stargazing so special in an IDSP is that without interference from smog and light pollution (yep, light pollution is a thing), the clarity of the sky is like nothing else you’ve ever seen. The stars pop with magnificence–it’s like they go on forever! That joke was probably funnier in my head.
The Milky Way – This could be counted in the stargazing section, but our spectacular Milky Way galaxy isn’t always observable. The time of year and location can impact whether or not you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye. But one thing is for sure, the darker the sky the more likely it is that you can see it. We’ve seen it in a number of locations, and one of these days I’ll be patient (and warm) enough to photograph it. In the meantime, here’s a photo from my RV friend, Jonathan Bajuelo, an awesome photographer. You can follow him and his wife Nadia at The Roaming Remodelers and see his photos on Instagram.
Click here for information on the best times and places to see the Milky Way.
Meteor Showers – Bryce often plans his annual backpacking trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains of California to coincide with what he calls, “Nature’s fireworks show.” These celestial events are best observed with little or no moonlight. What many people refer to as shooting stars are actually meteors, usually smaller than a grain of sand, burning up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere.
Two of the most famous meteor showers are the Perseids (every August) and the Leonids (every November). These showers often peak with up to one meteor per minute. If you’re patient, you may be treated to an amazing fireball streaking across the dark sky–like my husband and I saw the night he proposed to me (queue “ahhh” now).
Click here for a calendar of meteor showers.
Night Photography – dark skies provide an awesome backdrop for nighttime photography. Specifically, a star-filled sky can really pop taking long-exposure photos.
But starry night photos aren’t the only fun you can have with night photography. At the RV Entrepreneur Summit in Fredericksburg, Texas, I learned light-painting photography from photographer, Joe Henricks. He taught us cool tricks using different light sources, such as flashlights and lightsabers.
Ponder Your Existence – You can thank my husband for this one. I asked him about his pros and cons for full moon vs. dark sky camping, and he said, “You can ponder your existence better in a dark sky.” Ummmm, Okaaaay.
But I see his point. A full moon sheds light on everything and everyone. That can make you feel safer and more connected to people, nature, God…whatever it is for you. Under a dark sky however, things are dimmer, quieter, and lonelier in a way. In a way that allows you to sink into the darkness, absorb the vastness of the sky, and give you the time and space to sit and think. Or not think. Maybe just be.
Doesn’t that sound really appealing right now? To just sit and be still? Yeah, a dark sky can do that for you.
And the winner is…
And the winner is…a full moon! No, wait, a dark sky! Maybe a really dark sky and some stars. Or maybe a really big moon with mountain shadows cast on the desert floor.
Sorry quarter moon, no wolves are going to howl for you.
Oh heck, I guess it depends on what you’re after. And to be fair, both are amazing and way better than sitting home watching Saturday sitcom reruns.
A Camera Recommendation
While this post isn’t specifically about photography, it does contain a lot of images. I thought I’d offer a camera recommendation for all-around travel photography, including moon and dark skies photography.
I decided to get a mirrorless camera last year because it’s lighter and just as effective as a DSLR. After MUCH research, I chose the Sony a6300 with a 15-50mm lens, and am very happy with it. It’s lightweight, easy to carry, and takes amazing photos, many included in this post.
Here’s one more photo (unedited) using the manual settings on the Sony, after sunset and before the Oregon sky turned into a star-studded event.