Outbound Collective logo

A Starry Night Under the Desert Sky in Great Basin NP

Experiencing the awe and beauty of a starry night under the desert sky in Nevada's only national park - Great Basin.

By: Mayson + Save to a List


Great Basin National Park is Nevada's only National Park. Though Nevada is often considered a "desert wasteland," don't let it fool you. It is filled with beauty even though it is arid. Nevada's allure takes a form unique to this state's geographical makeup. Great Basin is just one hidden gem lurking within the seeming desolation of the state of Nevada. 

Great Basin National Park can be found about 5 hours northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. Which I am sure everyone is familiar with as a landmark. It lies just on the Nevada side of the Nevada-Utah border about 4 hours southwest of Salt Lake City. While the park is the least visited of the 59 National Parks in the United States, it is certainly not one to be missed. And though the park may not be as big as some others, it has a unique tagline: "See the Milky Way," because as they say, "half the park is after dark." Why is this you may ask? That's because like much of Nevada, this national park is one of the darkest places in the United States, making it a prime location for gazing at the night sky and all it has to offer.


The night sky has always interested me. Since I was young, I have always had a thirst for knowledge about outer space, the stars, and the universe itself. I have tried to look up and observe all the night sky has to offer every chance I get, especially when I am outdoors on a camping or backpacking trip. As an avid outdoor photographer, photographing the night sky has always been something I have wanted to try because it provides a great opportunity to bring together two of my long time interests. Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to do just that...

For my 2017 Memorial Day holiday weekend I decided to plan a trip to the only national park in my home state of Nevada. This marked my first ever trip to Great Basin National Park after 22 years of being a born and bred Nevadan. I planned my trip precisely days after a new moon when the moon was in some of it's darkest phases. 

While at the park, I experienced a starry night like none other I had seen before and was mesmerized by the experience. As the sun set over the park and the night took hold a true transformation occurred - one of pure beauty, awe, and majesty. The night sky slowly but surely came to life in a gorgeous and unceasing display of stars and the Milky Way.

My first night after staying up well into the night, I was greatly rewarded for my efforts and well laid plans. Driving down the road on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive toward the Visitor Center there is a small farming display area that provided a perfect location to photograph. Even on the drive down, just a few minutes from my campsite I could already see the night sky and was gazing at more stars than I have seen in my life. As I parked and began to set up to photograph the stars and the rising milky way I was constantly overcome by the beauty and astonishment of what lay above me. Knowing that I was looking back in time and seeing other stars, planets, galaxies, and parts of the universe not as they are now, but as they were hours, days, weeks, months, and years ago was truly awesome. Great Basin came alive again after dark, which I found great wonder in. This was an experience not all of our National Parks offer. It was amazing being in one of our nation's darkest places and seeing such an inspirational display before my very eyes. The entire skyline from horizon to horizon in every direction was lit up and gleaming with stars shining from every corner of space that surrounds earth - it was a sight to see.

I photographed for hours and created dozens of images of the stars and Milky Way, all while testing my skills and trying new things. By the time I finally packed it in, I was already eagerly awaiting another engulfing experience under the desert night sky the next night.

My second night I ventured high up on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to around 9000ft- near the Mather Overlook. I arrived in the late evening hours and set up my tripod to begin photographing for hours once more. I was rewarded for my efforts and timing with the dazzling night sky much like the previous night. My body, mind, and soul became engulfed watching the Milky Way rise over the surrounding mountains to the east in a display of greens, oranges, purples, and blues. To the west, the stars shone brightly over Wheeler Peak and its surrounding mountain range against a backdrop of deep blues and blacks. This was an experience I have seen nowhere else and will forever treasure. Knowing this magnificent sight is something we all do not get to see every day in our light polluted cities made this time in the thick of nature's raw beauty all the more sweet and worth remembering. I yearn to travel back there and experience those magical moments again when I am able. 

Those outstanding nights under the desert sky in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but the dead of night and hundreds if not thousands of stars and our galaxy, was magnificent. Nature is amazing to see and embrace in all its character, color, and beauty. It is worth experiencing, capturing, and going back to again and again. This is the stuff memories and dreams are truly made of. It reminded me why I explore the outdoors, opt-outside, and do photography. It is all because of moments, like this, worth capturing. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


Overnighter on the Sonoma Coast

Benjamin Canevari

10 Things you need to do in Baja

wyld honeys

Journey to Wyoming’s premier snowmobiling destination: Togwotee Mountain Lodge

Samuel Brockway

Hiking in comfort: a review of Danner Mountain 600 Evo boots

Meghan White