For several years now, Steven Bumgardner has been producing "Yosemite Nature Notes," a video series that takes one aspect of Yosemite National Park and dives in for a short documentary. Late last month he launched his 19th episode, an awe-inspiring look at the night sky.
"It's been really satisfying," he said when reached by phone last week. And it should be: it took three patient summers of shooting, a total of 30 nights, including a half dozen star parties at Glacier Point atop Yosemite Valley. "Go an entire night; if you're lucky, you only get one or two shots."
All that work is paying off, too. Bumgardner, a former Sequoia National Park ranger and cave guide, says this has been the fastest growing "Nature Notes" in terms of views. And then there's something better: human reactions like the commenter who said, "This? actually made me cry a little bit."
And that may be part of the point: teach, inspire, engage, and ultimately create stewards out of the public so that Yosemite can continue to be protected for generations to come.
While the park boundary is probably safe from encroaching interests, the fate of seeing a clear dark sky is outside of its control. With inevitable long-term growth of California's fifth largest city, Fresno due south, comes more light. Bumgardner says Yosemite is doing pretty good -- unlike the challenges Death Valley National Park faces with neighboring Las Vegas -- but an issue not addressed in this documentary, light pollution's affects on plants and animals (and even air quality), is still important. "It's one of the environmental problems we could solve overnight."
If this video inspires you to check out Yosemite's dark skies, Bumgardner recommends Glacier Point and anywhere in Tuolumne Meadows since our eyes do not operate at their best past 8,000 feet (both are located at about 7,200 feet). Night sky viewing is optimal during and around a new moon on a clear night.