There were only two questions as the world barreled toward the new millennium: Would Y2K induce a techno-apocalypse? and: What are you doing for New Year’s Eve?
My then-husband and I launched a perfect plan. Whether the world was to explode in blissful celebration or total annihilation, we’d bypass Miami’s bright lights and big parties and get ourselves back to the garden: Everglades National Park. It would be just us, the gators and — allegedly — NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who was rumored to be camping there, too.
That night something unexpected appeared before me: a million, trillion stars, brighter than all the strobe lights on South Beach, more plentiful than the glitter dust of every drag queen. As the clock struck midnight, nothing really changed, and yet everything had shifted.
The world didn’t end; my marriage eventually did. But that New Year’s Eve what I gained was an irrevocable understanding of something much greater than our human presence here.
I also discovered what many astronomers have always known. When it comes to stargazing, South Florida is one of nature’s favorite nightclubs. Here is a shortlist of some of our most stellar hotspots, and they are just outside our main cities!
Constellations in The Keys
Every February, one of the biggest star parties in the world converges on Big Pine Key, roughly 30 miles north of Key West. About 650 international amateur astronomers gather to witness a 360-degree view of the heavens under consistently clear skies. The headliner is the Southern Cross Constellation, after which the Southern Cross Astronomical Society (SCAS) is named. Big Pine Key is one of the few places in the United States from where you can see this heavenly sight. The little island is consistently ranked as one of the best star-viewing spots in the country.
The SCAS-sponsored weeklong event also includes workshops, speakers, and contests. Best of all, proceeds are directed to humanitarian causes.
A Little Dipper from Miami
You can admire the beautiful people on South Beach, or you could orbit south of the city to observe some of the hottest celestial bodies at one of the largest, free weekly events in South Florida. Every Saturday night, SCAS breaks out its best equipment at Bill Sadowski Park and Nature Center in Palmetto Bay. Glimpse the heavens through the largest public telescope in Miami-Dade; afterward, spread out a blanket in the park, snuggle in for a close encounter and converge with a tight-knit community of curious neighbors and amateur astronomers.
Broward Big Dark-Sky Extravaganza
To experience the stars just as I did during my nighttime stint in Everglades National Park, you’ll want to visit an identified dark-sky viewing location. In Florida, there are only eight, and one of the best is located on the border between Broward County and the ‘glades. Forewarning: You’re about to embark on a star-trekking expedition like few others.
The Fox Astronomical Observatory is located inside Broward’s Markham Park, which itself is located on a dirt road off Alligator Alley. For the rest of the winding road map, visit sfaaa.org. Don’t worry, you won’t need a secret handshake for admittance, and I’m pretty sure neither the aliens nor alligators will bother to abduct you. However, you should come equipped with your sense of once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Because when you think about it, we really don’t know when the world will end. In the immortal words of Prince — quite possibly the brightest star of all — my best advice is this: Party like its 1999, in whatever way the heavens move you.