The Perseid meteor shower ended last night, a fact that probably escaped most citizens of Miami. As city dwellers, we have to contend with the omnipresence of electricity, an invention that is anathema to star gazing. In order to take advantage of the once-a-year phenomenon, Riptide had to travel far off the the beaten path.
Star visibility is about 100 times better in the Everglades than in a downtown sky, according to the National Park Service. Moving to the suburbs barely helps, considering light pollution has become so pervasive that two-thirds of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way from their back yards. If Miamians want to see stars, they have to get a little adventurous.
So I headed northwest with a group of stargazers. Our first stop was Everglades Holiday Park, about an hour drive. Heading down Griffin Road, things started to get a little clearer. A group of about 15 was also gathered at the park's pavillion playing games of "ring hook" with such hip-swinging enthusiasm that one guy's pants fell to his ankles. They sipped from Miller Lights as self-described good-old-boy Billy Bob sat nearby, singing songs about Dixie, using the six bucks in his pocket to make regular trips inside the adjacent convience store to visit Sandy, the attendant who would take breaks from 50 Shades of Grey to give him more brown-bagged supplies.
The crowd there was more concerned with blasting Disturbed and parading about shirtless than with the possibility of a light show. Even if they had wanted to see stars, being on the outskirts of the Everglades wouldn't have been enough. Eddie, a gator wrestler at Native Lands who was there for the party, advised us to head north on 27 and turn at various sign posts. Then, he said, we'd be at Holey Land, a desolate spot with inky skies.
Heeding this human GPS seemed, in a word, unsafe. Instead, our next stop took us down Alligator Alley, where we eventually veered off onto Snake Road and into clear view of the Milky Way. Another group harkened us with the tiny pinpricks of light from their collective Black and Milds, and so we stopped to compare notes. They'd been posted up for about three hours, they said, and there were stars aplenty. In order to escape from the bright lights in the big city, we had to drive about an hour and a half, it turned out.
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Armchair astronomers beware: There are enough mosquitoes out deep in the 'glades to turn you into the Elephant Man the next morning. Unseen wild hogs will also grunt all around you, firing up your imagination as their cries go from 100 to 50 to five feet beside you. But meddling fauna aside, Snake Road is among the best places to stargaze in South Florida. Its curvature spawns various crevices that obscure the glow of nearby municipal buildings, and it's a far cry from the hustle and bustle of city life.
There, everything was illuminated.
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti