The Great Orion Nebula shines bright in the nighttime sky.

Jimmy Westlake/courtesy

The Great Orion Nebula shines bright in the nighttime sky.

Rob Douglas: Sparky uncloaks the stars


Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at

Find more columns by Douglas here.

Last Friday evening, a group of us convened at Rex's American Grill and Bar for Kelly Hanson's annual going away party. The phrase "annual going away party" usually would be an oxymoron, but not with Kelly. In just the past few years, we've celebrated her departures to Mongolia, Japan and now Alaska.

To put it mildly, adventure defines Kelly.

While we all munched on some of the best appetizers in the valley, a new acquaintance, Joan, asked me the same question we all ask one another when we meet for the first time here: "So, what brought you to Steamboat?"

I gave Joan my stock answer about having long been tired of living most of my life in the same 200-mile corridor of Interstate 95 between New Jersey and Washington, D.C. I told her how a twist of fate opened the door for me to live anywhere I desired. I spoke about discovering Steamboat Springs during a business trip and knowing the moment I crested Rabbit Ears that this was the place for me.

But I must confess I wasn't completely honest. For fear of being considered a bit odd, I left out a major reason for moving here.

The stars.

Truth be told, what sealed my decision was a nighttime ride out Lynx Pass during that fortuitous trip in late 2001. It was a crystal clear, moonless night. I pulled over, got out and reveled at the sight of stars illuminating the sky from horizon to horizon with more brilliance than I'd seen since I was a young boy growing up in Jersey farm country.

It was a spiritual moment.

A spiritual moment I try to refresh as often as possible with trips to the Flat Tops. Sometimes I go to camp but often just to sit for several hours taking in the serene beauty of the night sky punctuated by the natural fireworks of streaking meteroids.

Unfortunately, it's a heavenly display that grows more difficult to view the closer one gets to Steamboat because of the abundance of ambient light. Even from the Flat Tops - and many other vantage points miles from Steamboat - the night sky is diminished from an excess of manmade light bleeding from our city.

But, thanks to one terminally unlucky masked intruder, we all received an hour respite from light pollution last Sunday night. With a 12,000-volt trespass, Sparky the raccoon succeeded in turning most every light in the valley off while simultaneously granting us the gift of the night sky the way it should be.

Or at the least the way it could be closer to being.

Since Sunday, I've run into people talking about the multicolored laser show from the critter-induced explosion at Yampa Valley Electric Association's Mount Werner substation and the rediscovery of the stars shining over Steamboat when we were left powerless. A few folks - I count myself among them - sounded downright wistful imagining the sky that way every night.

When I drive around in the evening, I'm often amazed at the number of closed businesses awash in light inside and out. I'm dismayed by the multitude of homes with external lights blazing as if signaling an approaching aircraft. The most perturbing of all are the homeowners who bathe their properties in ostentatious wattage with strategically placed spotlights as if boasting, "Look at me! Look how important and wealthy I think I am!"

Now I know with all the worries in the world - from an economic downturn to rising fuel prices to war - too much light in the night sky is not high on anyone's list of concerns. But it might be worth considering as this community continues to grow by leaps and bounds. It might be worth considering before all but the brightest of stars disappear from above our heads and Jimmy Westlake's "Celestial News" column in the Steamboat Pilot & Today becomes theoretical rather than practical.

Perhaps if we all examine the amount of unnecessary light we produce from our homes and businesses, we might find that each of us can reduce excess light to a degree that will restore visibility to some of the now cloaked constellations. And, given the energy challenges we face for the foreseeable future, it might just be the right thing to do.

So, if you're like me and love nothing more than to step on the porch and enjoy that primal feeling as you gaze up at the universe, consider extinguishing a few lights so we needn't wait for a relative of Sparky's to remind us of the infinite beauty above.

Rob Douglas can be reached at


53native 8 years, 10 months ago

I remember when the night sky ALWAYS looked that way in Steamboat. Here's a thought, Rob- move back to the I-95 corridor and take a few Triple Crown loving friends with you. Then StmBt could start looking the way it used to.


steamboatyahoo 8 years, 10 months ago

yes, I wonder how he thinks those night games are played?


424now 8 years, 10 months ago

native and yahoo,

Someone encourages energy conservation and you start poking at it with a stick.



ColoradoNative 8 years, 10 months ago

Now that's funny yahoo! You have to admit he got ya Rob!


grannyrett 8 years, 10 months ago

He's right. It's crazy the lights burning at night that don't need to be. I am always amazed at the number of stars you can see when you get away from all the lights of town. Seems as if we always used to see them when I was a kid. What beauty we miss because of something we call progress. Maybe downtown should try turning it down some so that we could see natures glory more often, not just comment on it once in a blue moon.


colowoodsman 8 years, 10 months ago

Duhhh! If you think night lights are a waste of energy just think about all the condos and second homes that need to be heated even though they are unoccupied. Then there is fuel for buses and planes just so folks from far away can slide down a snow covered hill. And let's not forget about coal for the ski lifts, they don't run on 'snow power'. They say tourism is a "clean" industry- yea right!


dave reynolds 8 years, 10 months ago

what..coal for ski lifts..i guess your talking about coal hauled to hayden power plant..


colowoodsman 8 years, 10 months ago

yes paddle- the same coal (aka fossil fuel) that contributes to acid rain, carbon footprints, air pollution and global warming.


mountainlover 8 years, 10 months ago

Thank you, Rob Douglas, for writing that article about the lights going off in Steamboat!

(After you've been here a little longer, you'll just lay down and let the steamroller of the big money tourist industry run you over.)


ColoradoNative 8 years, 10 months ago

I just can't get over the irony of a recent East Coast transplant pissing and moaning about his precious stars yet he's encouraging steamboat to grow the triple crown event. TC wants a couple hundred more teams here right? A half dozen more ballfields glowing like your Shea stadium should do the trick eh Rob?

We should have shut the doors to Colorado 50 years ago. That would have saved the star


colowoodsman 8 years, 10 months ago

Another one of RD's 'brilliant' ideas bites the dust! Better take that balloon ride Rob before all your 'hot air' turns cold and you can't make it back to OZ!


colobob 8 years, 10 months ago

.............doesn't exactly bring out the best in people does he?


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