For as long as I can remember, my sister and I have enjoyed looking skyward together, finding the beauty of constellations and shooting stars. Many of our childhood memories involve tracking major storms, learning about astronomical events and gifting (or sometimes creating) tools to help us understand the night sky. It’s a joy that has followed us into adulthood.
My dad supplied my sister and me with an Old Farmer’s Almanac every year and used it to introduce us to the phases of the moon. One Christmas morning, we woke up to celestial gifts: a set of planet pajamas, a telescope, a kid’s encyclopedia of space. Another Christmas day, we set up our own weather station, complete with a thermometer, a rain gauge and a homemade barometer. We used it to monitor Hurricane Katrina as it moved its way up the East Coast.
As we got older, we spent evenings camped out, tracking eclipses and meteor showers. Our best stargazing often coincided with winter—even though the nights were colder, they were longer and often clearer and darker. Sometimes we’d wake our mom at 2 a.m. on a school night to lie with us in the middle of a soccer field—hot chocolate and blankets in tow.
Eventually, however, school, jobs and relationships carried my sister and me to different states, but one thing always brought us back together: the night sky.
Today, my sister and I are both living in Phoenix, Arizona—just a short drive from destinations known for their premium night-sky viewing like Sedona, Tucson, Joshua Tree, Flagstaff and Bryce Canyon. That’s good news because we’ve yet to kick the stargazing bug. We now spend every winter solstice—the longest and darkest night of the year—on an outdoor adventure that’s centered on cosmic events. And even though it often involves subjecting our desert-dwelling selves to cooler temperatures, the views are always worth it. It’s become a tradition for us.
This past winter solstice, our aunt invited us to Sedona for an extra-special event: the Great Conjunction. It’s a moment shortly after sunset where Jupiter and Saturn appear to join in the night sky. After a year of loss, hardship and far too few nights out, we jumped at the opportunity.
We hiked the Cathedral Rock Trail and then spent the night fireside drinking wine and chatting late into the evening as the stars began popping like kernels. We snuggled up under shared blankets and took turns naming constellations and spotting shooting stars. It was just like when we were kids.