After-dark state park program tells stories of the skies
With temperatures rising, there’s no doubt the dog days of summer have arrived on the Texas Gulf Coast. But have you ever wondered why the hottest, muggiest period of the year is called dog days? The phrase has its origin in the stars.
Since ancient times, the dog days of summer have been observed by Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who noted seasons when the star Sirius emerged in the sky at sunrise.
Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which is Latin for “greater dog.” This Dog Star, along with its smaller companion star Sirius B in the Canis Minor constellation, forms a sky picture of dogs at the heels of the hunter constellation Orion.
Some civilizations believed the bright star Sirius caused hot, sultry weather. It has been reported that the Romans sacrificed dogs to stop Sirius from casting scorching heat upon the Earth. The Dog Star rises in conjunction with the sun from July 3 to Aug. 11, the period referred to as the dog days.
There’s a way to escape the heat during the dog days of summer, yet still enjoy the great outdoors along the Texas Coast. Lisa Reznicek, a park ranger at Galveston Island State Park, offers after-dark programs, including an interpretive program called the Night Sky Hike, which highlights canine constellations, among others.
The state park, on the island’s West End, is one of the few dark spots in the city that offers a chance to see stars more clearly, Reznicek said. Visitors can find everything they need with the naked eye or a good pair of binoculars, Reznicek said.
“It’s a way to escape light trespassing on your view of the stars and to focus on stories of the sky,” she said.
Beginning at sunset, when the temperature is a bit cooler, participants at the park set out to discover stars, challenge night vision and discuss why they need to know the constellations, Reznicek said.
On a typical Night Sky Hike, 12- to 15 star-seeking hikers will meet at the park’s nature center. Reznicek will hand out sky maps that identify the summer constellations and provide red cellophane, which transforms flashlights into nightlights. At about 8 p.m., the group will drive to the darkest part of the park for an evening adventure. After arriving at their destination, Reznicek will turn her telescope toward Polaris, the North Star, to allow the group to orient their directions east to west.
“Star seekers can recall humanity’s history and place in the universe, where the inky water meets the night sky,” she said. “Light still travels through space as a legacy of stars that have long since died.”
This year’s Night Sky Hikes will occur during meteor showers. The hikes start at the park’s nature center at sunset and are slated for Fridays in August, including Aug. 7, 14 and 21.
Beyond the Night Sky Hike, Reznicek points to another evening park program called Ghost Hike and Mermaid Tales.
“With this adventure, we talk about stars, but we also explore the park from the beach,” she said. “We talk about myths, legends and stories of Galveston Island’s Native Americans, pirates and explorers.”
Ghost Hike and Mermaid Tales will occur from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 8, beginning at the beach picnic area near the park office.
Reznicek’s park interpretations are phenomenal, said Lynn Smith, board member of the Friends of Galveston Island State Park. Smith volunteers to help preserve and enhance 2,000 acres of surf, beach, dunes, coastal prairie and bay shoreline.
“Lisa was born to do this,” Smith said. “She has a knack for connecting people with nature. Her storytelling under the stars brings our place on Earth and in history to life. I think it’s interesting to learn about the pirate Jean Lafitte burying his gold doubloons on the island, or the Karankawa tribe making pottery near the beach. These educational hikes are a safe and peaceful way to enjoy nature, and each other.”
Galveston Island State Park is located at 14901 FM 3005 in Galveston. Contact Reznicek at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/calendar/galveston-island/night-sky-hike for more information about the park’s interpretive programs.