By Mark Bassett
Special to the Times
The crew of the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark along with the rangers from Great Basin National Park were featured on the summer series “American Wonders,” on “CBS This Morning” on August 7, 2019.
“CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Lee Cowan and crew were in Ely on August 2nd to do a story on the Great Basin Star Train. The Great Basin National Park is located 65 miles east of Ely Nevada. As of spring 2016, Great Basin was designated as an International Dark Sky Park! The International Dark Sky Association has recognized that Great Basin provides distinguished and significant opportunities to experience dark nights. The park protects the pristine nighttime environment for scientific, recreational, and cultural values.
On a clear, moonless night in Great Basin National Park, thousands of stars, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. The area boasts some of the darkest night skies left in the United States. Low humidity and minimal light pollution, combined with high elevation, create a unique window to the universe.
The popularity of the dark skies has brought visitors from around the country to the Park. The partnership with the park and the railroad grew out of the realization that the park is 65 miles east of Ely along a two line highway. Baker, the nearest community to the park, has limited lodging. Great Basin National Park wanted to make the dark skies accessible to people without having to drive to the park or have visitors be concerned with lodging. The end result was the Great Basin Star Train.
The Star Train takes visitors from the railroad depot in Ely to a bench north of the community. Thanks to the support of the White Pine Tourism and Recreation there is a star viewing platform where the rangers set up a temporary observatory. Passengers ride the train to the observatory and see a beautiful Nevada sunset. Once the sun goes down, the passengers arrive at the telescopes and spent the rest of the evening viewing the heavens.
Now in its fifth year the Great Basin Star Train has been discovered! The “CBS This Morning” episode caused the phones to ring off the hook at the railroad. Mark Bassett, President of the railroad said, “I’ve never seen anything like it in the 17 years that I have been here. We have 5 phone lines and all five lines would light up like a Christmas train! The calls started at 4:00 am.”
In addition to CBS, the Star Trains have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nash (Spain) and People.com. With all of this publicity, trains are selling out. All of the 2019 Star Trains are sold out and half of the 2020 Star Trains are sold out too. According to Bassett, “We are working with Great Basin National Park to add additional trains for the 2020 season. For ticket availability, please monitor our website https://nnry.com/n0510a. When tickets are available, they will appear there, we do not maintain a waiting list.”
A great option if you cannot get Star Train tickets, is to visit Great Basin National Park itself and participate in their night sky programs. The park is only an hour east of the railroad. For more information on their programs visit the parks website https://www.nps.gov/grba/index.htm.