Prepare to be captivated by the almighty Geminids meteor shower this winter. The annual celestial spectacle began on December 4th, but it lasts until the night of December 17th—giving observers one of the most reliable and brilliant meteor showers of the year. Peak activity is expected to begin on December 13th and 14th with almost 120 sightings per hour. Astronomers suggest looking to the south for the best viewing window of the meteors. The last quarter moon will rise around midnight, making the first half of the night perfect for viewing. (This is great if you have kids who can’t stay up late to view the shower). You won’t need a telescope or binoculars to view the meteors—so just relax and give your eyes time to adjust, and consider protecting your night vision (and cherishing the moment) by leaving cell phones in the car. Meteors will always travel in a path away from the constellation that it is named after, Gemini in this case.
The key to a great viewing experience is to escape artificial light. And although many of the state parks in Birmingham close at sundown, RootsRated has a few suggestions on where to go to enjoy this wonderful spectacle. So bundle up, grab a few friends, and head to the woods for Mother Nature's fireworks.
1. Sipsey Wilderness
The Sipsey Wilderness, in the northern terminus of the Bankhead National Forest, is a great spot for those willing to drive a bit further. Its mossy rock escarpments framed by trickling waterfalls among old growth hemlock, beech, and oak trees make it a peaceful spot to relax—park at the Borden Trailhead for several hiking options.
2. Cheaha Mountain
Take the scenic highway 281 that meanders for 29 miles through the middle of the national forest for a front seat view of the show. The road will take you to the top of Cheaha Mountain, Alabama’s highest point at 2,407 feet. There are several pullouts on the road to park your car for a great (and warm) view of the show. Turnipseed Campground right off the scenic highway is a perfect spot for those that want to spend the night.
3. Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge
If you want to stay a little closer to town, head to the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy the meteor shower among the plants and animals the refuge was established to protect. Maybe even save your neck and watch the meteors dance across the surface of the Cahaba, Alabama’s longest free-flowing river.
4. Dugger Mountain Wilderness
Within Talladega National Forest, Dugger Mountain is Alabamas’s second highest point, but you’ll have to work a bit harder to get to this summit. As Alabama’s newest wilderness area, this would make a great venue for a night out under the stars away from the crowds. The Pinhoti Trail is the only official hiking trail in the wilderness area; plan on a 12 mile round trip hike to the summit and back.
5. Tannehill Ironworks State Park
There is a $3 entrance fee for adults and the park closes at sundown; although you can pay $16 for a campsite to spend the night and do some stargazing. A short walk on the Tramway Trail (blue trail) by the museum will take you to the old iron furnaces, which should be a great venue to relax and watch the meteor shower away from the park's campgrounds and infrastructure.
So grab a few extra blankets, a warm thermos, and a few good friends, and just try not to marvel at the hundreds of flaming space rocks whizzing into our atmosphere at twenty-two miles per second and flickering in the inky black depths of the night sky.