Kayaking and star gazing on Lake Tahoe

Milky Way over Lake Tahoe  |  Ryan Berendsen  |  Tahoe Star Tours

On a clear, summer evening, take a moment to sit by the lake’s edge at the end of the day and admire the changing colors as the sun dips below the surrounding mountains and the starry sky begin to stretch over the basin. If you want to take the moment a step further, Tahoe Adventure Company and Tahoe Star Tours has teamed up to offer and evening adventure combining time on the lake with an educational, star gazing lecture.

The evening begins with a relaxing paddle on the lake.  |  Tahoe Adventure Company

We met after work on the beach at Tahoe Vista Recreation Area for a scenic paddle to unwind after the long day. After being outfitted head to toe with splash jackets, pants and PFDs, and a quick safety talk, we paddled out on the calm waters and headed toward the West Shore. The group, which included people from as far as Los Angeles to as close as Auburn, quickly made friends chatting about his or her recent experiences in Tahoe as the guide pointed out landmarks and points of interest on the lake. The sun began to sink below the horizon causing the clouds to reflect a stunning array of pink and orange as we floated idly and discussed our favorite local bike trails. Just before the sun disappeared completely we began paddling back toward the beach for the next part of the evening.

August is a great time of year to view the Milky Way over Lake Tahoe.  |  Ryan Berendsen  |  Tahoe Star Tours

As we approached the beach, we could see Tony Berendsen and his son, Ryan, setting up the Celestron telescope we would be using to view the night sky along with a flatscreen TV used to illustrate Berendsen’s presentation. As we change into warm, dry clothes and gather around the television, Tony greets the crowd with friendly conversation and a gift, a Star Guide badge to remember the experience. Hot drinks and snacks also are offered before we settle in.

I hesitate to call Berendsen’s presentation a lecture or a talk because in my mind the connotation these words invoke are of classrooms and mind-numbing lessons. However, listening to Berendsen speak is far from mind numbing. His passion for sharing the night sky is immediately obvious as he begins to introduce us to the universe starting with our closest neighboring star, the sun, and expanding out to the edges of the known universe using metaphors that allow a simple and basic understanding of the vast expanse of space beyond our world. Berendsen not only educates the crowd, but also provides context and sets the stage for the next hour of peering through a telescope at the skies above.

Tony Berendsen has been leading Tahoe Star Tours for 12 years.  |  Courtesy Northstar California

“It’s not about the money, I have a day job. It’s about the people,” said Berendsen after the evening concluded. “I dream of a time where everyone can walk beneath a sky they understand.”

Along with being an amateur astronomer and educator, Berendsen also is a poet. Each of his presentations include an original poem. During our evening, he shared a sonnet that he penned. Berendsen also started the Astro Poetry Contest for kids in grades kindergarten through 12 grades to give students the opportunity to express his or her enthusiasm for astronomy and win prizes.

Using the Celestron Telescope, stargazers are able to view much more than is visible to the naked eye.  |  Courtesy Northstar California

Later, we head down to the beach and meet with Ryan who has been calibrating the telescopes. This evening, Saturn can be seen just next to the nearly full moon. Although the clouds have moved in, limiting our viewing options, we are able to make out the clear rings around the distant planet and the textured surface of the glowing moon. While we take turns peering through the two telescopes, Ryan shares some of his astrophotography. His photos are colorful displays of our neighboring galaxies, and impressive expanses of the Milky Way. Ryan is a self-taught photographer who developed the passion for astrophotography while working with Tony at Tahoe Star Tours.

Tony began his work as a Star Guide 12 years ago. Wanting to make the night sky more accessible to all, he approached Northstar Resort with a proposal to create a program where guests could enjoy a guided tour of the night sky. Today, the Berendsens host regular star tours at Northstar and beyond including the summer evenings with Tahoe Adventure Company. Each tour is catered to highlight the most prominent features in the night sky; no season is like the one before. On Sept. 1, Tahoe Adventure Company and Tahoe Star Tours will present Ptolemy in the Night at Tahoe Vista Recreation Area.

On Aug. 30, Berendsen is excited to present a special tribute to famed astronomer Carl Sagan featuring modern astrophysicist Alexei Filippenko, professor in Berkeley Astronomy Department at University of California, Berkeley. He also will be offering Star Tours at Northstar through the end of September.

For more information, visit tahoestartours.com. To find out more about astronomy kayak sessions, visit tahoeadventurecompany.com.