My most memorable experience in astronomy came for me at the ripe old age of 12, I am older now but the experience has stayed in my memory as fresh as the night it happened. I was on a road-trip vacation with my family that summer; we had driven halfway across the country and stopped for the night in a little rest area I'm sure was halfway between nowhere and nothing. It seemed as if we were completely cut off from the rest of civilization as far as we were away from any population centers, and I remember the sky looking abnormally dark to me as I noticed it out of the corner of my eye.
As I walked out of the car that night and began to explore the immediate area of where we were, I discovered it was so dark because there was only the single street light for miles in this dimly-lit rest area. I had always been fascinated by the telescopes I'd seen in my boy-scout magazines, the little 60 mm refractors, and such I always wanted one but never owned one as a young boy.
As I kept walking I ended up behind the rest area building and immediately noticed it was pitch black and at that moment, I looked up to see something I'd never seen before and to this day haven't experienced since. It was a clear moonless night and as I looked up into the stars I started to get vertigo because of how incredibly deep the star-field looked to my young eyes. I also noticed this gigantic milky-white patch across the entire sky and at the moment didn't know what it was, but I was fascinated and transfixed by it. I had never seen the Milky-Way before, I had heard about it, but only seen pictures in text books and diagrams about its spiral shape. As I sat and stared at this glorious sight I could only mutter the words… "Wow" to myself as I stared with an open mouth into space.
I sat and stared in complete awe for what seemed like days but was only minutes, and I was able to make out the one or two constellations I knew, the big dipper and Orion. From that moment, I never looked up at night and was the same, I knew in my 12 year old heart that the stars were a tremendous gift, and something to be admired and observed, not just passed on as a wish-making opportunity, or a fleeting glimpse but to really look at them and enjoy the heavens in all their splendor.