Light pollution, also called skyglow, results from artificial lighting from streetlights, homes, businesses, and more. Light pollution has many negative impacts that people tend to not notice. It can affect people's sleep, contributing to many health problems. It also impacts plant life cycles, bird migration, and contributes to global declines in insect populations. Almost 80% of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their home and about 99% have some level of skyglow.
Light pollution is measured on the Bortle Scale, with 1 being an excellent dark sky without any skyglow and 9 being so bright that most or not all stars are not visible.
The International Dark Sky Association, an organization dedicated to preserving the night sky, has great information and resources on their website about light pollution and the importance of darkness.
Although it's difficult to completely avoid all light pollution, Western Skies Scenic Byway includes several great stargazing sites. The map below shows light pollution along the Byway. The purple line is the Byway route. The white, red, and orange are the worst light pollution, which are generally in the center of the largest cities. Omaha-Council Bluffs and Des Moines-West Des Moines metros to the east and west ends of Western Skies are generally about 5-9 on the Bortle Scale. Many rural communities and highway corridors are green, and roughly 4 on the Bortle scale. Only the areas farthest from any towns are a 3 or possibly in some cases 2, indicating the best skies for stargazing. Still, the areas ranking 2-3 are much better for stargazing than the metro areas and even the center of small towns.
As you can see on the map, the darkest area on Western Skies is in western Guthrie and eastern Audubon counties. This area includes Whiterock Conservancy, which features a star field campground and hosts an annual Iowa Star Party (the 2020 Star Party is cancelled due to COVID-19). Littlefield Recreation Area is also located here. Manteno Park and Prairie Rose State Park in Shelby County and Loess Hills State Forest in Harrison County are also some among the darkest areas on the Byway corridor.
Once you find a dark sky, you can use several different apps to help identify constellations and stars.
A few helpful links for stargazing:
Click the map below for an interactive map of light pollution around the world.