We all know that pollution is bad for the environment. When we think of pollution, we think of trash. But did you know that we pollute the earth in other ways? When we don’t use lighting efficiently we produce light pollution. And, that can be harmful in more ways that you think. Light pollution can threaten life.
Light pollution causes migrating birds to crash. Sea turtles can die when they mistake lights for the shimmering ocean. We learned this first hand on a family trip that included a visit to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.
Light pollution also wastes energy and depleted fossil fuels. And, it diminishes the bright stars in our skies. There are many people who have never had the opportunity to see the Milky Way!
International Dark Sky Parks in Colorado
Want to know where to find dark skies Colorado? Where the skies are the darkest and stars are the brightest? The International Dark Sky Association has a program that designates International Dark Sky Places (IDSP). These IDSPs go through a rigorous application process to demonstrate robust community support for dark sky protection. As of May 2019, there are 115 dark sky designated places around the globe. Six of those are in Colorado.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Located in western Colorado, near Montrose, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park partially surrounds a steep gorge carved by the Gunnison River. Here visitors enjoy scenic drives, hiking, wildlife viewing and dark skies with bright stars.
Black Canyon is adjacent to great open spaces shared by western Colorado and southeast Utah. This makes it a refuge for phenomenal dark, protected skies.
In 2015 Black Canyon of the Gunnison was designated as the ninth National Park Service site by the International Dark Sky Association as a Dark Sky Park.
Night sky viewing opportunities are available year round. Rangers and local astronomers give evening talks May through September on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights (weather permitting). In addition, a large astronomy festival takes place each June with guest speakers and special activities.
Dinosaur National Monument
Located in the northwestern corner of Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument crosses into Utah. Yes, its name comes from the animals that once roamed here. In fact, Dinosaur remains are still visible in rock walls. More than 1,500 dinosaur fossils are exposed on the cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Dinosaur National Monument boasts over 800 paleontological sites.
In 2019 Dinosaur National Monument received its International Dark Sky Park Designation recognizing the skies above Dinosaur National Monument as having an exceptional quality of natural darkness. Efforts on the ground actively contribute to enjoyment and protection of dark skies for future generations.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is located in southern Colorado near Alamosa. It is a little surprising to find the tallest sand dunes in North America located in this remote area at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. In early summer the seasonal Medano Creek runs through the base of the dunes. It is a truly diverse landscape.
After a very short visit last fall, we head back for another visit this June. It made our list of off the beaten path places to visit in Colorado.
“A starlit night at Great Sand Dunes can bring opportunities for wonder, perspective, and a more intimate connection with the natural world than we have in the daytime,” says Park Ranger Patrick Myers. “Besides seeing countless stars, our other senses open up and we become aware of the unique sounds of owls and toads, the scent of piñon pines, and the soft feel of polished grains of sand.”
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was designated a Dark Sky Park in 2019. It is one of the quietest National Park Service sites. The Park enjoys pristine night skies owing to its remote location. Due to the shelter of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes has served as an astronomy destination for decades.
Hovenweep National Monument
Located in southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado, near Cortez, Hovensweep National Monument was once home to 2,500 people in six ancient villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. This Four Corners area of the country has a fascinating history. Other nearby historical sites include Mesa Verde and Canyon of the Ancients.
Hovenweep was names for “deserted valley” due to its remote location and harsh climate. The area received its designation a national monument in 1923 to protect the ruins of Native American villages. And, it was the first park in Colorado designated at a Dark Skies Park in 2014.
Hovenweep enjoys dark, natural night skies due to its geographic isolation in an area with a small population. The Park Service has taken steps to ensure that the natural nighttime experience here will endure for years to come.
International Dark Sky Communities in Colorado
Norwood, Colorado has been designated as the newest International Dark Sky Community in 2019. It is the first International Dark-Sky Association “Dark Sky Community” on the Western Slope of Colorado and the second Dark Sky Community in Colorado. Norwood is now part of 22 International Dark Sky Communities around the world. 15 of which are in the US. The others are in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Scotland and the U.K.
Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, Colorado
In 2015 Westcliff and Silver Cliffe earned designation as Dark Sky Communities. Thanks to their location between the parallel Wet Mountain and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges the towns have cover from skyglow in the region.
This summer visitors will have the opportunity experience Colorado’s darkest skies and brightest stars at a Dark Sky Star Party. These free public events are scheduled from May to October based on current astronomical events. View the stars through a powerful, state-of-the-art telescope at the Smokey Jack Observatory.
Or, attend the three-day Sangre Star Festival on June 19-21, 2020. This inaugural star festival celebrates five years of the International Dark Sky certification. It will draw hundreds of spectators eager to discover the wonders of Westcliffe and the brilliance of the dark night sky.
Dark Skies Colorado
Our family is inspired to check out a couple of these Colorado dark sky places. What about you? Do you love the outdoors? Will you be stargazing this summer? If so, tell us where in the comments below!