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Happy National Park Week!

Canyonlands National Park, an International Dark Sky Park in Utah.

Credit: NPS/Emily Ogden via Flickr (CC).

It’s National Park Week and a great time to visit one of our national treasures. For the entire week (April 16-24), all U.S. National Parks are free! And, this year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. That’s 100 years of protecting our national treasures, including our dark night skies. We can’t think of a better time to visit one of these priceless jewels, especially one of our IDA-designated International Dark Sky Parks. With the help and support the NPS Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division, IDA has recognized nine NPS parks so, and more are on the way! Thanks NPS for helping protect our night skies!

1. Natural Bridges National Monument, UT (2007)

The Milky Way over Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

The Milky Way over Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Natural Bridges is not only the first NPS property to become a Dark Sky Park, it paved the way, becoming the very first Dark Sky Park in the program. Natural Bridges, located in the sparsely populated southeastern corner of Utah, is notable for its lack of light pollution. It features three huge, stream-carved natural bridges as well as several Anasazi Indian ruins. The multi-colored bridges can be seen from overlooks along an nine-mile paved loop road through the monument.

2. Big Bend National Park, TX (2012)

Big_Bend_Vincent_Lock copy

Photo by Vincent Lock (Creative Commons 2.0) via Flickr.

Big Bend, located in the Chihuahuan Desert, is known for its low scrub, open vistas and craggy buttes that are blanketed at night by a sky virtually free of artificial light. It’s nestled in the “Big Bend” of the Rio Grande river, which marks the boundary between Mexico and the state of Texas. The park is the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States and also one of the largest, most remote and least-visited national parks in the lower 48 United States. Its great distance from major urban centers renders the skies over Big Bend among the darkest in North America.

3. Death Valley National Park, California (2013)

Photo by Diana Robinson (Creative Commons 2.0) via Flickr.

Photo by Diana Robinson (Creative Commons 2.0) via Flickr.

At 8,540 square miles, Death Valley is our largest International Dark Sky Park. The park’s distant from large cities of the southwest means that much of the night sky above the desert floor is near pristine and, in many places, offers views close to what could be seen before the rise of cities. The park prides itself on the sense of solitude and quiet found there, yet it still attracts nearly a million visitors per year. The 3.4 million acre park is largely free of its own sources of light pollution but the lights of distant Las Vegas and other cities do have an impact on the park’s skies and desert nightlife.

4. Chaco Culture National Historical Park , New Mexico (2013)

Photo by Stan Honda (stanhonda.com).

Photo by Stan Honda (stanhonda.com).

Chaco has much to offer the intrepid adventurer. Located in secluded northwestern New Mexico, it encompasses more than 33,000 acres of breathtaking desert landscape, expansive sandstone mesas, and safeguards mysterious ruins of a sophisticated ancient civilization that flourished more than 1,000 years ago. Chaco is exemplary in its public outreach efforts, holding numerous educational programs and events on dark skies and astronomy, and features a public observatory.

5. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona (2014)

Photo by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (Creative Commons 2.0) via Flickr.

Photo by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (Creative Commons 2.0) via Flickr.

Grand Canyon-Parachant consists of over 1 million acres on the “Arizona Strip,” the portion of Arizona lying north of the Colorado River. The Monument is bounded to the south by the Grand Canyon and on the west by the Arizona-Nevada border. The human presence in Parashant extends back as far as the Paleoindians who arrived in the Arizona Strip near the end of the last Ice Age nearly 13,000 years ago. Remnants of formerly extensive Puebloan (Anasazi) and Southern Paiute cultures are found on the Monument. Parashant’s extreme remoteness discouraged all but the hardiest of settlers, which helped protect its skies from brightening after the advent of electric lighting.

6. Hovenweep National Monument, Utah/Colorado  (2014)

The Milky Way rises over Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep National Monument, USA. Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

The Milky Way rises over Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep National Monument, USA. Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Hovenweep consists of 785 acres of federal lands divided among six non-contiguous park units along the Utah-Colorado border in the ‘Four Corners’ region of the American Southwest. It is particularly remote among the archaeological sites of the Four Corners and is noted for its undeveloped, natural character. The Monument takes its name from a Paiute/Ute word that means “deserted valley” and was adopted by pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson after his 1874 visit. Ruins of six prehistoric villages in the Monument, built between A.D. 1200 and 1300, testify to the ingenuity of their builders who flourished in a harsh, desolate landscape.

7. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah (2015)

Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Capitol Reef  sprawls over 240,000 acres of federal land in southern central Utah. It is named for a visually spectacular region of the Waterpocket Fold, a geological feature that made the area virtually impassable to early Anglo-American settlers. Its domes and cliffs of white Navajo Sandstone, reminding early visitors of the dome of the United States Capitol building, define the Park’s landscapes.

8. Canyonlands National Park, Utah (2015)

Photo by Dan Duriscoe / NPS.

Photo by Dan Duriscoe / NPS.

Canyonlands was designated a national park in 1964 and provides visitors opportunities to view spectacular scenery, explore rugged landscapes, and experience remote wildness and solitude. The stunning scenery and expansive landscapes of Canyonlands don’t end when the sun sets. Visitors from all over the world attend night sky programs at the Island in the Sky and Needles districts of the park where rangers use story-telling and telescopes to introduce the wonders of the universe to park visitors.

9. Black Canyon NP, Colorado (2015)

The Milky Way rises over Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Photo by Greg Owens (owensimagery.com)

The Milky Way rises over Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Photo by Greg Owens (owensimagery.com)

Black Canyon sits on the edge of the great open spaces shared by western Colorado and southeast Utah, making it a refuge for phenomenal dark, protected skies. It is also close to large population areas, giving visitors the distinct opportunity of being able to observe dark skies without having to travel great distances from urban centers. This blend of opportunities has made Black Canyon a dark sky destination for many years.

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