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Sunday, July 3, 2022

9 Unimaginable Darkish Sky Nationwide Parks In The Southwest

I’ve by no means seen the evening sky as clear, as stunning as throughout my first tenting journey by way of the Southwest. The primary evening we camped in Petrified Forest Nationwide Park in Arizona, I seen the Milky Approach stretching throughout the sky, stuffed with hundreds of thousands of stars.

The American Southwest, together with the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and components of Utah, Colorado, and California, is usually desert. It consists of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Mojave deserts and the Colorado Plateau. The dry, crisp air right here makes the skies clearer because the water particles that outline humidity amplify gentle air pollution. Including lengthy stretches of areas with no city growth to the low humidity makes the Southwest among the finest locations for stargazing.

Even right here although, as city growth spreads, actually darkish skies have gotten much less frequent. However you may at all times discover them in Nationwide Parks. Defending nature and historic websites ensures no developments throughout the parks, which makes them excellent for darkish skies. As we speak, there are over 20 Worldwide Darkish-Sky Licensed Parks within the nation, and over half of them within the Southwest. Under, I compiled a listing of my favourite Darkish Sky Nationwide Parks within the Southwest.

1. Chaco Tradition Nationwide Historic Park

New Mexico

A Darkish Sky Licensed park since 2013, Chaco Tradition Nationwide Historic Park in New Mexico made the safety of darkish skies a precedence for years, not just for its guests but additionally for the pure setting.

Dwelling of a plethora of ruins, constructed between 850 and 1250 A.D. by the Ancestral Puebloan civilization, Chaco protects some wonderful archaeological websites. Historic Chacoans have been professional astronomers, and their constructions replicate this, as they’re usually aligned with cyclical patterns of the celestial objects.

The park continues this dedication to astronomy, being the one nationwide park with its personal observatory, the place guests can look as much as the identical star-filled sky as historic Chacoans did 1000’s of years in the past. Chaco additionally presents particular evening sky applications, emphasizing the similarities and variations between the best way individuals considered the evening sky in historic instances and at the moment.

To make attending evening applications simple, and guarantee you may see the unimaginable evening sky, camp within the park on the campground close to Gallo Wash, the place you’ll be surrounded by cliffs and boulders, petroglyphs, and a cliff dwelling.

To take pleasure in Canyonlands’ darkish skies, camp in one in every of its two campgrounds, both within the Island within the Sky or within the Needles district.
(Photograph Credit score: Kris Wiktor / Shutterstock.com)

2. Canyonlands Nationwide Park


Canyonlands Nationwide Park in Utah, that includes a beautiful panorama stuffed with pink rock formations, canyons, and buttes, nonetheless stays one of many least visited of Utah’s parks close to Moab.

Carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries, the rivers divide the park into 4 districts. Island within the Sky presents the simplest entry by way of a winding highway studded with viewpoints of beautiful rock formations and canyons. The Needles, named after the spiral rock formations that dominate the realm, presents nice mountain climbing trails. The Maze, the least accessible space of the park, is crisscrossed by backcountry trails. The fourth district is outlined by the Colorado and Inexperienced Rivers.

Discover the park in the course of the day mountain climbing by way of the unimaginable panorama, then camp right here for a chance for stargazing in opposition to its backdrop. A Licensed Darkish Sky Park since 2015, Canyonlands options a few of the darkest skies you will discover. To take pleasure in them, camp in one of many two campgrounds, both within the Island within the Sky or within the Needles district.

3. Capitol Reef Nationwide Park


Capitol Reef Nationwide Park in Utah options a few of the darkest skies on the planet. One of many least-visited parks within the state, Capitol Reef presents a panorama stuffed with cliffs, canyons, domes, and ridges with miles of mountain climbing trails to discover.

The park presents an amazing alternative to find out about geology as a part of the Waterpocket Fold, a virtually 100-mile warp within the earth’s crust, a change of elevation between two layers. In fact, you don’t have to know this to benefit from the unimaginable panorama.

Spend the day exploring the park, and keep the evening in one of many campgrounds for a stargazing expertise in a few of the darkest skies. The park presents a big, developed campground, with 71 websites, plus a number of primitive ones, so you might have loads of alternatives to benefit from the in a single day expertise.

Nighttime views at Bryce Canyon.
“Staying on the Lodge or tenting throughout the park’s boundaries presents alternatives to stroll exterior to the rim of the canyon, the place you may search for into a transparent, star-filled sky.”
(Photograph Credit score: Michael Sherman / Shutterstock.com)

4. Bryce Canyon Nationwide Park


One other good spot for darkish skies, Bryce Canyon Nationwide Park in Utah is a spot of marvel. Dwelling of the most important focus of hoodoos anyplace on this planet, the park is a well-liked vacation spot for outside fans. Mountaineering alternatives abound right here, starting from simple strolls on the rim to lengthy and strenuous hikes down into the canyon and again, surrounded by hoodoos of all sizes and shapes.

As gratifying as Bryce Canyon is in the course of the day, staying right here in a single day provides a complete different dimension to the expertise. Staying on the Lodge or tenting throughout the park’s boundaries presents alternatives to stroll exterior to the rim of the canyon, the place you may search for into a transparent, star-filled sky.

Through the yearly astronomy festivals in late June, the park hosts stargazing, each night applications and night-time telescope viewing, on the rim between Dawn and Sundown Level. Examine the park’s web site for specifics, or cease on the Customer Heart when you’re on the park for extra info.

5. Hovenweep Nationwide Monument

Colorado, Utah

Hovenweep Nationwide Monument within the 4 Corners area, on the Colorado-Utah border, preserves ruins constructed by the Ancestral Puebloans between 1166 and 1277 A.D. True to its identify, that means “abandoned valley”, Hovenweep is in a desolate space of the Southwest. With constructions in each Utah and Colorado, the park is way from any city in both state. We take pleasure in visiting the park, not just for its ruins however for its remoteness.

The best approach to discover Hovenweep is by strolling the Sq. Tower Group Path, beginning on the Customer Heart. You’ll stroll on each rims of Little Ruins Canyon, crossing it at one level. The traditional constructions, together with sq. and rounded towers, are each on the edges and contained in the canyon.

Designated an Worldwide Darkish Sky Park in 2015, the Hovenweep presents wonderful stargazing alternatives. To benefit from the evening sky, keep in a single day on the campground on the rim close to the Customer Heart.

Stars visible at Wupatki National Monument.
Wupatki Nationwide Monument, an Worldwide Darkish Sky Park, “preserves historic ruins of people that lived right here a thousand years earlier than us.”
(Photograph Credit score: Beth Ruggiero-York / Shutterstock.com)

6. Sundown Crater, Wupatki, And Walnut Canyon


The Flagstaff Space Nationwide Monuments in Arizona are all darkish sky locations, price exploring not solely in the course of the day however strolling exterior to look at the darkish skies at evening, too. 

The Bonito Campground close to Sundown Crater Volcano Nationwide Monument presents in a single day stays and the proper alternative to benefit from the darkish evening sky. Although the realm was scorched by fireplace in April 2022, the campground is about to reopen in mid-Could. The campsites might provide much less shade in the course of the day, however the skies are nonetheless simply as darkish at evening. 

Through the day, take pleasure in views of Sundown Crater, which showcases colours harking back to a beautiful Arizona sundown. Drive the scenic loop to discover the realm and cease at Wupatki Nationwide Monument, which preserves historic ruins of people that lived right here a thousand years earlier than us.

Editor’s Observe: As of April 19, 2022, Sundown Crater Volcano Nationwide Monument is closed because of the Tunnel Hearth. Please go to NPS.gov for additional info.

Or drive over to Walnut Canyon Nationwide Monument on the opposite facet of Flagstaff, Get pleasure from a hike into the canyon by way of historic cliff dwellings or a leisurely stroll on the rim with views of the canyon whereas exploring the park.

Tenting in a single day at Sundown Crater presents the very best alternative to benefit from the darkish evening sky. On the proper time, you would possibly catch astronomy occasions arrange in entrance of the Customer Heart. Astronomy golf equipment from Flagstaff and different components of Arizona host star events right here, pointing a number of telescopes at completely different websites within the sky, providing views and tales about celestial objects. In addition to seeing the beautiful evening sky, clear from gentle air pollution, a star social gathering like that is an distinctive studying expertise.

Stars shining above the Grand Canyon.
“The canyon presents loads of alternatives for stargazing. In early June, completely different astronomy golf equipment from the state host eight-day-long annual star events on each the South and North Rims.”
(Photograph Credit score: Alexey Suloev / Shutterstock.com)

7. Grand Canyon Nationwide Park


Dwelling of essentially the most well-known landmark within the Southwest, one of many seven pure wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon Nationwide Park in Arizona is visited by hundreds of thousands yearly. The beautiful panorama of the immense canyon is what attracts everybody right here, however the evening sky is simply as spectacular.

The South Rim, essentially the most visited website, presents alternatives for leisurely walks alongside the rim, mountain climbing into the canyon, biking, or taking a tour. Nevertheless, the extra distant North Rim presents a quieter setting, when open, in the course of the summer season season.

Designated a Darkish Sky Park, the canyon presents loads of alternatives for stargazing. In early June, completely different astronomy golf equipment from the state host eight-day-long annual star events on each the South and North Rims. They embrace slide reveals, constellation excursions, and telescope viewing.

To benefit from the evening skies, you may camp or keep in a lodge on the South Rim. The North Rim presents cabins, however it’s good to ebook nicely upfront.

Arches National Park at night.
“Over 2,000 recognized pure arches lay scattered on this panorama, together with the well-known Delicate Arch.”
(Photograph Credit score: Arthur Cauty / Shutterstock.com)

8. Arches Nationwide Park


One in every of Utah’s “Mighty 5,” Arches Nationwide Park is thought for its unimaginable rock formations, particularly for its pure sandstone arches. Over 2,000 recognized pure arches lay scattered on this panorama, together with the well-known Delicate Arch. Different rock formations, balanced rocks, rock fins, and columns provide extra selection, their pink sandstone in stark distinction with the clear blue skies of the excessive desert. You don’t have any scarcity of issues to do whereas spending a day right here.

But having fun with this wonderland of rocks in the course of the day is just one spotlight of a go to. Arches can be an authorized Darkish Sky Park, with a campground in the midst of one of many highest concentrations of rock formations in Devils Backyard. For those who camp right here, stroll out in the midst of the evening for unimaginable stargazing alternatives.

9. Petrified Forest Nationwide Park


I’ll finish with the Nationwide Park that began all of it for me. As I discussed at first, my first encounter with the darkest skies within the Southwest was within the early Nineties at Petrified Forest Nationwide Park in Arizona. Tenting underneath the celebrities in a distant nook of the state, I noticed the Milky Approach clearer than I’ve ever seen it earlier than.

Defending a big space of the gorgeous, if barren Painted Desert, stuffed with petrified logs that was a lush rainforest hundreds of thousands of years in the past, visiting Petrified Forest Nationwide Park presents an expertise in contrast to another. Wooden logs turned to stone lay scattered by way of the park, whereas the colours of the Painted Desert showcase an otherworldly panorama.

You received’t discover designated tenting websites within the park, although a number of wilderness campsites are inside a mile of sure parking tons. Another choice is simply exterior the park’s boundaries, within the parking plenty of the present retailers, the place they permit self-contained tenting.

Get The Most Out Of Your Southwest Stargazing

For the very best experiences, examine every park’s web site, specializing in occasions, to see once they maintain stargazing nights, telescope viewings, or talks concerning the evening sky.

When viewing the celebrities and different celestial objects in a darkish sky place, give your self at the least 20 minutes to regulate to the darkish. Throughout this time, don’t flip your cellphone or any flashlight on. If it’s good to use a flashlight, use a pink filter on it.

Put on heat clothes, even on summer season nights, since within the desert the temperature modifications drastically between day and evening. Search for constellations and different stargazing alternatives, too.

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