Canyonlands National Park: A Dark-Sky Viewing Site

A national park is designated a dark-skies site.
The dark sky as seen in an image taken at the Dollhouse region of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. International Dark-Sky Association

Astronomy is a science that anybody can do, and it works best if you have access to dark skies. Not everyone does, and you CAN observe bright stars and planets from even the most light-polluted places. The darkest-sky sites give you a view of thousands of stars, plus the planets, and even a few naked-eye objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy (in the northern hemisphere sky) and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (in the Southern Hemisphere). 

Light Pollution Erases the Stars

Due to the effects of light pollution, truly dark-sky sites are hard to find. Some cities and towns are making efforts to mitigate the effects of bad lighting, and regaining the night skies for their residents. In addition, many of the parks in the United States (as well as a number around the world) are also designated dark-sky sites by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Introducing Canyonlands National Park: A Dark-Sky Site

The latest park in the U.S. to be named a Dark-Sky Site is Canyonlands National Park in Utah. It has some of the darkest skies in North America, and gives visitors a chance to explore the sky in all its beauty. Canyonlands was created as a park in 1964 and has spectacular scenery and hiking trails along the Green and Colorado rivers. Each year, visitors descend into the midst of these scenic landscapes to experience remote wildness and solitude. The stunning scenery of Canyonlands doesn't end when the Sun goes down. Many people often remark on the spectacular view of the Milky Way stretching across the dark sky in the park. 

Efforts to protect dark skies in Canyonlands began several years ago with a focused effort to revamp and replace park lighting with night-sky friendly bulbs and fixtures. In addition, visitors from all over the world attend programs at the Islands in the Sky and Needles districts where rangers use storytelling and telescopes to introduce the wonders of the universe to people who might not be able to see the stars where they live. 

These are popular parks, not just for skygazing, but for the spectacular daytime vistas they give to hikers and climbers from around the world. They're open year-round, but if you want to miss the hottest weather, check them out in late spring and early autumn. 

Find Dark-Sky Parks Sites Near You

In many of the world's dark-sky parks, astronomy events are the most popular ranger-led programs, and "astro-tourism" opportunities enhance overnight and year-round economic benefits to nearby communities. To find a dark-sky place near you, check out IDA's Dark Sky Place finder .  

Why Care about the Dark?

The sky is the one resource that people around the world share. We all have access to the sky, theoretically. In practical terms, however, the sky is often washed out by the glare of light pollution. That makes it difficult for astronomers to see the sky.

However, there are also health issues connected to too much light at night. People who live in towns with a lot of light pollution never get true darkness, something that our bodies need for regular sleep cycles. Sure, we can put up black-out blinds, but it's not the same. Also, lighting up the sky (which doesn't make a lot of sense when you stop to think about it) wastes money and fossil fuels used to power the electrical lights. 

There are documented studies that show light pollution's bad effects on human health as well as plants and wildlife. The International Dark-Sky Association curates these studies and makes them available on its Web site. 

Light pollution is a problem we can all solve, even if it means something as easy as covering our outdoor lights and removing unneeded lights. Parks such as the Canyonlands area can also show you what's possible as you work toward mitigating the effects of light in your community.