Best places to see starry skies

Great Sand Dunes is newest international dark sky park

Report compiled by Staci Matlock
Posted 5/23/19

A favorite getaway in Colorado for Taoseños is the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, a little over 100 miles from town. Now there's yet another reason to visit: the park has been …

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Best places to see starry skies

Great Sand Dunes is newest international dark sky park

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A favorite getaway in Colorado for Taoseños is the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, a little over 100 miles from town. Now there's yet another reason to visit: the park has been designated an International Dark Sky Park.

Parks with the designation from the International Dark Sky Association have exceptional quality dark night skies, perfect for star and planet gazing. Designated parks also commit to preserving the night sky and educating visitors about the need to reduce light pollution.

Great Sand Dunes joins three other national park sites in Colorado and approximately two dozen national parks around the country that have been designated as International Dark Sky Parks. New Mexico has five such designated parks and was one of the first states to have a law protecting night skies.

"It's no surprise that Great Sand Dunes has been building a reputation for good night sky viewing," says Great Sand Dunes Superintendent Pamela Rice, "The dry air, high elevation and lack of light pollution all make the park an ideal dark sky destination. We are thrilled with receiving this recognition as an International Dark Sky Park."

Great Sand Dunes National Monument was established in 1932 to protect the tallest dunes in North America. In the late 1990s, a grassroots movement worked to upgrade and expand the monument into a national park and preserve to protect the greater dunes ecosystem that was under threat at that time. In 2000, the hard work of lobbying paid off when Congress passed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act. The designation protects more than 149,164 acres of dunes, wetlands, grasslands, forests and alpine tundra.

Great Sand Dunes has attracted astronomers for decades, in part because it is shielded from night sky glow from the state's Front Range cities by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

"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.

Great Sand Dunes staff will celebrate the designation as an International Dark Sky Park in late summer; date to be announced.

- Report compiled by Staci Matlock

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