Take Back the Night: Dark Sky Places in the Intermountain West

Although often romanticized as a land of rugged wilderness, the Intermountain West today has its fair share of city lights and bright urban landscapes. Such artificial light around the world has “revolutionized the way we live and work outdoors, but,” as the International Dark-Sky Association explains, “it has come at a price, When used indiscriminately, outdoor lighting can disrupt wildlife, impact human health, waste money and energy, contribute to climate change, and block our view of the universe.”

Since 1988, the International Dark-Sky Association has advocated for the conservation of clear night skies, much as one might preserve other natural resources and landscapes. In addition to encouraging private civilians and public institutions to take measures for reducing nighttime light pollution, including personal frugality and community ordinances, the association also recognizes “Dark Sky Places” which by concerted efforts successfully preserve their night skies. Cities, parks, and even nations have received “Dark Sky” designations, often the result of years of effort. This tour dives into the history behind five official Dark Sky Places in the Intermountain West, telling both how they qualified, why they sought to preserve their night skies, and what they are like today.

Dark Sky over Flagstaff

Flagstaff’s history of dark sky conservation began even before the International Dark Sky City designation in 2001 when it issued the world’s first outdoor lighting ordinance in 1958. Lowell Observatory, founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell to study…

Dark Sky over Arches National Park

First designated a national monument in 1929, Congress declared Arches a national park on November 12, 1971. Arches National Park is one of the “Mighty 5” national parks of Utah, and in 2019, the International Dark-Sky Associated recognized the…

Dark Sky over Thunder Mountain Pootseev Nightsky

In 2015, the International Dark Sky Association accepted the Kaibab Paiutes’s application to acknowledge their reservation on the borderlands of Utah and Arizona as a Dark Sky Community. International Dark Sky Community’s official name, Thunder…

Dark Sky over Hovenweep National Monument

A little over half-a-century after a Latter-day Saint missionary discovered 800-year-old Ancestral Puebloan ruins on the Colorado–Utah border in 1856, Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution led a survey of the sites in 1917–1918. Fewkes…

Dark Sky over Bryce Canyon National Park

In addition to hosting the longest active program for astronomy in the National Park Service, Byce Canyon National Park also holds the honor of being a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park, so designed by the International Dark-Sky Association in…