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.

In 2001, Flagstaff, Arizona, became the first International Dark Sky City because of its long-term commitment to reducing outdoor light pollution without compromising safety. The Colorado Plateau’s clear, dry air, cloudless nights, and distance from major cities has made Flagstaff a significant location for astronomy.
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Home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches in Utah, Arches National Park applied for recognition from the International Dark-Sky Association and received the association’s “Silver Tier” designation in 2019 thanks to its commitment to preserving the natural sky and educating the public about the benefits of reducing light pollution.
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