A Nocturnal Nirvana: Dark Sky Park

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More than 100,000 people visit Natural Bridges National Monument each year to check out the stunning bridges and hike in cool canyons. But only a handful of them stay through the night to see the area’s most amazing and unique feature: dark skies and glistening, bright stars.

On March 6, 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument became the first International Dark Sky Park certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. According to a study on night sky quality—including darkness and light pollution—conducted by the National Park Service, Natural Bridges is one of the darkest national parks in the country.

Yes, vivid stars, a vibrant Milky Way, and solitude make for a pretty nice package at this park. But what’s more, Natural Bridges is spearheading efforts to keep its skies dark, including a minimal amount of light posts, all of which feature low-wattage light bulbs in special housing to reduce upward light spill.

Park rangers offer educational stargazing seminars twice a week, and the park plays host to star parties throughout the year. You are also welcome to gaze at your own pace, and wherever you’d like within the park, including the three landmark bridges, Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu.

What Makes it Great

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Stars, stars, and, well, more stars. Did we forget to mention stars?

What You’ll Remember

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The Milky Way as seen through Owachomo Bridge. And if that’s not enough, how about the 15,000 stars you can see throughout the night—no big deal. As a contrast, you can only generally see three percent of said stars in urban environments.

Who is Going to Love It

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Nocturnals—in the summertime, you’ll be up till 1 to 3 a.m. to witness the darkest part of the night, and by extension, the most stars you can see with the plain eye. Anyone who loves science, too, because this is THE SPOT to see our galaxy in all of its shimmering glory. Photographers have a field day with long-exposure astrophotography here, as well.

GPS Coordinates, Parking and Regulations

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GPS Coordinates:
(37.609271, -109.976966)

Summer affords the best star viewing conditions for several reasons. The sky is the clearest and the late nights are mild, so you can stay up late looking at the cosmos in comfort. Check your calendar, because you’ll want to plan your trip during, or close to, a new moon. That said, the park is open year-round. There are 13 no-reservation campsites priced at $10 per night. Entrance to the park is $3 per person, per week (or $7 per carload); entrance is free with a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

Park at the visitor’s center and at designated pullouts. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails and must be kept on leash at all times when outside of a vehicle, such as in the campground, at overlooks and pullouts, and along the paved drives.

Park website: http://www.nps.gov/nabr/index.htm

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