Start planning your summer stargazing trips. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado is the third destination in the United States to be classified as an International Dark Sky Park within the past month.
The International Dark-Sky Association—which was founded in 2001—classifies Dark Sky Parks as “publicly- or privately-owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.”
After earning the new designation on Thursday, May 9, Great Sand Dunes superintendent Pamela Rice pointed out in a press release that the park’s “dry air, high elevation, and lack of light pollution all make the park an ideal dark-sky destination.”
Long a stargazing destination thanks to the Sangre de Cristo mountain range blocking light pollution from cities along Colorado’s Front Range, Great Sand Dunes National Park plans to celebrate its new designation at a ceremony later this summer (details will be announced on the park’s website at a later date).
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Tonto National Monument outside of Phoenix, Arizona, was also named a Dark Sky Park on May 7, a few days before the Great Sand Dunes National Park earned the classification. Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah-Colorado border received the honor on April 22.
There are currently 115 certified International Dark Sky Places around the world—which also include Dark Sky Communities, Reserves, and Sanctuaries—that are designated based on the type of land and the outreach programs each destination provides to the public.
To find a Dark Sky Place near you, visit the association’s interactive map. Remember: Even though these places have little to no man-made light pollution, you’ll need to avoid natural light pollution from a full moon. Before planning a stargazing trip to any of these locations, be sure to check a moon calendar to get the best—and darkest—views of the night sky.