International Dark Sky Parks; A Different Way To Experience America's Natural Wonders
Federally and state-protected public lands offer countless hours of recreation, learning, exploration, exercise, meaningful moments, and a whole lot of fresh air. Public lands remind all who visit them that we share the world, that we are custodians of it.
Even with the deep love most people have for public lands, there is a unique side that many people miss out on. Like the dark side of the moon, the night-side of these parks rarely garner attention.
But if only folks knew what they were missing...
Dozens of parks across the U.S. have earned additional protections under a relatively new designation, as International Dark Sky Parks.
What is an International Dark Sky Park?
Founded in 1988 with the mission statement of preserving and protecting the natural nighttime environment of Planet Earth, The International Dark Sky Association defines an International Dark Sky Park as such:
"A land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment."
International Dark Sky Parks, or IDSPs, offer a stunning view of the night sky, a view that most Americans who live in urban or suburban regions never get to see. Such parks are educational and informative too. They raise awareness of the harmful effects of light pollution, and they show viewers what the night sky is supposed to look like, exactly as Nature intended.
When taking a trip to a National Park, Monument, Historical Site, or State Park, you may be tempted to stay the night and see the natural world in an entirely different (but just as incredible) setting. We'd certainly recommend it!
Favorite International Dark Sky Parks Across the U.S.
Following are twelve National Parks, State Parks, and National Historical Parks that make the list for International Dark Sky Parks:
Big Bend National Park. Located in southwest Texas, Big Bend National Park was created to preserve and protect the Chisos mountain range and a large section of the Chihuahuan Desert. Because it is so remote, the night sky in this park is stunning.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A western Colorado favorite, this park was designated to protect the incredible rock formations carved into life by the Gunnison River. The canyon features remarkably steep rock walls and a beautiful night sky.
Bryce Canyon National Park. Known for its hoodoo spires and seemingly handcrafted rock formations, Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park is also an incredible place to visit at night. The arid climate (lack of moisture in the air) makes for a clear night sky.
Canyonlands National Park. Off the beaten path and not heavily visited, Utah's Canyonlands National Park is the perfect place to relax in solitude. Given its remote location and lack of light pollution, it's also the perfect spot to enjoy the night sky.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Initially designated to preserve Indigenous Puebloan and Chacoan ruins and ancient structures, this National Historical Park in New Mexico is also known for a clear, unobstructed night sky.
Death Valley National Park. One of the loneliest, least-traveled places in the world, Death Valley combines a remote location in California with an exceptionally dry climate. Perfect for stargazing.
Goblin Valley State Park. This Utah State Park is worth a visit. This park's eerie, goblin-like rock formations look especially spooky and lifelike when viewed under a stunning night sky.
Grand Canyon National Park. Everyone's heard of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but most visit during the day to see the vast beauty of America's largest canyon. But the night sky in this park is also unique and awe-inspiring. We recommend visitors spend a day and a night in the park to get the full experience.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Visiting this park feels almost like taking a trip to the African continent and hiking through the Sahara Desert. But no, it's right here in the States, in Colorado. A night trip to the park combines the eery, almost lifelike glow of the dunes with a beautiful night sky.
Joshua Tree National Park. Known for the unique Yucca trees that the park is partially named after, Joshua Tree National Park affords Californians and out-of-state visitors alike a chance to view a truly incredible night sky.
Mesa Verde National Park. Colorado takes a prize for having several IDSPs, Mesa Verde National Park being another of them. This park offers visitors a chance to look back in time at how Indigenous Americans lived thousands of years ago. And, of course, the night sky is mesmerizing.
Zion National Park. Thanks to a somewhat remote location, very little light pollution, and very low humidity and air moisture, Utah's Zion National Park offers incredible experiences, both during the day and at night.
Inspired by America's Night Sky
As artists and custodians of the natural world, our poster illustrators and creatives became quite excited some years ago when we first heard about International Dark Sky Parks. Since then, we've visited several of these parks at night and created vintage poster art and retro illustrations of the parks after sunset, showing the parks in a visual depiction truly unique and different from how most have traditionally seen the parks.
You can find these illustrations and posters in the 63 Illustrated American National Parks Collection and the American National Monuments and Natural Wonders Collection.
We hope you'll make 2022 the year you travel to one of America's International Dark Sky Parks. We hope you see a night sky unlike any you've ever seen before!
- Ren Brabenec
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer