Dark skies bring attention to Colorado Plateau

This photo of a fireball was taken during the Perseid meteor shower in August by Mike Lewinski, a photographer in Embudo, N.M., where dark skies allow perfect star-gazing.

The Colorado Plateau is rich in many things, from scenery to cultural history, and now a nonprofit cooperative wants to bring attention to something many residents take for granted: the dark skies.

The Colorado Plateau Dark Skies Cooperative is focused on the 130,000-square-mile topographic heart of the high desert, forest and canyon country where the Four Corners states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet.

According to the cooperative, the region’s combination of high elevation, excellent air quality, low population density and frequent cloud-free weather afford world-class viewing and enjoyment of naturally dark, star-filled skies.

“The public knows that the dark skies of the Colorado Plateau are both a celestial treasure and a celestial refuge,” said Chad Moore, Night Skies Team leader for the National Park Service, one of the partners working to organize the cooperative. “We are happy to partner in this effort so that residents and visitors alike will see this ‘dark harbor’ as something worth protecting now and for the future.”

The effort includes state and federal land-management agencies as well as Colorado Plateau communities, such as Flagstaff, Ariz., and Springdale, Utah, which have adopted dark-sky ordinances that foster the use of lighting that does not harm the night-viewing environment.

As part of its support of this initiative, the National Park Service hired a full-time Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative Coordinator, Nate Ament, with an office in Moab. Ament has a diverse background of environmental education, resource management and restoration coordination across the western U.S.

He will work with national parks and other land-management agencies, interested communities, groups, businesses and individuals to promote engagement with the dark-skies message.

The Colorado Plateau’s dark-sky resource has drawn attention for millennia, from prehistoric cultures to present-day celebrations.

In 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah was named the world’s first-ever “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Earlier this month Wayne County, Utah, celebrated its fourth annual Heritage Starfest.

Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, which averages 305 cloudless nights a year, has hosted stargazing programs since 1969.

In 2012, the park reported approximately 52,000 night-sky related visits and $2 million in associated benefits to local economies.

Information:  the International Dark-Sky Association website at


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