ALAMOSA-Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and the International Dark-Sky Association are pleased to announce the designation of Great Sand Dunes as an International Dark Sky Park. This designation recognizes Great Sand Dunes for the exceptional quality of its dark night skies and for the park’s commitment to preserving and educating about the night sky.
Great Sand Dunes joins three other national park sites in Colorado and approximately two dozen national parks around the country that have been designated as International Dark Sky Parks.
“It’s no surprise that Great Sand Dunes has been building a reputation for good night sky viewing,” says Great Sand Dunes Superintendent Pamela Rice, “The dry air, high elevation, and lack of light pollution all make the park an ideal dark-sky destination. We are thrilled with receiving this recognition as an International Dark Sky Park.”
Great Sand Dunes National Monument was established in 1932 to protect the tallest dunes in North America. In the late 1990s, a grassroots movement worked to upgrade and expand the monument into a national park and preserve to protect the greater dunes ecosystem that was under threat at that time. The effort came to fruition in 2000 when Congress passed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act. Today, more than 149,164 acres of majestic dunes, wetlands, grasslands, forests, and alpine tundra offer an array of opportunities to view the night sky and to explore the park after dark by moonlight.
Due to the intervening Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which shelter the park from much of the sky glow created by Colorado’s Front Range cities, Great Sand Dunes has served as an astronomy destination for decades.
“A starlit night at Great Sand Dunes can bring opportunities for wonder, perspective, and a more intimate connection with the natural world than we have in the daytime,” says Park Ranger Patrick Myers. “Besides seeing countless stars, our other senses open up and we become aware of the unique sounds of owls and toads, the scent of pi〉on pines, and the soft feel of polished grains of sand.”
Great Sand Dunes staff will host a celebration of its new designation as an International Dark Sky Park in late summer; date to be announced soon. The park offers a variety of night sky programs on summer weekends as well as a Junior Ranger Night Explorer program.
“Great Sand Dunes has some of the darkest skies measured in the West,” says Rice. “We invite you to come out and experience this treasure for yourself.”
The International Dark-Sky Association advocates for the protection of the nighttime environment and dark night skies by educating policymakers and the public about night sky conservation and by promoting environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. More information about IDA and its mission may be found at www.darksky.org. For more information about night skies in national parks, visit www.nature.nps.gov/night.