Can you see the Milky Way from where you live? If you live in a city, almost certainly, you cannot. Even if you live within 40 miles from a town or city, there will be significant light pollution and skyglow on the horizon.
Which makes the designation today of Devils River State Natural Area in Texas as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary a chance to re-state the case for dark skies, and explore where stargazers and nature-lovers should go to get the very best view of the stars.
Now surely near the top of the list is Devils River State Natural Area whose designation by as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is not to be underestimated. There are only five other International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world, and now three in the U.S. and the area’s certification recognizes it as one of the darkest and most ecologically fragile sites of all.
“This designation brings further awareness to the Devils River and its surrounding landscapes as irreplaceable resources that should be preserved for future generations to appreciate,” says Joe Joplin, complex superintendent of Devils River State Natural Area. “Increased urban and industrialization of the state makes it more important now more than ever to consider how we can maintain what remains of wild and open Texas.”
Unlike Dark Sky Parks (which recognize the world’s darkest places) and Dark Sky Reserves (which are dedicated to preserving the quality of night skies, but may not in themselves be ultra-dark), Dark Sky Sanctuaries are the rarest and most fragile dark places left on the planet.
“Devils River SNA allows visitors to experience the wonders of the cosmos in an increasingly light polluted world,” says Adam Dalton, Dark Sky Places Program Manager for the IDA. “As Texas’ first International Dark-Sky Sanctuary, the Devils River SNA enjoys some of the clearest and starriest night skies in the continental United States. Owing to the Area’s commitment to mitigating light pollution, the Devils River serves as a model for dark-sky conservation within the Texas State Parks system.”
Located in southwest Texas, Devils River SNA is far from cities and rates 2 on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale of how well astronomical objects can be seen in the night sky. Inner-city skies rate 9.
A Dark Sky Sanctuary is defined as “public or private land that has an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment”.
You don’t need to hunt down a Dark Sky Sanctuary to go stargazing, but here they all are in some of the globe’s wildest and most remote places:
1 – Great Barrier Island/Aotea Dark Sky Sanctuary, New Zealand
Off the northern coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, the Great Barrier Island/Aotea Dark Sky Sanctuary of off-grid, and has become a center for astro-tourism. Visitors can enjoy a ‘Deep Sky Experience’. In Māori culture, the year begins with the rise of the Pleiades star cluster, which is known as Matariki.
2 – Cosmic Campground, Dark Sky Sanctuary, New Mexico, U.S.
In the remote Gila National Forest of western New Mexico, this basic campground has legendary status among stargazers. The nearest significant source of artificial light is over 40 miles away in Arizona. The campground is located eight miles north of Alma, NM off US Highway 180. It’s on the New Mexico True Dark Skies Trail.
The newest Dark Sky Sanctuary lies across three ecological regions making it a biologically diverse habitat for plants, fish and native wildlife, including a rare salamander and several protected fish species. It’s surrounded by private ranches. As a bonus, the area is on the northern edge of a Path of Totality on April 8, 2024 when a Total Solar Eclipse moves across the U.S.
4 – Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary, Chile
Perhaps the most precious of all, this region of northern Chile’s Elqui Valley protects the night skies for the giant telescopes astronomical research of the AURA Observatory, including the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO). The area will see a Total Solar Eclipse on July 2, 2019.
5 – Rainbow Bridge National Monument Dark Sky Sanctuary, Utah, U.S.
Sacred to many of the Native American Tribes in the area, Rainbow Bridge National Monument is close to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It can only be accessed by boat via Lake Powell or by backpacking in from Navajo Mountain.
6 – Stewart Island/Rakiura Dark Sky Sanctuary, New Zealand
New Zealand has some of the darkest night skies on the planet, as recognized by its second Dark Sky Sanctuary at Rakiura National Park at its southern tip.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes
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