From the tallest dunes in North America at the peak of a cloudless night, visitors to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve find themselves under the unabated brilliance of the moon, shooting stars and the Milky Way.

Now, with the stamp of approval from the International Dark-Sky Association, the Great Sand Dunes can confidently tout that it’s one of the few places left in the world where light pollution does not obscure the night sky.

“It’s no surprise that Great Sand Dunes has been building a reputation for good night sky viewing,” said 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.”

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Also sheltering the park from the “sky glow” cast by the Front Range are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The range starts at Poncha Pass near Salida and runs south into New Mexico. The Great Sand Dunes sits on the western side of the range northeast of Alamosa.

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A full moon shines over the skies above the Great Sand Dunes Saturday, Aug. 30, 2015, near Alamosa, Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
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A full moon shines over the skies above the Great Sand Dunes Saturday, Aug. 30, 2015, near Alamosa, Colo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

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The park is now one of three federal locations in Colorado with the Dark Sky Park designation. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Dinosaur National Monument secured their titles in 2015 and April 2019, respectively.

Including the Great Sand Dunes, there are 51 Dark Sky Parks in the U.S.

Colorado also is home to two of the world’s 22 Dark Sky Communities — Westcliffe/Silver Cliff and Norwood.

The International Dark Sky Association reserves the designation for parks with “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.”

In addition to muting the night sky, light pollution can impact nocturnal animals, migrating birds, predators hunting, prey hiding and other key parts of the food web.

The Great Sand Dunes will celebrate the distinction in the late summer. It offers night sky programs on summer weekends.

For more information on ranger programs, go to www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm.

Twitter: @lizmforster Phone: 636-0193

Twitter: @lizmforster

Phone: 636-0193

Liz Forster is a general assignment reporter with a focus on environment and public safety. She is a Colorado College graduate, avid hiker and skier, and sweet potato enthusiast. Liz joined The Gazette in June 2017.

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