3 New Dark Sky Parks Reveal Wonders of the Night Sky

The Milky Way is seen in the dark sky over Mitten Park in Dinosaur National Monument. (Photo: Dan Duriscoe/National Park Service)

Stargazers can visit three new Dark Sky Parks in the United States and enjoy unpolluted views of night skies thanks to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

Over the past few months, the organization designated Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Dinosaur National Monument and Tonto National Monument as International Dark Sky Parks for their "commitment to preserving and educating about the night sky," according to the National Park Service.

Those locations join 115 certified International Dark Sky places worldwide, and you can find them all on this interactive map.

Let's take a deeper dive into why dark skies matter and what you'll see at the three new Dark Sky Parks.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Star trails light the dark sky above Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. (Photo: Sean Xu/Shutterstock)

Great Sand Dunes has long been a destination for astronomers. Now, it joins three other national parks in Colorado and about 24 national parks around the U.S. that have been designated 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."

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains block much of the sky glow coming from nearby cities, shrouding the park — with its 149,164 acres of dunes, wetlands, grasslands, forests and alpine tundra — in darkness.

"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 piñon pines, and the soft feel of polished grains of sand."

Dinosaur National Monument

A dark, starry sky above Quarry Exhibit Hall in Dinosaur National Monument. (Photo: Jacob Holgerson/National Park Service)

Located in northeast Utah and northwest Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument is home to some of the most well-preserved dinosaur fossils in the world. It also has some of the most well-preserved dark skies in the world.

"We are proud of this accomplishment," says Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent Paul Scolari, "and we’re committed to continuing to work with surrounding communities to uphold the high standard set by the IDA in order to protect the magnificence of the night sky in our region moving forward."

The monument covers nearly 211,000 acres across desert peaks and river canyons. Its remote location, high elevation and low humidity provide an excellent vantage point for viewing starry night skies.

Tonto National Monument

Tonto National Monument in Arizona has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park. (Photo: National Park Service)

On a clear night, you can see constellations, meteor showers, the Milky Way, planets and more from Tonto National Monument near Phoenix, Arizona. The monument covers more than 1,100 acres and includes two well-preserved prehistoric cliff dwellings and many Native American artifacts.

"With over 10,000 years of documented human history in our park, people have enjoyed the unspoiled night landscapes at Tonto for thousands of years," says Duane Hubbard, superintendent of Tonto National Monument. "In addition to clean air and a magnificent soundscape, the night skies at Tonto preserve a setting and feeling rarely found near a large metropolitan city."

The park offers a "Park After Dark" educational program for the public to enjoy the sky and learn about astronomical topics, and they partner with local astronomers to provide telescopes for hands-on experiences.

"The park has the potential to educate and engage millions of Americans about the importance of the night sky, light pollution impacts to human health and wildlife, efforts to reduce our impact, and simply providing opportunities to enjoy a high quality dark night sky," says Robert Hobbins of the IDA Phoenix Chapter.