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Utah national park gets Dark Sky Sanctuary designation

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The honor goes to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah

A rock formation shaped like a bridge in a national park with blue skies behind it.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah during the day.

The Rainbow Bridge National Monument in southern Utah was just designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Granted by none other than the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit that fights light pollution all over the world, the designation is the first of its kind for the National Park Service and only the fourth in the world.

Although national parks already boast some of the nation’s darkest skies, the designation celebrates and protects the 160-acre site’s naturally dark night skies as well as its cultural heritage. American Indian tribes including Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, San Juan Southern Paiute, Kaibab Paiute, and Ute Mountain Ute, consider the site, accessible only by boat on Lake Powell or by backpacking in from Navajo Mountain, sacred.

“We’re thrilled to be the first National Park Service unit to receive this specific designation, as this will only fuel our night sky preservation efforts,” said William Shott, Superintendent of Rainbow Bridge National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Naturally dark skies contribute to the complex ecosystem of wildlife, allowing nocturnal animals to thrive and even affecting the circadian rhythms of humans and plants. A Dark Sky Sanctuary is typically situated in a remote location with virtually zero threats to the quality of its dark night skies. The other three sanctuaries include the Great Barrier Island (Aotea) in New Zealand, the Cosmic Campground in the Gila National Forest of western New Mexico, and Gabriela Mistral in Elqui Valley, Chile.

“In the span of this remarkable natural bridge, we see symbolically represented the arch of the Milky Way across the night sky, a reminder of the long-held value of both Rainbow Bridge and the natural night sky to native peoples of the area,” said International Dark-Sky Association Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend. The park will celebrate the honor with astronomy events throughout the year.