Comet Hale-Bopp as seen from Natural Bridges National Monument.

© 1997 Terry Acomb/John Chumack/PhotoResearchers

Southeast Utah's Natural Bridges National Monument has long been known for its breathtaking daytime — and evening — sights. Some 100,000 people come each year to marvel at its deep canyons and stunning arches. But this remote natural jewel also sports incredibly dark skies, some of the darkest found anywhere in the U.S. Summertime campers are routinely treated to a blazing Milky Way overhead, and with enough dark adaptation, hidden deep-sky objects are visible to the unaided eye.

Given its reputation for pristine skies, you might be surprised to find out that the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has challenged the staff at Natural Bridges to do better.

And they did just that. Employees have replaced some 80% of the park's light fixtures with full-cut-off shields that point all of the bulbs' light downward. Doing so allowed a wholesale changeover to energy-efficient compact-fluorescent light bulbs. Park officials plan to convert the rest of the park's lights in the coming months.

This effort has led the IDA to recognize Natural Bridges National Monument as the world's first International Dark-Sky Park, which the National Park Service proudly announced on April 5th.

The improvements at Natural Bridges are just a sample of many actions being taken by the Service to protect the night skies as a natural resource. As Natural Bridges' superintendent Corky Hays notes, “I hope our national parks can continue to provide a clear view of the heavens that so many of us have lost from our backyards.”


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