In recognition of the partnership of federal, state, and local agencies, as well as Utah’s recreation, tourism, and education sectors, which make night sky opportunities in our state available for all to enjoy, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox has declared April 2021 as Utah Dark Sky Month.
Stargazing, astronomy programs, star parties, dark sky photography and many other activities allow Utah residents and visitors to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits of the night sky. Dark skies are integral to the well-being of many animal and plant species, and they have positive health impacts on humans. The astrotourism industry is anticipated to generate nearly $6 billion and support more than 113,000 new jobs in the American Southwest over the next decade. The implementation of dark sky practices in land use, construction, utilities, and other aspects of community life actively promotes local governance, reduces energy-costs, and preserves Utah’s Western lifestyle.
Celebrate this special month by visiting several of Utah’s accredited International Dark Sky places. The city of Moab is centrally located to three of Utah’s most spectacular dark sky places – Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park.
The public lands surrounding Moab have some of the darkest skies remaining in the contiguous 48 United States. As few as one in ten Americans live in an area where they can see the estimated 2,500 stars that should be visible under normal conditions. Every visit to Moab should include some time under the stars.
Arches National Park
With its main entrance just a few minutes from downtown Moab, Arches National Park is one of the most accessible places near town to soak up the night sky in total darkness. Designated as an International Dark Sky Park in summer of 2019, Arches took careful measures to become dark-sky friendly, with shielded light fixtures that minimize glare, as well as bulbs that limit the amount of blue light generated—a major source of light pollution. On a clear night, you can get great views of the stars from just about anywhere in the park, though keep in mind that the further north (and away from town) you venture, the darker the skies will be.
On a clear night, you can see great stars just about anywhere in the park. Areas off the main park road with few obstructions of the sky are best. The farther north you drive, away from the lights of Moab, the darker the sky will be.
Try stargazing at these areas:
- Balanced Rock Picnic Area
- The Windows Section
- Garden of Eden Viewpoint
- Panorama Point
Canyonlands National Park
Slightly more off the beaten path from Moab proper—which means further away from the ambient light that obscures the night sky—Canyonlands National Park was named a Gold-Tier Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2015. Nighttime views here are so incredible that people visit from all over the world to explore on their own or participate in park-ranger-led stargazing activities. Similar to Arches National Park’s dark-sky conservation efforts, Canyonlands National Park also utilizes special night-sky friendly lighting fixtures and bulbs to preserve its unique magic of total darkness after sundown.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Another International Dark Sky Park (with the status awarded in 2016), Dead Horse Point State Park is approximately a 45-minute drive from downtown Moab, and one of the best places in the state for stargazing. Its location atop a high plateau gives great lines of sight that offer a nearly full view of the celestial sphere, and it’s far enough away from surrounding development to stay incredibly dark at night. In addition to plenty of places to enjoy the night sky on your own, the park also offers ranger-guided night activities from full-moon walks to telescope-gazing sessions.
For a unique experience consider spending the night of one of Dead Horse Point’s nine yurts. The yurts provide the most luxurious accommodations that can be found atop the mesa. A perfect location for enjoying the dark skies, the yurts enjoy sweeping views of both the canyons to the south and the La Sal mountains to the east during the day. Each yurt contains sleeping space for up to six people, in the form of bunked double beds and a pullout futon couch. An outdoor propane grill allows for cooking on site, with the park providing propane free of charge. Heat, air conditioning, and electrical outlets are available, and comfortable seating areas both indoors and outdoors provide for a relaxing environment in any weather condition. Modern restroom facilities are located within easy walking distance.
When to Go & What to Bring
Once you’ve decided on a destination, there are a few things to keep in mind that can majorly enhance your experience. If possible, try to time your visit to coincide with a new moon, as the skies will be even darker. If you can’t, that’s OK—you’ll still have a window of dark-sky time before the moon comes over the horizon. If you’re interested in diving a little deeper than simply looking skyward, consider smartphone apps like Star Walk or Night Sky. And if you really want to get serious, you can look into star charts that correspond to individual dates and locations. Consider bringing a pair of binoculars, as they’re more affordable, portable, and user-friendly than a telescope. And while bringing a headlamp or flashlight is a good idea to safely make your way around the park, one with a red-light mode is preferred to preserve night vision, which can take nearly 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness.
- Plan – Even the light from a thin crescent moon can make it more difficult to see fainter stars or even the Milky Way. You’ll see the darkest skies during a new moon or when the moon is below the horizon. Check sunrise and sunset times and moon phases here.
- Give Yourself Time – It can take 20-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Spend enough time outside away from bright lights to allow your eyes to adjust.
- Use a Red Light – White lights from flashlights, cell phones, or vehicle headlights can harm your night vision. A red light won’t impact your night vision as much. Many flashlights and headlamps have a red-light feature, or you can simply cover your white light with red cellophane.
- Bring a Star Chart – A star chart can help you find the constellations and Milky Way.
- Don’t Illuminate the Rocks – Please note that using artificial light sources to light up landscapes, rock formations, or other park features is prohibited. Artificial light sources may be used for personal route-finding or minimum impact camping only.
Our public lands are very fragile and have taken millions of years to develop. We ask that you recreate responsibly while visiting Moab to respect, protect, and preserve our incredible landscape. Recreating responsibly in Moab will ensure that future generations can have the same incredible experience you are enjoying. Click on the symbol below to learn more.