DENVER (KDVR) — A starry sky at night may in fact be a sailor’s delight, but what could it mean for the Coloradan who battles the nighttime heat exhaustion that arrives this time of year? That’s a question that those at the International Dark-Sky Association have a short-term solution for.
The Denver Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency study from 2021 revealed that 30% of Denver homes lacked an air conditioning unit. Couple that tidbit with the Mile High City’s estimated population of about 760,000, and simple arithmetic will lead one to conclude that hundreds of thousands of Denver residents have likely experienced sweat-adjacent slumber.
According to data from Weather Spark, Denver’s average high during July of 2021 hovered between 88 and 89 degrees. In these summer months, those residents without AC now find themselves in the middle of an all-out temperature-fueled standoff.
One cooldown method they may not have taken into consideration involves leaving their overheated residences and heading out to one of the internationally recognized star-gazing spots that offer starry sights and some much-needed temperature-droppage during the molten summer months.
Colorado’s recognized Dark Sky Parks
“The night sky, filled with stars, is celebrated and protected around the world as a shared heritage benefitting all living things,” the vision section states on the International Dark-Sky Association’s homepage. They’ve been protecting the night from light pollution since the association was formed back in 1988.
They do this by identifying lands that possess an exceptional amount of starry nights as well as a nocturnal ecosystem that requires special protection for the purposes of science, nature, education, heritage, or, simply, general enjoyment.
Several of the places they’ve deemed International Dark Sky Parks, a designation they started handing out in 2001, are here in Colorado.
Here are just a few of those under the IDA’s protective watch.
Curecanti National Recreation Area
Located in the Gunnison Valley in southwestern Colorado, Curecanti, with its Blue Mesa, Crystal and Morrow Point Reservoirs, offers up more than just aquatic options to cool down your internal temperatures.
Thanks to the elevated topography that surrounds the area, night sky gazers can enjoy the start show with its mesa and mountain peak frame. This area is described by IDA as the centerpiece of the Gunnison Valley Dark Sky necklace.
Hovenweep National Monument
According to the National Park Service, this monument area, the name of which translates to “deserted valley” in the native Western and Southern Numic languages, sits on the western border of Colorado. It includes ancient Native American villages that are believed to line up with the celestial calendar.
You may not be able to see these protected areas at night from your campsite, but the night sky is ranked by the IDA as being a “Gold Tier” night sky, meaning it is not heavily populated and has some of the least amounts of light pollution.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The canyon, which received its name from the almost permanent shadow it is draped in because of its tall canyon walls, was designated in 2015 as a Dark Sky Park.
Outside of the awe-drawing Black Canyon wall, this park is rather remote and features star-gazing events put on by the amateur astronomy society that has called the park home since 1998.
Jackson Lake State Park
A newcomer to this list became an International Dark Sky Park in 2020, which was hastily placed in the park’s trophy cabinet next to the “Top 15 Park Beaches” plaque it received from Reserve America.
Carrying the nickname “Oasis in the Plains,” given to it by prolific novelist James Michener, this Morgan County locale is in the middle of its busy months. But if you can get out there to do some camping and some upward looking, the sites will be there to take in.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
This open area boasts of having the tallest sand dunes in all of North America, and according to the NPS, it is one of the quietest locations when it comes to light noise.
Because of its elevated silence ranking in that regard, it too was awarded the Gold Tier in the International Dark Sky Park ranking system back in 2019.
Top of the Pines
This starry night spot sits nestled at the base of the Mount Sneffels Range and Wilderness in the northern San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado. You should take advantage of the park that’s served as an educator for the Ouray, Ridgway and Telluride communities for generations.
TOP, as it’s known by those who frequent the base camp, was designated to the International Dark Sky Park list in 2021.
This 58-acre center was designated in 2020 after the application was submitted by Hinsdale County to get IDA protection. It was rather undeveloped initially, but efforts by park management promise to keep in line with IDA light pollution standards.
So even if you can’t make it out to this location that seems made for upward-staring, then know that it will likely look the same way when you make it there next year, or the year after next.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Sitting 55 kilometers west of downtown Colorado Springs is a recently crowned Dark Sky Park that can thank the surrounding Front Range and Rocky Mountain framing for its extended isolated feeling.
“It is within a reasonable driving distance of a large urban area, yet far enough away and tucked behind some mountains that block urban light pollution,” Monument Superintendent Therese Johnson said.
Dinosaur National Monument
Delicately plopped down between the Green and Yampa rivers on the southeastern side of the Uinta Mountains sits this area with its 800 paleontological sites and glimpses back into a prehistoric past.
With its habit of low humidity, this area is another star-watching area primed for bringing your internal temperature down to something less-drenched in sweat. Light pollution is expected to be at a minimum because of its general remoteness.
Mesa Verde National Park
This 53,253-acre area in southwestern Colorado was home to the Ancestral Pueblo, and now archeologists and park management help maintain the 5,000 archeological sites across the park.
This park seems to have a lot more preserved artifacts to maintain, so it may not be as much of a party atmosphere as the rest of these sky-watching locations.
Regardless, being there and learning of the people who at one point stood where you’ll be standing, while looking up at the same star-filled sky that they looked up at all those centuries ago, the pain of the summer heat might just melt right off.