Farmington — Chaco Culture National Historical Park, best known for its monumental ancient buildings and high desert solitude, has added another facet to its allure -- the refuge of dark night skies.
The park's natural nighttime darkness, commitment to reducing light pollution, and ongoing public outreach recently led to its certification as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association, according to a news release.
The park is the twelfth to receive the designation worldwide and only the fourth unit of the U.S. National Park System.
"This certification points to the leadership of the National Park Service in protecting natural darkness as a precious resource," said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis in the release.
The park started its bid to become an IDA International Dark Sky Park in response to the National Park Service initiative, "Starry, Starry Night." The agency has pledged to lead the way in protecting natural darkness as a precious resource and create a model for dark sky protection by establishing America's first Dark Sky Cooperative on the Colorado Plateau.
The proposed cooperative is also a part of "A Call to Action," a strategic vision for the park service as it enters its second century in 2016.
"As over-lit skies become more common, the public is increasingly seeking star-filled skies at places like Chaco Culture National Historical Park," said Acting Park Superintendent Larry Turk. "Visitors are often pleasantly surprised to experience the beauty of the night at Chaco, perhaps having never before witnessed an unfettered view of a starry sky."
Due to Chaco's remote northwestern New Mexico location, the park's night sky is nearly pristine, and since 2002, technicians from the park service's Night Skies Program have monitored natural and human-introduced light levels at the park. A recent monitoring report confirmed that the night sky at Chaco remains among the darkest in the National Park System, making it one of the best places in America to stargaze. The dark skies also provide an excellent backdrop for the park's night sky interpretive programs.
"Here you can look up and see essentially the same skies the people of Chaco did a thousand years ago" said Park Ranger G.B. Cornucopia. "For the Chacoans, the night sky was an ever-present reminder of their place in the world."
Established as Chaco Canyon National Monument in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the park was re-designated Chaco Culture National Historical Park by Congress in 1980. In further recognition of the architectural and engineering achievements made by its ancient inhabitants, Chaco was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
The Albuquerque Astronomical Society, a key partner in the park's public astronomy program for more than two decades, formally nominated Chaco for the dark-sky designation. Astronomical society members will help the park celebrate its new status by co-hosting the Chaco Canyon Star Party on Oct. 5. The International Dark-Sky Association will formally present the International Dark Sky Park designation to the park during this public event.