STARGAZ­ING

West of 105 Magazine - - Outdoors -

ON A CLEAR, MOON­LESS NIGHT THE NUM­BER OF STARS YOU CAN SEE IN­CREASES EX­PO­NEN­TIALLY THE FUR­THER YOU ARE FROM A CITY.

WITH IN­TER­NA­TION­ALLY-REC­OG­NIZED DES­IG­NA­TIONS, WEST OF 105 OF­FERS SOME OF THE BEST OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES TO SEE AND PHO­TO­GRAPH THE IN­CRED­I­BLE NIGHT SKY IN ALL OF

ITS COS­MIC GLORY.

BLACK CANYON OF THE GUN­NI­SON NA­TIONAL PARK

Re­cently ex­panded thanks to the pur­chase of al­most 2,500 acres, the Black Canyon is a spec­tac­u­lar place any time of day and any time of the year. But at the Black Canyon they want that name to mean some­thing, so they go the ex­tra mile to en­sure the dark skies are the dark­est they can be. Ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing is used only where nec­es­sary for safety, mo­tion de­tec­tors limit the light used in re­strooms and other ar­eas and all out­door light­ing de­vices use lowen­ergy, low-im­pact bulbs with shields that di­rect light to the ground.

Be­cause of these ex­cep­tional skies and the as­tron­omy ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams on of­fer, the Black Canyon was des­ig­nated an In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Park in Septem­ber 2015.

The park is al­ways open to stargaze on your own, but from May through to the end of Septem­ber, rangers and lo­cal as­tronomers present evening talks ev­ery Wed­nes­day and Fri­day night.

nps.gov/blca

WET MOUN­TAIN VAL­LEY

Sil­ver Cliff and West­cliffe, two sparsely pop­u­lated towns in the Wet Moun­tain Val­ley, earned a joint cer­ti­fi­ca­tion as a Dark Sky Com­mu­nity (as op­posed to the Black Canyon's des­ig­na­tion as a park) from the In­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion back in 2015. It was the first such com­mu­nity in the state, the sec­ond in the na­tion, and the ninth in the world.

The Smokey Jack Ob­ser­va­tory in West­cliffe has one of the largest and most state of the art tele­scopes in the state of Colorado. Main­tained by Dark Skies of the Wet Moun­tain Val­ley, the group also hosts free pub­lic “star par­ties” where you can min­gle and stargaze. The par­ties are sched­uled from May to Oc­to­ber based on cur­rent as­tro­nom­i­cal events.

The ob­ser­va­tory is open year around and vis­i­tors can throw their own pri­vate star party, hosted by a trained guide, through­out the year. Amaz­ingly these pri­vate events are free but reser­va­tions are cru­cial. Visit dark­ski­es­col­orado.org for more info.

DI­NOSAUR NA­TIONAL MON­U­MENT

Apart from the cool name and the 149-mil­lion-year-old fos­sils, Di­nosaur Na­tional Mon­u­ment also hap­pens to be one of the dark­est places in the coun­try.

Although the mon­u­ment has a des­ig­nated spot near Split Moun­tain Camp­ground where night sky pro­grams are held, most of the mon­u­ment is good for view­ing the night sky with ei­ther the naked eye or with tele­scopes and binoc­u­lars.

Di­nosaur Na­tional Mon­u­ment of­fers all kinds of events are of­fered through­out the year, but of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to those with a pen­chant for dark skies are the naked eye con­stel­la­tion tours. The tours are fol­lowed by view­ing plan­ets, neb­u­lae, star clus­ters and other deep sky ob­jects through tele­scopes at Split Moun­tain Camp­ground. Re­main­ing dates for 2018 are Septem­ber 5th and 8th at 8:45 pm.

nps.gov/dino

WORK­SHOPS

Those who want to gaze up at the in­cred­i­ble ta­pes­try of pin pricks on the Bible black sky need do no more than find a dark place and look up (it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that the core of the Milky Way isn't par­tic­u­larly vis­i­ble dur­ing win­ter in the north­ern hemi­sphere). For a closer view, the Black Canyon, West­cliff and Sil­ver

Cliff have as­tron­omy groups that meet reg­u­larly to peer into the cos­mos through very pow­er­ful tele­scopes. These groups are very wel­com­ing and love to share their pas­sion with new­com­ers. Visit dark­sky.org for more info.

If you want to take home a me­mento, you might want to think about join­ing an as­tropho­tog­ra­phy work­shop. Cap­tur­ing the Milky Way in all of its neb­u­lous splen­dor is not easy and re­quires a few bits of equip­ment as well as some spe­cial­ist knowl­edge.

Mike Pach runs night sky pho­tog­ra­phy work­shops in the West­cliffe/Sil­ver­cliff area. Visit 3peak­sphoto.com for more in­for­ma­tion.

Pho­tos: Mike Pach; (main image), San­gre Pho­tog­ra­phy, LLC / san­grepho­tog­ra­phy.com (bot­tom three im­ages)

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