Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Dark skies are another draw for New Mexico | Editorials

The power of the dark night sky is credited with enhancing the well-being of wild creatures, helping people get better sleep, and calming the soul. Few things are quite as reassuring as being able to sit outside and gaze at the stars far from the modern world’s ever-present bright lights.

In New Mexico, dark skies are considered necessary for health and well-being. Our state passed a Night Sky Conservation Act back in 1999 designed to regulate lighting fixtures to preserve and enhance the night sky while promoting safety and conserving energy. Today, it is increasingly recognized that our starry nights can also attract visitors. Eighty percent of North Americans cannot see the Milky Way above their homes; There is a large pool of potential visitors.

Others know that too. Earlier this month, a Forbes Travel Guide article discussed 22 reasons to visit the Land of Enchantment. All of us who live here know them – our food, indigenous history, cultural sites, outdoor experiences, art to name a few.

The dark skies of New Mexico were also on the list. “New Mexico has some of the clearest and darkest skies in the United States,” wrote Forbes. “In fact, it has seven International Dark Sky Parks, lands with exceptional starry nights and nocturnal surroundings that are protected for their scientific, natural, educational, and cultural heritage, according to the International Dark-Sky Association.”

In 2021, the state’s newest dark sky park was designated, the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains. We also have a Dark Sky Sanctuary, a secluded site that does not qualify as a park or reserve. At Cosmic Campground in Gila National Forest, travelers can enjoy unobstructed 360-degree views of the night sky from the comfort of their tent or RV.

The clear, dark skies are another reason to see New Mexico.

The State Department of Tourism states on its website that “Stargazing in New Mexico is an ancient and authentic experience.” Gold and silver grade parks designated by the International Dark-Sky Association include Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Fort Union National Monument and Capulin Volcano National Monument.

Targeting additional advertising and marketing to those who value moving away from the bright lights of modernity would pay dividends. The tendency to seek out the dark skies – for enjoyment but also for serious stargazing – is known as astrotourism. According to the Washington Post, this type of travel “has a disproportionate economic impact because it requires an overnight stay and benefits from the long nights of winter, which is the off-season for many tourist areas.”

Even cities are involved.

When selecting over 5,000 replacement streetlights during the selection process, Santa Fe determined that it wanted lights that provided a better view of the stars. The mayor said the city plans to seek the Dark Sky City designation, which the International Dark-Sky Association also grants. Dark sky cities are cities that have “shown an exceptional commitment to preserving the night sky through the implementation and enforcement of high quality outdoor lighting regulation, dark sky education, and citizen support for dark skies.”

As is the case throughout the state, the dark skies provide another reason to visit Santa Fe, where visitors can enjoy nights without bright lights and the stars finally twinkle visibly overhead.

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