The Grand Canyon is certifiable.
As an International Dark Sky Park, that is. GREAT news in general, and really great news for all of you astrophotography enthusiasts out there. Backcountry Journeys visits the north rim of the Grand Canyon on our Southwest Monsoon: Grand Canyon Country tour, set for late July, and we plan for a night shot, or two, as we spend two nights together under the blanket of stars that Grand Canyon protects.
This certification recognizes the park’s efforts to control and limit light pollution by retrofitting or replacing thousands of inefficient light fixtures over the past three years.
Preservation of the natural world
The mission statement for the National Parks Service, the folks responsible for all of our National Parks, is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values…for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
Limiting light pollution for the benefit of the many species of birds, bugs and nocturnal mammals that call Grand Canyon home is in line with this mission. Not to mention for the benefit and enjoyment of people who visit, and live nearby.
International Dark Sky
According to a news release on the Park’s website, the International Dark Sky Park certification will give Grand Canyon National Park support to continue to grow its educational programs and will create economic opportunity for neighboring communities as well through astronomy-based tourism.
The certification does not carry legal or regulatory authority; however, it demonstrates a commitment to improving night skies through the use of more energy efficient, sustainable lighting. Certification also reaffirms Grand Canyon’s commitment to educating the public and gateway communities about the importance of good lighting and opportunities to work together toward common goals.
To get this certification from the International Dark Sky Association the park had to show them a certain percentage of the lighting systems were compliant to their standards. And the scale of the operations at Grand Canyon makes this quite a feat. 5,000 lights in the park were surveyed, including their K-12 school. Yep, Grand Canyon has a school!
This process has been a long one. Efforts began in 2016 when the Park was given Provisional status after the initial assessment of over 5,000 exterior light fixtures was taken. At that time 35% of lights were already dark-sky compliant, but the Park had three years to achieve 69%.
In the coming years, the park plans on making 90% of the lights dark-sky compliant. The amount of lights inventoried and retrofitted in this process undoubtedly makes Grand Canyon National Park one of the largest, most complex, International Dark Sky Parks in the world.
Funding for this project came almost entirely from Grand Canyon Conservancy, the official non-profit partner of the park, which relies on donations in order to achieve long-term renovations and educational programming.
The natural world and those who love it are smiling
All of this is great news for lovers of the natural world, and specifically of the night sky. Sitting anywhere between 7,000 and 9,000 feet of elevation, Grand Canyon National Park is above a good portion of the atmosphere, and in a high desert where it’s very dry. Because of these things people are able to see the Milky Way in a way that most people in the country can’t. As long as the night sky stays dark. Astrophotography is a unique and fun style of photography, and Grand Canyon is one of the BEST places in the country to photograph the Milky Way.
As our National Parks continue to draw record numbers of visitors it is important that the infrastructure at these parks continue to advance and managers consider the effects that growth has on the parks’ mission – to preserve the natural world while providing enjoyment for humans.
Humans such as all of us, who look to visit these natural wonders as a part of our love of photography and the natural world in which the wildlife and landscapes we enjoy so much are contained within.
Kenton Krueger grew up and spent the first 33 years of his life in the corn country of Omaha, Nebraska. After studying at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Aviation Institute, he “conned” his way into the newsroom at the award-winning Omaha World-Herald, where for 3+ years he wrote news articles and photographed on a variety of topics such as community events, travel, and even mixed martial arts. Yet something was missing. While on backpacking trips to Grand Teton and Grand Canyon National Parks in the mid-2000’s he was quick to realize that the wild lands of the western United States stoked a fire in his heart as nothing else could. This realization led to a relocation to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he hasn’t looked back. He has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah, and internationally in Costa Rica. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah and mountain biking. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.