In the northwestern corner of New Mexico, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is famous for protecting the ruins of an ancient Pueblo settlement. But now the 34,000-acre (13,750–hectare) park is being honored for protecting its views of the cosmos, too.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) just named the site its newest (and twelfth) "Gold Tier" Dark Sky Park, citing Chaco's commitment to preserving its "near-pristine night skies."
"Once the night sky was something that was very much a part of the human experience at Chaco and around the globe," IDA executive director Bob Parks said in a statement. "We are delighted that Chaco is now preserving the nighttime environment alongside their historic treasures."[Spaced Out! 101 Astronomy Images That Will Blow Your Mind]
Chaco joins 11 other sites that have been given a Dark Sky Park designation by IDA, including Death Valley National Park in California and Big Bend National Park in Texas.
According to Chaco's website, the park has retrofitted all of its lighting to reduce light pollution and enhance views of the night sky. IDA also praised the park's outreach and education efforts, which include regular events to celebrate eclipses and meteor showers and teach the public about archaeoastronomy and telescope viewing.
As Chaco Culture National Historic Park superintendent Larry Turk explained, skywatching is deeply ingrained in the site's past.
"Standing at one of the park's 4,000 prehistoric archeological sites," Turk said in a statement, "one can easily imagine another human centuries earlier gazing awestruck into the same universe while surrounded by ecosystems that have adapted to the natural rhythms of the moon and stars."
A formal public dedication of Chaco's new IDA Dark Sky Park designation will take place at the Chaco Canyon Star Party on Oct. 5.