A telescope at Dead Horse Point State Park gives visitors glimpses of stars and planets. [Photo courtesy of Dead Horse Point State Park]

The Colorado River and its tributaries have shaped much of the area around Moab, carving deep canyons into the plateau, and creating many natural barriers to human movement and development.

Early explorers saw this as a challenge to tame the wild Canyonlands. However, because of these natural barriers to development, one natural wonder which still remains abundant on the Colorado Plateau is darkness.

To teach the public about this resource, both Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park are planning night sky viewing events during the first two Saturdays in July.

On Saturday, July 2, Arches will be hosting an event at the park’s Delicate Arch Viewpoint. The program will begin at 9:30 p.m. with an interpretive presentation, followed by a constellation tour, and culminating with telescope viewing once it’s good and dark, Arches National Park Supervisory Park Ranger Karen Garthwait said.

“Scopes will be manned by rangers from Arches, Dead Horse Point State Park, and both Island in the Sky and Needles districts of Canyonlands, revealing some of the treasures of a truly dark night sky for visitors’ enjoyment,” she said.

On Saturday, July 9, Dead Horse Point State Park Assistant Manager Crystal White will be leading a second night sky viewing event at the state park’s visitor center. White will join night sky rangers from Arches and Canyonlands national parks at 9:15 p.m. for a program which includes an astronomy talk, a constellation tour and the viewing of deep space objects through telescopes.

White has led night sky interpretive events at Dead Horse Point for the past 10 years, and said the experience is a wonderful way to spend an evening in the greater Moab area.

“We are surrounded by incredible dark night skies due to the amount of public lands in the area and low levels of artificial sky glow,” she said. “The events give area visitors and residents the chance to see the amazing night sky, learn more about our beautiful universe, and see with their own eyes star clusters, planets, star systems, galaxies, (nebulae) and more.”

All participants will be able to see the Milky Way stretch across the night sky – a rare event for most people on Earth.

According to the National Park Service, “As few as one in ten Americans live in areas where they can see the estimated 2,500 stars that should be visible under normal conditions.”

Not only does light pollution impact the navigation of many birds and insects, dark sky advocates say it has a profound psychological effect on the human psyche and affects our circadian rhythms.

Because the area surrounding the park is relatively undeveloped public land, and because the National Park Service and Dead Horse Point have taken proactive measures to reduce light pollution, such as changing lights and fixtures, Dead Horse Point is a renowned place to view the night sky.

The park was recently designated as an International Dark Sky Park – the first such designation for one of Utah’s state parks, according to the International Dark Sky Association.

Interpretive programs help to educate the public in the areas of environmental psychology and ecopsychology. These fields are usually associated with nature on the ground and how hiking and other such encounters with nature can have a positive impact on the human psyche, according to the International Dark Sky Association’s website.

Dead Horse Point State Park Manager Megan Blackwelder said the park has offered interpretive programs for decades. However, in order to gain a designation as a Dark Sky Park, Dead Horse Point, and parks like it, must commit not only to preserving and protecting natural darkness in the park, but to educating the public about the importance of natural night skies.

Because of its location high above the canyons, Dead Horse Point offers some of the best 360-degree views of the night sky. Jupiter, Mars and Saturn should all be visible on July 9. Under the right conditions, the rings of Saturn can be seen through binoculars, which guests are encouraged to bring, if they have them.

Visitors to both events should also bring water and headlamps or flashlights with a red light, to preserve night vision. Dead Horse Point also recommends that visitors dress in layers and bring camping chairs. In the event of inclement weather, the July 2 viewing at Arches will move to the park’s visitor center auditorium.

To reach Dead Horse Point, drive about nine miles north of Moab on U.S. Highway 191. Turn left at the intersection with state Route 313, and continue south on 313 for about 23 miles. The entrance fee to Dead Horse Point is $10 for most vehicles, and is discounted for Utah seniors.

Arches, Dead Horse Point to host night sky viewing events

“The events give area visitors and residents the chance to see the amazing night sky, learn more about our beautiful universe, and see with their own eyes star clusters, planets, star systems, galaxies, (nebulae) and more.”

When and Where: Saturday, July 2, from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. at Arches National Park’s Delicate Arch Viewpoint; and Saturday, July 9, at 9:15 p.m. at Dead Horse Point State Park’s visitor center

Cost: Events are free; entry fees vary

For more information about the July 2 event at Arches, call 435-719-2299. To learn more about the July 9 event at Dead Horse Point, call 435-259-2614.