Crystal White, owner of Moab Astronomy Tours and co-founder of Moab Dark Skies, remembers sleeping under the stars as a child to “take in the stars, watch the meteors and see the universe.”
“I get such a great, calm feeling back from it,” she said.
As a Night Sky Ranger, White has helped Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park become international dark sky parks, which are protected areas with exceptional starry nights and nocturnal environments. Sand Flats Recreation Area is currently working toward such a designation, which requires a rigorous application and changing the area’s outdoor lighting policies.
Sand Flats has announced several events for locals to “celebrate the night” in coming months. All events have capped attendance; email firstname.lastname@example.org to claim a spot at any event.
On August 12, up to 40 Moabites can gather at Sand Flats to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower cross the sky from 9 until 11 p.m. “This meteor shower is pretty famous for having big fireballs, which are really only golf ball-sized pieces of debris that enter our atmosphere,” said White.
A full moon hike will take place on August 20 from 8:30 to 10 p.m., with 10 spaces available. Sand Flats will also host two “star parties,” each capped at 20 attendees: one on Sept. 30 from 7:30 until 9:30 p.m. and another on Oct. 22 from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.
“Sand Flats is a special place that does have a dark sky, even though it’s so close to town,” said Andrea Brand, director of the Sand Flats Recreation Area. “We would like to have the dark skies at the Sand Flats recognized, too.”
The International Dark-Sky Association works to protect natural darkness globally. To be selected as an international dark sky place, Sand Flats will have to angle any lighting downwards and take other precautions to minimize light pollution in the area. Another part of the designation is making a commitment to educating the public about why natural darkness is important.
“For millions of years, life on earth has adapted to the cycles of day and night. All the artificial lights we now have at night impact our circadian rhythms, which are linked to our health,” White explained. Being exposed to blue light at night can inhibit melatonin production, which assists in repairing cells and getting rest. Disrupted circadian rhythms can also lead to a higher chance of contracting certain cancers, mental health issues and sleep disorders. “It’s about recognizing that this is an issue we have, and it’s an easily solved problem.”
Brand remembers sleeping on her sailboat at night in New York in her youth, staring up at the stars. “When you become an adult, you don’t think about that,” she said. “We have dark skies so accessible to us in Moab at Sand Flats and surrounding public lands.”
What: Perseid meteor shower viewing
When: Thursday, Aug. 12 at 9 p.m.
What: Sand Flats full moon hike
When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 8:30 p.m.
What: Sand Flats star parties
When: Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.
Where: Sand Flats Recreation Area
For more information or to RSVP, email email@example.com.