Imagine sitting at the campground after a long day of hiking and gazing up at the sky. The ancestral Puebloans would have most likely done the same 800 years ago. There are many compelling stories told about Hovenweep. One story observes that several of the structures and rock art panels seem designed to mark major celestial events such as the summer and winter solstices. While this is largely conjecture, the open skies of Hovenweep certainly draw one’s attention, and fortunately the night sky is about as dark as it was 800 years ago.
National parks preserve some of the darkest skies in the country. In some areas it’s possible to see up to 15,000 stars throughout the night. By contrast, fewer than 500 stars may be visible from more urban environments. What many people don’t realize is that light pollution affects more than just astronomers. Nocturnal animals need darkness for survival, and the circadian rhythms of humans and plants rely on an unaltered night sky.
Though light pollution is created by a multitude of lights, these problems can be resolved one light at a time. Due to its remote location surrounded by the Navajo Reservation and BLM public lands, Hovenweep preserves a primordial dark sky largely unaltered by modernity. The National Park Service wants to keep it that way. To that end, only artificial lighting necessary for safety is in use at the monument. Motion detectors limit the light needed within restrooms and other areas in the park. All outdoor lighting devices use low-energy, low-impact bulbs with shields that direct light to the ground where it is needed.
On July 1, 2014, Hovenweep National Monument became the 17th International Dark Sky Park certified by the International Dark-Sky Association The goal of a Dark Sky Park is to preserve the skies and educate the public about light pollution and how they can make a difference.
Hovenweep trails are open sunrise to sunset daily. Stargazing and exploring the night sky is allowed from the visitor center parking lot and campground only. No ruins or structures will be visible from the campground or parking lots.
For more information on Hovenweep National Monument click here.
(Holly photo on Features page by Dan Norris)