You know that feeling you get when you’re far from a city, looking up at the night sky, and you think, wow, I almost forgot how many stars there are? Getting more travelers to have that experience is one of the key missions of the Tucson-based International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a nearly 30-year-old nonprofit committed to preserving one of the world’s most overlooked⎯and endangered⎯resources: dark skies.
“People are interested in getting out of the city environments they’re in all the time and into more natural spaces that are very different from the everyday lives they live,” says John Barentine, program director for the IDA. “And it’s only when people get out of brightly lit cities that they have a sense of what we have lost.”
In 2018, IDA will announce its 100th dark-sky site, adding to a list that includes Exmoor National Park in southwest England, the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia, and places closer to home, such as California’s Joshua Tree National Park, designated a dark-sky park in the summer of 2017. In November 2018, watch for the park’s annual Night Sky Festival, which will feature stargazing parties, astronomy demos, and ranger-led hikes.
For a surprising take on the northern lights, head for Bon Accord, says Barentine. The town in Alberta, Canada, was the first Canadian community to earn a dark-sky classification in 2015, and there are a few different ways to reap the benefits. At Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm, you’ll to learn the secrets of the skies from a local astronomer while eating a farm dinner, complete with a post-meal campfire, live music, and—if you’re lucky—the aurora borealis. For a more active view of the skies, join Haskin Canoe for a nighttime snowshoe tour of Elk Island National Park, just 45 miles from Bon Accord.
One of the biggest new additions to IDA’s list is Israel’s Ramon Crater Nature Reserve, which became the first dark-sky park in the Middle East in September 2017. “Dark skies can be a form of diplomacy,” John says. “Even if people don’t speak the same language, if you get them together under a dark sky, they have the same sense of awe for what they see.”
Aislyn Greene Aislyn Greene is the associate director of podacsts at AFAR, where she produces the Unpacked by AFAR podcast and hosts AFAR’s Travel Tales podcast. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.