by Kairina Danforth

The dark night sky, filled with stars and planets, is one of the assets of the San Luis Valley. It  has inspired the peoples living on this land for centuries. With care it can be preserved to inspire future generations. 

The Crestone community, supported by the adjoining Baca Grande Subdivision, is actively working to achieve designation as an International Dark Sky Community from the International Dark Sky Association.

Official launch of Crestone dark sky tourism, though, has begun with the recently awarded Colorado Tourism Office Marketing Matching Grant of $25,000.  Called a “Dark Sky Colorado Tour,” it will connect several Colorado locations  known for their dark skies and incredible stargazing opportunities, including Crestone, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, La Veta, Creede and Lake City. The tour will also highlight dark sky events and develop day-time itineraries so visitors may take advantage of all the tourism assets the destination has to offer, as well as encouraging the conservation and preservation of all of their natural and cultural resources.

It is a possibility that in the future the Colorado Dark Sky Tours, perhaps expanded in scope, will focus on our region as the nexus for the looming dark sky tourism market in the entire State of Colorado.  The tour will include the International Dark Sky Association designated community of Westcliffe/Silver Cliff, and communities just starting the designation process such as Crestone and Creede, and the International Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.  All of these communities and the Sand Dunes National Park are unified by their high elevation and low humidity, allowing for some of the best stargazing in the world.

To be awarded Dark Sky International accreditation, a community must demonstrate three things: first, meter readings demonstrating that it has exceptionally dark skies; secondly, that it has robust community support; and, thirdly, that it offers a unique dark sky experience. Crestone possesses the first quality in spades, and has substantiating meter readings.  We’re similarly good with the second requirement, with strong community support for dark sky preservation spanning fifteen years.

For the third, as a community deeply rooted  in a shared spirituality that transcends different circumstance, nationality, tradition, culture and even religion, we plan to offer Native American elders telling stories of long ago wisdom and knowing about our eternal, complex connection with the stars, with Nature, and with all of humanity, reminding us what it means to be human and how to live in harmony with each other.  Differing Native American legends, passed down verbally from generation to generation, generally shrouded in secrecy,  will be presented over time. In each event, the storytelling will be accompanied by ritual fire ceremony.  Some of the most sacred mountains to Native Americans overlook our area, including Blanca Peak, or White Shell Mountain as it is known to the Navajo.  Whether resident or visitor, all will be invited to come and experience the spiritual connections known in local tribal tradition for generations.

Included in event planning will be Western  scientific star and planetary knowledge presented by Colorado College astronomers.  Colorado College is presently planning to install a robotic research observatory and a planetarium modeled after the Chaco Canyon here on its Baca Campus.

From a survey by the National Parks Conservation Association, people  have generally become desensitized to the loss of their dark night sky.  Many people do not have the privilege of dark skies filled with stars.  The glare of outdoor lighting has stolen the night sky from them, almost without notice.

As I have said before, 80% of the people in the world today will never see the Milky Way from their homes.  We are part of the fortunate few who do.  I believe we can no longer take for granted something each of us is blessed with—every night—when we look up at our starry sky.

Stay tuned for updates as they are being created to support our application for designation as an International Dark Sky Community.  The International Dark Sky Association was formed in 1988 and since then has awarded accreditation to only 23 applicants.  Let’s become the Number 24.