Forty miles from the nearest significant source of electric light, the 3.5-acre site was the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the U.S. and is still just one of 17 in the world. With tent and RV sites plus telescope pads, the primitive campground is within a half-hour drive from both the Catwalk National Recreation Area and the ghost town of Mogollon.
➤ 2016, 5,364 feet
CAPULÍN VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT
The site earned the International Dark Sky Park designation on its 100th anniversary. Interpretation and fees manager Geoff Goins draws on 30 years of night skies experience to run the monument’s astronomy programs. Visitors often ask if they can stargaze from the high point of Capulín Volcano (8,182 feet). “It’s always windy up there at night. The views are actually better down here than at the top,” Goins answers.
➤ 2016, 6,200 feet
CHACO CULTURE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
Ancestral Puebloans lived in tune with the cosmos from this sacred canyon in the mid-800s. The archeoastronomy mecca was designed to align architecturally with sunrises and sunsets and includes a pictograph that likely documents a supernova. “Because of the integrity of the night sky in Chaco Canyon, what we see out there today is pretty close to what they saw 1,000 years ago,” says interpretive ranger Nathan Hatfield.
➤ 2013, 6,200 feet
CLAYTON LAKE STATE PARK AND DINOSAUR TRACKWAYS
The fun-for-the-whole-family state park with a 170-acre lake was New Mexico’s inaugural International Dark Sky Park, and park officials worked with the town of Clayton to make its lighting dark-sky-friendly too. “We offer other things in the park that attract people: dinosaur tracks, fishing, and camping,” says park manager Mark Funk.
➤ 2010, 5,186 feet
FORT UNION NATIONAL MONUMENT
Set on the prairie, it offers some of the least obstructed night sky views. “We’re honored to be a small park with that designation,” says chief of interpretation Bill Barley. The Mora County monument’s Night Wonders program educates visitors about nocturnal life.
➤ 2019, 6,760 feet
SALINAS PUEBLO MISSIONS NATIONAL MONUMENT
The monument’s three sites normally close at 5 p.m. but hold regular night sky programs, with events planned for August 31 and September 15. “We have that amazing blend of the cultural and natural resources,” says Alex Arnold, chief of interpretation and visitor service. “The Milky Way is visible up against the backdrop of the mission churches.”
➤ 2016, 6,500 feet
VALLE DE ORO NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The former farmland seven miles south of Albuquerque was DarkSky’s first Urban Night Sky Place and remains just one of six worldwide. Valle de Oro has constructed a fully dark-sky-compliant visitor center that serves as a model, demonstrating best practices for protecting the night sky from light pollution while preserving natural darkness near the city.
➤ 2019, 4,911 feet
EL MORRO NATIONAL MONUMENT
The monument’s 200-foot-high sandstone bluff, known as Inscription Rock, holds evidence of human existence in the Southwest dating back at least 1,000 years. While spiral petroglyphs mark specific celestial events in other New Mexico locations, that doesn’t seem to be true at El Morro, according to former ranger Derek Wallentinsen. “They could have marked places where somebody in charge of ceremonies or an important member of the tribe went out and used it to orient themselves to the sky,” he says.
➤ 2019, 7,160 feet
VALLES CALDERA NATIONAL PRESERVE
Bordered by the Santa Fe National Forest, Bandelier National Monument, and the Pueblo of Santa Clara, which together account for 1.11 million acres of barely inhabited land, the 89,000-acre volcanic crater attracts nighttime visitors with astronomy programs and full moon hikes. Stargazing observation sites are marked at two of the six pullouts along NM 4, which receives little nighttime traffic.
➤ 2021, 8,000 feet