Why is Arizona such a wonderful place for stargazing? The simple answer: is good weather, mountainous geography, and sound stewardship. You can see Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and the Andromeda galaxy on a clear night. The sky is awash in stars, double stars, and star clusters.
Mountains also shield dark-sky oases from urban skyglow. In the case of Oracle State Park which is only 20 miles from Tucson, the Santa Catalina Mountains block out the city lights. Likewise, Fountain Hills, an exurb on the northern flank of metro Phoenix enjoys surprising nights thanks to the rocky veil provided by McDowell Mountains.
The International Dark Sky Places program was created in 2001 by DarkSky International to encourage the preservation of the nighttime environment, educate the public, and reduce light pollution.
Since Flagstaff was named the first International Dark Sky City in 2001, over 200 Dark Sky Places have been certified in 22 countries on six continents. These places including dark sky parks, sanctuaries, reserves, and urban night sky places aim to connect people with the importance of darkness and the conservation of ecologically sensitive areas.
Arizona has over 20 dark sky locations encompassing cities, communities, national parks, and urban night skies.
Here is everything you need to know about the Dark Sky Places and where you can find them in Arizona.
What is the International Dark Sky Program?
Receiving dark-sky certification involves a variety of measures that may include using outdoor lighting that minimizes light pollution, community outreach and education, and working to affect public policy. It demonstrates the location’s commitment to preserving the nocturnal environment.
International Dark Sky Places in Arizona
An International Dark Sky Place is a publicly or privately owned conservation area that protects its night skies through responsible lighting policies and public education.
These are Arizona’s Dark Sky Places:
- Saguaro National Park
- Chiricahua National Monument
- Pipe Spring National Monument
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Tumacácori National Historical Park
- Kartchner Caverns State Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
- Walnut Canyon National Monument
- Wupatki National Monument
- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
- Oracle State Park
- Tonto National Monument
International Dark Sky Sanctuaries
International Dark Sky Sanctuaries are the most remote and often darkest places. The designation underscores the significance of safeguarding nocturnal environments and protecting them from artificial light.
There are no International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in Arizona. New Mexico has the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary, a 3.5-acre site in the Gila National Forest in western New Mexico.
The Campground is located in an exceptionally dark part of the Southwest with the nearest significant source of artificial light more than 40 miles away across the state line in Arizona. The Campground features a very basic infrastructure to support campers and offers a 360-degree, unobstructed, view of the night sky.
International Dark Sky Reserves
International Dark Sky Reserves are dark zones surrounded by a populated periphery where strict policy controls safeguard the darkness of the core. These reserves conserve natural nightscapes and promote responsible outdoor lighting practices for the well-being of the ecosystem.
There are no International Dark Sky Reserves in Arizona. The Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve encompasses west Texas and northern Mexico.
Urban Night Sky Places in Arizona
An Urban Night Sky Place is one that fosters an authentic nighttime experience despite being in an area with significant artificial light.
Arizona has one Urban Night Sky Place and its Saguaro National Park in Tucson which received the designation in November 2023.
Check this out to learn more: Saguaro National Park is Arizona’s First Urban Night Sky Place and Why It Is a Big Deal
International Dark Sky Communities in Arizona
An International Dark Sky Community is a city or town recognized for its commitment to outdoor lighting ordinances and educating residents on the significance of dark skies. These communities implement measures to reduce light pollution and promote responsible outdoor lighting practices. This designation aims to balance the needs of urban life with the protection of the night sky.
Here are Arizona’s International Dark Sky Communities:
Thunder Mountain Pootsee Nightsky on the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation on the Arizona-Utah state line
Across Arizona, on rugged public lands and inside scenic city limits, the visitor experience doesn’t end at sunset. Because this state so synonymous with sunshine and blue sky is equally spectacular when the stars come out.
DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do
- These National Parks Are Hosting Free Stargazing Festivals This Summer
- Best National Parks for Stargazing
- Where to Stargaze
- The Grand Canyon Is Hosting a Star Party This Week—and It’s Totally Free
- Saguaro National Park is Arizona’s First Urban Night Sky Place and Why It Is a Big Deal
I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.