Big Bend and the International Dark Sky Association

long exposure photo of stars above big bend national park

What’s a Dark Sky Park?

We all know of the natural wonders of the Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande during the daytime. What you might not know is that the show’s not over just because the sun’s gone down. The campfire we get crackling at dark-thirty is a good guess, but think again—it’s the constellations twinkling above us! Even better is that the International Dark Sky Places Program knows we’ve got a killer view.

What’s the International Dark Sky Places Program?

The International Dark Sky Places (IDSP) Program began in 2001 with the goal of promoting and protecting the natural nighttime environment and its heritage that everyone has come to know and love. Since August 2019, over 120 designated dark sky places have been certified around the world. Here at Big Bend, we’re darn proud to be one of them! We’ve been on the list since 2012 and consider ourselves dark sky connoisseurs. There’s nothing quite like stepping outside on a clear night and admiring the Milky Way in all its glory—it’s truly one of life’s simplest pleasures. But we don’t want to keep it all for ourselves either—we’ve made sure that our cute and cozy casitas have been perfected for you to step out onto your front porch and take in that star-spangled sky in all its glory.

How did we become a Dark Sky Park?

Becoming a Dark Sky Park didn’t happen overnight (okay, pun intended). To be certified by the IDSP Program, Big Bend had to meet a lot of criteria that even we had a hard time keeping track of. These include (bear with me):

  • having a comprehensive Light Management Plan in place;
  • having no visible artificial light glare nearby;
  • being able to see the Milky Way unaided;
  • recognising and valuing the importance of dark skies;
  • understanding the threats to dark skies; and,
  • committing to public education.

Now, it was a lot of work, but we managed to make all the outdoor lighting changes to the Far Flung Outdoor Center so that we only have lighting where it’s absolutely necessary, and even then we keep it to minimum brightness. Rest easy though, because the place isn’t totally pitch black at night. (This is a common misconception of what it takes for a park to qualify. You’ll still be able to see where you’re walking.)

So why go through all the hassle?

We didn’t do all this just for a badge. Dark skies are more essential than ever for the protection of the natural nighttime environment. Our nocturnal pals like owls really appreciate not being blinded by our enormous LEDs at night. After all, they share their home with us, so we can do a little something to give them some peace and quiet. And, on top of that, having a dark sky gives us the chance to encourage both eco- and astro-tourism—that way we give professional and amateur stargazers the space to enjoy space without any bother.

What really makes Big Bend special (now, I know I’ll sound like a broken record here) is that it’s one of the largest, most remote, and least-visited national parks in the lower 48! Being so remote and so far from any major cities means that our skies are some of the darkest in the whole country. With less folk around, you get less artificial light and more starlight. Seriously, have we convinced you yet? What’re you waiting for?

Come on down to Far Flung Outdoor Center in the Big Bend National Park and check out our incredible starscape for yourself. If you have any questions or are fixing to see a shooting star, shoot me an email at greg@bigbendfarflung.com. We hope to see you soon!

– Greg