Dark Skies

The Milky Way Galaxy viewed from Elk Creek
The Milky Way Galaxy viewed from Elk Creek

NPS image by Troy Hunt

“Here on earth we are enveloped in wonder,” said astronomer Bob Berman “and the universe beyond holds marvels beyond our dreams.”

Fortunately for those who like to view such wonders, Curecanti National Recreation Area is located in an easily accessible area of southwest Colorado where the high elevation and dry air naturally favor clear views of the night sky. Curecanti also has few artificial light sources. No gigantic billboards lit by spotlights crowd its roadways and not one traffic light exists across its entire sixty-mile length and 42,000 acres.

Curecanti is rare and unique in this light bedazzled world. Starry skies are virtually blotted out east of the Great Plains. The metro area of Denver is 100 times brighter than natural darkness and it is becoming increasingly intense with each passing year.

Curecanti is the centerpiece of an alluring dark sky necklace that stretches along the Gunnison Valley and includes on one side the recently designated Slumgullion Dark Sky Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on the other. The Gunnison Valley Observatory with its long history of partnership with Curecanti in providing astronomical experiences to visitors and local residents, is another gem in this necklace of jewels.

Preserving dark skies at Curecanti provides many benefits. As light pollution falls, so does energy consumption. According to the International Dark Sky Association 30% of all outdoor lighting in the United States is wasted. Improvements to lighting design, efficiency, and technology save energy and money. Artificial lights can also disorient birds who migrate at night, causing them to improperly time their journey or veer off track. Other animals affected by artificial lighting include insects, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles.

Part of the mission of the National Park Service is to preserve beautiful and inspiring scenery. Such scenery is one of the main benefits of dark skies. "A view of the night sky," said Bob Berman "can soothe the soul."

We present evening programs at the Elk Creek campground and the Gunnison Valley Observatory about current astronomical events, the benefits of dark skies, and other starry subjects.

The Dark Sky Park certification for Curecanti will soothe many souls, for the agency mission and benefits of dark skies go hand in hand.
The Milky Way over Blue Mesa
The Milky Way over Blue Mesa in 2021

Image by Leo Pareti

Media release about our International Dark Sky Park designation on August 5, 2021

Curecanti's page with the International Dark-sky Association including our 70 page application

Finding the Rabbit in the Moon article by Curecanti District Interpreter Matt Johnson

The Gunnison Valley Observatory

International Dark-sky Association Colorado

Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative

Last updated: November 15, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

102 Elk Creek
Gunnison, CO 81230


970 641-2337 x205

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