Night Skies

The Milky Way stretches across the sky over the El Morro bluff.
The Milky Way stretches across the sky above El Morro's sandstone bluff.

NPS Photo / Derek Wallentinsen

As night falls, El Morro National Monument is enveloped in a deep natural darkness far from the city lights. The high elevation, clean air, remote location, and minimal development in and around the El Morro Valley combine to produce optimal night-sky conditions. Experience the sky filled with light from thousands of stars as the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon!

In December 2019, El Morro was certified as an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) by the International Dark Sky Association. With its IDSP status, El Morro is committed to protecting its celestial landscape and sharing this exceptional resource with visitors through a variety of night-sky events. Keep an eye on the calendar for upcoming stargazing opportunities.

Just like the Florida panther or spotted owl, dark skies are endangered natural resources. "Light pollution," stray light from buildings and vehicles that reflects down from the atmosphere, obscures the delicate celestial scenery. El Morro has collaborated with the local community to increase awareness of how lighting impacts night skies, worked to minimize the monument's contribution to light pollution, and created programs focused on protecting area night skies.


Night sky
Lights from Grants and Albuquerque appear on the horizon in this image captured at El Malpais National Monument, just a few miles from El Morro.

NPS photo

Night Sky Monitoring

To track changes in night sky darkness, special cameras are used by park scientists to precisely measure light pollution coming from urban areas. For example, this black-and-white image taken from El Malpais National Monument, just east of El Morro, shows the dull glow of Grants and Albuquerque on the horizon.

When the image is analyzed by a computer, an exact level of brightness can be calculated and is shown below in a rainbow of colors. This allows the light levels from one photograph to be easily compared to a photograph taken at another location or another year.

Light pollution, digitally enhanced.

Here you can clearly see the light pollution, in white-to-red-to-yelllow, from the two cities.

You Can Help!

Next time you turn on your lights at home, visit a store to shop after dark, or come to a remote place like El Morro and look at the night sky, think about how much light is escaping into the night sky and blocking out the stars. There are many things you can do to reduce light pollution, and a great place to start is: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nightskies/practices.htm

Last updated: February 21, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

HC 61 Box 43
Mile Marker 44.6 Hwy 53

Ramah, NM 87321

Phone:

(505) 783-4226 x801

Contact Us