The Milky Way arcs above a silhouetted rock structure
The Milky Way above Hovenweep Castle.

NPS/Jacob W. Frank


Imagine sitting at the campground after a long day of hiking and gazing up at the sky. The ancestral Puebloans would have most likely done the same 800 years ago. There are many compelling stories told about Hovenweep. One story observes that several of the structures and rock art panels seem designed to mark major celestial events such as the summer and winter solstices. While this is largely conjecture, the open skies of Hovenweep certainly draw one's attention, and fortunately the night sky is about as dark as it was 800 years ago.

National parks preserve some of the darkest skies in the country. In some areas it's possible to see up to 15,000 stars throughout the night. By contrast, in urban environments, you might only see fewer than 500 stars. You may not realize that light pollution affects more than just astronomers. Nocturnal animals need darkness for survival, and the circadian rhythms of humans and plants rely on an unaltered night sky.

Though a multitude of lights create light pollution, these problems can be resolved one light at a time. Due to its remote location surrounded by the Navajo Reservation and BLM public lands, Hovenweep preserves a primordial dark sky largely unaltered by modernity. The National Park Service wants to keep it that way. To that end, here at the monument, we only use artificial lighting necessary for safety. Motion detectors limit the light needed within restrooms and other areas in the park. All outdoor lighting devices use low-energy, low-impact bulbs with shields that direct light to the ground where it is needed.

On July 1, 2014, the International Dark-Sky Association certified Hovenweep National Monument as the 17th International Dark Sky Park. The goal of a Dark Sky Park is to preserve the skies and educate the public about light pollution and how they can make a difference.

Read more about Hovenweep on the International Dark Sky Association website. You can review nomination and planning documents.

How and Where to Stargaze

Hovenweep trails are open sunrise to sunset daily. Stargazing and exploring the night sky is allowed from the visitor center parking lot and campground only. No ruins or structures will be visible from the campground or parking lots.

Rangers present stargazing programs in spring and summer. Check the link below for a schedule of astronomy events in southeast Utah, or check the calendar for all upcoming events.


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Spot the International Space Station!

Did you know you can see the International Space Station fly overhead? If you're in the right place at the right time, you'll see a bright spot sail across the sky. Look for an open area with a clear view of the sky. Check below for the next sighting.

Last updated: May 21, 2022

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