History of the Dark-sky Community
In 1988, the U.S. Forest Service, in conjunction with the National Park Service, created the Dark Sky Places Program to recognize and protect the community’s nighttime viewing in North America. The program was created to respond to growing concerns about light pollution that threatened astronomical research and urban nighttime environments.
To be a dark-sky community, three criteria must be met:
-The community must have an observatory or planetarium.
-There can’t be any significant lights on during nighttime hours.
-The sky needs to be dark with minimal light pollution.
The beautiful drive to Westcliffe is a scenic route that features the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and the Wet Mountains.
The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness stretches from Pikes Peak, which marks the start of the Rocky Mountains, to where it meets the Wet Mountain Range. The area features many peaks with elevations above 14,000 feet (4267 meters) and abundant open trails for exploring.
The Wet Mountains are part of a highland range in Southern Colorado. The mountains stretch about 60 miles from east to west and 16 miles from north to south at their widest point. They are made up of rock formations called Mesaverde Group sandstone, conglomerate, shale, and coal over 100 million years old.
Westcliffe is in the San Isabel National Forest and is a small town where people can enjoy the beauty and charm of nature. It has all the modern amenities that a person can ask for. This includes grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, schools, and other shops. However, the highlight of the town is its picturesque atmosphere which attracts people to it.
Westcliffe, CO, is an excellent place for stargazing because it has a lot of unpolluted air, low humidity, low population density, low levels of artificial lighting, and minimal street lighting.
Westcliffe is one of eight locations in Colorado that have been designated as “dark sky communities.”
Side Trip – Bishop Castle
Bishop Castle is a unique architectural feat with hidden tunnels and secret passageways. The castle has been a work of art in progress for the past 60 years by Jim Bishop. If you’re lucky, Mr. Bishop will be holding court when you visit! The castle is always open and is free of charge.
To get to Bishop Castle, you drive through miles of sparsely populated terrain south then west from Denver. The scenery is breathtaking: the snow-capped Rockies rising in the distance, rolling green hills dotted with cows all around you, and a cool breeze blowing that smells like fresh leaves.
The castle is easy to spot on the west side of the road.