California’s Joshua Tree National Park has never been hard-up for visitors. The park has long been a draw for travelers who flock to its beautifully desolate desert landscape dotted with unique rock formations and, of course, its namesake trees. Now astronomy-loving travelers have yet another reason to visit.
The International Dark Sky Association (yes, that’s really a thing) is the “official” governing body to recognize and bestow its stamp of approval on potential dark sky park candidates. Joshua Tree National Park is now the latest to be designated an official International Dark Sky Park. While most dark sky parks are located far from urban centers and therefore any light pollution, the organization notes Joshua Tree National Park is an anomaly. Nearly four million California residents bookend its western edge, and indeed substantial light pollution bleeds over from Palm Springs and the cities in the nearby Morongo Basin. But the park’s eastern edge is still “the last pool of natural darkness remaining in Southern California in its eastern extremity.” It’s also situated near Borrego Springs — a town uniquely designated as the state’s only Dark Sky Community (which primarily means the town employs proper, enhanced outdoor lighting to minimize light pollution). All of this makes it the best stargazing location for many SoCal residents, including the more than 18 million people who call Los Angeles home.
The park has long recognized the importance of astrotourism and consequently been a favorite destination for sky-loving travelers. For years, it’s fostered community education and outreach regarding light pollution and its negative effects on our society and the environment. Park officials have actively worked with neighboring towns to ensure their use of dark sky-friendly lighting. It even convinced a military base nearby to reduce its outdoor lighting use. IDSA also notes the park’s “own house is in good order,” detailing a distinct lack of utility-provided electricity and the smart use of solar powered lighting within its boundaries. So, while the official Dark Sky Park designation may be new, Joshua Tree has long functioned as one already.
Joshua Tree National Park will officially be “sworn in” among the world’s other official Dark Sky Parks in August 2017.