With a population that hovers around 1,000, not many people have heard of Westcliffe, Colorado. There’s a reason for that – the town is remote. It’s located in south-central Custer County, surrounded by mountains, and also happens to be one of the darkest communities in America. In fact, this town is so dark that it’s actually recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) as an official International Dark Sky Community…but what does that mean?

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The IDA defines a “Dark Sky Community” as a community that has taken extensive steps toward maintaining the visibility of their night skies. There’s a submission process that determines which places deserve this designation and only 20 communities around the world have made the cut, 14 of which are in the U.S.

How did Westcliffe (and nearby Silver Cliff) earn this designation? Their location between two parallel mountain ranges helps. The prominent Wet Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains block out most of the skyglow from other nearby places, including Colorado Springs, Cañon City, and Pueblo. It’s also got a small population.

In addition to these inherent factors, dark sky advocates have pushed hard for changes over the years to prevent light pollution, including a push for the installation of “night-friendly” lighting. This basically means that outside lights are directed to only point at the ground with the use of a shield on top. This prevents light from escaping upwards. Another aspect that helps limit light glow around Westcliffe is the widespread use of low-wattage bulbs, which also happen to be more energy-efficient.

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As you might expect, the “Dark Sky” designation is a key driver of tourism for the town, with astronomers travelling from around the entire country to the Westcliffe area to get a better view of the stars.

If you’re looking for a new spot to visit this summer, try Westcliffe. It’s dark in a serene way and you’ll never see a more beautiful nightscape. If you do visit, please respect this tiny town’s way of life. Don’t bring your own light or noise pollution and just take some time to enjoy the stars.

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