The Starriest: Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
On a clear, moonless night, this preserve way out in the southeastern corner of Utah feels like a scene from humanity’s distant past, long before the glare from fluorescent bulbs and streetlights started washing out the firmament. “We have zero light pollution,” says Gordon Gower, a retired sky ranger who led stargazing tours at Natural Bridges.
Named the first International Dark Sky Park in the world in 2007, the monument is one of the few locations in the country where you can see distinct strands of the Milky Way, a shocking upgrade from the cloudy blur generally visible from urban areas. And at around 6,000 feet above sea level, the park lets visitors feel extra close to the nighttime show. One particularly iconic scene: thick bands of stars arching behind the thin profile of the 180-foot-long Owachomo Bridge, creating a perfect combo of sandstone and starlight.
Spring nights are often clear and cool, making great viewing for the Lyrid meteor shower, which peaks April 22. You could stay in the small town of Blanding, Utah, 40 miles away, but visitors who bunk at the monument’s small campground get to see the stars without doing a lot of night driving. The sites can’t be reserved, though, so it’s best to arrive early, dress warmly, and stay up late.