Motivational Monday – Colorado’s Tiny Towns Embrace the Night

Motivational Monday – Colorado’s Tiny Towns Embrace the Night

Have you ever seen the Milky Way that goes from horizon to horizon?

80% of the American population now lives in a place where the Milky Way is more or less invisible, thanks to light pollution. Street lights, lit billboards, 24/7 shops and services are slowly but surely changing the way we experience the world around us. As a result, not only do we lose touch with our connection to the outdoors, but our overall health suffers due to sleep-disrupting effects on the human body. And it doesn't just affect humans either; the migration behavior of sea turtles have been altered due to coastal lights, and also big migration routes as well. So where can a Coloradan go to escape the glow of civilization and gaze up at the stars with the same wonder that our ancestors once did?

Look no further than Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, Colorado!

The two small Colorado towns are nestled in the Wet Mountain Valley, below the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. True, they may only boast a population of 1,100, but their movement toward eliminating light pollution in their small part of the state started about 15 years ago. Since then, they have over the last decade become key players in a movement called Dark Sky and were officially designated as IDA Dark Sky Community in 2015. The international effort  (International Dark-Sky Association) was founded in 1988 and aims to ensure that future generations can admire the Milky Way the same way previous generations did, before the advent of the light bulb.

(Photo Credit: Curtis Urban (stars), Watson Land Co. (terrestrial)

The valley just to the west of these towns is one of the best places to star-gaze for a couple different reasons - the altitude of 8,000 feet that puts you closer to the stars than any other Dark Sky community in North America, and also the wonderful attitude of the people soaking in the views.

Dark Sky's efforts aren't merely about aesthetics; there are major economic advantages to community's that become involved, too. Due to frigid winter months that bring about temperatures as cold as 24 degrees below zero, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff will never become a year-round destination for astronomers to star-gaze from. Their goal is to expand their summer tourist season as late into fall and the following year's spring as possible. Due to a lack of communications capability, efforts to spread the word about the ideal night skies have been stagnated. Despite that, Westcliffe has grown 20% in the last 15 years, much of which they attribute to the migration of people from more populated areas seeking solace.

"It isn't just the skies", says Charles Bogle, who leads the Custer County Economc Development Corporation. "The quality of life in the valley is so alluring."

The Towns That Embraced Darkness to See Starlight from Great Big Story on Vimeo.

Interested in a star-gazing trip to Westcliffe and Silver Cliff?

Visit the SJO (Smokey Jack Observatory) in the southwest corner of The Bluff Park. They keep an up-to-date list of events throughout the year that are hosted at the observatory, though you can also reserve the space for a private star party if you wish!

Depending on your drive, you may want to stay overnight and head home the next morning. Westcliffe's Courtyard Country Inn is within walking distance of everything in town; restaurants, gifts shops and more. Pricing ranges from $80 - $100/night, depending on the time of year. 

Motivational Monday – “To Scale: The Solar System”

"As we get farther and farther away, the Earth diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine... seeing this has to change a man."

- James IrwinApollo 15

Friends Alex Gorosh and Wiley Overstreet would need 7 miles of continuous space if they wanted to create a to-scale model of our solar system. Naturally, a bone-dry lake bed in Nevada was the perfect location for their venture. But they wouldn't merely be dragging sticks through the dirt to show the sheer magnitude of what is nearly always represented incorrectly; instead, they would connect light tracks to illustrate the planetary orbits in the night.

"We are on a marble, floating in the middle of nothing.... When you sort of come face-to-face with that, it's staggering." - Wiley Overstreet

It's difficult to watch their experiment and not feel the gravity of it all.

We've all had those times in our lives - whether they be days, months or years - in which we feel the world revolves around us. In contrast, we all have those times of clarity when we see the connections between us and all that is.

To put things into perspective, imagine everything that makes up your life and the way you live it: your house, your country, your continent and all the people in it, and the billions of other people who inhabit this beautiful planet alongside us — and then imagine all of that is a collective speck of dust on a brilliant, blue marble being hurled through space... and that is Earth.

Perhaps Calvin and Hobbes can shed some light on this philosophical prod - if we are specks of dust that can also do powerful things, does everything matter or does nothing matter? We all have to share this world together, and finding that balance is the greatest journey of all!