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The Dark Skies of Sun Valley, ID

Travis Amick's picture
Travis Amick

The Sun Valley area is blessed with small town vibes and a big heart, endless outdoor activities for every season, and some of the best dark night skies in the entire world.  On any given clear night just look up to see billions of stars scatter the sky.  If you happen to be in the area in the months from around March to November you will notice a band of light arching across the sky.  This, my friends, is the Milky Way Galaxy, which holds our precious planet and all of life!  During the winter months the Universe’s rotation puts most of the Milky Way’s core out of visibility in the Northern Hemisphere, but the stars still shine if you are willing to bear the cold. Scientists estimate that about 80% of the world population lives in a light polluted area with little or no view of any stars.  With this stat steadily increasing at about 6% a year, humanity could possibly loose its view of the heavens and the mysterious and amazing universe around us.  Light pollution has become a major problem for cities, and the only way to view or photograph stars is driving for hours, where you still get light pollution run off.  In Idaho and especially the Sun Valley area it is possible to see the band of Milky Way light in the middle of town with our own eyes, making this a more than spectacular place for star gazing and astrophotography. 

The city of Ketchum is officially on list of International Dark Sky Communities, one of only 11 in the United States. Part of a larger collection of Idaho, the central part of the state is currently in the process of becoming the first Dark Sky Reserve in the U.S. and only the 12th in the entire world!  The majority of these exist in Europe; England, Wales, France, and Germany, and three being in Africa, Canada, and New Zealand.  While the US already has many dark parks and preserves, which are much smaller areas of protected land to preserve the night skies, the Central Idaho area is one of the few remaining dark sky locations large enough to obtain the reserve status!  So what exactly is a dark sky reserve?

As quoted by the International Dark Sky Association, “An IDA Dark Sky Reserve (DSR) is a public or private land of substantial size (of 700 km2, or about 173,000 acres) possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment and that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment. Reserves consist of a core area meeting minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky preservation in the core. Reserves are formed through a partnership of multiple land managers who have recognized the value of the natural nighttime environment through regulations and long-term planning” (darksky.org).  There is a long list of criteria for an area to become a dark reserve.  The main focus is on lighting sources.  Changing a majority of bulbs to IDA standards and making sure that no light is wasted. Most of the current lighting used to light sidewalks, streets, cities, and homes is wasted.  This means it lights the source, where it is purposed to do, but then spills up to the sky, causing light pollution.  By getting compliant lights that only light the ground and the area it is meant to light, and putting special coverings over large lights when needed, cities would save countless money on electricity and energy, while being more efficient at lighting what is actually needed and saving our night skies.  The reserve would be a perfect fit for Idaho.  It will be a sanctuary for outdoorsman, photographers, educators and scientists, and anyone that enjoys picturesque scenery and incredible mountain peaks, completed with the best night skies.

With the brilliant and hopefully soon protected night skies, the Sun Valley area has a plethora of places to shoot beautiful photos of the stars and Milky Way or just to do some old fashioned star gazing. 

Dark Sky Reserve - Sun Valley, Idaho - Milky Way

A short minute hike up Knob Hill will find you the best seat in town, where the Milky Way is even visible above downtown Ketchum.  If the reserve is granted, and the lights are changed to meet the criteria, this view will become unbeatable!

Dark Sky Reserve - Sun Valley, Idaho - Milky Way from Sun Valley Lake

Just down the street from Sun Valley Lodge is the Sun Valley Lake.  On a clear, calm night and the lake full of water you can even see some stars reflecting off the small lake.

Dark Sky Reserve - Sun Valley, Idaho - Milky Way from Trail Creek

Another great location near Sun Valley is to take a short drive out trail creek, to the darkest skies in the immediate area.  During the summer months the Milky Way lines up above the road and protrudes from Baldy Ski Mountain. 

Dark Sky Reserve - Stanley, Idaho - Milky Way from Redfish Lake

 

If you want to find yourself in one of the darkest night skies with crystal clear alpine lakes, head north from Sun Valley over Galena Summit to Redfish Lake and the surrounding areas.  This is where the Sawtooths meet the skies!  With an amazing backdrop and reflection from the lake, you can sit for hours enjoying the beauty.  If you get lucky you may even catch the Northern Lights!

Dark Sky Reserve - Stanley, Idaho - Milky Way from Redfish Lake

The dark sky initiative would include portions of both Blaine and Custer Counties, including the communities of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Stanley, and the Sawtooth and White Cloud Wilderness for now.  The reserve area could later be expanded even larger if other nearby communities wish to join.  Having Central Idaho become a dark sky reserve will protect our beautiful night skies for generations to come, while creating an opportunity like nothing else in the US, opening options for more photography, tourism, education, wildlife protection, scientific research, energy efficiency, and endless Idaho beauty!

Dark Sky Resources

Dark Sky Reserve - Stanley, Idaho - Milky Way from Redfish Lake  Dark Sky Reserve - Sun Valley, Idaho - Milky Way  Dark Sky Reserve - Sun Valley, Idaho - Milky Way

Photos by Travis Amick Photography

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