National Park Service photo by Jabon Eagar of the Milky Way from Lower Cliff Dwelling Trail.
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“Out of This World” Views Now Protected at Tonto National Monument

By Christa Sadler

What do dark skies mean to you?

Does it mean seeing a shooting star when you weren’t expecting it and making a wish? Or maybe it means looking at the twinkling stars to connect with a loved one or ancestors. Does it mean searching the dark, stellar canvas for constellations that tell stories of long ago? At Tonto National Monument, dark skies mean all of these things, and so much more.

Night sky preservation allows visitors to create relationships to human history; from the time of the Salado who resided in the prehistoric cliff dwellings the Monument protects, to the pioneers, and into the modern era. Despite the recent phenomenon of electric lighting, the view of the universe from Tonto National Monument is comparable to that experienced by historic and prehistoric residents.

Many nocturnal animals call Tonto National Monument home. Artificial light located in faunal habitats can result in substantial impacts to certain species including migratory birds, saguaro cactus, amphibians, and moths. Limiting the amount of light pollution emitted within the park not only enhances the view of the night sky, but also provides a better environment for plants and animals that depend on darkness for pollination, sustenance, and well-being.

Tonto National Park officially designated an International Dark-Sky Park

For the past three years staff have worked hard to preserve night sky views of the area by working with the International Dark-Sky Association to become an International Dark-Sky Park, officially designated in May 2019. Through this extensive process, the Monument developed a lighting management strategy  to utilize lights not exceeding the necessary brightness or temperature to light an area, to shield all fixtures, and most importantly, to turn off lights if they are not needed. This new International Dark-Sky Park has been taking monumental efforts to light up the night in a natural way.

“We are proud to accept the designation as an International Dark-Sky Park from the International Dark-Sky Association. Protecting the natural darkness at Tonto National Monument will provide opportunities for visitors to connect to their heritage,” says Eric Schreiner, Tonto National Monument Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services. “We hope future generations always have Tonto National Monument as a place to see a sky filled with stars.”

Tonto National Monument will be holding a special “Celestial Celebration” as part of its Park After Dark event series to honor its designation as an International Dark-Sky Park on January 25, 2020 from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m.


Join the International Dark-Sky Association, Phoenix Astronomical Society, East Valley Astronomy Club, Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association, and others in appreciating the protected dark skies of Tonto and learn about stellar topics. View far away objects in space through a telescope, take a walk through the solar system, join a park ranger for a guided hike to the Lower Cliff Dwelling at night, and other astronomical activities. For questions about the event, please contact Tonto National Monument at (928)467-2241 or

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