Updated: Jan 13, 2022
With just a short three and a half hour drive from Vernal, UT to Thompson Springs, UT, a small community 45 minutes north of Moab, Connor and I allowed ourselves to catch up on some much-needed rest by sleeping-in. We set out a quarter after noon, after having gotten some breakfast and coffee. Our route took us along more winding highways with a seemingly endless series of breathtaking mountain vistas. We wondered if the transition from high alpine to desert would be abrupt, or if we would notice any subtle changes at all.
We listened to no music. We spoke little, and if we did, it was usually out of necessity. That was today’s theme – silence. Whether it was our lingering drowsiness, a landscape too grand in scale to put to words, or something else, we had little to say. It was a comfortable silence. A necessary silence. I found it fitting that as we entered a small town a sign was placed reading: “Sound Ordinance Enforced.”
This sign also made me question, if there can exist a municipal ordinance limiting sound pollution, one that is enforced by law, then why should the same not exist for light pollution? Now, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are most definitely places where just such laws exist, such as in Vernal or Flagstaff, AZ, where it is necessary for the Kitt Observatory, and likely elsewhere.
What I haven’t figured out yet is what mobilizes a community to advocate for and implement such laws, whether for sound or light pollution. A likely suspect where multi-million dollar observatories are not located – annoyance. People are easily annoyed by loud noises or bright lights, and so when these annoyances come to disrupt human life enough, action follows.
The problem with light pollution, however, is that most of the negative impacts that stem from it do not directly affect humans. The energy wasted from lights burning away, illuminated empty parking lots all night contributes to more CO2 in our atmosphere. Most light pollution itself is directly harming the insects, plants, and other wildlife that are exposed to it each night. While these may seem unrelated to human welfare, they can and do have, as of yet not fully researched ripple effects on the health of our whole planet – our home.
As the shrubs and snow gave way to sand, I still couldn’t get over the immensity and the beauty of our planet. Too big to possibly see it all in a lifetime, too extreme to possibly comprehend, too diverse to possibly conform, our planet really has it all. Now, as we looked out the window, we could see two-toned buttes, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and deep burgundy rock faces. Our destination for tonight – Arches National Park.
We arrived at Arches around 4:45 p.m., navigating the meandering road up a cliff and across a rust red plateau. When we got to the arches themselves, we had nothing to say. We just looked. We walked right up to them, then climbed underneath. The rock was smoother than either of us expected, worn by generations of visitors, hands and feet connecting with the earth that gave them life. With the little light we had left in the day, we explored most every inch of the North, South Window arches, and Turret arch.
Sat in the cradle of North Window, we watched the day fade to twilight. The boldest stars shone forth first, followed shortly after by their dimmer cousins. The moon, now resting half-lit high in the sky, illuminated the still desert landscape. There was not but a faint breeze. We were the last people there. Everything was ... silent. It was so quiet that I could hear my heart in my chest and the blood in my veins. Any noise we made echoed all around us. I have not experience such silence a long time. It puts your heart at ease.
We moved deliberately from spot to spot, absorbing the dark and the silent like our lives depended on it. Four hours later, we had finished our job. We had seen. We had felt. We had listened. We had captured. And now, I share with you. But, I urge you look on these photos with a grain of salt – they do not do justice to the actual experience of being there. You must go out and experience such wonders for yourself to fully understand the awe they inspire.
Go. See the stars. Be silent.
Above is the city of Moab, UT, and though it is fairly large and developed, with smart street lighting policy it has managed to limit its output of light pollution, preserving Arches National Park's natural dark night skies.