When is clean air and clean water not enough? When light pollution soaks the night skies with humanity’s blaring glow—disrupting circadian rhythms and nocturnal activity across the animal kingdom. And just try wishing on a star when cities and suburbs form a statewide Lite-Brite.
That’s why “dim” is a compliment in Utah, the global heart of the dark sky movement: a kind of environmentalism that reaches all the way to the stars. The state was home to the world’s first International Dark Sky Park, a designation meant to recognize and preserve areas where light pollution is at its lowest. Now Utah has more than any other state or province in the world. One, the North Fork Park outside Ogden, comprises 1,000 hectares along the Wasatch Mountains, a refuge of darkness under an hour from Salt Lake City.
It’s one of the only places you could have a hotel like the Compass Rose Lodge, open since early 2019 in the rural hamlet of Huntsville just south of the park. The boutique property boasts only the second space observatory in an American hotel. What looks like an attached farm silo actually houses a 16-inch telescope with a mirror structure not unlike the Hubble Space Telescope. A 10-ton concrete pillar, driven into the valley floor below the hotel, keeps it steady as computers point the lens to distant stars.
Such equipment, including a rotating half-sphere roof, means nothing if the sky is littered with neon glow and fluorescent glare. Tiny Huntsville has taken up the cause of darkness, embracing light fixtures that block illumination from leaking upward. Quiet and dim, the town is an idyllic retreat that’s somehow still next to three ski areas and 20 minutes from busy Ogden.
All that darkness allows Compass Rose’s whopper of a telescope to take pictures of the Triangulum Galaxy and the Ring Nebula, the fuzzy light of distant stars coming into focus as delicate, feathery shapes. The only downside is that pictures emerge on a computer screen, not through an eyepiece, though nightly observatory tours include a look through a smaller, more traditional scope that reveals Saturn’s rings and closer star clusters.
At night, Huntsville's dark sky feels as crisp and clean as the Utah air, as pure as its snow. And that blackness means a rare vacation that steers your focus somewhere far beyond your actual destination.