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Western Slope Skies - Astrofest 2022

The Milky Way stretches over the Black Canyon Campground Amphitheater
Joyce Tanihara
The Milky Way stretches over the Black Canyon Campground Amphitheater

We are well into the month of September. On the Western Slope, you can glimpse changing leaves in the high foothills and mesas. The leaves are reacting to the shortening of the days. Then, on September 22, the days and nights will be equal. The autumnal equinox is a name for this phenomenon. After this day, the nights will expand their reach, increasing in length, until the winter solstice.

Many cultures in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate this change because it relates to the fall harvest. For example, Chinese celebrate the Mooncake Festival, a tradition dating back 3,000 years. This usually happens sometime between mid-September and early October. When the moon is full during this time, farmers can continue collecting ripe crops well after sunset. It is a time to celebrate this change into winter, and to practice gratitude for all of the blessings that the summertime gave.

Many festivals embrace the light of the equinox moon. But, this year, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park will celebrate the darkness of the autumnal night. Since the equinox will fall close to the New Moon, the skies are dark, allowing us to see faint stars, nebulae, and the Milky Way. As an International Dark Sky Park, Black Canyon is a perfect place to observe the change into the fall season, both in the landscape and up in the sky. Taking place September 22 through 24, the Black Canyon Astronomy Festival will have several events occurring in the park and in Montrose, Colorado.

During the day, stop by the South Rim Visitor Center at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to participate in fun activities. Daily talks with Astronomy Volunteers from 1:00pm-2:30pm will have you learning about life on Mars and other possible Earths in the Universe. On Thursday, Sharolyn Anderson of the National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division will give a lecture at 7pm in the Centennial Room in Montrose. Please note seating is limited, so the park is taking reservations for only this particular event. Email BLCA_info@nps.gov to request a reservation. If you miss her on Thursday, on Friday at 7:30pm she will be giving another talk, this time at Black Canyon’s South Rim Campground Amphitheater. On Saturday at 7:30pm, learn about the explorers of space and Black Canyon with an evening Ranger Talk.

If you want to see objects deep in our night sky, telescope viewing sessions are available every night. On Thursday at 8:30pm-10pm, rangers and volunteers will set up telescopes in the Montrose Botanic Gardens. On Friday from 8:30pm-10pm, viewing will take place at Black Canyon National Park, at the South Rim campground. On Saturday from 8:30pm-10:00pm, join us at the South Rim Campground Amphitheater for a special night sky presentation, where you can view real-time images from telescopes projected on the big screen.

By attending Black Canyon’s Astronomy Festival, you can both feast on the beauty of the night sky and harvest lots of astronomical knowledge from our talented volunteers and rangers. Outdoor programs are subject to change pending weather conditions. To learn more, visit nps.gov/blca. We hope to see you there!

Western Slope Skies is produced by Black Canyon Astronomical Society and KVNF Community Radio. This episode was written and voiced by Hannah Ashley, Park Ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.