Stepping outside in Camp Verde at night can be quite a show. Everything from the Milky Way to the orange glow of Mars are often visible with the naked eye. That celestial show is now recognized with an International Dark Sky Community designation and a new Dark Sky Festival. Attended by 437 people, Camp Verde’s inaugural Dark Sky Festival featured participants like Lowell Observatory, the Arizona Science Center, and Meteor Crater. 200 lucky festival-goers attended “Wonders of the World” in a portable Planetarium from the Arizona Science Center.

Kids explored our space neighborhood in fun, interactive activities with Ranger Laura from Tuzigoot National Monument. The National Park Service and Ranger Laura really know how to engage kids in education while playing and having a ball! Two teams competed in a relay race to match planet cards with their order. Competitors raced across the Community Center Field Star Park (a proud member of the Global Star Park Network) to find and identify their planet before running back to tag the next runner on their team. Kids of all ages also learned how the Sun, Earth, and Moon rotate and orbit by acting out this eternal dance.

Activities for the whole family don’t stop there. From building and launching paper rockets with human and air power to checking your weight on each planet and enjoying live music, the festival was full of good, wholesome fun and education. Homemade pies, soups, and other delicious dishes from a local favorite—Udderly Divine—nourished our brains to help absorb more information and lifelong memories. The vegan minestrone was just that: utterly divine! Nothing but fresh flavors, with just the right amount of spice. If you missed the festival, stop by Udderly Divine on Main Street or at the Verde Valley Farmers’ Market.

Dark Sky Art contest entries were on display for voting and the winners were announced during the festival. Art contest winners:

  • 1st Place for $100: Mike Cadwell, astrophotographer from Astronomers of Verde Valley
  • 2nd Place for $60: Ralph Nye, astrophotographer from Rimrock and Lowell Observatory staff member
  • 3rd Place for $30: Mrs. Bullard’s 1st-5th grade Friday Camp class from Camp Verde Unified School District, for constellations on black construction paper
  • Honorable Mention: Mrs. Lowanand and Mrs. Padilla’s 1st-3rd grade Friday Camp, for glow-in-the-dark concrete stepping stones

Attendees also had the opportunity to view films like “Galaxies—Night Skies”, “Collisions and Impacts”, “Modern Research at Lowell Observatory”, and “The Mayan: Tools of Astrology” from the International Dark Sky Association, Meteor Crater, the History Channel, Lowell Observatory, the San Jose Astrological Association, and Adrian Maudult. Lectures on astrology and outdoor lighting to preserve our dark skies were a big hit and the Yavapai-Apache Nation Tribal Council shared words of wisdom.

Dr. Jeffrey Hall from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona presented the keynote speech to a full house. “A Planet by any other name: The recent history of Pluto” gave us all a new perspective. Since Lowell Observatory discovered Pluto, what better subject to discuss? And what an opportunity for attendees!

After dark, Matt Malloy hosted a “Night Sky Viewing with Binoculars” workshop. Despite some cloud cover, 100 stargazers took advantage of the AstroVerde Club telescopes in the Community Star Park. Just enough clearing allowed many folks to view our planetary neighbors for the very first time, including Saturn! Stargazers also observed nebulae, double stars, and other deep sky objects. We’d like to thank all our contributors, including the Rim Country Camera Club for hosting a night photography demo. And the Lowell Observatory telescope was quite a sight in itself! We were also thrilled to welcome Camp Verde High School Astronomy Club to the party.

International Dark Sky Community & Dark Sky Business Award

Camp Verde is the world’s newest International Dark Sky Community! As of June 9, 2018, we are the 20th in the world and 6th in Arizona. Dark sky-friendly for decades, we’ve had a dark sky lighting ordinance, but are now officially recognized on an international level. This was the work of five years, 75 letters of support, public education, a full town lighting inventory, media exposure, astronomy clubs’ participation, and a promise to protect our dark skies forever.

Congratulations to Whistlestop Screen Print Shop for receiving the Dark Sky Business Award! And to Thanks A Latte Espresso Café for being recognized as a Dark Sky Business. Their outdoor lighting sets a great example for our community.

Camp Verde is in the top 20% of the world for Milky Way visibility. How can you protect this natural resource for our community? Hooded lighting fixtures that point down illuminate the ground—where the light is needed—instead of the sky, helping to preserve our dark skies. Motion sensor lights or fully-shielded, downward pointing, dim, yellow, or amber lights are ideal. Businesses can turn out bright lights and lit signs by 10pm. Lighting plans are reviewed during the building permit process and the Code Enforcement Officer is available to help explain the new lighting guidelines. Camp Verdeans who love our dark skies can lead by example, considering the allowed 10-year transition to dark-sky compliant lighting.

When to See the Milky Way

Thanks to light pollution, more than half the world’s population has never seen the dust lanes, nebulas, and star clusters of the Milky Way. In Camp Verde, it’s such a common sight, seemingly taking over the sky, that the notion of never seeing this display is hard to grasp. The Milky Way is above the horizon for most of the night during summer months, a few hours before sunrise in the spring, and in the evening during autumn. The best times to stargaze and view constellations, planets, and the Milky Way galaxy in Camp Verde are on clear nights during the dark of the Moon, a new Moon, or when it’s below the horizon.

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