A Starry, Starry Night – Dark Sky Areas

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Stargazing, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

Stargazing, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
Credit: Travel Alberta

The Big Picture

What better place to marvel at the stars and ponder Galileo’s theories than at Canada’s only park that straddle two provinces (Alta. and Sask.) – Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Not only is Cypress Hills famous for its “Dark-Sky Preserve”.

Cypress Hills was granted this designation due to its variety of programs that profile night skies, including astronomy, night hikes, and nocturnal wildlife ‘watching’ – plus it has far less light pollution than most parks. The Park’s interpretive staff has also taken numerous steps to reduce night pollution, by using reflectors on top of street lights, low wattage light bulbs and offering sessions to visitors about the affects of light pollution – disrupted sleep patterns, even cancer. Plenty of “loaner” telescopes will be set up throughout the summer for constellation tours, and you can often see the Northern Lights from Cypress Hills.

But before Cypress Hills was awarded its Dark-Sky status, it was famous for its unique ecosystem – 400 recorded plant species (including 16 species of orchids), 37 species of mammals, four ecological zones, parkland, foothills and boreal forest – due to its geography, the highest point between the Rockies and Labrador.

Claim to Fame

Its unique unexpected landscape and rich human history – people have lived here for 10,000 years. In fact, stone and bone tools, butchered and charred bone scrapings and artifacts of the Besant, Pelican Lake, Oxbow and Bitterroot cultures make it one of the most significant areas of ancient human habitation in North America.

Things to Do

Visit Fort Walsh National Historic Site that’s right in the park. Night programs (Fridays are a given) include stargazing and a nocturnal wildlife program. Their wildlife watching bus tours happen at dawn so visitors can start with the stars and then move on to prime spots where you’re likely to see owls, deer, moose, coyotes and more.

Side Trips Not to Miss

If you want an “urban” experience then a jaunt into Medicine Hat (an hour away) is a terrific addition to a holiday in the park. This is the home of the historic Medalta Potteries and present-day Hycroft China, collectively known as the Historic Clay District. Public tours are offered that include the potteries’ huge beehive kilns and the interior of the site that is architecturally interesting – very early 20th century industrial. While in Medicine Hat, be sure to see the world’s tallest teepee, the Saamis.

Learn more about the different kinds of dark sky areas, including Cypress Hills in Alberta and other areas in Canada.

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