AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Most people in the U.S. don't know what a true night sky looks like because most Americans live in places affected by light pollution. But in a remote corner of Nevada, the Milky Way galaxy shines bright enough at night to cast shadows. Noah Glick from member station KUNR in Reno visited the country's newest and largest Dark Sky Sanctuary.
NOAH GLICK, BYLINE: Jen Rovanpera is an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management. Today, she's driving through remote and rough parts of northwestern Nevada, just six miles from the Oregon border. She pulls over to a vista point where in the distance, you can see a giant plateau. This is Massacre Rim, a recently designated Dark Sky Sanctuary.
JEN ROVANPERA: It's an immense area of darkness. The sanctuary is just a small fraction of that area.
GLICK: Rovanpera recently worked to get this large area designated with the International Dark Sky Association. The title doesn't come with any legal protections, per se, but land managers like the BLM do have to adopt a lighting policy that preserves the night sky. And only those areas that are unlikely to be developed are selected as sanctuaries.
ROVANPERA: I think it promotes recognition of what an amazing resource it is and also awareness that parts of the country, we're losing this opportunity to really enjoy the natural night sky.
GLICK: Only 10 Dark Sky Sanctuaries exist in the world, with four of them here in the U.S. At more than 100,000 acres, Massacre Rim is the largest one in the country. It's surrounded by thousands of acres of sagebrush and grass perfect for cattle...
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GLICK: ...And perfect for camping. I finish setting up camp as dusk turns to night. When I step outside my tent, it's around midnight.
Wow. You can see the dust from the Milky Way stretching across the entire horizon. It doesn't even look real.
The nearest city to this remote area is Cedarville, Calif., a town of just 500 people. Janet Irene is the owner of the Country Hearth restaurant in town where she spends her mornings making fresh breads and jams from scratch. She's happy about the designation and says the dark skies in her community aren't always appreciated.
JANET IRENE: It's something that's always there and we've always taken for granted.
GLICK: Last year, Irene hosted a stargazing party in her rose garden and says kids and adults alike were amazed at what they saw.
IRENE: From here, you can see so many things in the sky that I'd never seen other places I've lived before.
GLICK: Irene has been in Cedarville since 1970. She says the night sky is something that continues to amaze her, even after nearly 50 years.
IRENE: It's so exciting to know that there's something else up there other than what we see every day here. And you can actually see some small part of it. It's an insight into what might be.
GLICK: And it's an experience more people can see for themselves if they're willing to travel to this remote area of Northwest Nevada.
For NPR News, I'm Noah Glick at the Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary
CORNISH: And that story comes to us from the Mountain West New Bureau.
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