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Glamping Beneath the Stars in Utah

Glamping Beneath the Stars in Utah

As I exited Harry Reid International Airport on a bright March afternoon, my hand flew up to protect my eyes, which had grown accustomed to the dull light of a long, gray Tennessee winter. I’d headed west for the sun, but even more so for the night sky, so I was hoping for clear weather ahead. I climbed aboard a shuttle bus that would take me two hours east to Utah, where I planned to spend a starry night at Under Canvas Lake Powell-Grand Staircase.

The glamping resort, one of 12 Under Canvas sites, is anchored on a canyon rim plateau in southern Utah and is the first resort in the world to be certified by the nonprofit authority on light pollution, DarkSky International. My aim was to beat the heat and the crowds — but what I really wanted was to be an early adopter of certified starry resorts.

The DarkSky Approved Lodging program is another step forward in the nonprofit’s history of advocacy for the reduction of light pollution. Broadly, the requirements for certification include being situated in an “exceptionally” dark location; having approved means of reducing the impact of light at night; and providing educational materials about night sky conservation to guests.

Under Canvas, said James Brigagliano, the program’s manager for DarkSky, was a good fit for the project because the company’s sites are in dark locations, and they already follow eco-friendly practices. Since the Lake Powell site was certified in August, other Under Canvas locations in the National Park Service’s Grand Circle Western parks area have also been approved.

In St. George, Utah, I rented a car and headed southeast, the Pine Valley Mountains hovering to the north. The second half of the two-hour drive was on Route 89, which runs from Mexico to Canada. My roughly 60-mile section was marked by sienna-hued mesas and buttes, and cornflower-blue skies.

By 3:30 p.m., I was bouncing along a red dirt road until Under Canvas’s cream-colored tents came into view. There are 50 in all, scattered across 220 acres, all of them with views of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a massive geological formation that occupies about 1.87 million acres of public lands, from desert to coniferous forest.

As I got out of my car, I looked up at the sky warily. Clouds were gathering.

In the dirt lot, there were vehicles from Western states and a few from the Northeast. Like me, these travelers had come early — one day after the resort opened for the season…

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