Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, Colorado - An Astro Tourism and Dark Sky destination
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Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, Colorado – An Astro Tourism and Dark Sky destination

Most Americans live under a hazy dome of light pollution allowing for a dim view of the glorious night sky. In the past few years there is a growing movement looking to extend our notion of wilderness to the skies. Parks, communities, and sanctuaries certified by the International Dark-Sky Association are slowly popping up all across the USA and the rest of the world.

Colorado’s proposed 3,000-square-mile Sangre de Cristo International Dark Sky Reserve if approved, would be the world’s largest dark-sky designated area.

Sitting within this region at 8,000 feet with peaks on three sides are Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, Colorado’s first and the world’s highest International Dark Sky Community providing exquisite views of the Milky Way.

Watch their inspiring video

Astro Tourism destinations are becoming a hot trend. As in the case of Wescliffe and Silver Cliff, visitors to stargazing destinations and observatories can greatly benefit from setting a Solar System Trail as a daytime activity offering a recreational and educational infrastructure for visitors.

Looking through a telescope is an inspiring experience yet we still largely see a 2-dimensional view of the Universe. The stars and planets share the same flat canvas of the night sky. It does not reveal the vastly different distances in relation to each point of light. The Solar System Trail is a vital platform that provides a perspective of our position in relation to the planets and a new appreciation and sense of scale when looking up at night to the beautiful but deceptively illusive positions of the night sky’s objects.

In 2021 the towns of Wescliffe and Silver Cliff fulfilled a 7-year dream to installed a Solar System Trail.

A local newspaper article described the occasion of ground breaking ceremony;
‘Today marked a milestone for the Planet Walk, a Westcliffe and Silver Cliff Space Odyssey exhibit. The joint Rotary Club and Dark Skies project in cooperation with the towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff is ready for installation to begin. Members of the Rotary Club, Dark Skies Organization, the town of Westcliffe, property owners, donors, and others involved in the project met at Cliff Lanes to formally transfer the Westcliffe portion of the exhibit to the town of Westcliffe for installation.

Courtney Miller, chairman of the project, is seen symbolically “passing the shovel” to Mayor Paul Wenke in front of Cliff Lanes at the spot where the interpretive sign for the Sun will be installed. The Planet Walk is a 4 billion to 1 scale model of the Solar System where visitors can experience what it would be like if the Sun were only 14 inches in diameter. The objects in the Solar System are displayed on attractive interpretive signs that show the size and scale and are spaced appropriately to show the distances between them.

The exhibit starts in front of Cliff Lanes and stretches down Main Street with the Sun and inner planets at Cliff Lanes, Jupiter at 101 Main St, Saturn at the Library, Uranus at Sol Vista and Neptune at the High School.

The committee early on saw the advantages of setting up the exhibit down Main Street so that visitors could experience not only the Solar System but also the beauty of our towns and visit our shops, restaurants, and businesses along the way.

In addition to beautiful and informative graphic panels, designed and built by X-Trails, a company in Ireland (now named Solar System Trails), the exhibit provides entertaining and educational audio guides designed for multiple age groups.

Following the installation Courtney Miller, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff Planet Walk Project Chairman conveyed this to the Solar System Trails team – “The Planet Walk for Westcliffe has officially been installed. The signs look wonderful and I want to thank you for your patience and for producing such a beautiful exhibit for our town. It was so gratifying to watch couples and families finding it and taking the walk and listening to the great audio narratives. Everyone in town is excited about having this unique attraction drawing tourists and neighbours down Main Street where they can shop, eat, and experience our quaint little town nestled in the Wet Mountain Valley with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop.”