A southern Colorado destination for star gazers for decades, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has been recognized as an International Dark Sky Park.

Great Sand Dunes joins three other national park sites in Colorado and about two dozen national parks around the country in being designated International Dark Sky Parks, the National Park Service said in a Thursday news release.

“It’s no surprise that Great Sand Dunes has been building a reputation for good night sky viewing,” said Pamela Rice, park superintendent, in the release. “The dry air, high elevation, and lack of light pollution all make the park an ideal dark-sky destination. We are thrilled with receiving this recognition as an International Dark Sky Park.”

The designation, by the International Dark-Sky Association, recognizes the park, northeast of Alamosa, for its efforts and commitments to preserving “the exceptional quality of its dark night skies,” the release said.

Established in 1932 as the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, the park is home to the tallest dunes in North America. Congress passed national park designation in 2000. The park, made up of more than 149,000 acres, also includes wetlands, grasslands, forests, and alpine tundra.

“A starlit night at Great Sand Dunes can bring opportunities for wonder, perspective, and a more intimate connection with the natural world than we have in the daytime,” says Park Ranger Patrick Myers. “Besides seeing countless stars, our other senses open up and we become aware of the unique sounds of owls and toads, the scent of piñon pines, and the soft feel of polished grains of sand.”

Tucked along the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the park is also a destination for adventurers who enjoy sand boarding and sledding. After a day of sliding down the dunes, visitors can relax to the wonder of start gazing in its dark, vast glory.

“Great Sand Dunes has some of the darkest skies measured in the West,” says Rice. “We invite you to come out and experience this treasure for yourself.”

Great Sand Dunes staff will host a celebration of its Dark Sky Park designation later this summer on a date to be announced.