Insights — 28 November 2022
by Diane Harting
Darkness is getting harder to see. Think of the last time darkness engulfed you so completely that you could look up and see thousands of stars with your naked eye. For some of us—billions of us—the answer is probably never. Scientists estimate that, due to drastically increasing light pollution—the excess of electric light during night hours—about a third of humanity cannot see the Milky Way.
“A young person today probably has no idea how good the night sky can be,” says Chad Moore, who in 2006 was responsible for launching the National Park Services’ Night Sky Program. “It’s one thing to see a few stars in the sky, quite another to see the Milky Way, comets and a band of light. Just to be able to see thousands of stars with your naked eye is a high bar.”
Moore currently chairs the technical committee for the International Dark-Sky Association, a Tucson-based nonprofit organization that aims to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.
Light researchers estimate that a child born today in the United States or Europe has a one-in-10 chance of seeing a truly dark sky. “You have to drive farther and farther from even a small city to see these really dark skies,” says Moore.
If Van Gogh were alive today in Saint-Rémy, France, he would look up and instead of the Milky Way he’d see… nothing. Would he still be inspired to paint his famous Starry Night? His contribution is not the only one we might never know. For all of human history, our ancestors experienced a sky teeming with stars—a night sky that inspired scientists, theologists, philosophers, artists and writers.
Seeing the pristine night skies speckled with stars is an experience worthy of journeying to the farthest reaches of the globe for. In the United States, national parks preserve some of the darkest skies, and in some places up to 15,000 stars could be visible throughout the night—about 30 times what can be seen in a typical city. In fact, standing in the deepest of night in New York City’s Times Square, you could see perhaps a dozen stars, maybe.
The greatest concentration of national parks and national monuments in the U.S. is in the Grand Circle, an area that includes the Four Corners—the point where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico touch right angles.
Close to this Euclidean point rises Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, the first park to receive the designation of “International Dark Sky Park.” Look up and you see the marbled formation of the Milky Way and the whitish glow of the zodiacal light, an eerie elongated cone of millions of light particles that extends from the horizon along the ecliptic—the path of the sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year. The scenery on the ground is just as spectacular: a dazzling land of eroded rock formations—towering monoliths, pinnacles and benches, mesas and hoodoos (mushroom-hooded rock towers) that date back millions of years. Tucked away between this ancient land and celestial spectacle, at about 4,000 feet above sea level, sits Amangiri. The resort, which is the second North American property from luxury brand Aman, is a deluxe perch on 600 acres of the Four Corners and is designed to fuse into—rather than upstage—what some consider to be the most dramatic landscape on Earth.
“Amangiri has the advantage of being in the middle of nowhere—a beautiful nowhere,” says Jeremy Byrom, who leads the stargazing program at the desert resort. Constructed of concrete geometric planes, Amangiri—“peaceful mountain” in Sanskrit—is built right up against the swerving shoulders of rock, at once oddly foreign yet perfectly at home in the surreal landscape.
In a design that takes cues from its environs, textural elements like stone, leather and raw and polished woods pepper the hotel’s interior. Even a graceful tumbleweed on the lounge floor serves as a decorative statement. This pared-down aesthetic continues in the monumental guest suites, where wool throws, rawhide furniture and natural timber stand out against concrete floors and stone walls. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors open to private terraces that look out across an ocean of sand waves to Studhorse Mesa. Further in the distance (one of at least some 50 million years, geologically speaking) is Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.
Amangiri offers a long menu of immersive adventure. With so much land out the front door, you don’t ever need to leave the property to experience the landscape. If you can think of it, Amangiri can arrange it: private slot-canyon journeys with a Navajo guide, off-road tours, horseback riding or hot air balloon flights with views of Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain, the Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase–Escalante. Closer to your king bed: a fitness center, a yoga pavilion and a stunning 25,000-square-foot spa complete with steam room, sauna, water pavilion, watsu pool and outdoor treatment terraces.
But the night sky is the thing.
There is a reason why many observatories are located in high-altitude places like this: darker and fewer atmospheric conditions to view through.
“There is nearly zero light pollution here because there are no large cities around,” says Byrom, who grew up in nearby Page, Arizona, and started gazing up at a young age. He recalls spending many summer nights with his brothers, lying on their backs on a trampoline in the backyard.
“We would look for shooting stars and satellites until we fell asleep,” he says. While Byrom’s love and appreciation for the celestial bodies continues to grow, the night skies have become an endangered habitat, at least according to the International Dark-Sky Association.
But here, enveloped by darkness with the silhouette of the bold mesa walls and golden sandstone domes, the Milky Way glows above. Time stands still and you don’t blink for fear of missing out.
Amangiri is located 25 minutes from Page Municipal Airport. The resort is approximately a 4.5-hour drive from Las Vegas and Phoenix International Airports.