Colorado Dark Skies Class

Colorado Dark Skies Class


June 16 & 17 to Westcliffe and Silver Cliff and The Great Sand Dunes National Park
1 Graduate credit will be offered through The Colorado School of Mines
In addition to our observation and discovery of some designated Colorado Dark Skies, we will visit nature preserves and observe wildlife in their habitats and, learn about the geology and ecology of the areas, hike, visit museums and visitor centers to learn more about the uniqueness and history of this part of Colorado.

This two day class is offered for 1 semester hour graduate credit through Colorado School of Mines. It can also be used for continuing education and recertification licensure with The Colorado Department of Education.
Cost of the class is $205 for 1 graduate credit through the Colorado School of Mines or $140 without credit.

CSM Website

Class Agenda

Day One: 06/16/2023

9:00-10:00 AM
Meet in Westcliffe at Sugarlump Cafe 202 Main Street for an overview of the Wet Valley from pre-history to the present. Go over the day’s agenda.

10:00 AM-12:00 PM
Walk to All Aboard Westcliffe Railroad Museum for a guided tour and presentation on the history of railroads during the gold rush. Visit the Heritage Center.

12:30-1:00 PM
Visit Bluff Park get an overview of the valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range and the Wet Mountains. See the Smokey Jack Observatory

1:00-2:00 PM
Next we will visit the town of Silver Cliff, Colorado, next door to Westcliffe.
Lunch: Tony’s Pizza might be a good option because it is close to the Museum.

2-3:30 PM
Silver Cliff was settled in the late 1870s after discovery of the Geyser mine. The town was incorporated in 1879 and by 1880 was Colorado's third largest city with over 5,000 residents (behind Denver and Leadville).

While in Silver Cliff we will take take tour of the Museum at 620 Main St. Built in 1879 it was once Silver Cliff’s original town hall and firehouse. It gives us a glimpse of the early life of the area through artifacts revolving around mining, ranching and the homesteading way of life. Marty, the director will be available for questions. Afterward (time allowed) we will view some area mines with a quick trip to the cemetery. “The cemetery is famous for its unexplained ‘dancing blue orb lights’ seen on occasion and featured in the August 1969 National Geographic Magazine, Volume 136, No. 2.” These lights have been seen for many years. If you see the blue orbs you will automatically be entered into a drawing. (You might have to come back after our night visit to Smoky Jack Observatory) haha!

3:30-4:00 PM
Travel to Alvarado Campground to the Venable Trail head

4:00-5:30 or 6:00 PM
Hike the Venable Trail to the famous Rainbow Trail or hike to Venable Falls. If you want to hike the entire distance to the falls allow at least another hour.

6-6:30 PM
Travel back to Westcliffe

6:30-9:00 PM
Time on your own for dinner or relaxing, but for further exploration we recommend going to DeWeese Reservoir Fishery and Wildlife Habitat. DeWeese Reservoir activities, fish biology, wildlife viewing, bird watching, hiking, fishing.

9:00... PM
We will meet at Smokey Jack Observatory for telescope stargazing. Anyone who sees Unidentified flying objects or creatures from space will be entered into the drawing.

Day Two: 06/17/2023

8:00-9:00 AM
Meet at Sugarlump to go over the day’s agenda and answer any questions & comments from the previous day

9:00-11:30 noon
Travel to The Great Sand Dunes allow 2.5 hours travel with a 30 minute stop on La Veda Pass to see Culturally Modified trees or marker trees of the Ute Tribe. It’s also an interesting mining Ghost Town with a church, school house and various other building.

11:30-1:30 PM
We will take a lunch break and time to settle into your hotel or campsite

1:30-5:30 PM
Meet at the visitor’s center at The Great Sand Dunes We will watch a 20 minute movie about the dunes. There is a painting/photography exhibit and interactive exhibits, Rangers on hand for questions and an outside viewing scope of the dunes. Discuss the ecosystems of the dunes and the Arkansas Valley. Take time to hike High Dune Trail, or the Montville Nature Trail from the campground, try your hand at sledding or sand boarding, make a pastel sketch of the dunes, take some photos, explore Madano Creek, observe wildlife and habitats.

5:30-6:30 PM

Visit the wetlands west of the dunes. Discuss how this habitat and the Valley draws birds on their migration.

6:30-8:30 PM
Take a dinner break and time for yourself

8:30-10:00 PM
Return to the Great Sand Dunes national Park for night sky viewing and photography. We will have an open discussion about the dunes, night sky, wildlife, and the environment.