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Grand Canyon celebrated listing as International Dark Sky Park

It’s hard to match the experience of peering down into the Grand Canyon. Just don’t forget to look up.

The iconic Arizona attraction 280 miles east of Las Vegas has been certified as an International Dark Sky Park, joining other such stargazing hot spots as Death Valley and Great Basin national parks.

Grand Canyon was granted provisional dark sky status in 2016, prompting three years of lighting retrofits throughout the park’s developed areas to minimize light pollution.

Nearly 70 percent of the park’s lighting is now considered “dark-sky compliant” by the experts on such things: the International Dark-Sky Association, a Tucson, Arizona-based nonprofit that fights light pollution and certifies starry places.

National Park Service officials celebrated the achievement Saturday with a ceremony at the Mather Amphitheater on the canyon’s South Rim.

The gathering also served to kick off Grand Canyon’s 29th annual Star Party, featuring eight days of astronomical events on both rims of the canyon through Saturday.

There now are 68 certified dark sky parks and more than 115 dark sky places around the world.

Death Valley, 100 miles west of Las Vegas, joined the list in 2013. Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, 350 miles northeast of Las Vegas, was designated in 2016, thanks to nighttime conditions that the association described as almost as dark as before the invention of electric light.

According to the park service, Grand Canyon’s journey into darkness involved converting roughly a third of the park’s more than 5,000 exterior fixtures to shielded or low-emitting lights. Close to 100 of the fixtures qualified as historic and could not be replaced, so they got new bulbs or other changes in consultation with Arizona’s State Historic Preservation Office.

The park’s official nonprofit partner, the Grand Canyon Conservancy, raised more than $1 million to help pay for the work.

And park officials aren’t finished yet.

In the coming years, Grand Canyon plans on making 90 percent of its lights dark-sky compliant.

Most of that work will take place at the North Rim, at Desert View, at Tuweep and in the canyon at Phantom Ranch.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.