Where Dark Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View

GREAT SAND DUNES National Park The solitary dunes rise against the Rocky Mountains at 7,500ft above sea level in southern Colorado. It is a long, tedious drive to the nearest streetlight. After dusk, the darkened skies and dry air reveal just how bright the night can be.The stars burn so fiercely that they cast shadows on the sand. A blazing arch soaring above the Continental Divide is the core of the Milky Way. The dunes, like other parts of the West are a great spot to see the Perseid meteor shower's annual summer light show. It peaks every week.This year, however, things have changed. The West is on fire, and the sky is filled with smoke. On many nights, even in darkest parts of the West meteors that once slashed through the skies with fiery intensity now only pulse faintly through murk, if at all.It's terrible, I've never seen it as smoky, Bob Bohley, an amateur astronomy ranger who has been giving night star presentations at Great Sand Dunes National Park since 2009, stated just before he began his nightly ranger talk. It was so thick some nights that even the brightest stars couldn't be seen. I would point in the direction a constellation to see if anyone would notice it.