Few small towns in America are as picturesque as Telluride, Colorado. A true sleepy mountain town, Telluride sits 8,750 feet in the Rocky Mountains in Southwest Colorado. A population of fewer than 3,000 residents is dwarfed by the enormous number of tourists who descend on Telluride year round to enjoy world-class skiing in the winter, and biking, hiking and river rafting in the warm spring and summer months.
But the city of Telluride and it’s very active tourism board have long believed in sustainability and conservation. When photographer and filmmaker Ben Canales from Uncage The Soul Productions attended the Mountainfilm festival in 2014 and was taking photographs of the town from the surrounding mountains, Canales says, “I was just shocked at how quickly the view of the stars became even more amazing the further from town I got.”
He wondered if he could convince the city of Telluride to turn off their lights for one night, not only would the photos from above be more dramatic, but the act would also serve as a conversation starter on the effects of light pollution. Canales approached Mountainfilm about hosting a “Lights Out Telluride” event during the 2015 event and the festival organizers were more than excited to attach their name.
The town of Telluride agreed to switch off all street and facility lights, while the festival reached out to private homeowners and businesses, encouraging them to shut off all lights before they went to bed.
At 3am, 80 people turn out in front of city hall to appreciate the dark skies. Even though participation wasn’t 100%, Canales estimated that between 50% and 70% of the town’s lights were turned off the night of the event.
However, the fact we did it, many people participated and the stars came out- it cracks the seal to prove it’s possible, people enjoy it and really put the draw out there to go all the way.
Telluride town manager Greg Clifton added:
This was an opportunity to be part of something really cool. I think that the bigger issue of light pollution and what we can do here to minimize our light trespass on starry skies … is on everybody’s mind. I think that’s just where the conversation starts. I don’t think that’s where it ends.
Canales is hopeful that the attention the event brought can help the town go completly black next year when they hold the second annual Lights Out Telluride event.
I think it’s a new nature awareness that hasn’t really been a cultural topic until recently. In two generations we’ve lost all touch of what a starry night looks like because we all live in cities. But photos remind people that the stars are still out there. We tried this once. Now let’s go bigger.
All photographs used with permission from Ben Canales.