Atmosphere

The Sound of Silence

June 2011

True quiet—we’re talking peaceful, hear-yourself-breathing silence—is rare on the Front Range. Rumbling trucks, constant background music, and the “human hum” are so ingrained in urban and suburban living that you probably don’t even notice them. But your body does. Studies have linked chronic noise (even at low levels) to stress, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, aggression, and reduced cognitive ability in children.

Coloradans, however, are in luck. According to the Natural Sounds Program, a National Park Service (NPS) project that protects and preserves natural acoustic environments, some of the quietest spots ever measured in the United States (listed here) are close enough for a weekend escape. Not only do these places give your brain a break from everyday clamor, but they also expand your ability to detect natural sounds you would otherwise miss, such as—cliché as it may sound—trickling streams and tweeting birds. “In national parks, we often go to very high points for the most expansive view,” says Dr. Kurt Fristrup, chief scientist with the Natural Sounds Program. “Very quiet places give you the most expansive possible place to hear.”

  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO
    NPS scientists recently measured the median nighttime ambient sound levels here at an astounding 8.7 decibels. How quiet is that? A person breathing from 10 feet away is louder. Grab a backpack, pitch a tent farther than 1.5 miles from the day use area, and get ready for the quietest night of your life. Free backcountry permit required to camp; nps.gov/grsa
  • Dinosaur National Monument, CO/UT
    Explore the canyons of this desert wilderness, but avoid the Green and Yampa rivers for the most sound-free experience. Hike the aptly named Sound of Silence Trail near the temporary visitor center, or try the backcountry camping off of the Jones Hole Trail. Free backcountry permit required to camp; nps.gov/dino
  • Arches National Park, UT
    Just over the state line, you’ll find a wonderland of silent sandstone sculptures. Hike the Devils Garden Trail for a little-traveled tour of the canyon soundscape. nps.gov/arch
  • Canyonlands National Park, UT
    Head to the Maze District for a people-free experience (navigation skills required), or find your own corner of the desert on the Needles District trails. nps.gov/cany