Southern Utah’s Rainbow Bridge National Monument has been selected as an international dark-sky sanctuary, a designation meant to recognize the area for its naturally dark skies and a cultural heritage revered by Native Americans.

“We’re thrilled to be the first National Park Service unit to receive this specific designation, as this will only fuel our night-sky preservation efforts,” William Shott, superintendent of Rainbow Bridge National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, said in a written statement.

Encompassing 160 acres, Rainbow Bridge National Monument outside of Page, Ariz., is among the smallest areas managed by the National Park Service and is considered sacred by several regional tribes, including the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Utes and Paiutes.

The dark-sky designation, made in conjunction with the International Dark-Sky Association, will be marked by a series of public astronomy events, beginning Saturday with viewings at Lake Powell Resort in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area’s Wahweap District.

That event, scheduled to run from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, also falls on the last day of International Dark-Sky Week, officials said.

The International Dark-Sky Association launched its dark-sky places program in 2001 to encourage protection of natural dark night skies worldwide through responsible lighting, public awareness and education.

The association’s executive director J. Scott Feierabend said the group was pleased to honor Rainbow Bridge for both its importance to astronomers and stargazers and its cultural significance.

“In the span of this remarkable natural bridge,” Feierabend said in a written statement, “we see symbolically represented the arch of the Milky Way across the night sky, a reminder of the long-held value of both Rainbow Bridge and the natural night sky to native peoples of the area.”

The Utah monument joins three other certified dark-sky sanctuaries worldwide, including Cosmic Campground in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest; Aortea-Great Barrier Island in New Zealand; and Gabriela Mistal in Chile.