The quietest and noisiest spots in the West

Some places are 20 decibels or less, similar to levels in pre-Colonial times.

  • Cities like Denver are among the West’s noisiest places — from 50 dB to more than 80dB.

    Larry Johnson/CC via flickr
  • City of Rocks in Idaho, is one of the quietest places for intrusive noise, at 20 dB or less — similar to levels in pre-Colonial times.

    National Park Service
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the quietest places for ambient sound, at 20 dB or less — similar to levels in pre-Colonial times.

    Madeleine Deaton/CC via flickr
 

The West’s quietest places often coexist with its noisiest. Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park is nearly as quiet today as before European colonization, and yet, partly because of its silence, air traffic from Denver International Airport can be audible there. The park, with its lack of wildlife- and water-sounds, represents one kind of silence; other wild places, such as Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, mask noise like air traffic with the sound of running water and rustling vegetation.

The National Park Service recently conducted a study of noise levels across the U.S. The study maps noise levels — the bluer the quieter — based on conditions like temperature, precipitation, and, of course, proximity to human activity.

“Westerners are quite lucky,” says Kurt Fristrup, senior scientist with the agency’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division, which conducted the study. “A lot of the deep-blue places are here in the West. At the same time, noise is extending into the landscape in these spider-web patterns, along roads. Industrial development is now penetrating places that were recently wild.”

It’s a new approach in the decades-old study of silence, enjoyed by humans and essential to animals. “Being able to hear and survey what’s going on around you is a critical part of survival,” Fristrup says. “For wildlife, it’s literally a matter of life and death.”

The brightest yellows show the noisiest places in the U.S. with the highest noise levels at 55-67 dB. The quietest places are deep blue with levels down to less than 20 dB. Noise levels are based on median daytime summer sound levels, expressed in decibels (dB), which are on a logarithmic scale: A 10 dB increase corresponds to a tenfold increase in sound energy. Source: NPS Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division

High Country News Classifieds
  • INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR
    High Country News seeks an editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk. This individual will lead a team of passionate journalists...
  • HIKING TO THE EDGE:
    Confronting Cancer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Poetry and photos on survival thinking. E-book and paperback available at Amazon.com.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • IPLC RIGHTS AND EQUITY PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FUTURE WEST
    Future West seeks an executive director to lead this dynamic organization into the future. Based in Bozeman, MT this well-respected nonprofit provides communities in the...
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • COMMUNITY FORESTER
    The Clearwater Resource Council located in Seeley Lake, Montana is seeking a full-time community forester with experience in both fuels mitigation and landscape restoration. Resumes...
  • GUNNISON BASIN ROUNDTABLE
    The Gunnison Basin Roundtable is currently accepting letters of interest for ten elected seats. Five of the elected members must have relevant experience in the...
  • PCTA TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS IN WASHINGTON'S NORTH CASCADES
    Seasonal Positions: June 17th to September 16th (14 weeks) - 3 positions to be filled The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.