New Mexico offers many dark-sky destinations and events. The possibilities afforded by its clear night skies draw dark-sky tourists from around the world.
The Very Large Array
If observatories are your dark-sky destinations of choice, put the Very Large Array on your list. It’s open for self-guided tours every day. Educational groups can take guided tours if reservations are made ahead of time. Guided tours for the public are offered only twice a year. All the tours are free.
The Very Large Array is located about 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico.
National Public Observatory Stars-N-Parks
The National Public Observatory works with state parks in New Mexico, New York, and Pennsylvania to offer family-oriented star parties. This program is called Stars-N-Parks.
Stars-N-Parks hosts star parties in six southern New Mexico state parks:
- City of Rocks State Park, Faywood
- Leasburg Dam State Park, Radium Springs
- Pancho Villa State Park, Columbus
- Caballo State Park, Caballo
- Oliver Lee State Park, Alamogordo
These family star parties offer camping in the state parks, “tours” of the night sky, and sometimes visits to an observatory. You can even get a discount if you volunteer to help with the events.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Want to visit a national park with gorgeous night skies and its own observatory? The Chaco Culture National Historical Park celebrated the grand opening of a permanent domed observatory in 1998. Since that time, dedicated volunteers have helped host Night Sky Programs at the park. These astronomy events, including telescope viewings, are offered from April to October. In addition, from May through October you can participate in tours, hikes, and other evening programs.
Be sure to check the website for information about road closures and road conditions. Also, learn about what the weather will be like at the time of your visit. Temperatures can vary greatly, so be prepared.
Chaco Canyon is located in northwestern New Mexico.
The Enchanted Skies Star Party
Socorro, New Mexico, is home to the annual Enchanted Skies Star Party. This much-acclaimed dark-sky event is unique in that it takes place at several locations, including its central site at the Etscorn Observatory, where one night of observing is open to the public, and its official Dark Sky Site at El Camino Real International Heritage Center, where it is a tradition to have a chuck wagon style dinner. In addition, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory with the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array plus Apache Point and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory are included during different years in the star party’s tours and observing nights.
You’ll need to register for the star party, and then make your own arrangements for camping or staying at a motel or bed and breakfast inn. Socorro offers several options for accommodations and restaurants.
White Sands Star Party
The White Sands Star Party combines public viewing and events at the New Mexico Museum of Space History and the Clyde W. Tombaugh IMAX Dome Theater in Alamogordo, New Mexico, with camping at White Sand National Monument and viewing restricted to amateur and professional astronomers and their families.
This dark-sky tour usually takes place at Astronomy Adventures’ main site 15 miles south of Sante Fe, New Mexico. You can view the wonders of the night sky through owner and astrophotographer Peter Lipscomb’s 20-inch reflector telescope. Astronomy Adventures keeps each group small so that each person has more viewing time. Each program lasts from an hour and a half to two hours and sometimes longer, if participants want to continue viewing.
Night Sky Adventures
If you’re in or around New Mexico, a starry skies adventure can come to you, courtesy of Geoff Goins and Night Sky Adventures. This dark ranger will bring his portable 24-inch mirror telescope and “the wonders of the night sky and universe” to you at your bed and breakfast inn, lodge, or camp. He will share his love of the universe and extensive knowledge through a dark-sky program that includes an in-depth presentation and breathtaking viewing experience.
Adobe and Stars Bed & Breakfast
One place that Night Sky Adventures visits several times a year is the Adobe and Stars Bed & Breakfast Inn, located near Taos, in northern New Mexico. Even when the Night Sky Adventures telescope is not there, you can still enjoy the starry skies from your window, deck, or the hot tub. The setting, surrounded by the Sangre de Christo Mountains, could not be more perfect for this inn, which offers eight guest rooms, each with its own kiva fireplace.
Casitas de Gila
This dark-sky destination, literally “Little Houses of Gila,” calls itself “a cluster of five southwestern adobe-style guesthouses and art gallery.” Bed and breakfast or vacation rental with kitchen, you can take your pick.
For stargazers, the set-up is perfect. Each casita has its own spotting scope and star charts. The host also offers night sky tours using a 10-inch reflecting telescope. A third option is to bring your own equipment and use the Casitas de Gila set-up sites with power to enjoy the clear, dark skies of southwestern New Mexico.
Casitas de Gila is located about 30 miles northwest of Silver City, New Mexico.
New Mexico Skies
Located atop Mt. Joy in New Mexico's beautiful Sacramento Mountains, New Mexico Skies makes it possible for amateur astronomers to take full advantage of the clear, transparent skies at 7,300 feet. New Mexico Skies is not a bed and breakfast inn (you’ll need to bring your own food or eat out in Cloudcroft), but it does offer a variety of comfortable accommodations. The real centerpieces of New Mexico Skies are the six separate, domed observatories plus an assortment of other telescopes you will be able to use to see those New Mexico skies.