If you’ve ever looked up at the night sky and wondered about what you’re seeing, it’s not hard to find the answers by taking a road trip to the dark skies of the Southwest. Just go RVing in New Mexico or Arizona and you’ll have access to some of the most fascinating ways to learn all about the galaxies. These four stargazing destinations barely scratch the surface.
Four Great Southwest Astronomy Destinations for RVers
As one of the first U.S. states to enact a law protecting the darkness of night skies, New Mexico is a world-class stargazing destination any time of year. Although winter nights can be chilly, it’s never too cold to explore more about the stars and planets at places like:
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array (VLA). Located two hours south of Albuquerque and 50 miles west of Socorro, the VLA’s giant antennae were made famous in the 1990s sci-fi movie “Contact.” As the most advanced, widely used radio telescope in the world, the VLA does everything from track robotic spacecrafts to map large-scale structure of gas and molecular clouds, to pinpointing ejections of plasma from super massive black holes. The 28 25-meter dishes are hard to miss on the horizon and the best part is, you can tour the VLA on the first and third Saturday of every month with a working astronomer. Should you arrive any other day, the VLA grounds are open for self-guided tours throughout the rest of the year.
After the VLA head to The Cosmic Campground. You’ll need warm clothes and night sky-friendly stargazing gear in this campground created just for stargazers near the remote outpost of Alma. The small town north of Silver City is the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the Northern Hemisphere and the campground attracts astronomy buffs year-round. Situated at 5,318-feet altitude, the Cosmic Campground is the perfect boon-docking spot for a 360-degree view of the setting sun. Moments after darkness begins, you’ll revel in the country’s darkest starry nights where dazzling displays of the cosmos explode overhead. Camping is RV-friendly and easily accessible on a one-mile gravel road off Highway 180.
Since you’re already traveling in the far southwest reaches of New Mexico, why not make time for an extended road trip to Southern Arizona? You’ll find more opportunities just over the border that will grow your inner RV geek astronomer. Two great destinations for snowbirds are located in Tucson, one of the world’s first dark sky cities.
First, be sure to leave the RV at any of Tucson’s many highly rated snowbird RV parks. Tucson’s observatories are located high above the city lights and it’s easier to get there without a large vehicle. Start with a 56-mile trip west of Tucson to the Kitt Peak National Observatory, where you’ll drive to the peak of the 6,000-foot mountaintop on the Tohono O’odham Nation land and get treated to unforgettable views of the sky and earth. If you arrive during daytime hours you can take guided tours of the facility, including live views of the sun and astronomy exhibits. For in-depth views of the galaxies, plan on attending a nighttime star party with a fascinating program exploring planets, nebulae, galaxies, star nurseries, and other celestial bodies.
You’ll want to stay a while in Tucson to check out the other great astronomy destination, the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, which sits on U.S. Forest Service land at an elevation of 9,157 feet above the city. The SkyCenter gives astronomy geeks access to the Schulman 32″ inch and the Phillips 24″ telescopes, which are are two of the largest telescopes available for public use in the Southwest. Programs range from day tours with solar viewings, to nighttime star parties for hearty souls willing to tolerate chilly alpine temperatures for a chance to see the heavens. Private star parties can be arranged for groups of any size, and advance reservations are required for all programs, so book ahead of your planned visit.
RVing in the Southwest offers lots to do but especially during winter. Arizona and New Mexico’s world-class astronomy destinations are one of the best ways to understand the skies above for more meaningful RV adventures down here on earth.
– by Rene Agredano
About the Author:
Rene Agredano, a Coach-Net member since 2015, is a self-employed full-time RVer who enjoys writing, jewelry design and animal advocacy. Her adventures with a three-legged dog and husband Jim are chronicled at LiveWorkDream.com
Carol C. ~ “As RV ‘newbies’ we had a learning moment when, after enjoying our evening campfire, we discovered we had inadvertently locked ourselves out of our Class C with our keys and cell phones inside! And it is 9:30pm! We contacted Coach-net (using Camp Host’s phone) and Taylor was very friendly, professional, and reassuring that we would be back in our RV as quickly as possible. She began her search for a 24 hour locksmith in our area, and promised to contact us in 20 minutes to update us. She did call us in 20 minutes but was still searching for someone willing to come to State Park Campground that late at night. Five minutes later, she called to let us know she had found someone and he would be there within 45 minutes. Five minutes later, the locksmith called to let us know he was on his way and would be there in 20 minutes. He arrived, got us into our RV, and was very knowledgeable and friendly. So glad we have Coach-Net! We learned two valuable lessons: 1) keep extra key hidden outside somewhere, and 2) keep Coach-Net as our roadside assistance provider!”