New Mexico August 28, 2017
These Are Some Of The Darkest Places In New Mexico And You’ll Want To Visit
New Mexico skies are famous and beloved. Daily, we are treated to blue skies, magical sunrises, and dramatic orange sunsets. Turns out, our night skies are pretty special too, especially if you get to view them away from the intrusive lights of the city.
Five sites in New Mexico have been certified as “dark” places by the International Dark-Sky Association. As well as being up to 99 percent free of light pollution, visitors to Dark Sky Parks are treated to ranger-led night sky programs that blend science, nature, and history.
1. Capulin Volcano National Monument
If you have been to northeastern New Mexico, you have probably seen Capulin Volcano, even if from a distance. It's an amazing natural wonder during the day. At night it becomes even more wonderful with nearly pristine sky watching conditions.
View the Milky Way spread out over Capulin.
Park rangers at Capulin frequently hold "Park After Dark" events where they discuss the mysteries of the dark skies over New Mexico. Check the
Capulin Monument Facebook page
for upcoming star parties and dark sky events. The park is at 46 Volcano Road, in
2. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
We aren't the first people to watch the skies. Evidence suggests that the ancient people who lived at Chaco watched the sun, moon, and stars too. Their skyward observations are reflected in the layout of their buildings, at their ceremonial sites, and in the petroglyphs they created.
Horsehead Nebula taken from Chaco Observatory
Today, Chaco's night skies and the park's observatory, draw visitors from around the world who come to see sky views rarely seen elsewhere. Chaco Culture Historical Park is located at 1808 County Road 7950, in Nageezi.
3. Clayton Lake State Park
Clayton Lake State Park is most well known for its preserved dinosaur footprints. At night, though, this park becomes a haven for New Mexico stargazers.
Did you know that Clayton Lake has an observatory?
The observatory's computer operated telescope is cleverly tucked into 12 x 16-foot building with a retractable roof. The telescope is connected to a remote television monitor so groups can see the starry images. The state park is located about 12 miles outside of Clayton at 141 Clayton Lake Road.
4. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
These mission ruins became a Dark Sky Park in 2016. The monument at Salinas contains the ruins of three Spanish missions. They were built in the early 17th Century when European missionaries came to spread Christianity to the native people living in the area.
The dark skies at Salinas allow for stunning night photographs.
Salinas is close enough to Albuquerque that it still gets some low-level light intrusion. Still, the park is a great place to explore the night sky. The Park Service often presents viewing parties and presentations on how our night sky differs from what the natives saw before the Spanish conquest. Find the mission ruins at 102 Ripley Avenue, South, in Mountainair.
5. Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary
The Cosmic Campground is 3.5 acres of prime stargazing, with 360-views of the night sky. Nestled down a dirt road in the Gila National Forest, the closest (significant) artificial light is more than 40 miles away, in Arizona. There are no ranger programs here, but local groups do hold star viewing parties at the campground.
The night sky through a telescope, from Cosmic Campground.
If you are expecting the lush green camping often associated with Gila camping, don't. The primitive campground is a flat, dirt site. Campers set up a short walk from the main sky-viewing area which has hardened observation pads where people can set up telescopes. To keep the area viewing-friendly, headlights and white light are not permitted after dark. The campground is located 8 miles north of Alma, NM off NM Highway 180.
We know there are a lot of stargazers and amateur astronomers out there. Where is your favorite place to watch New Mexico’s stunning dark skies?