June 11, 2014
Though New Mexico is home to the world’s first commercial spaceport, the Norman Foster-designed home base of Virgin Galactic, its finest stargazing is done with feet planted firmly on the ground. The southwest state, known as much for art as for technological exploration, has almost exactly the same area as all of Great Britain and Ireland combined, but with just about as many total inhabitants as urban Dublin. Combine its sparse population with its clear skies and rugged topography””which runs the full gamut between arid plains, heavily forested mountain ranges and the lush Rio Grande basin””and it’s no wonder New Mexico’s sky was Ansel Adams’ favourite. Here are some of our favourite places for stargazing in New Mexico.
About 50 miles west of the town of Socorro, sits the Very Large Array, a collection of more than two-dozen satellite antennae used for research on black holes and other space phenomena. As one might expect of an installation purpose-built to study far-flung cosmos, it sits under a particularly opportune patch of sky, ideal for stargazing.
Fans of classic photography will instantly recognise this national monument as the site of one of Garry Winogrand’s most iconic midcentury images. The crystalline, brilliant white landscape was created by a few centuries of a rather exceptional wind pattern and frames the sky like no other land on earth. The only downside for stargazers is that the monument often closes just one hour after sunset. Nevertheless, especially during autumn months when the sun sets quickly, that leaves plenty of time to soak up the stars.
A meandering drive north of Santa Fe lies the High Road To Taos. While quite a bit less accessible than the low road, you will be treated to delightful mountain roads running through several tiny old communities, most of which are remnants from when New Mexico was the northernmost Spanish colony in the New World. Stop off at any number of friendly cafés for a strong cup of coffee or mug of blue corn atole to keep warm and enjoy the strikingly clean air and total lack of light pollution.
Take US highway 84 north from Santa Fe, head northwest on NM 503 at Nambé through ChimayÃ³ and Truchas, west on 75 at Peasco and north on the 518 on to Taos.
The town of Taos itself is otherworldly, but its location straddling the Rio Grande gorge on a high-elevation plain, near some of the best skiing in the Rockies, makes it one of the top towns for stargazing in New Mexico. Many residents swear they can hear the “Taos Hum,” a legendary low-frequency tone many believe to be caused by extraterrestrial activity in the area. Catch the stars from near the Taos Earthships, a close-knit community of off-the-grid homes made from reclaimed materials and in admirable harmony with nature. Adventure seekers can walk to the small observation deck of the beautifully rickety old Rio Grande Gorge Bridge a few miles west of town, which quivers as cars drive over it, and listen to the babbling Rio far below as they take in a panorama of stars.
Arguably the state’s most picturesque lake, Abiquiu (pronounced abbey-queue) – with its reddish landscape and cerulean waters – was a favourite of Georgia O’Keefe. On most days, recreational boats make for a choppy surface. But closer to evening as the boats clear out, the water calms to a near standstill, creating a brilliant reflecting pond for the night stars.
Header image: La Ventana Arch with Orion © Neutronman/iStock/Thinkstock
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Have you been stargazing in New Mexico? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Tag Christof