Millions of people every year visit the 34 New Mexico state parks with their diverse lands that include rivers, lakes, canyons, mountains, deserts, and forested areas. You can indulge in a smorgasbord of activities here, including camping, fishing, boating, hunting dinosaur tracks, wildlife sightings, nature and ecological hiking trails, biking, and even windsurfing and sailing. However, one of the most appealing pastimes you can find within the state park system is star gazing.
Thanks to the vast wide open spaces of New Mexico, the state parks here enjoy some of the clearest and darkest night time skies, just perfect for star gazing. Without big cities nearby, there are no lights to interfere with the starry skies so several New Mexico state parks offer night sky programs. With park volunteers and trained staff, you can discover some of the mysteries of the heavens and marvel at the intricacies of our solar system and beyond.
City of Rocks State Park
Millions of years ago, the ash from nearby volcanoes formed some extraordinary rock formations that water and wind sculpted into shapes resembling buildings and houses - thus the name "City of Rocks." Some of the walking paths winding amongst the rocks show the past history of the land with Indian and Spanish carvings in the stone. The stark landscape with an abundance of wildlife reminds you of another time and place when life was simpler.
The highlight of the City of Rocks is the solar powered observatory with the retractable roof and hi-tech telescoping equipment. Between the many amateur astronomers with their own telescopes and the monitors hooked into the huge park telescope, you can get a close-up view of the starry night sky - an awesome experience!
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park
One of the more picturesque New Mexico state parks in the system, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park is another great location in which you can visit the stars. There is no telescope or observatory here but the Amateur Astronomers Group of the New Mexico Museum of Space History often holds viewing parties here. Night sky viewing schedules can easily be found on the New Mexico state parks website.
You can fill your day with no problem at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park while you wait for the sun to go down. This location at the base of the Sacramento Mountains offers a fully restored ranch house in addition to a desert oasis known as Dog Canyon that is one of the most beautiful spots to explore in the state. Camping opportunities are available and the six-mile trail is tough but adventuresome.
Oasis State Park
Perhaps one of the most relaxing New Mexico state parks around, Oasis State Park offers plenty of laid-back outdoor opportunities, including the chance to star gaze. Local astronomy groups often choose this state park site to point their telescopes to the heavens and invites visitors like you to look too. With the accompanying howl of coyotes in the distance, star gazing here takes on an almost unworldly feel.
By day, you can go fishing in the three acre pond and angle your way into catching some catfish or rainbow trout. The bird watching is spectacular with sandpiper, blue heron, and an abundance of quail. The sand dunes and prairie trails offer an interesting hiking opportunity in this east-central area of the state. And, of course, by night is the star gazing spectacular - even without the extra implements of telescopes.
Several more locations within the New Mexico state parks system plan to add public observatories and star gazing programs to their amenities. Keep in mind that most programs start at dusk and bad weather may curtail star gazing activities. When you make your plans to visit one of the New Mexico state parks, look to the heavens - there is a whole other world waiting for you to explore!