The National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak
Visiting the Sacramento Peak Facilities:
The National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak welcomes visitors during the daytime. The Observatory offers various kinds of tours, including a virtual tour. The observatory lies in the Lincoln National Forest in the Sacramento Mountains, near Cloudcroft, New Mexico, which offer hiking trails, views of the Tularosa Basin (including White Sands National Monument) and (winter) snow fun.
The Observatory is open to the public between dawn and dusk. Visitors are free to wander around most areas of the Observatory on their own. On-site visitors may want to take one of the on-site self guided tours. The weather at Sunspot is generally between 10 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 10 degrees Celsius) cooler than in the Tularosa Basin, so be prepared. During the summer monsoon season there is a chance of rain in the afternoon. The winter months bring snow. Public restrooms, educational exhibits, and a gift shop are located in the Visitors Center, which is open most days of the year from 9 am until 5 pm. (Please call ahead to (575) 434-7000 during the winter months for the schedule.)
Area Maps and Directions
The National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak lies in New Mexico at the southern end of NM Scenic Byway 6563, about 16 miles (by car) south of Cloudcroft (on NM 82), and 40 miles southeast (by car) from Alamogordo (on NM 70 and 54), in the village of Sunspot.
The drive from Alamogordo in the Tularosa Basin to Cloudcroft in the Sacramento Mountains involves a curving, 16-mile climb spanning about 4500 ft of altitude difference and takes more time than a comparable distance on flat highways. For regular passenger cars, expect to take about an hour from Alamogordo to Sunspot (about half an hour from Cloudcroft to Sunspot). Sunspot has no gas station, grocery store, or restaurant, so make sure you have enough gas and food to get back to Cloudcroft, which is the nearest town to offer these services.
From Cloudcroft, take NM 130 East (the junction with NM 82 lies at the western edge of town) and drive about 2 miles to the junction with NM 6563. Then, follow NM 6563 all the way to the end, about 14 miles on. Once inside Sunspot (through the stone gate), take the first turnoff to the left (marked "visitor center") and park in front of the Visitor Center.
Sunspot Astronomy and Visitors Center
The Sunspot Astronomy and Visitor Center first opened its doors in July 1997. It is the result of a collaboration between NSO/Sacramento Peak (our observatory), Apache Point Observatory (our next-door neighbors), and the USDA Forest Service.