New Mexico True Dark Skies Trail

Does the term Milky Way mean something to you beyond a candy bar?  Did you know that New Mexico was one of the first states in the United States with a law that protects our night skies?  Did you know that Travel & Leisure named New Mexico one of the world’s Top Ten stargazing spots? Are you ready to be an astrotourist?  Come to New Mexico and experience an ancient and authentic adventure in our dark skies, where we celebrate our dark skies and relish the starlight. Our high elevations, low population densities, dry climate, clean air, and # of clear nights make for an excellent stargazing adventure.  Come see the NM True Dark Skies and enjoy the many stops along the Trail.

New Mexico International Dark Sky Parks

New Mexico is home to Gold and Silver-level Dark Sky Parks, as certified by the
International Dark Sky Association.

Little can rival the beauty of the night sky. As a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Association (IDA) Park, Capulin Volcano boasts one of the best in New Mexico. Park staff work hard to maintain this designation and invite the public to enjoy it year round through public programming and personal observation at our soon-to-be constructed Night Sky Observation station. If you don’t have your own equipment or you’re hoping for a guided adventure, join us for a ‘Star Party’. Star Parties are held April through September at the base of the Volcano and, occasionally, on the Volcano Rim. Interpretive park rangers give brief talks about the night sky and any astronomical events underway. All equipment needed is provided by the park. Information about Star Parties and other events can be found on their website  Capulin Volcano National Monument.

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Clayton Lake State Park is located north of Clayton, NM and is known for its Dark Skies, fishing derbies, and dinosaur tracks.  The State Park has a visitor center with information on dinosaurs as well as the geology of the region.  The Park is a Gold-level International Dark Sky Park, and has a small observatory with a 14 inch Mead telescope.  The night skies feature very little light pollution, and star-gazing events are hosted every month of the year during the week of the new moon for the general public.  While waiting for the stars to come out at night, be sure to check out the dinosaur tracks near the lake spillway, including some of the most trail drags anywhere in the United States!  Visit their website Clayton Lake State Park.

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In 2013 Chaco was designated an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, further enhancing the canyon’s place as a location where deep sky viewing is available.  During the summer months the observatory is open to the public Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.  Visitors gather on those nights to attend a lecture usually on the astronomical practices of the ancient Pueblo people and how they observed the heavens, and then the real show begins.  The observatory’s several scopes are opened up and turned toward the very dark sky that has made Chaco a haven for amateur astronomers and anyone who wants to get lost in awe and wonder in the heavenly realm. Visit their website Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

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Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument protects four of the best-preserved 17th century Spanish mission churches in the continental United States of America.  The Salinas basin formed ancient salt beds from which the monument derives its name and drew early inhabitants. Modern visitors highly value the largely unchanged cultural landscape, to include structures and infrastructure, vegetation, view sheds, and the pristine night skies and natural sounds.

The Monument is located in the Estancia basin, which is a bowl that is flanked by mountains and mesas. The Manzano Mountains to the west block much of the light pollution and sky glow generated from Albuquerque and development along the I-25 corridor. Views and night sky conditions at the three units of the park are very high quality and impressive. Gran Quivira offers the best views, with a nearly unobstructed 360 degree view and the ability to see distant mountain ranges up to 100 miles away. Visit their website Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.

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This peaceful, starry, quiet place is the ideal first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the Northern Hemisphere. The Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary (CCIDSS) is easily accessible from US Hwy 180 between Alma and Reserve. A tall, brown Forest Service Cosmic Campground sign sits ~ ½ way between mile marker 37 and 38. Across US 180 an orange cattle guard begins the 1.3 mile, hard surface road to the Cosmic Campground. Arrive in daylight for a 360 degree view of the setting sun, followed by the arrival of Earth's airglow, planets, the Milky Way, Zodiacal light, stars, and clusters of stars, and galaxies. You can watch the Milky Way rise over the mountains of the Gila Wilderness before it is really dark. You are getting dark adapted as you stand on the edge of the cosmos and enjoy this panoramic view. Cosmic Campground has a two place CDX toilet, hard surface observing area with 4 pads for telescopes, no artificial light for ~ 25 miles in any direction, and an exceptionally dark sky. Visit their website Cosmic Campground.

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