Where to see stars where the states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet.
Light pollution is rampant and increasing. However, despite North America being one of the most light-polluted places on the planet, there is a definite east-west divide.
In fact, go explore the Colorado Plateau — a region of mesas, tablelands, valleys and canyons that covers Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico — and you’ll find the ideal combination of low population density and very high elevation. Add iconic red rock formations and dozens of International Dark-Sky Association and there are few better places for a stargazing or astrophotography safari.
However, you need to carefully plan a night sky road trip, both in terms of route and timing, to get the best of what this enchanting area offers. In this article, we will guide you step-by-step on planning the most unforgettable stargazing road trips across the region’s stunning landscapes. With a rare annular solar eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023, visible from eight U.S. states across the, there’s never been a better time to plan a trip across the U.S. Southwest.
You could visit this region without ever setting foot in a National Park or State Park, a huge number of which have protected night skies. After all, many campgrounds overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are just as dark as anywhere else. You can also just check a light pollution map.
However, if you want to book campgrounds with facilities or lodging in advance, take advantage of organized stargazing activities by park ranger or you’re after some iconic nightscape astrophotography these dark sky destinations are not to be missed. Some of the most famous in this region include Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Bryce Canyon National Park and Arches National Park in Utah, but that’s just scratching the surface.
If you’re looking for a telescope or binoculars to observe the night sky, our guides for the best binoculars deals and the best telescope deals now can help. Our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography can also help you prepare to capture the next skywatching sight on your own.
The Colorado Plateau has been a mecca for astronomers and stargazers for decades. So it’s no wonder that some of the most famous observatories in the US are situated here. They include Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, the Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Although most of these institutions have visitor’s centers and organize observing nights for the public, you’ll want to plan that in advance.
Also consider visiting smaller observatories and those committed to outreach, such as Stellar Vista Observatory in Kanab, Utah, Smokey Jack Observatory in Westcliffe, Colorado and Gunnison Valley Observatory in Colorado.
Lastly, don’t overlook organized astronomy and stargazing tours offered by private companies, which are often run by passionate individuals keen to share their wonderful night skies with visitors. Great examples include RedRock Astronomy in Moab, Utah, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours near Bryce Canyon, Utah and Stellar Adventures in the Sonoran Desert, Arizona, but there are many more.
Here are a few suggested road trip routes that make geographical sense. All visit International Dark Sky Parks, observatories and other attractions with a cosmic angle. You can use motels and lodging (the latter often in wood cabins in national parks), but consider renting an RV or camping to get the full starry sky experience.
1. SIN CITY TO THE MILE HIGH CITY
2. TRAIL OF THE ANCIENTS AND ARCHAEOASTRONOMY
3. SKIING AND STARGAZING IN UTAH
4. THE GREAT WESTERN STARRY WAY
5. TUCSON TO ALBUQUERQUE