By Alex Carel
With dark sky coalitions, mountain elevations, and ordinances against light pollution in many northern regions, Arizona is a treasure trove of stargazing opportunities. Long held as ideal stomping grounds for astronomers and hobbyists alike, various parts of the Grand Canyon state offer a celestial perspective unlike anywhere else in the country.
The Oak Creek and Grand Canyon villages, Sedona, and Flagstaff are often included in conversations of amateur and professional stargazers alike. When the International Dark-Sky Association was founded (an organization committed to preventing light pollution and educating the public on night sky conservation), they named Flagstaff as the world’s first IDA-approved dark sky community. All this to say, Arizona is full-to-the-brim with sky-watching destinations that will leave you stunned and inspired.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the most incredible stargazing destinations for your astronomicalconsideration, and some of the start-up equipment you’ll need to take in the full grandeur of these awe-inspiring dark skies. Without further ado, here are the top stargazing locations in Arizona:
1) Flagstaff – For more than 125 years, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff has been dedicated to the study of astronomy. Known for its discovery of Pluto, evidence of the expanding universe, measurements of the properties and motion of stars, and thoughtful consideration of the cosmos, Lowell Observatory is one of the nation’s most notable astronomical locations. Couple this with Flagstaff’s elevation, dark sky community status, and general appreciation for the night sky, and it’s easy to see how Flagstaff made the very top of our list.
2) Sedona – Doubling as a great tourist daytime destination and verified dark sky community, nearby Sedona’s clear, dry nights (over 300 nights per year) make it an ideal stop for stargazing. Host to one of the most renown star gazing tours, featuring a personalized tour of the night sky by astronomy professionals, Sedona’s red rocks offer a fantastic foundation for sky-watching.
3) Grand Canyon – Another powerhouse stargazing stop, the Grand Canyon offers the one-two punch of being a daytime wonder of the world and epic nighttime dreamscape. The 12th national park to earn the “dark sky” distinction, the Grand Canyon hosts yearly eight-day “star parties” in which high-powered telescopes are set up and free astronomy programs are offered.
4) Southern Arizona (near Tucson) – The northern regions are not the only stargazing oases; the southern regions of Arizona include a number of stargazing standouts:
In 1984, the Vatican moved its astronomical operations to Mount Graham International Observatory. The facility is run by Jesuit priests in the mountains northeast of Tucson.
Arizona Sky Village is a remote town in the southern part of the state fully-committed to dark nights, going so far as to black out windows and attach observatory domes to homes.
Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson is home to the world’s most diverse collection of telescopes intended for “nighttime optical and infrared astronomy” alongside the study of the sun.
Mount Lemmon SkyCenter is home to the largest dedicated public telescope in the country With programs running year-round on a nightly basis, SkyCenter is one of Tucson’s best stargazing destinations.
Now that you know the where, let’s talk about the how. Journeyman astronomers will rattle off a laundry list of equipment you need to fully experience the night sky, but we’ve boiled it down to just the necessaries for your first few excursions.
For sight, night sky navigation, logistics, and comfort, we recommend the following basic kit:
A telescope (naturally) Alternative to a telescope : Friendly to more budget-conscious star explorers, binoculars have a number of applications and functions well if a telescope falls a bit out of range.
Folding Camp Table to keep your tools safe, dry, and accessible
Observation chair for comfort
A Redlight flashlight to help keep your eyes adjusted to the dark
Power supply for electronics such as your phone for stargazing apps, etc.
With an appreciation for our constellations and a desire for adventure, you’ll find yourself at home with our beautiful Southwestern skies.