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Stargazing in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is home to some of the darkest skies in the country, deep in the heart of Texas–or, more specifically, close to the Mexican border in its far west portion. It is one of only 13 parks in the world that has been awarded gold certification by the International Dark Sky Association, combining a humbling intersection of the harsh desert, godlike mountains and fertile river valley all in one large, amazing stretch of soil.

With over 1,200 different species of flora and over 450 species of birds within its perimeter, Big Bend's bio-diverse beauty by day only improves the majesty of stargazing experiences found at night within its 800,000 acres. In addition, some of the park's oldest rocks are said to be 500 million years old. That's quite the prospect of helping them think about the expanse of the universe below the feet of stargazers. The park preserves a real treasure of star-looking locations, ranging from popularly designated observation points to self-selected campsites in its vast backcountry of wilderness. Here are a few to consider when planning a trip.

Hot Springs Canyon Trail–This riverside walk leads to the hot springs near the park's Rio Grande Village Campground, a more difficult one-mile trek in the summer than the cooler months. Fortunately, the same lack of shade every day enables for a clear after-sunset sky view for those looking up.

Rio Grande Village Nature Trail–This trail begins at the Rio Grande Village Campsite with a 100-yard wheelchair-accessible trail overlooking the water and up a hill to a stunning view of both the Del Carmen Mountains and the Chisos over Rio Grande as the sun goes down, plus an equally amazing view once da McDonald Observatory –Although it is a two-hour drive from the park, the McDonald Observatory is located in Rio Grande Village. Established in 1933 on a stretch of mountain highway aptly called Dark Sky Drive in the Davis Mountains by the University of Texas, the astronomical observatory hosts four enormous research telescopes through which visitors can look at bright "star parties" that welcome the curious public for a small fee each week. In the neighboring cities of Marfa and Alpine, hotels and campgrounds can hold stargazers for the night before returning to the park.

All of the paved roads are very safe and easy to drive at night with the possible exception of the road up to the basin which has some sharp hairpin turns. On that road if the road sign says 5 mph you really need to slow down to that speed. We have camped numerous times at BBNP and I would agree with the places Texhills recommended. I guess you will be there near the full moon. A beautiful evening shot would be of the full moon coming up over the Sierra Del Carmen as the setting sun lights it up. I have seen photographers set up with tripods on the side of the road approaching Rio Grand Campground waiting for it. Don't stay at the Rio Grande Village!! The only good thing there are paying showers.. Camp at the Chisos Basin, from there you can take day trips all over... BTW, if you climb all the way up to Emory, you will have a choice to scramble up a peak on your left, or one on your right, if you want to see the medallion, choose the one on your right. We chose the left and were too tuckered to scramble again knowing we had a lot more hiking in front of us


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