Stellar attractions in Big Bend

Why the Big Bend region is America's number one spot for astronomical adventures

By Visit Big Bend
Published 30 Jan 2019, 17:53 GMT
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park
Photograph by Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is a complex beast. By day it endlessly fascinates with its staggering mountains, harsh desert and lush valleys where bears roam and eagles soar. But as the sun sets, the 800,000-acre-park is cloaked in some of the darkest skies in the US — so dark, that as well as being designated an International Dark Sky Park, it's also received gold-tier certification from the International Dark Sky Association. Only 13 parks in the world have this classification, making it a must-visit for stargazers.

Big Bend's remoteness and elevation are partly responsible for its spectacular, star-strewn skies — this is a region far removed from civilisation and it's not a place you arrive at by accident (the closest airport is around 250 miles away). The park's commitment to stomping out light pollution verges on the obsessive: outside lights on buildings and car parks have been almost eliminated — even campfires are forbidden within the boundaries. The result? The park is the best place to stargaze in America. On a clear night, expect to gaze at meteors, planets and more than 2,000 twinkling stars.

Join other travellers on one of the park's trails and you'll be in for a stargazing treat. The Rio Grande Village Nature Trail is an easy walk up a hill, complete with atmospheric views of the Delo Carmen Mountains and the Chisos, all beneath an inky sky resplendent in its primeval glory. Or follow the Hot Springs Canyon Trail and you'll be rewarded with knockout night skies alight with stars as you arrive at the hot springs close to the Rio Grand Village Campground.

But for an experience that'll truly blow your mind, a night spent sleeping under the stars will easily win over the hearts of budding astronomers and travellers keen to ponder the wonders of the dark skies. Head out into the park's backcountry for real solitude and undisturbed star-spotting, and pitch a tent away from campgrounds to stare at the nightly theatrics among the undulating desert hills and the snaking Rio Grande. Spend just a night here and you'll be clearly smitten.

And if the spectacular dark skies of Big Bend National Park weren't enough to satisfy your stargazing, the region is home to another Dark Sky Park. Neighbouring Big Bend Ranch State Park lies within the Chihuahuan Desert and is one of the darkest and remote areas of the state. It was designated a gold tier Dark Sky Park in 2018 – the fourth Texas State Park to achieve this status. Amongst a backdrop of rugged mountains and steep canyons the best stargazing spots are River Road at the West Contrabando Trailhead, Big Hill and Hoodoos. Here you'll be rewarded with great views and stunning night skies. 

Together, these two parks form one of the largest contiguous areas under dark-skies protection in the United States making Big Bend one of the best places in the world to witness the majestic beauty of the sky at night.

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