The phenomenal 2017 Solar Eclipse has come and gone. Now what?
Come to the mountains and be drawn in by the wonder and beauty of the high-altitude night sky. Or, enjoy the amazing depth of azure and gold that can only be experienced on a crisp autumn or winter’s day. And don’t forget the “once-in-a-lifetime” daily miracles of sunrise and sunset, graced with glorious clouds and mist! Every season and every time of the day, the sky is changing, so it never looks the same.
Vast open skies, few city lights, and a clean, clear high altitude atmosphere make the Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park region one of the best places in the country to skygaze.
Often when folks come to this area, they are so drawn in by the magnificence of the snow-capped mountains, that the priceless frame and backdrop behind them are often forgotten or overlooked. (Or should we say, “under-looked”?)
We offer here some of the best places in the area to enjoy the ample celestial sphere:
Start at the top
We highly (no pun intended) recommend an evening drive up Trail Ridge Road in time for sunset. Being the highest paved highway in the U.S. gives this gem of a road the distinction of getting as close to the sky as possible while still touching the ground. In order to plan your trip just right, you will want to leave Estes Park at least an hour before sunset, and arrive at the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot on time to catch the last dying rays of the day. Or you may want to leave an hour before sunrise and watch the mountains turn pink with glory as the night fades away. If you are prepared to stay another hour or so, and the sky is relatively clear, your eyes will feast on the most awe-inspiring view of the Milky Way you could ever imagine! The experience leaves one feeling particularly small, still and delighted all at the same time, bringing a deep sense of wonder and pleasure to your soul.
Open meadows such as Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, or even the Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of the park. While you may not be able to see as much of the horizon as you would at a higher, more open elevation, there is something quite magical in experiencing the silhouette of a mountain forest under the dark and dreamy sky.
Bear Lake is another high altitude viewing spot far enough away from civilization to help you get an empyrean view. Though remote, you still have the advantages and comforts of a nearby parking lot and (rustic) restrooms.
And finally, be sure to take advantage of the Estes Park Memorial Observatory.
Operated by the Angels Above Foundation (and a group of dedicated volunteers who maintain the equipment and lead tours of the night sky from the observatory’s 16 foot dome), the observatory offers many incredible features. It sports a top of the line Paramount ME II robotic mount, along with a new computer system to run advanced observatory software. The mount supports a new 16 inch Ritchey-Chretien f8 telescope. The telescope, mount and dome are synchronized through the observatory software to provide robotic control that allows rapid and precise pointing to any deep space object in the night sky. Just a tad more powerful and impressive than your home scope or binoculars!
So, the next time you have the opportunity to come to the mountains here, remember to lift your gaze a little higher, and take in the enormous heavenly expanse of the Rocky Mountain sky.
Be sure to check out a variety of talks and events about stargazing hosted by RMNP. These events include night hikes with astronomers, telescope-viewings and more. If you have kids be sure to catch The Story Behind the Moon & the Stars, every other Friday in the summer at the Moraine Park Visitor Center.