When there is no full moon, Cochise County Arizona is well known for the dark skies that are available for stargazing. Southeastern Arizona has many large telescopes that are located in and around Tucson. Kit Peak and Mount Graham are two locations that are operated by the University of Arizona and others. Many areas of southeastern Arizona have light ordinances to limit the potential of light pollution and so glare from lights is minor. This enhances the viewing opportunities for both the amateur and professional astronomers.
For amateur astronomers, Cochise County is a good place to start viewing the night sky with just the naked eye. People from highly lit cities, for example Phoenix, can see the bright stars that make up most of the constellations but when they come down to Cochise County to stargaze they get overloaded just trying to find the stars that they would quickly recognize at home. The sheer beauty of the Milky Way is a subtle glow that some people think is a “light reflecting cloud” blocking their view. Not until they look into a pair of binoculars do they realize that the glow is really millions of stars that are in our own galaxy.
There are star parties at various locations in Cochise County where people set up telescopes and allow visitors to the area and local residents to stargaze. Down By The River Bed and Breakfast is in the heart of Cochise County and also has a 13” Dobsonian telescope for people to use during their visit.
Dobsonian telescopes can be used for deep sky viewing but are also good for looking at the moon, the planets, and some larger and brighter “Messier objects” such as the Andromeda Galaxy, globular star clusters and nebulas. Dobsonian telescopes do not use a motor to track the object that you are looking at but require the viewer to readjust the sighting by hand so that the object comes back into view. Depending upon the object and where it is located, the adjustment may need to be done every 1 to 3 minutes. The more southerly the object is that you view, the more you will be required to make a readjustment. One problem with the Dobsonian telescope is that you can’t use it to take photographs of the stars. You need a telescope that is aligned to the latitude and has tracking capabilities.
However, there is another place that just recently opened near Down By The River B and B. This place is for amateurs or serious astronomers and allows them to fulfill their needs for night sky viewing. Many people over the years remember an old bed and breakfast that had telescopes in Benson. When we arrived in Saint David to start Down By The River B and B, we stopped by the Skywatcher’s Inn with the Vega-Bray Observatory. At that time, it was also a bed and breakfast and you could view the stars and other objects while staying there. After a while the Skywatcher’s Inn was sold and reopened under the name Astronomer’s Inn. Around 2008, the Astronomer’s Inn closed and it wasn’t until 2010 that it reopened as the San Pedro Valley Observatory (SPVO). Angie and I were invited to visit the observatory and grounds during the grand opening. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for the star viewing because we had guests that were coming to our B and B that evening. The SPVO owners have revamped the entire structure. The SPVO no longer has bed and breakfast lodging and is now being set up strictly for viewing through the telescopes. There are plans for seminars and informational events. For the serious astronomer, SPVO has made space and computers available to assist in astral research work.
If you are a fan of bed and breakfasts, then you should consider our place, Down By The River, for your lodging. We know that people who do stargazing stay up into the wee hours of the morning and sleep later. With that in mind, we are offering a package to those that have reservations with the SPVO for stargazing that will include a discount on the room and later check out times. To get this package, you must ask for the SPVO package and have your reservation date available for verification.
So come down, see the night sky in Cochise County and stay at Down By The River for a relaxing time. See the night sky like you have never seen it before. Just check the calendar to avoid the full moon so that you have a really dark night and good viewing.