The natural phenomenon of the night sky is particularly enhanced in Arizona – where desert land and clear skies ensure the perfect stargazing conditions.
The state is also home to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), which exists to combat light pollution and raise awareness of the value of dark skies and the importance of environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Arizona is also home to more certified Dark Sky Places than anywhere else in the world!
Here are five of the best world-class stargazing locations to visit in Arizona:
Identified as the world’s first ever “International Dark Sky City,” Flagstaff, Arizona is a true stargazing paradise. A little-known fact is that every Apollo 11 astronaut was trained in Flagstaff and that the moon was mapped in Lowell Observatory, ahead of the journey. The observatory is famously known as the site where Pluto was discovered in 1930. Today, astronomy enthusiasts can take part in guided daytime tours to the 24-inch Clark Telescope, as well as evening programmes that include an open house at the Putnam Collection Centre where visitors can watch science demonstrations and examine historic items from the Lowell's extensive collection.
In 2019, the Grand Canyon National Park earned its International Day Sky status; the park has 67% of its lighting compliant with lighting standards and hopes to reach 90% by 2022. Star-lit summer nights can be spent gazing at the wondrous galaxies that make up the Grand Canyon’s patterned sky.
Each year stargazers are invited to the Star Party (usually in June), which celebrates one of the most breath-taking observational sites in the US, encouraging amateur astronomers from across the country to volunteer their expertise and offer free nightly astronomy programmes and telescope viewings.
Surrounded by towering red rocks and wide desertscapes, Sedona is a spectacular Dark Sky Community. For those looking for a relaxing getaway paired with stargazing opportunities, Enchantment Resort is the ideal retreat. On a weekly basis, star-lovers are invited to meet with expert astronomers and using an array of professional equipment, will observe planets, distant galaxies and a canopy of stars all in the comfort of the resort. Not only will guests be taught about the night sky but they will feel its influence with unique treatments inspired by the cycle of the moon, such as the New Moon therapy.
Mount Lemmon SkyCenter is home to the largest dedicated series of public telescopes in the United States, making it the ultimate stargazing destination for astronomers of all levels. Stargazing programmes, known as ‘SkyNights’ are offered nightly, year-round, allowing novices and enthusiasts alike to gaze upon constellations and atmospheric phenomena through Arizona’s largest public viewing telescope (the 32-inch Schulman telescope). Tucson is home to the IDA and the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association that holds various activities and night sky viewings.
Bathed in soft golden hues of sunlight, the views of Verde Canyon from an open-air railroad car are simply breath-taking. A canyon tour by moonlight has long been one of the locomotive’s most popular journeys and the train’s headlights are the only lighting in the canyon. The ride takes place on select Saturdays, during August and September, where passengers can sip Champagne in first class and enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of the celestial wonders that stretch across the rugged canyon.