There is a place on Earth I call “Astronomyland”. Kind of like Disneyland for astronomers. Dark pristine sky, peaceful, where observatories dot the landscape. In the early 2000’s a group of astronomers and land developers searched the country for a place to set up “remote” observatories. Amateur equipment and software had evolved to where no longer were you stuck in a bad light polluted part of the world but you could have the opportunity to observe in a dark site and you didn’t even have to be there! Probably the first or one of the first Astronomylands was Mayhill, NM. The place was called “New Mexico Skies”. The sister development across the street was named “Stars End”. Now I knew about this place for years living back east. I would go every year to the NEAF show (Northeast Astronomy Forum) and every year I would go by the “New Mexico Skies” booth and dream about it. I would go home, tell my wife “one day, some day”. Little did I know I would actually wind up here with a permanent place. As luck would have it the job in Western Mass after 20 years was not going to last and we had to move. We decided to move to a place we would want to stay. A job listing came up for Las Cruces NM, less than 2 hours away from New Mexico Skies. I said we had to check that out! The rest was..sorry for the cliche…history. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be going from this:
I would have thought that was impossible. But I suppose God has a way of manifesting sometimes in unexpected ways. So here we are in Astronomyland! I swear I really do have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure it’s real!
When I am not working the weekend, my wife and I are up here and we take a morning walk through the Stars End neighborhood where we have our place. What an amazing place this is! Sure, since this development was started there are several “Astronomylands” that have popped up but this one is still special. Still a Bortle 2 sky with no sign of degrading. Very interesting folks have settled here from all different backgrounds, some teachers, some retired NASA scientists, software developers and engineers, retired physicians etc. All with like minded interest, ..a dark night sky!
So I invite you to take a walk with us through our wonderful neighborhood to see some of the sights along the way:
We live on Orion’s Belt! All of the streets in this development have astronomical signs. What else would you expect in Astronomyland?
As we walk up to the top of Stars End here is a look back at our neighbor’s house. He is actually not an astronomer but a rancher. My observatory is behind their property. This is at about 7000 feet
In case you get lost, the trail is readily marked!
“Observatory Row” along Milky Way. These are all privately owned and operated. Most of these folks are only here part time but operate these remotely off site
Not everyone has the traditional observatory dome. There are several roll offs as well, like mine. Most were built by Backyard Observatories
At the top of Stars End you can look across the road over to New Mexico Skies. There it is! Several domes are seen at the top of the ridge on the right
Amazing views of the valley can be seen from here! However at the top of Stars End and also New Mexico Skies, the wind can be pretty harsh. This is why I chose a spot a little further down the hill
Panoramic view from Galaxy Point, the very top of Stars End. You can see a cement pad on the left for a future observatory.
Our good friend’s house at the top. They have a great spot with unobstructed valley and mountain views. They also have a roll off observatory
An interesting concept, but honestly, the idea that your images are going to be significantly better by building your observatory 30 feet above ground to avoid the ground convection is absurd,.. in my opinion. After all we are just taking pictures, not trying to discover dark matter! But hey, to each his own.
And here we are, back at the home of Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory! We have a modular home at the base of the hill and a deck where we can sit outside and take in the surroundings! You can see the observatory up the hill to the right.
The walk up to the observatory is about 300 feet. I call this “Alnitak Trail” after one of the stars in Orion’s Belt. You can actually drive a vehicle on this part of the trail. I usually do this at night because there are creatures out there that you can’t see! I think there is a bobcat that lives here in the woods!
Here is the last leg of the trail
We arrive at the top of “Mintaka Hill”! The home of Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory! Here is the view to the South.
Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory is my personal sanctuary. I had a sign made you can see there. We are close to 7000 feet. Unobstructed views 360 except perhaps to the north where some of the Lincoln National Forest skirts the northern horizon
On the back of the observatory I mounted a weather station which feeds local weather info to the house. This can be very helpful for things like local wind and humidity
Local weather at Orion’s Belt. Humidity really surprised me but there are a few sporadic periods where it can be high. When I first started observing I did not look at this thinking the humidity was going to be guaranteed low all of the time and got burned when my refractor actually frosted over!
Inside the observatory, the warm room is actually very warm. The insulation is what keeps it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The observatory is wired for totally remote operation including opening and closing the roof but I have not gotten that far yet! Plus for me I really like to be out here and experience the night sky
View from the warm room into the observing room. I do have a video camera for monitoring so if I want once everything is opened and turned on I can operate the scope from the house
Well I hope you enjoyed our walk through our wonderful neighborhood! For more on the history and construction of Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory you can visit my website orionsbeltobservatory.com
Thanks for reading!