Visiting the McDonald Observatory

Thirty-eight miles north of Marfa, nestled in the mountains outside of Fort Davis, stands a cluster of observatories that together form the McDonald Observatory.

Laws limit light pollution for fifty-eight miles around the facility. Consequently, the observatory is one of the darkest places in America, a place where a stargazer can view the unobstructed universe.

To the urban dweller, the night sky is an atmospheric production. The light of the city is reflected by the clouds, and so most stars remain hidden behind an opaque, saturnine veil.

It is entirely different at the observatory.

We did not “look up at the night sky” out there. We looked outward, not up, into the cosmos. That sudden shift in perspective was like a kind of vertigo, the kind of feeling that accompanies a flash of insight. We felt a deep sense of awe at the visible universe around us.

After visiting for their “Star Party,” we realized there are a few essential tips everyone should keep in mind when visiting the McDonald Observatory at night.

1. What to Expect

The observatory hosts “star parties” on the weekends. These events often sell out in advance, so you should check the website before you go.

When you arrive, there is a front desk where you will show the ticket you purchased. No need to print it out, just show them the email confirmation.

The star party is a large gathering outside, seated on rows of concrete benches illuminated by dim red light.

Throughout the night, an astronomer will guide you through the major constellations.

Photography is highly discouraged (oops!) as smartphones and viewfinders can ruin your night vision. Any accidental flashes from cameras can also ruin the experience for others. After your night vision has settled in, you’ll be looking through many telescopes around the facility.

2. What to Wear

It is cold out there in the desert, especially at night. When you visit, dress warmly with layers, including gloves and something to keep your head warm.

If you’re looking for absolute comfort during your stargazing, bring a blanket (and even a yoga mat). The experience of looking upward for so long is a literal pain in the neck. For the full effect, you must lay down on the ground, comfortably atop your yoga mat and underneath your cozy blanket.

Allow yourself to be fully immersed in the Milky Way. Let yourself perceive the rotation of the planet. It’s a beautiful universe.

Allow yourself to do nothing but look at the stars. Don’t think about work, or politics, or relationships. Simply feel awe at the mystery of this existence.

If you choose to visit the McDonald Observatory in West Texas, we hope your experience will be as meaningful as ours was.

As always, follow us on A Game of Roads Instagram for more adventures!

‘Till next time!

Anamaria & Daniel

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