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Camping and astronomy site near Big Bend Texas?

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#1 gcs111

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 02:05 AM

I am looking for camping sites that are good for astronomy near or in Big Bend Natl.Park Texas. I would have picked Chisos Basin but it's at 5400' and may be too cold. Rio Grande Village may be better since it's lower but what about nearby lighting. How about horizons at these sites or any other site you may have had experience with. I saw a RV/ camping site called Stillwell Store on the NE edge of BB park...has anyone been there for observing? Persimmon Gap is one of the Clear Sky chart areas at the N. entrance and has a picnic area but I don't think you can camp there. What about any other sites for astronomy, on the west side of Texas, that are user friendly, safe and good for car camping. Any other suggestions? Thanks for any info, Gerry

#2 Skooter

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 08:03 AM

West TX is full of dark sites. The RV campground in Rio Grande Village is essentially a parking lot. Even so, you won't have to go far to avoid streetlights, probably just behind a treeline or something. If you can go a night or two without hookups, the dark skies at any of the backcountry roadside sites will blow your mind! Chisos Basin CG is sized primarily for tent camping and is a bit cramped for anything more than a popup, although I have seen a few larger RVs there. Cottonwood CG (no hookups), in the Castolon area, is farther away and I've always been intrigued with the peace and quiet it appears to offer, but never been there. BB Ranch State Park is also very large, undeveloped, and dark.

A couple of locations before you even get to BB would be Davis Mts. State Park near McDonald Observatory, and Balmorhea SP, also nearby. Honorable mention goes to Monahans Sandhills SP about 25 miles west of Midland/Odessa. Make no mistake, Monahans is in the middle of nowhere, right off I-20. I have enjoyed many spectacular sunsets from the top of a sandhill.

Have a nice trip.

#3 edwincjones

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 08:05 AM

would the Big Bend State Park to the west be better for astronomy?
-more isolated
-more private
but ? safety

edj

#4 edwincjones

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 08:10 AM

BJ's at Terlingue looks good on RVParkReviews(and this is a good site for RV campground reviews)

#5 Spaced

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 05:23 PM

Might I suggest you phone the park HQ and discuss your needs & desires with the people who know the most about the park?

#6 davidpitre

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Posted 25 November 2012 - 07:49 PM

Cottonwood campground is nice , much less visited, and darker because of less lanterns and RVs. But remember, gaining a bit of elevation can really help the transparency at Big Bend.
I don't know where you're from, but Chisos Basin does not typically get that cold. There are more people there, though.
I often just drive out a road, park, and bring my equipment around some protected area. It is very safe, and few cars pass at night.
Yes the State Park is much less visited.
Do consider Fort Davis State Park. You can get special permission to drive to the top of the mountain/hill and set up. Nothing beats it.

#7 LoeRent

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 06:40 PM

I stayed at the really nice campground at Study Butte. {just 5 Mi. outside Big Bend Park} Get a campsite at the rear of the park, set up your scope on the road to the golf course.

#8 bsumpter

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Posted 14 February 2014 - 10:46 AM

I know this is an old thread, but we're in SW Texas right now to escape the winter weather hitting the entire eastern US, and are currently in our motorhome at Marathon Motel & RV Park. The owner is an astrophotographer, and last week he was busy pouring concrete telescope pads for the guests to use. These are class 1 dark skies, and I can't praise it enough for those wanting to experience some truly dark skies in an extremely friendly atmosphere. There are plenty of RV sites to go around, and motel rooms for the folks traveling without a home on their backs.

Big Bend National Park is right down the road, which is absolutely stunning for daytime photography, or just enjoying some of the scenery this area has to offer.

Check them out at: http://www.marathonmotel.com

#9 Geo31

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Posted 14 February 2014 - 06:18 PM

Be sure to head up to Ft. Davis and of course McDonald Observatory. Ft. Davis is a cool little town. Very peaceful. IIRC there is an RV site nearby as well as at Davis Mts State Park.

The skies around the observatory are protected by statute. The street lights and other outdoor lights are dim, narrow wavelength lights.

#10 Philler

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 12:18 AM

I know this is an old thread, but we're in SW Texas right now to escape the winter weather hitting the entire eastern US, and are currently in our motorhome at Marathon Motel & RV Park. The owner is an astrophotographer, and last week he was busy pouring concrete telescope pads for the guests to use. These are class 1 dark skies, and I can't praise it enough for those wanting to experience some truly dark skies in an extremely friendly atmosphere. There are plenty of RV sites to go around, and motel rooms for the folks traveling without a home on their backs.

Big Bend National Park is right down the road, which is absolutely stunning for daytime photography, or just enjoying some of the scenery this area has to offer.

Check them out at: http://www.marathonmotel.com


Thanks for the info. and the website on the Marathon motel and the area. I've been looking for an excellent dark sky area as an alternative to going to one of the major star parties like the TSP or Okie-Tex or NSP. I don't have an RV or tent and I would rather be able to just go out in my vehicle, park, set up and observe, and be able to pack it up and quit and return to my motel room when I want to even when it's still dark without being "locked in for the night" at one of these big star parties with the only option if I want to leave before dawn to "park and set up outside the fence area." And I will never make the mistake again of staying at one of these "bunk houses" like I did at the TSP one year. I was assigned to this one bunk house with a group (or clique) of guys from Dallas who acted like they ran this bunkhouse and that it was supposed to be reserved just for them and didn't appreciate me staying there. One of them threw a tantrum and started yelling at me just because he didn't like the time I decided to use the latrine to take a shower. I asked the TSP staff if I could move to some other bunk house and told them why, but they could not help me, so I was stuck with these jerks in the same bunk house. I decided to pack up and leave the TSP early before it was over, determined never to return. Besides we were getting clouded out most of the time anyway. To tell you the truth, I have gotten kind of turned off to star parties and people walking around with BRIGHT RED headlamps.

But this Marathon Motel sounds like what I have been looking for, and I can quit before dawn and sleep in my room undisturbed in the day if I want to. I really like the idea that the owners are astronomy friendly, pouring telescope pads. And from where I live it's Interstate highways just about all the way, about a day and a half drive to get to the town of Marathon, Tx.

One thing though, I was wondering when you think would be the best time or times of the year to go there. When I went to the TSP in early May it seemed like we were getting clouded out most of the nights. If it cools off some at night in the Marathon area in summer, and there are lots of clear skies in the summer, would summer be the best time to go there, or would maybe Sept. through Nov. be better?

#11 Danny Self

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 10:08 AM

Hi, my name is Danny Self, I'm the owner of the Marathon Motel. Your thread was pointed out to me so I hoped I could offer some answers. First of all, your experience sounded like a nightmare! However, what I do appreciate about your description is that is one of the main reasons I began developing this project and hoped to achieve! A place where the astronomy enthusiast could come and have, social or private, the experience they're desiring! We have 10 acres here, so if privacy is priority, oh, that can certainly be accommodated! Our rooms are made up of duplex style cabins. Each cabin consisting of individual motel style rooms. You won't be 'Bunked up' with a group! As for the weather, well, I make no promises about that! However, spring and early summer are pretty safe bets. Unlike Ft. Davis located in the mountains, we are in a basin surrounded by them, which is what also protects us from any stray light pollution. Our weather is generally much more stable and conducive to clear cool nights. If it does cloud up, we have an adobe walled courtyard with a fireplace to relax around. The pads are poured, power will be available to each pad by the end of February. If you do choose to stay with us, the pads are right behind rooms 9 & 10…..
My quick description for the property, Where do you find a motel, 1/2 mile from town, on ten acres, under a Class 1 dark Sky? Marathon Motel, Marathon, Texas!
Hope this helps and hope to see you here!

#12 Philler

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 04:08 PM

Thanks a lot for the info. Dan. I was very surprised to hear from you the owner. I might book a room there, but I am also considering maybe renting a pop-up camper or some kind of small camper and staying in your camper area. My experience at the TSP was from May 1997 when the TSP leaders had a conflict with Ranch site at Ft. Davis. So they ended up having the TSP at this church camp area near Leakey, Tx. They had to put up these plastic light barrier fences to shield the observing field from the Cinco de Mayo traffic. The skies were still pretty dark there when we weren't clouded out, which seemed to be most of the time. I would have overlooked that whole bunkhouse incident (which is almost laughable now) if I actually got to see some stars for more than a few hours. That was my only time at the TSP.
I read through your site information and the site information on the Marathon area several times. I have been considering areas in NM or Utah, or even western Kansas, but I think Marathon and your motel are my first choice, and I like your allowing us to observe right on the motel property. I have always preferred observing from a private, dedicated site over observing on public areas. No matter how dark the skies are, you never know who will pull up or drive by with headlights blaring.
I may need knee surgery later sometime this year, so if I don't make a reservation for the Marathon Motel this spring or summer, then I will just shoot for this coming fall.

Thanks again Dan and welcome to Cloudy Nights!

Phil

#13 Bonco

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 04:23 PM

Thanks Dan for posting about your Motel. What a great concept! Sounds great to me and hope to visit before long.
Bill

#14 Danny Self

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 07:26 PM

Hey guys, yeah, there's a long story behind all of this, but seems the 'universe' has brought me full circle in a number of ways! So, this is turning into one of the most exciting projects with so many possibilities that I've had since we developed the current amenities 13 years ago! I feel such pride to not only have a valuable asset to offer, but to be a part of such a creative and educational endeavor!
So, I have a start, it'll be fun to refine as we grow!
Phil, thankyou for the 'welcome' to Cloudy Nights! Bill, thank you for your inspiration! Brian, thankyou for the exposure and guidance! Great to become a part of this community!

#15 Geo31

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 10:51 PM

Danny, are you still a runner? Just curious. My GF and I have the Marathon Marathon on our list of to-do races. We may have to stay with you when we do it.

#16 Danny Self

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Posted 16 February 2014 - 08:46 AM

Hey George, yes, just not as long distance as I was, course with that said, I think I said that a few years ago and not long after ran the Imogene Pass run in Ouray CO…but that was a few years ago…. :o!
The M2M now is awesome! Not sure if you know, but the course is now from 26.2 miles up hwy 385 to the finish line at the Gage Hotel. 5K, 10K, Half and full on the same course. Downhill trend, little traffic, gorgeous views, a great fundraiser lunch at the finish line and an awards ceremony followed by a dance that evening. Quite an event. Hey, even if you don't run it, come out for the party! Obviously you're running, and into astronomy!? If you happen to find yourself out our way, we'll go for a run and catch up on what's going on! Good to hear from you!

#17 Geo31

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Posted 16 February 2014 - 12:39 PM

Oh cool! I'm trying to figure out my next marathon, so I'll have to really consider it. After the next marathon I'm planning on starting Ironman training again. I'll tell Trudy (who happens to be running the Galveston Marathon as I type). We stopped last month on the way back home from Ft Davis to pose with the Marathon 26 sign. I of course photoshopped it to say 26.2. :). They really should move that sign .2 miles.

I'll definitely let you know if we're going to run MTM! I'll bring a scope too! :)

#18 tigerroach

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Posted 17 February 2014 - 09:37 AM

Thanks Dan for posting about your Motel. What a great concept! Sounds great to me and hope to visit before long.
Bill


+1

I am always on the lookout for new lodging/observing options in West Texas, and this sounds like a really good one.

#19 Phillip Creed

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Posted 18 February 2014 - 06:32 PM

One thing though, I was wondering when you think would be the best time or times of the year to go there. When I went to the TSP in early May it seemed like we were getting clouded out most of the nights. If it cools off some at night in the Marathon area in summer, and there are lots of clear skies in the summer, would summer be the best time to go there, or would maybe Sept. through Nov. be better?


Here's a link to Texas climate averages from 1981 to 2010:

http://ggweather.com/normals/TX.html

Places of interest would be Marathon, Alpine, Ft. Davis, Mt. Locke (MacDonald Observatory), Chisos Basin, Study Butte/Terlingua, Panther Junction, Castolon and Persimmon Gap.

The Big Bend region is the southernmost part of the CONUS that has significant topography. Because of this, the higher elevations of this region (Marathon, Alpine, Fort Davis) allow for reasonable conditions in both summer and winter.

Summers in Marathon typically max out around 90, and drop into the low- to mid-60s. The "monsoon" season is from June through September. It's usually not a wash-out, but it does mean you'll run a much higher risk of a cloud-out vs. the dry season. The best time to go, weather-wise, is February - April, and not in May, when the TSP is usually held (probably timed so that you don't have to wait as long through the night to see all the good stuff in the Sagittarius Milky Way). Anytime from November through April will have good odds of getting at least some observing in on most nights.

Dan--The MM brings back some good memories. Phil Hoyle and I (sorry for the confusion that's going to result in this thread from all the "Phil"'s in it. My bad.) drove out to the Big Bend region way back in 2005. After a 1,600-mile trip from Ohio, we ended up staying at the Marathon Motel for a week. Although we made the 40-minute trek to Persimmon Gap for most of the week, we did a little impromptu star party there for other Marathon Motel guests the last night we were there. Turns out after all those late-night treks on US-385 (not to mention the nightly chat with the BP), it was more than dark enough on the motel's property to make that 1,600-mile trek worthwhile by itself--and I've got some pretty high standards for dark-sky sites.

What's nice about that part of Texas is that the locals, by and large, "get it" about stars--it's part of the landscape, so much of the lighting is appropriate and subdued, allowing for memorable views of the heavens. It's hard to imagine observing anywhere that close to the center of a town back east, since even small towns aspire to have the place lit up like "Blade Runner."

Back east, you go from urban to suburban to exurban to rural and, if you're lucky, remote (Cherry Springs/Spruce Knob, etc.). Out there, your towns are outposts. West Texas? Cities/towns, then...Nothing. So starting from any town out there, the skies get dark as you leave them *really* fast.

Study Butte/Terlingua has some similar spots, too. Immediately outside the town (the southern end of SR-180), it's just...dark.

One spot in the Big Bend region that's great (but I don't think they allow camping) is the Sotol Vista. The 4,300-ft elevation means a comfortable climate on most nights, and the southern horizon is just mind-blowing. It's the only desert location in the CONUS that allows you to see the Eta Carinae Nebula. It's one thing to have an "Omega-Centauri" horizon. It's another to have an *Alpha*-Centauri horizon (with a little help from atmospheric refraction.)

Clear Skies,
Phil

#20 Danny Self

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Posted 19 February 2014 - 11:43 AM

WOW! I remember y'all being here! I've talked about that since. In fact, at the time, I was managing the Marathon Texas website and I believe you sent me some information for the astronomy page. You guys were set up in the back in approximately the same location as where the pads are now located. Hope all's been going well for you guys!
Thanks for your input! Great description of West Texas, absolutely correct on all points. Even during the monsoon however, it may rain during the day, but clears up at night. So doesn't meant a wash out every night! Yes Sotol Vista would be spectacular, but you are correct, camping isn't allowed, nor are there any designated campsite near the area.
The advantage of what we have in Marathon is security. One can set up, basically, set it and forget it vs remote locations, or less populated locations where one wouldn't feel comfortable about the 'forget it' part. I've left my telescope or/or camera set up in the courtyard for a week at a time. No one bothers it.
The other is access to amenities! I've set up for long exposures on a cold night, not wanting to sit out in the dark and cold, so, I go to the bar and do my thing, while its doing its thing!
Hey, good hearing from you! If you make it back this way, I happen to know of a place you can stay!!! :-)

#21 bsumpter

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Posted 19 February 2014 - 02:07 PM

The moonrise was at 10:30 PM CST here last night, so I finally got a little time under the stars. It's difficult to describe just how pitch black it is here for someone coming from the eastern side of the country. Even though you can see a few lights from the town of Marathon, they're not intrusive at all.

If you're thinking of a trip to a dark sky site, I simply cannot recommend Marathon Motel & RV park enough. Danny, his wife, and the entire staff are wonderful people, and I guarantee you'll enjoy your stay here.

#22 Phillip Creed

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Posted 19 February 2014 - 07:13 PM

It's difficult to describe just how pitch black it is here for someone coming from the eastern side of the country.


+1.

Lots of fellow stargazers think I'm exaggerating when I describe the minimal amount of aperture to see marquee deep-sky objects from the Big Bend region. A set of 25x100 *unfiltered* binoculars was enough to see the Horsehead Nebula, as well as spiral structure in M51 and the two main barred spiral arms of M83. The winter Milky Way has more structure than the summer Milky Way in most dark-sky sites back east.

Yeah, it's truly something special out there, isn't it?

Clear Skies,
Phil

#23 Mustapha.Mond

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Posted 19 February 2014 - 10:44 PM

I was planning on staying in a Fort Davis hotel and driving outside of town to observe. This place looks better suited and more secure than me parking by the side of a small road. I'm glad to hear the light pollution from town and the hotel isn't too much. Let's hope this region stays 'pristine' unlike the East Coast.

#24 Geo31

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Posted 20 February 2014 - 06:18 PM

I was planning on staying in a Fort Davis hotel and driving outside of town to observe. This place looks better suited and more secure than me parking by the side of a small road. I'm glad to hear the light pollution from town and the hotel isn't too much. Let's hope this region stays 'pristine' unlike the East Coast.


It will by statute. The night sky around McDonald Observatory is protected.

#25 tigerroach

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Posted 29 July 2014 - 09:23 AM

I just returned from a four-night stay at the Marathon Motel, so I thought I would resurrect this thread... mainly to echo comments made in earlier posts by other guests. There were three of us (my wife and my observing partner, in addition to myself) and we stayed in the "apartment", which gave us enough privacy to work with and a little kitchen we could use.

The observing area has completed concrete pads and all the electrical outlets anyone could wish for, even astrophoto enthusiasts with camera, powered drive, laptop, etc. Cars and trains going by can be an ocassional light nuisance, but there are screens set up to minimize that and they tend to taper off later in the night. I left my 14.5" scope set up (covered up during the day) the entire time with no issues - what a convenience that is!

And the skies are about as good as it gets. We were fortunate to have 3 nights with near-perfect conditions, and the fourth also had several observable hours, with just a couple periods when we were waiting for some clouds to disappear.

And also as posted above, Danny Self is a kindred spirit and working hard to find ways to improve the observing experience at the motel. He even found me some replacement batteries for my finder when they died on me. :cool:

I am already plotting my next visit... the bad thing about the skies in far West Texas is that they spoil me and make it harder to appreciate the skies I make do with closer to home.






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