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Northern New Mexico (and Arizona) dark skies and seeing.

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#1 WoodyEnd

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Posted 04 December 2020 - 09:28 PM

I am considering moving to northern Arizona or New Mexico and I am wondering about the astronomical potential.   Specifically the Flagstaff area and the Taos/Angel Fire/ Eagles Nest area.  I have checked the dark sky maps but I am also wondering about the planetary potential.  I currently live in a Bortle 2/3 site but the seeing is marginal at best.  This is good for deep sky but not so good for the planets.

 


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#2 Taosmath

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Posted 04 December 2020 - 10:38 PM

What do you want to know specifically?

 

Average seeing conditions?



#3 WoodyEnd

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 03:12 AM

I am interested in good locations, the transparency, seeing, weather, cloud cover etc.  



#4 dmdouglass

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 11:36 AM

Try spending some time on this site for awhile...  He offers many options...  This is adjacent to Pie Town, NM.

https://skypionline.com/



#5 WoodyEnd

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 01:39 PM

Try spending some time on this site for awhile...  He offers many options...  This is adjacent to Pie Town, NM.

https://skypionline.com/

Thanks for the link but I am not looking for a remote imaging host.  I plan on buying a house with land and building my own observatory.


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#6 kjkrum

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 01:51 PM

For what it's worth, the seeing map in Astrospheric always seems to forecast better seeing north of Flagstaff than I'm getting down in Tucson. It's dark up there, too. And cold...

Flagstaff is a super cute town, worth a visit completely aside from astronomy. I understand they have an historic observatory there, but I've never been to it.

#7 WoodyEnd

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 03:26 PM

For what it's worth, the seeing map in Astrospheric always seems to forecast better seeing north of Flagstaff than I'm getting down in Tucson. It's dark up there, too. And cold...

Flagstaff is a super cute town, worth a visit completely aside from astronomy. I understand they have an historic observatory there, but I've never been to it.

A long time ago I visited Flagstaff and we had frost on our windshield in the middle of the summer.  Cold I don't mind but the heat from southern Arizona I can't take.



#8 Taosmath

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 03:32 PM

P.M.  sent



#9 dmdouglass

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 03:45 PM

Thanks for the link but I am not looking for a remote imaging host.  I plan on buying a house with land and building my own observatory.

Actually, i was  pointing to the area around PieTown, NM.  There are several observatories in the area of SkyPi.  The site could at least show you the skies from the area.  And yes, Pie Town is  known for its pies. Another reason to check out the area.



#10 WoodyEnd

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 05:16 PM

Actually, i was  pointing to the area around PieTown, NM.  There are several observatories in the area of SkyPi.  The site could at least show you the skies from the area.  And yes, Pie Town is  known for its pies. Another reason to check out the area.

Pies are good! smile.gif   Pie town looks a little to dry and desolate for my tastes but it sounds like it is worth a visit.



#11 ShaulaB

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 05:33 PM

Some places in Northern NM may have fire issues. It would be good to look into that. The region is certainly beautiful, and full of cultural interests.

I have been looking for a long time into retirement in Flagstaff. Real estate in AZ may be pricier than in NM. A friend familiar with Flagstaff warned of noise from passing trains, so get further north. It snows heavily around Flagstaff. Last year at Thanksgiving, an interstate highway was closed due to snow.
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#12 Migwan

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 06:03 PM

There a is truly dark corridor along 180 in between Silver City and Reserve NM, with plenty of elbow room.   Can get hot for a day or two during the summer, but not Sonoran hot.  Not as cold in the winter as Flagstaff.  I get out there almost yearly for some hiking in the late winter.   Interesting area, but a little remote for a residence, IMO.   

 

The area is bordered E & W by mountains, so if seeing matters you probably want to be to the E side.  That's been my experience anyway.  

 

I've been considering the Prescott, Prescott Valley area for that move to area.  The climate and locality are a better fit for me than Flagstaff and western NM.  Not as dark though, so I probably won't bother with an observatory.

 

Good luck

 

jd 


Edited by Migwan, 05 December 2020 - 06:05 PM.

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#13 ExploringTheFrontier

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 06:08 PM

I'm down in Albuquerque, which is objectively the worst light pollution in the state. It's also the worst light pollution for about 300 miles. That being said, I can travel 45 minutes in any direction and be at a site darker than pretty much anywhere east of the Mississippi. We also benefit from 310 days of sunshine a year. I'm rarely concerned about clouds, to the point of not even really making contingency plans. Even during our "monsoon" season, it rains for about an hour in the afternoon and the skies are clear by nightfall. Winds can be an issue, and are very localized given the mountain ranges. 

 

The seeing is crisp. Northern NM and AZ benefit from elevation at about 6900' in both Taos and Flagstaff. Snow is not uncommon in the high desert, but many times it burns off the next day. The temperature differential between night and day is shocking. It will drop about 20 degrees as soon as the sun goes down.

 

Not sure where you're coming from, but moving our family from DC to NM is the best decision we've ever made for quality of life. It's an outdoorsman's paradise, consistently excellent weather, and very low cost of living. Happy to answer questions.


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#14 lsfinn

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 07:13 PM

I am considering moving to northern Arizona or New Mexico and I am wondering about the astronomical potential.   Specifically the Flagstaff area and the Taos/Angel Fire/ Eagles Nest area.  I have checked the dark sky maps but I am also wondering about the planetary potential.  I currently live in a Bortle 2/3 site but the seeing is marginal at best.  This is good for deep sky but not so good for the planets.

If you are currently in a Bottle 2/3 zone then you won't do much better in any of the locations you've identified. Without knowing where you are currently located it's hard to say more in comparison, except that the combination of altitude and likely lower humidity will be a win for transparency while perhaps something of a loss for seeing. Planetary observing being a bit more sensitive to seeing than transparency (at least in my experience/estimation) you may find that trade-off a wash. On the other hand, you don't get many more clear nights/year, which is really quite nice. 

 

In any of these areas the key is going to be getting your property sufficiently well out-of-town. For this purpose you really need to visit and take some night drives to the the relevant neighborhoods. The necessary distance may not be as great as you think: in all the NM sites you indicated, the combination of altitude and (very) low humidity keeps the light domes modes and well-confined. Twenty miles from the population centers may be sufficient. 

 

To give you a sense: I'm located outside Santa Fe to the SE (on a map along the 285 corridor south of I-25). The lots in my area are typically 1 acre or larger. From my lot, where I built an observatory, my SQM readings are typically 21.2+/-0.2. Light domes are from Santa Fe and ABQ. Owing to the altitude and the low humidity these are exceptionally modest for the size (ABQ) and proximity (SAF) of the population centers. 

 

My impression of Flagstaff - I drove through on the way to the Grand Canyon Star Party in 2019 - was that it was a great town, but that it was situated in the mountains in such a way that you might find it hard to get a property that didn't have a significantly obstructed view over a significant fraction of azimuth. Hopefully someone from Flagstaff can speak to that. 

 

As regards Taos: it's located in a large basin; so, assuming you can get your property sufficiently far from the town center you should be in good shape. I don't know the Angel Fire area geography. It does have a roughly 1500' advantage in altitude over Taos and Flagstaff: at 8,400' is not to be sneezed at. I've known people who can't handle the 7000' altitude of Santa Fe/Taos/Flagstaff and have had to move to lower altitudes. 


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#15 WoodyEnd

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 08:25 PM

If you are currently in a Bottle 2/3 zone then you won't do much better in any of the locations you've identified. Without knowing where you are currently located it's hard to say more in comparison, except that the combination of altitude and likely lower humidity will be a win for transparency while perhaps something of a loss for seeing. Planetary observing being a bit more sensitive to seeing than transparency (at least in my experience/estimation) you may find that trade-off a wash. On the other hand, you don't get many more clear nights/year, which is really quite nice. 

 

In any of these areas the key is going to be getting your property sufficiently well out-of-town. For this purpose you really need to visit and take some night drives to the the relevant neighborhoods. The necessary distance may not be as great as you think: in all the NM sites you indicated, the combination of altitude and (very) low humidity keeps the light domes modes and well-confined. Twenty miles from the population centers may be sufficient. 

 

To give you a sense: I'm located outside Santa Fe to the SE (on a map along the 285 corridor south of I-25). The lots in my area are typically 1 acre or larger. From my lot, where I built an observatory, my SQM readings are typically 21.2+/-0.2. Light domes are from Santa Fe and ABQ. Owing to the altitude and the low humidity these are exceptionally modest for the size (ABQ) and proximity (SAF) of the population centers. 

 

My impression of Flagstaff - I drove through on the way to the Grand Canyon Star Party in 2019 - was that it was a great town, but that it was situated in the mountains in such a way that you might find it hard to get a property that didn't have a significantly obstructed view over a significant fraction of azimuth. Hopefully someone from Flagstaff can speak to that. 

 

As regards Taos: it's located in a large basin; so, assuming you can get your property sufficiently far from the town center you should be in good shape. I don't know the Angel Fire area geography. It does have a roughly 1500' advantage in altitude over Taos and Flagstaff: at 8,400' is not to be sneezed at. I've known people who can't handle the 7000' altitude of Santa Fe/Taos/Flagstaff and have had to move to lower altitudes. 

Although it is dark where I am (and the transparency is usually good)  in the Sierra Nevada foothills the turbulence is terrible.     I have never lived at 8,000 feet but have hiked up to 13,000 without issue and I often visit areas over 9,000 feet.   I know there is the observatory at Mars hill where Percival Lowell "discovered" the mars canals lol.gif which should mean that the seeing is far, far steadier than my location.

 

I am not looking to move solely for the observing but wherever I move I want to have good viewing.   I do prefer the mountain life style so wherever I go it will be up in the pines.


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#16 WoodyEnd

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 08:33 PM

Some places in Northern NM may have fire issues. It would be good to look into that. The region is certainly beautiful, and full of cultural interests.

I have been looking for a long time into retirement in Flagstaff. Real estate in AZ may be pricier than in NM. A friend familiar with Flagstaff warned of noise from passing trains, so get further north. It snows heavily around Flagstaff. Last year at Thanksgiving, an interstate highway was closed due to snow.

Flagstaff has a similar climate to my current location although we probably get a lot more snow here.  If I move there I will bring my snow plow. smile.gif



#17 Rollo

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Posted 05 December 2020 - 09:06 PM

I have a good astronomy friend that lives in SW New Mexico and has a observatory there.   SE Arizona and SW New Mexico are good for astronomy,, from what I have heard from people in the know.   I live in Florida,, Lol,, much warmer here.   I have been to Arizona and New Mexico,,, I think Arizona gets more clear nights,,, but not totally sure.   Good luck.



#18 edwincjones

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Posted 06 December 2020 - 05:45 AM

In the past I have stayed at Starhill Inn between Las Vegas and Mora, NM with very dark skies;

but do not know the current conditions.


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#19 lsfinn

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Posted 06 December 2020 - 01:33 PM

Although it is dark where I am (and the transparency is usually good)  in the Sierra Nevada foothills the turbulence is terrible.     I have never lived at 8,000 feet but have hiked up to 13,000 without issue and I often visit areas over 9,000 feet.   I know there is the observatory at Mars hill where Percival Lowell "discovered" the mars canals lol.gif which should mean that the seeing is far, far steadier than my location.

 

I am not looking to move solely for the observing but wherever I move I want to have good viewing.   I do prefer the mountain life style so wherever I go it will be up in the pines.

On the one hand, seeing in Taos will generally be better than in Flagstaff, where the surrounding mountains lead to regular, substantial atmospheric turbulence. On the other hand, Flagstaff has much more the appearance and feel of a mountain town. You’ll be surrounded by pines in Flagstaff, while Taos is more high desert. You won’t have far to travel for the mountains - you are in the Sangre de Cristos, just in a basin - but you won’t have the mountain town look-and-feel. 


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#20 radial195

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Posted 07 December 2020 - 12:55 PM

In the late 1960's when the search was underway for a site for the national observatory (which is now at Kitt Peak in Az.) Hualapai Mtn, just SE of Kingman, Az. was runner up in a nationwide search for a suitable site. Hualapai Mtn. has big timber, a village nestled in a bowl, and a couple of other amenities. Kingman and the surrounding area has a population of around 50K, so it has enough amenities to make life bearable. I live in a golf course community 20 miles to the NE of Kingman off Rte. 66. There are no street lights in the community and my backyard registers 21.5 SQM. Kingman is about 3500' elevation so it generally doesn't get as cold as Flag/Taos, and doesn't get as hot as Phoenix. As the professional astronomers say, "I don't want green to do astronomy, I want brown!"


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#21 ExploringTheFrontier

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Posted 07 December 2020 - 01:57 PM

On the one hand, seeing in Taos will generally be better than in Flagstaff, where the surrounding mountains lead to regular, substantial atmospheric turbulence. On the other hand, Flagstaff has much more the appearance and feel of a mountain town. You’ll be surrounded by pines in Flagstaff, while Taos is more high desert. You won’t have far to travel for the mountains - you are in the Sangre de Cristos, just in a basin - but you won’t have the mountain town look-and-feel. 

Mountain vs. high desert feel is defintiely a big deal.

 

For Taos, no pines means no obstructions and a clear horizon. On the other hand, if it's windy, you don't really have a wind break.



#22 dwkdnvr

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Posted 07 December 2020 - 02:16 PM

Mountain vs. high desert feel is defintiely a big deal.

 

For Taos, no pines means no obstructions and a clear horizon. On the other hand, if it's windy, you don't really have a wind break.

Really depends on where you are and what you're looking for, though. We just moved from the Denver area to the Taos area, and while the skies are nice and dark our house is south and east of town and is heavily treed - surrounded by National Forest, so not really a surprise. I have very limited visibility, unfortunately, and may need to plan to be more portable to be able to get to spots with more open skies. In town or even better west of town you're into flat high-desert with freedom from obstructions, though


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#23 gwd

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Posted 07 December 2020 - 05:38 PM

Thanks for the link but I am not looking for a remote imaging host.  I plan on buying a house with land and building my own observatory.

Water, water, water.    I almost bought the most wonderful home in New Mexico, adjacenti  to a national forest at 8000 feet etc. The real estate agent assured me that having delivered water is no problem.   I called a water delivery company in the area to ask about rates and delivery schedules.  The woman who answered the phone said "Don't.  All our customers hate it.  If you want to know what it is like living with delivered water, don't flush your toilet for two weeks."   She said that the previous winter the mountain roads got snowed in and the water trucks couldn't get in for a few weeks.  The real estate agents all said "It NEVER snows more than TWO INCHES. and it ALWAYS melts BEFORE NOON. ".

 

The place I did buy has a neighborhood water system.  Before I bought I met the president of the neighborhood association.  He went into great detail about the wells and how the water came from a local aquifer fed by snow melt, the hydrological survey shows that if all precipitation stops we'd still have a seven year supply, etc.  Everyone I talked to said we had good water. A year after I bought, the state hydrologist came to talk to us about why we had to give up our "water rights" to an out of state development company that wanted to build a luxury community with golf course and swimming pools.  The state hydrologist contradicted EVERYTHING the association president said.  Our water isn't renewed, it is mined from a deep aquifer shared with towns 70 miles away, no one knows how long it will last.  The aquifer isn't replenished.   I want to return to New Mexico, possibly to get even better sky's, maybe moving to the Pie Town area but be aware that New Mexico is the land of elaborate liars.  The more detail a New Mexican goes into about a situation the more likely that it is a tall tale with no basis in fact.   I like the place I got, several private observatories in the neighborhood, adjacent to open space that shouldn't ever get developloped. The real estate agent warned me that the neighbors are opposed to street lights so it isn't safe to walk at night because it is so dark.  The long time neighbors complain about how bright it is at night- we can't see the stars like we used to.    

 

Really it it isn't all about the sky in the southwest, you need to make sure you have a good secure water source.   Wells run dry. 


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#24 WoodyEnd

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Posted 07 December 2020 - 06:28 PM

Water, water, water.    I almost bought the most wonderful home in New Mexico, adjacenti  to a national forest at 8000 feet etc. The real estate agent assured me that having delivered water is no problem.   I called a water delivery company in the area to ask about rates and delivery schedules.  The woman who answered the phone said "Don't.  All our customers hate it.  If you want to know what it is like living with delivered water, don't flush your toilet for two weeks."   She said that the previous winter the mountain roads got snowed in and the water trucks couldn't get in for a few weeks.  The real estate agents all said "It NEVER snows more than TWO INCHES. and it ALWAYS melts BEFORE NOON. ".

 

The place I did buy has a neighborhood water system.  Before I bought I met the president of the neighborhood association.  He went into great detail about the wells and how the water came from a local aquifer fed by snow melt, the hydrological survey shows that if all precipitation stops we'd still have a seven year supply, etc.  Everyone I talked to said we had good water. A year after I bought, the state hydrologist came to talk to us about why we had to give up our "water rights" to an out of state development company that wanted to build a luxury community with golf course and swimming pools.  The state hydrologist contradicted EVERYTHING the association president said.  Our water isn't renewed, it is mined from a deep aquifer shared with towns 70 miles away, no one knows how long it will last.  The aquifer isn't replenished.   I want to return to New Mexico, possibly to get even better sky's, maybe moving to the Pie Town area but be aware that New Mexico is the land of elaborate liars.  The more detail a New Mexican goes into about a situation the more likely that it is a tall tale with no basis in fact.   I like the place I got, several private observatories in the neighborhood, adjacent to open space that shouldn't ever get developloped. The real estate agent warned me that the neighbors are opposed to street lights so it isn't safe to walk at night because it is so dark.  The long time neighbors complain about how bright it is at night- we can't see the stars like we used to.    

 

Really it it isn't all about the sky in the southwest, you need to make sure you have a good secure water source.   Wells run dry. 

Snow I don't mind but I have to have sufficient water.  Water is one of my top priorities.


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#25 dustyc

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Posted 08 December 2020 - 02:26 PM

Water, water, water.    I almost bought the most wonderful home in New Mexico, adjacenti  to a national forest at 8000 feet etc. The real estate agent assured me that having delivered water is no problem.   I called a water delivery company in the area to ask about rates and delivery schedules.  The woman who answered the phone said "Don't.  All our customers hate it.  If you want to know what it is like living with delivered water, don't flush your toilet for two weeks."   She said that the previous winter the mountain roads got snowed in and the water trucks couldn't get in for a few weeks.  The real estate agents all said "It NEVER snows more than TWO INCHES. and it ALWAYS melts BEFORE NOON. ".

 

The place I did buy has a neighborhood water system.  Before I bought I met the president of the neighborhood association.  He went into great detail about the wells and how the water came from a local aquifer fed by snow melt, the hydrological survey shows that if all precipitation stops we'd still have a seven year supply, etc.  Everyone I talked to said we had good water. A year after I bought, the state hydrologist came to talk to us about why we had to give up our "water rights" to an out of state development company that wanted to build a luxury community with golf course and swimming pools.  The state hydrologist contradicted EVERYTHING the association president said.  Our water isn't renewed, it is mined from a deep aquifer shared with towns 70 miles away, no one knows how long it will last.  The aquifer isn't replenished.   I want to return to New Mexico, possibly to get even better sky's, maybe moving to the Pie Town area but be aware that New Mexico is the land of elaborate liars.  The more detail a New Mexican goes into about a situation the more likely that it is a tall tale with no basis in fact.   I like the place I got, several private observatories in the neighborhood, adjacent to open space that shouldn't ever get developloped. The real estate agent warned me that the neighbors are opposed to street lights so it isn't safe to walk at night because it is so dark.  The long time neighbors complain about how bright it is at night- we can't see the stars like we used to.    

 

Really it it isn't all about the sky in the southwest, you need to make sure you have a good secure water source.   Wells run dry. 

It's only going to get worse in AZ. Try to move to an area that has political clout to hold sway over water rights. You can always drive to some dark skies. Or do a remote host if you're doing astrophotography.




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