Witness the Rare 5-Planet Alignment at These Dark-Sky Parks Across Texas
It’s been 18 years since this last occurred, and will be another 18 before it happens again
This June is different than most Junes, because this month brings a sky full of better-than-usual visuals. For the first time since 2004, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all visible sans telescope, so you can look up to witness this rare event.
You’ll want to wake up early — like, before dawn early — to see for yourself. But for the best view, mark your calendar for June 24. On this date, Mercury will move farther away from the sun, giving you the clearest look yet at all five planets in alignment. That’s provided you’re somewhere away from pesky light pollution.
To that end, we’ve rounded up five dark-sky parks across Texas, plus where to stay when you get there. Each is a prime spot to gaze upon the stars and planets without interference, so set your alarm (or stay up late), then crane your neck to the sky about an hour before sunrise. Don’t miss it, lest you have to wait another 18 years.
With 238 miles of trails and some of the state’s best scenery, Big Bend is a popular destination for hiking, camping and mountain biking. You can do all of those things as you explore the otherworldly terrain, which features dramatic mountains and canyons across the high desert. It’s also an ideal spot for stargazing, and the International Dark-Sky Association recognizes portions of the park as having some of the darkest skies on Earth. Texas Parks & Wildlife suggests positioning yourself along River Road, at the West Contrabando Trailhead, at Big Hill or by the Hoodoos. Each area is accessible by vehicle, so pick your favorite, then look up in the early morning hours.
Big Bend has plenty of spots to stay, including primitive campsites and the Sauceda Bunkhouse, which has beds and bathrooms (bring your own linens and towels), plus shared living and kitchen facilities. If you’re sticking around the park for a while, treat yourself to some amenities and book a couple nights at Lajitas Golf Resort. Located on the edge of Big Bend, there you’ll find comfortable rooms, a pool, a restaurant and bar, and a great golf course.
This North Texas park sits just shy of the Oklahoma border and is a popular spot for camping, hiking, biking and horseback riding, with plenty of trails to keep you occupied. Bring fishing gear, or rent the essentials on-site, and you can drop a line in Lake Copper Breaks or Big Pond. This dark-sky park takes its reputation seriously, offering regular stargazing events. View the planetary alignment on June 24, then stick around the next night, as a park ranger will lead a group starwalk, pointing out planets, constellations, nebulas and distant galaxies.
If you want to stay in a hotel, there are a couple mid-level chains within easy driving distance. Otherwise, the park has plenty of campsites, ranging from barebones options to more comfortable sites with water, electricity and bathrooms.
The Texas Hill Country is best known for its many wineries, breweries and distilleries, but each day visitors (some of them tipsy) flock to Enchanted Rock, a 425-foot-tall hunk of pink granite that’s estimated to be 1.1 billion years old. Said rock can be found in a state natural area, where you can hike, rock climb and otherwise enjoy the outdoors. The park also takes advantage of its dark-sky status by hosting regular astronomy sessions and ranger-led stargazing parties.
There are several campsites, if that’s what you’re after. But with Fredericksburg and surrounding Hill Country towns so close, you might as well post up in a comfortable hotel or an Airbnb. Try Contigo Ranch, a working ranch where restored log cabins and modern cottages share the land with abundant wildlife.
The South Llano River is a popular spot for swimming, fishing or dropping a tube into the spring-fed water and slowly floating downstream. If you’d rather stay dry, the park also has 22 miles of trails to explore by foot or bike, and it’s a favorite area for birdwatchers. Once the sun sets, rangers lead night hikes and local telescope-toting astronomers will help you find celestial bodies in the sky.
A handful of modest hotels are located on the interstate just a short drive away. If you want to stay in the park for the first crack at planet-spotting, campsites vary, with some including water hookups, electricity and bathrooms.
Located in southwest Texas far from city lights — the closest town is Del Rio, more than an hour to the south — Devils River State Natural Area is known for its namesake waterway. You can swim, fish and kayak on the river, provided you bring fishing gear and a kayak, or explore on foot by hiking through the ridges and canyons. Since you’re so far removed from city lights, you can expect perfect conditions for stargazing.
If you’re staying the night, reserve the rustic bunkhouse, which has room for you and nine of your closest friends. Otherwise, prepare to rough it. The only other accommodations are hike-in and drive-in campsites, sans water, electricity or bathrooms, so make sure to bring everything you’ll need.
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