The stars at night, shine big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. But where do they shine the biggest and brightest? Here is my list of the top spots in the state to take in the night sky.
If you live near any of the metro populations, it will likely require a bit of a drive to get a view of the stars like our ancestors had, but some of the darkest skies in the United States can be found in Texas.
Each location on the list is accompanied by a light pollution map, courtesy of Dark Sky Finder.
#10. Fort Griffin State Park - this Texas State Historical site is near the town of Albany. It was a US Calvary Fort established on July 29, 1867. Due to the vast ranches surrounding the property, Fort Griffin has minimal light pollution and the darkest skies for those in North Texas that would rather not drive several hours for a good view of the stars. The park also offers monthly astronomy events.
Fort Griffin closes at 4:30pm, but offers primitive camping which will allow you to be in the park overnight. For more information visit www.thc.state.tx.us or call 325-762-3529.
#9 Seadrift - the town of Seadrift has a population of just 1,364 and sits on the San Antonio Bay on the Gulf Coast of Texas. While some more remote spots further south along the coast may have less light pollution, Seadrift is nestled in between the cities of Corpus Christie and Houston and has plenty of amenities including lodging and restaurants.
While there is more light pollution here than anywhere else on the list, you still have a great view of the Milky Way and plenty of water to include in your images.
#8 Enchanted Rock - is an enormous pink granite pluton batholith located in the Llano Uplift approximately 17 miles north of Fredericksburg, Texas and 24 miles south of Llano. The park offers star parties (admission is $7 per person).
Enchanted Rock State Park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The daily entrance fee is $7 per person. Children 12 and under are admitted free. The park often fills to capacity, to make reservations call (512) 389-8900.
#7 Pontotoc - is a ghost town northwest of Llano. A disastrous fire in August 1947 took out a good portion of the stores downtown. The town wisely left several of the fire-gutted stone buildings and the photo opportunities are worth driving out of the way for.
A few people still live here so be mindful of where you go. In 2013, I was shooting some ruins (from public property) back off of Highway 71 and the property owner held me at gun point until he realized I was simply a photographer. Stick with the main downtown area and the San Fernando Academy and you won't be hassled.
Much has been made about the Marfa Mystery Lights. We did see them when we were there. I don't know exactly what they are, but I can say I was more impressed by the view of the Milky Way from the outskirts of town.
60 miles to the west in the town of Valentine sits a Prada store replica complete with purses and shoes.
#5 Clairemont - this town sits in between no and where approximately 80 miles southeast of Lubbock. As such, there is little in the way of light pollution.
The main reason this location ranks so high is the Old Kent County Jail that still sits intact over 120 years after it was built. We visited in 2014 and were thrilled to find you can actually go inside the jail, although the inside is covered in graffiti and there is some litter (both likely from teenagers partying).
#4 Devil's River State Natural Area - is a 37,000-acre section of three ecosystems, the Edwards Plateau, the Tamaulipan mezquital and the Chihuahuan Desert. It is located 66 miles north of Del Rio and offers scenic canyons, waterfalls, and mountains.
This area is mostly wilderness with primitive camping and group barracks available. Campers must make reservations and pay in advance by calling (512) 389-8901.
#3 Caprock Canyon State Park - located 100 miles southeast of Amarillo this park has some fantastic landscapes to view the sky from including rivers and natural rock formations. There is some light pollution to be dealt with to the west, but if shooting objects rising in the night sky, this Panhandle location is the best around.
Entrance to the park is just $4 for adults. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Reservations are not required.
#2 McDonald Observatory - located in the Davis Mountains, the observatory is home to the third largest telescope in the world. It sits at an impressive 6,790 feet above sea level making for stunning views of the night sky.
The observatory is open from 10:00am - 5:30pm but they offer "Star Parties" most Tuesdays and Saturdays. Admission to the Star Party is $12, but they often sell out. To make reservations call 432-426-3640.
#1 Big Bend National Park - when it comes to viewing the night sky, Big Bend is one of the best places in the world. The Park is nestled along the Rio Grande River. Nearby is the Ghost Town of Terlingua, a town which still has a diner and gas station. There are a couple of lodging options in the area and the park offers camping.
Big Bend is the must visit destination for those interested in astronomy. As great as the other places on the list are, Big Bend trumps them all. The Milky Way is clearly visible rising on the horizon. There is zero light pollution. It is for these reasons I host my Astrophotography Workshops there. Top notch views.