Austinites have long traveled to West Texas to traverse the wilds of Big Bend, embrace the low-key vibes of Terlingua, and cool off in the springs of Balmorhea. We have also understood the magic of standing under the night sky at the McDonald Observatory, crawling through the dark night to take in one of the most beautiful celestial views on earth.
Now, it appears, the rest of the world is uncovering this not-so-hidden gem. A recent research report from U.K.-based travel website Kuoni named the McDonald Observatory, part of the University of Texas at Austin, the second best place to stargaze in the U.S.
To determine the country's top 50 places to see stars, Kuoni analyzed "60 official Dark Sky areas and over 117 locations nationwide which offer the public access to high powered telescopes." The site then sifted through hundreds of TripAdvisor reviews to find the winners.
Located on Fort Davis, about 25 miles north of tourist destinations like Marfa and Alpine, the McDonald Observatory snagged the No. 2 spot behind Oregon University Observatory in Sunriver, Oregon.
"The reviewers of Texas’ McDonald observatory are blown away by the incredible amount of celestial phenomena they see at the location," Kuoni notes in its release.
Every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, visitors head to the West Texas site for both Twilight and Star parties. During the Twilight parties, attendees sit in an amphitheater and are guided through the cosmos by an observatory staffer. Star events, which take place after dark, give visitors the opportunity to use high-powered telescopes in the McDonald's Rebecca Gale Telescope Park.
So why stargazing? Kuoni says it's an activity that encapsulates much of what modern travelers look for in a vacation. "With travelers having more desire than ever to learn about the natural world, and a general trend in travelers looking to try local one-of-a-kind experiences, stargazing is set to become a super popular activity," notes a release.
Joining the Oregon University Observatory and McDonald Observatory in the top five are National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico; National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; and Kitt Peak National Observatory Nightly Observing Program in Tuscon, Arizona. The only other Texas spot on the list was the Fort Worth Noble Planetarium at No. 26.