Notes on Magdalena, New Mexico, and the Route 60 Corridor

John W Briggs

I saw early-on that this forum would welcome some discussion of dark-sky communities in general.  I guess I could say -- now that I think about it -- that I've actually lived at several.  Right now (and for the duration!) I live just outside Magdalena, New Mexico, a small, rural high-desert community of about 800 people.  We have a local Magdalena Astronomical Society; quite dark skies by many standards; and the advantage of a variety of interesting astronomical facilities nearby, like the Very Large Array radio telescope of NRAO. 

What I particularly want to share is how there's an increasing sense of astronomical community all along the "Route 60 corridor" from Socorro to the Arizona border, some 138 miles west.  The most extreme dark skies along this route are probably near where it crosses the continental divide just east of Pie Town.  Magdalena, some 30 miles west of Socorro (and 2,000 feet higher), allows easy access to the relative development of Socorro and New Mexico Tech, the local University.  And Albuquerque 70 road miles farther away to the northeast. 

I hope projects as ambitious as the Mirador plan being discussed here might consider both Magdalena area and the general Route 60 corridor as potential sites for a development.  The more astronomers we have in the region, the more easily, I believe, we can argue for and maintain sensible dark-sky preservation.

By many measures I believe things remain simple and possible in New Mexico, unlike in so many other overcrowded areas of our country nowadays.  In a few years recently I've succeeded with some personal astronomy projects here way beyond my wildest dreams.  It would not have been possible many places elsewhere. 

And regarding dark-sky communities -- I had not really thought about it until now -- but the rather unique observatory communities that evolved to operate originally remote places like Lick and Palomar, etc., were really a form of "dark-sky communities."  I had the good fortune to live and work at four such places, and generally with my family.  They were on the Yerkes campus, at Mount Wilson, and more recently at Sunspot, New Mexico.  The fourth was not with my family, and it was for only a year.  But it was unusual -- a winter-over at South Pole Station in Antarctica. 

Certain lessons can probably be gleaned from all of these places and others like them.  Additional lessons might be learned from the unusually dedicated and cohesive group that together own and operate Stellafane near Springfield, Vermont.  For most people, "Stellafane" refers to the annual convention that's quite famous in its own right.  But actually, the name is for the associated observatory that now involves some 80 acres and quite a variety of buildings.  The Springfield Telescope Makers who operate it all have a membership of about 150, I believe -- i.e., close to a number that was mentioned earlier here, if I recall right.

--John W. Briggs, 
Magdalena, NM.
PS:  Photo attached of FOAH Observatory located in hills typical of this area; FOAH is at 6,500 feet altitude.

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