For some time now I’ve been considering an observatory, and when I’d heard about Granite Gap 6 or 8 months ago I was pretty enthralled. But, being in NM, a solid 12hr drive from DFW it would definitely represent a distant (literally) opportunity. Still, after 8 months of email between Loy and I (thanks Loy for your patience ), I finally decided to give them a visit. Gene and Loy are terrific. They were very welcoming, invited us into their home and described the area and the GG Preserve, putting us up in an apartment on site… grilled steaks for dinner and eggs in the morning… no complaints on the hospitality!!
GG is about 1/2 way between El Paso and Tucson, a few miles from the AZ/NM border (in NM). We flew from DFW to Tucson, and rented a car for the 2.5hr drive from Tucson to GG. One thing that hadn’t been immediately clear to me was the site/location. There are actually two… Rancho Hidalgo which is the original site, upon which the first observatories were build, and where Gene and Loy reside. Granite Gap Preserve, which is the site now offered is about a 20 minute drive from Rancho Hidalgo. It’s 20 minutes mainly because of country roads and a very strict local police force!! DON’T SPEED HERE!
The Preserve at Granite Gap, as it’s officially called, lies in a valley near the Chiricahua (pronounce Cheer-i-cow-uh) Mountains, which have a long history in the American Southwest. On driving to GG from the west (from Tucson) I was starting to wonder exactly where the site was relative to the mountains and how good the horizon view really is… worry not! You can see from the photos the valley is quite wide, and the mountains provide nothing more than a beautiful backdrop for the site with no real intrusion into the view.
I call security out separately because I have to be blunt… I was (yes, was) concerned about this. The site is in the middle of nowhere, 60 miles or so from the southern border of the US, and we are talking about a small area with astronomical equipment… and, this aspect of the site is not written about much from what I could find on the net.
But, after visiting, my concerns have reduced significantly – to a level no more than standard concerns of having equipment out in a distant building.
I think in the 24 hrs I was in the area I saw no less than 10 Border Patrol SUVs, a number of other black, unmarked SUV’s and some local police. The official presence in the area is palpable… now, this fact may scare some, but not me. In fact quite the opposite. Sparing any opinions about border relations, there is a law presence here. And after visiting, it does become clear that GG just simply isn’t on the map when it comes to potential crime issues. It’s a feeling that is hard to describe, but it just doesn’t seem like anything to worry about there. The land is SO EXPANSIVE, you feel like you could go days without seeing anyone. To be frank, I sincerely doubt anyone unlawfully in the area is going to be too concerned with unbolting and carrying away a 100 lb telescope! They have bigger fish to fry.
So, for anyone considering the area, don’t take my word for it, visit. Everyone may be different, but once I was there things seemed different. Had I made a decision without being there physically, I may easily have taken a pass on the opportunity.
The Actual Observatory Site
The actual GG site is partially built, with roads now established and a number of observatories built up. There are a number of foundations laid as well which can’t really be seen in these images. Of the 81 sites in the initial Observatory Row area, most are claimed and reserved. It seems the project is beginning to gain critical steam.
The views are incredible. You can see in the images here how isolated the area is, and the ample horizon, even when looking west to the mountains.
The standard observatory buildings are quite nice, with ample room for two piers (provided) and a warm/control room (which looked like it would fit a small couch without problem), as well as built-in shelving options. The plots are laid out in ~100′ x 150′ sections, so you’ll have neighbors, but ample amounts of room around your observatory (good for a little privacy on those nights when there’s more curse words than images being captured!).
Though, it is clear that much of GG will be run remotely for the majority of the time, at least until the community is built up. This was evident at Rancho Hidalgo as there were 3 or 4 observatories open and running at 3am. I can easily envision a star party in this location where the GG inhabitants finally get to hang out.
The skies seemed nothing less than fantastic. As it was a quick visit, I didn’t bring any equipment so can’t give any technical assessment at this time. The clarity was wonderful when I was there, and what struck me immediately was the color… star color was so vivid, Betelgeuse was a clear orange/red, Siruis a pure blue-white. The moon was up, 31% when I was outside, and yet it cast some serious shadows… it’s dark out there!
Well, I’m glad I went. My conclusions may have been different had I not visited. Gene and Loy were great, and Gene seems to have some really great ideas and vision for the area. I’m now the proud owner (lessee really) of 100′ x 100′ of NM sand… on which, in time will be housed a soon to be named observatory!!
Stay tuned for updates (which hopefully won’t be too long in coming), and feel free to contact me for any questions that I may be able to answer.